Correlation does not imply causation

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"Correlation does not imply causation" is a phrase used in science and statistics to emphasize that correlation between two variables does not automatically imply that one causes the other (though correlation is necessary for linear causation, and can indicate possible causes or areas for further investigation... in other words, correlation can be a hint).[1][2]

The opposite belief, correlation proves causation, is a logical fallacy by which two events that occur together are claimed to have a cause-and-effect relationship. The fallacy is also known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin for "with this, therefore because of this") and false cause. By contrast, the fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc requires that one event occur before the other and so may be considered a type of cum hoc fallacy.

In a widely-studied example, numerous epidemiological studies showed that women who were taking combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT) also had a lower-than-average incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), leading doctors to propose that HRT was protective against CHD. But randomized controlled trials showed that HRT caused a small but statistically significant increase in risk of CHD. Re-analysis of the data from the epidemiological studies showed that women undertaking HRT were more likely to be from higher socio-economic groups (ABC1), with better than average diet and exercise regimes. The use of HRT and decreased incidence of coronary heart disease were coincident effects of a common cause (i.e., the benefits associated with a higher socioeconomic status), rather than cause and effect as had been supposed.[3]

Contents

Usage

In logic, the technical use of the word "implies" means "to be a sufficient circumstance". This is the meaning intended by statisticians when they say causation is not certain. Indeed, p implies q has the technical meaning of logical implication: if p then q symbolized as p → q. That is "if circumstance p is true, then q necessarily follows." In this sense, it is always correct to say "Correlation does not imply causation".

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