Association and Causation and a World Record Experiment to Dissemination

The clinical sciences literature is full of examples of an association between two variables being mistaken for causation.  How many treatments are based on strong evidence that ‘this’ and ‘that’ are related with NO evidence that ‘this’ causes ‘that’? It is a fundamental error and can lead to ridiculous conclusions.  That is not the problem I guess because the apparently ridiculous conclusions are usually rejected.  The problem is when a seemingly sensible (well at least to some) conclusion is endorsed on the basis of a (biased) explanation.

To emphasise this issue, and to prepare for the monumental milestone of BiM reaching 1000 Facebook members, Heidi took a big lump of initiative and decided to make a short video. It has been great to watch her swear at her computer, tear her hair out (fortunately she has ample) and huff and puff along the way to producing this. One could suggest that she bit off more than she can chew and then chewed like hell.  She has produced a 4 minute movie that is a condensed version of the beginning of a talk I did at the 2010 Noigroup Conference in Nottingham. I was fortunate enough to provide entertainment at what must go down as The Best Conference Dinner EVER. One aspect of the ‘entertainment’ was to do an experiment. We had about 180 volunteers. We collected the data, analysed it after the dinner, prepared some slides and presented it in the plenary session the next morning. 12 hours. World record for sure. Anyway, watch the video to find out some of the intriguing results.  Oh, and you could let Heidi know if it is worth trying this again on something a bit less frivolous.


  1. Charles Sheets says:

    It sometimes takes some good data mining to find such a wonderfully spurious conclusion. How many different variables did you analyze before deciding that this was the one to present? Were any of the others statistically significant?

    Lorimer Reply:

    Hey Charles –
    Actually, there was an Hypothesis regarding the specific variables and the result. The hypothesis was soundly supported. However, it has nothing to do with your birth date…….

  2. Neil O'Connell says:

    I would add that that is a direct cut-and -paste from the web . I don’t personally think the problem is States specific!

  3. Neil O'Connell says:

    Fantastic stuff. Reminds me of this great geeks gag that rolled around the web a while back (attributed to Author: David J. Devejian) :

    Bread Is Dangerous

    Important Warning for those who have been drawn unsuspectingly into the use of bread:

    1. More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread users.

    2. Fully HALF of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests.

    3. In the 18th century, when virtually all bread was baked in the home, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and influenza ravaged whole nations.

    4. More than 90 percent of violent crimes are committed within 24 hours of eating bread.

    5. Bread is made from a substance called “dough.” It has been proven that as little as one pound of dough can be used to suffocate a mouse. The average American eats more bread than that in one month!

    6. Primitive tribal societies that have no bread exhibit a low incidence of cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and osteoporosis.

    7. Bread has been proven to be addictive. Subjects deprived of bread and given only water to eat begged for bread after as little as two days.

    8. Bread is often a “gateway” food item, leading the user to “harder” items such as butter, jelly, peanut butter, and even cold cuts.

    9. Bread has been proven to absorb water. Since the human body is more than 90 percent water, it follows that eating bread could lead to your body being taken over by this absorptive food product, turning you into a soggy, gooey bread-pudding person.

    10. Newborn babies can choke on bread.

    11. Bread is baked at temperatures as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit! That kind of heat can kill an adult in less than one minute.

    12. Most American bread eaters are utterly unable to distinguish between significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical babbling.


  4. I remember that dinner! and yes would like to see more even if it was just more of this!


  5. A bit of frivolity is just what I need first thing in the morning. And a question I have just had a sudden complete loss of voice. Could this be cause and relation to my CRPS?
    Maybe so..maybe not. Would welcome Lorimers opinion. I was born on a black Friday e.g 13th, which by many superstitious people is considered to be a disadvantage!
    However just watching Lorimer’s speech and test results I can now go forward and enjoy the fruits of his research. My well being has already increased even tho’ I cannot speak yet.

    Jo Oliver Reply:

    By the way it is my Birthday today the 13 November. How is that for a random coincidence?

    Lorimer Reply:

    cool cool cool.
    thanks for contributing Jo.

  6. Sara Brentball says:

    Thank you Heidi. Please do it again – but not necessarily with something less frivolous!

  7. Diane Madras says:

    Lovely! The video is terrific, and the conclusions are drawn everyday by people in power to irritate we ‘little powerless people’ just reiterates the necessity of educating everyone on the difference between change by chance and change by cause.