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Correlations and Causation

Kudos to Dr. Morton E. Tavel for his article “Correlations: How Do We Ever Establish Definite Causation?” in SI (September/ October 2015, pp. 54–55). His reference to Hill’s 1965 report by example reinforced grounds for crucial conditions in cause-effect assumptions regarding the linkage between cigarette smoking and cancer. The query from Jim Jackson regarding “correlation is not causation” is raised often in classrooms and scientific critiques. Yet the quotation minimizes the probability that under bounded conditions, as explained in Tavel’s article (e.g., see Hill’s seven guidelines, point 2 “Consistency of association,” p. 55), correlation may be one indicator of “causation.” That is, if all known controls are implemented and if a statistical level of significance (p < .001) is agreed upon, then independent and dependent variables would be both correlated and assumed causally related.

In effect, then, the phrase, namely, “correlation is not causation” should be modified. A qualified expression is as follows: correlation does not guarantee causation. At issue are necessary (correlated) and sufficient (controlled) conditions. Essentially, “causation,” even with appropriate controls, is a tentative, statistically probable conclusion. Yet future research may reveal unexpected, extraneous intervening variables that require additional controls and re-evaluation. As British-Empiricist philosopher David Hume asserted, causality is couched in the probabilities of events, not in certainty (paraphrased).

William F. Vitulli, PhD Professor Emeritus of Psychology University of South Alabama Mobile, Alabama

Aristotle and Evidence

May I point out a minor error in Professor Hassani’s otherwise excellent article, “‘Post-Materialist’ Science? A Smokescreen for Woo” (Sep tember/October 2015). Pro fessor Hassani states: “Six teenth-century Europe saw the revival of science after a 1,800-year hiatus. There emerged two schools of thought. One school followed Plato and Aristotle and advocated primacy of the mind. The other emphasized the importance of observation . . . etc.”

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