How to Tell Fact From Fraud

April 27, 2007  

We are constantly bombarded by information from advertisements, books, magazines, TV and the internet.  But how much of this information is true?  From my experience, little of it is accurate.  People (often unknowingly) make claims that are exaggerated or blatant lies. 

How can you separate the accurate from the invalid?  One way is to understand the difference between causality, correlation, and coincidence. I alluded to these in previous entries and want to address them a bit more.

In a previous blog entry, I cited a study that claimed, “Individuals with greater wealth are happier.”  Assuming that this statement is true, it is a correlation.  Wealth and happiness are related.  Some people may think this implies that “Money makes people happier.”  This statement is a causality.  It suggests that money is the cause of why people are happier.  However, this is not true.  According to the study, happier people make more money, yet more money does not make people happier.  Money is correlated to happiness, but is not the cause of happiness.

In my blog entry, “Never Trust an Expert,” I discuss the concept of causality again.  Many experts use anecdotal information to make causality statements. “I followed these 10 steps and got the following results.”  However, without more data, this may just be a coincidence.  If 100 people tried the same 10 steps and each got the same results, then you might be able to claim a correlation.  Although there may be wisdom in anecdotal evidence, never accept it as the truth.

I am fascinated by the phenomenon known as “The Secret.”  The book and video are based on the “Law of Attraction (LOA).” Simple stated, the LOA is the belief that positive thoughts attract positive results and negative thoughts attract negative things.  This implies a causality: If you envision what you want, you will attract it.  However, the LOA is really a correlation (and it may be just a coincidence).  Visualization can help you get what you want, but it may not be the direct cause. The cause may be something else – like taking actions that are subconsciously aligned with your desires.  The difference between causality and correlation is subtle, yet important.  When stated as a causality, the LOA may lead you to believe that sitting in a corner and visualizing your success will manifest success. 

There is a lot of dubious advice out there.  Understanding the difference between causality, correlation, and coincidence can help you make more informed decisions.  Just because tall people’s pants are longer than mine does not mean I should buy longer pants if I want to grow a few inches…

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7 Responses to “How to Tell Fact From Fraud”

  1. Elbert West on April 30th, 2007 2:07 am

    Stephen, I just found your blog and have really enjoyed the reading. Great stuff! I will be back. If you get a chance, come visit. We share a lot of the same views.

  2. lyndonmaxewell on April 30th, 2007 9:22 am

    yea I would agree with you. Sometimes it’s hard to guess if an expert is actually ‘lying’ to you since it’s in his area of expertise.

  3. chuck Zamoa on April 30th, 2007 9:43 am

    thank you for you insight. I am a believer that LOA is a casuality waiting to happen for many that believe they can attract success without work. Again thank you i will subscribe (which I don’t often do) because I like the way you think

    Keep Smiling

    Chuck Zamora

  4. Swan on May 1st, 2007 12:48 pm

    Your article really shows how you can avoid disappointment by trying to identify if it is causality, correlation, or coincidence. Thanks.

  5. kellypea on May 3rd, 2007 5:04 pm

    I’m a believer that when there’s desire, there’s a way. I just have to work to push the hurdles out of the way, and practice a bit of patience from time to time.

  6. Belladonna on May 8th, 2007 2:33 pm

    GREAT distinction between correlation and causation. As someone who is immersed in all manner of data and statistics on a daily basis I find myself trying to explain that difference quite often.

    As far as people believing what they hear without giving it much critical thought – I tried a little experiment in the two online classes I teach. I directed my students to review the website DHMO.ORG and then answer a series of questions about their level of concern about the danger of DHMO.

    I was amazed by how many students wrote empassioned essays about why we need further study and rigid controls of this substance. Um. Yeah, right.

    Tonight I’ll be lecturing on the importance of goal setting in an Academic Planning course…I will be bringing up the whole issue of Goal Free Living and hopefully get these students to understand that SMART Goals are not always so smart afterall.

  7. Elizabeth on June 15th, 2007 10:48 pm

    I have wondered what your view would be on this “new” book “The Secret” would be. I have to agree with you on this. I DEFINATELY would like to “think ” myself taller!!