Smart Thinking

Causation and Correlation Fallacy

Causation and Correlation – the cum hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy.

LOGICAL FALLACY – you are looking at this picture, then reading this article. Fallacious conclusion: this picture is making you read the article. Well it might be, but more likely is confusion of Causation and Correlation.

Causation and Correlation Fallacy

Confusing Causation and Correlation – The Antipattern

How to Think Logically (Penguin Academics)

Anti Pattern Name: Confusing Causation and Correlation

Type: Logical Fallacy

Problem: The cum hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy can be expressed as follows: A occurs in correlation with B, therefore, A causes B.

This is fallacious because:

  1. A may be the cause of B
  2. B may be the cause of A
  3. Some unknown third factor C may actually be the cause of both A and B
  4. There may be a combination of the three relationships above
  5. The “relationship” could be coincidental

Context: Confusing correlation and causation leads to inaccurate conclusions.

Forces: Statistical significance of data sets, nature of attributes, complexity of domain, understanding of domain.

Resulting Context: False conclusion, missed opportunities (e.g. the unknown third factor (above) may underlie a critical business opportunity). If causation is confused it may be concluded that B causes A resulting in a complete reversal of strategy.

Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies (Academic Edition)

Solution(s): Look for attributes common to observed phenomena, hypothesise causality based on experience, known facts and likelihood. Be cognisant of logical fallacy and risks of ‘jumping to conclusions’.

Further Reading on Logical and Strategic Thinking

By Steve Nimmons

Steve is a Certified European Engineer, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Royal Society of Arts, Linnean Society and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He is an Electric Circle Patron of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, a Liveryman and Freeman of London and serves on numerous industry panels. He is a member of Chatham House, the Royal United Services Institute and the Chartered Institute of Journalists.