Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lies, damn lies, and causes

What do we mean by cause?

What causes a kid to start stuttering?

What causes a kid not to recover from stuttering?

What causes some people to stutter in a population and others not?

What causes a stutterer to stutter at this moment in time?

What causes me to stutter more or less?

What causes me to relapse after treatment?

What causes stuttering to run in families?

What causes stuttering in people without genetic transmission?

What causes us not to stutter when we sing or perform other fluency enhancing tasks?

Here are some fallacies you need to be aware of

1) Assumption that a single cause exists. The school shooting is due to violent video games and lax gun laws. But in fact many other different causes are in play here including depressed teenager, genetic propensity for suicide mission, long-term exposure to humiliation, too large school classes, in-attentive teachers, in-attentive parents, wrong friends, copying cats, general tendency of male teenage brains for aggressiveness and search for power play, and so on.

2) Failure to distinguish between multi-causal versus dominant cause with modulators. Often, there is a dominant cause which is modulated by different factors unrelated to the real cause. And it is misleading to call the modulators, causes. For example, fear in stutterers makes stuttering worse, but it is not the real cause but only has a modulating effect. Fear cannot be an independent cause because without a propensity to stutter you cannot fear situations. You have the same fear if you are obese, acne, and other issues. Of course, you could argue that after a while the fear is becoming "independent" and is caused stuttering without a propensity to stutter. However, I would argue that after treatment the fear is gone but it comes back only because there is still a propensity to stutter which lets fear to kick in again.

3) Failure to distinguish between proximate and ultimate cause. Why did he kill her? His brain send a message to his hand to take the knife and kill her. But the real cause was that he caught her without another man AND he is unable to control his anger.

4) Equating an observed relationship (correlation) with the cause. This is very very common. I explain this in this post.


Anonymous said...

Isn't this good info, but old info?

Anonymous said...

This is a repetition...

Satyendra said...

Truth can bear many more repetitions...
Keep it up Tom- you are doing a valuable service!
Sachin for TISA

Anonymous said...


There is a lot of stuff out there that has been said before. But that does not mean it does not have value. Information is always valuable and there is always someone who has not seen it. Keep up the good work.