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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Correlation is not causality


The Occupy movement had a death in Vancouver this week. Obviously this is not a good thing. Preliminary reports point towards the woman dying as a result of a drug overdose. Whenever someone dies, or is hurt, or is even mildly put out, of course others rush forward to use the tragedy to further their own agendas. In this case, the woman’s death also rings the bell on the tent city that the Occupiers have built in Vancouver. A directive has been issued to clear the whole thing away under the guise of “public safety.” One hopes it can be managed peacefully, but I doubt it.
Living in a tent is not ideal, clearly, or we would never have bothered invented the house, much less the mansion. But where is causal relationship between “sleep in tent” and “drug overdose?” If the cause of death is “exposure” or “too much fresh air,” maybe they’ve got a case, but drugs? Vancouver has a well-documented drug issue. For the last few years they have had between 26 and 37 confirmed drug overdose deaths per year, or about 1 every 11 days on average. Occupy Vancouver has been going on for three weeks and this is the first death (from any cause) that has been attributed to the protestors. So, really, they’re doing pretty good. If, as many right-wingers believe, the movement is composed of nothing but drug-addled hippies, they should have had 2 drug-related deaths by now.
Correlation isn’t the same as causality. Intelligent, rational people know that, but all too many forget (or don’t understand) that crucial fact. Finding a dead bird on your front lawn doesn’t mean that it was killed by your grass. Dying of a drug overdose in a protestor’s tent does not imply the movement itself is the problem. But panicky people can easily be convinced that it does, and so ends Tent City.
It reminds me a little of the D&D controversy from back in the 80s. A teenager committed suicide and among his possessions was found the rulebooks for D&D. Instantly the group that feared and hated D&D for its own (usually religious) reasons jumped on it. “Aha! Finally, proof that D&D is evil!” they cackled. “We have a statistic!” Right away the public believed the conclusion that D&D caused teens to off themselves.
Obviously this is wrong. When you look at the numbers, you actually discover that the instances of suicide among D&D players are WAY below the national average. D&D saves lives. Logic, however, rarely convinces a horde of gibbering goobers.
Gibbering goober. That would make an awesome D&D monster.

1 comment:

  1. I managed to live in a tent for two months and didn't die of a drug overdose. Clearly tents are pretty safe.

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