Correlation != Causality

Posted by NZgeek | Filed under

I’ve just been reading an article on arstechnica where a “media psychiatrist”  by the name of Carole Lieberman tries to link violent video games with rape. Ars do a good god of discrediting her. It’s clear from the outset that her statements are just plain wrong, as they’re based on pure hypothesis and have no scientific backing.

I’m not going to touch on the rape-related aspects of what she has to say. Sexual violence is the product of a sick and abnormal mind, and is not something that should be trivialized in any way. There is little enough proof that violent games cause any kind of increased violent behaviour, let alone violent behaviour of a sexual manner.

As an attempt of showing “proof” of her point, Lieberman refers to studies that show a link between violent offending and violent video games. Most of these studies are based on the hypothesis that the violence in video games is having an effect outside of the game, and is causing a rise in violence in the real world. Some of these studies have shown that there is indeed a link, and that violent people are more likely to play violent games. But what does that mean?

With most of these studies it’s hard to draw a conclusion. This is because the studies only show a correlation, not a causal effect. On one hand you could say that the violence in games is bringing out violent behaviour in people – the game is spilling out into real life. On the other hand, you could say that violent people use violent games as an outlet so that they don’t have to act out in real life. Without any further evidence, either of these could be equally true.

It’s all too often that we see the confusion between correlation and causality. The media tend to be particularly bad at this. There’s a link between drugs and social misbehaviour? It’s gotta be the drugs that cause it. We’re erecting more cellphone towers, and now bees colonies are disappearing? It’s the towers! The thing we can control has got to be responsible for the thing we can’t!

More often than not, the media is wrong. Sure, those people who are seen as social deviants may use drugs more. But what if it’s merely a symptom of deeper issues, and not the issue itself? That’s a side to the issue that most people don’t even think about. Cell towers were blamed for Colony Collapse Disorder for a long time, but now the evidence seems to show that they are nothing but a red herring.

It’s time to start thinking for yourselves, people! Question what you’ve been told, especially if it’s in any way controversial. You may just find that some so-called truths are less true than they seem.