electrocution and marriage rates: correlation or cause?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from TOK OSC blog)  The comic charts on the website Spurious Correlations are already familiar to many TOK teachers. But if you’ve missed this resource till now, you won’t want to miss it any longer. Did you know that the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets correlates with the total revenue generated by skiing facilities in the US – or that the number who were electrocuted by power lines correlates with the marriage rate in Alabama? Would you infer that one causes the other?  “I created this website as a fun way to look at correlations and think about data,” says Tyler Vigen

correlationschartWith charts drawing arbitrarily connections between variables, Vigen makes a serious point through comedy. He also provides a pull-down menu for visitors to his site to create their own arbitrary connections – an activity that students are likely to enjoy. The site is immensely useful for TOK classes on the difference between correlation and cause, and hence for the natural sciences, human sciences, and history.

For further explanation on correlation and cause, refer students to page 128 in the IB TOK Course Companion.

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