Sunday, 22 August 2010

Spurious correlations

I heard the following snippet on UK Radio 4's pick of the week, by Chris McManus of University College London.  I may not have recorded exactly correctly but I hope this gives the gist of it:

"People are extremely good at making explanations of things they find in the World, but those explanations may not be true. People are also very good at spotting differences such as red hair, left-handedness etc but then they often make spurious correlations such as "she's a writer, she's left handed; She must be a writer because she is left handed. -  And then we boring scientists come along, sort it out and then find there is no correlation at all."

Perhaps this human propensity to make any connection rather than none (no matter how bizarre) and avoid having to admit that the real answer is not yet within human capability to understand;  is part of what is behind enduring religious belief.

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