Correlation and the method of science

We teach in statistics that correlation does not prove causation. There is good reason for this. Consider the following words I found in a thread someplace.

Science doesn’t “count” the number of times something is shown to be true as proof that it is true. Science only counts the number of times something is shown to be false. If that number is greater than zero, then it is false.

The reason for this is at the heart of the scientific method. You can always find for example tall, red-headed men as proof that red hair makes men tall. If you pay people lots of money to do studies to find just such a correlation, you will end up with thousands of studies showing that red hair makes men tall.

However, the fact that there are thousands of studies showing that red hair makes men tall doesn’t make it true. What makes it likely is that you cannot find a single short man with red hair. However, if you do find a single short man with red hair, then this is proof that the theory is wrong, red hair doesn’t make men tall.

What is being “denied” when you count studies is the scientific method. We “count” in politics. The number of “yes” votes versus the number of “no” votes. So, when you talk about the “vast majority” you are talking politics, not science.

When you use the term “denier” this is not science, it is a form of propaganda in support of politics. The term “denier” has political meaning as in “holocaust denier”. It has no scientific meaning. In science the term is “skeptical” because the history of science shows that 95% of what we believe to be true today will eventually be shown to be false.

Today we believe matter is made from quarks, yesterday we believed it was made from atoms, and tomorrow, who can predict what we will find? Every time we think we “know” the truth we are surprised to find that there is yet another “truth” underneath. And every time we look, we find yet another truth under that.

The above came in a thread on a climate science debate but could easily have been from most any science debate.  Unfortunately we have to deal with fraud as well as mistaken understanding of the method of science and what science can do. Since the only empirical evidence showing correlation between CO2 and temperature shows that CO2 follows temperature and not vice-versa how then can we explain the modern anti-science belief in just the opposite?  Over the course of human history (the Quaternary) climate has constantly changed in cycles of varying lengths. Climate in the past 2.5 million years of our genus has gone from much warmer than today to much colder, repeatedly. Same goes for past 200,000 years of our species & subspecies. Cycles. Every time we look at the past on a long term scale we see cycles of climate change. It is just the Tao of climate.

The phrase “climate change” must mean constant cycles happening without much input from man. That is unless mankind wants to pretend he is the very reason for creation like he did in times gone by.

I wonder how a people who have more per capita college graduates that ever before can be so ignorant of the scientific method and the proper use of statistics.



3 thoughts on “Correlation and the method of science

  1. Thank you for your post. Writing about science can be difficult and tortutous many times. Getting the correct meaning out of a subject matter can at times seem impossible. And, all too often, telling truth in a scientific manner does sound as if one is being condescending to the reader. Your post does serve as a reminder that critical thinking should be the trump card all of us should hold when reading any piece of scientific writing. Thanks–once again.

  2. Excellent post! I find it fascinating that even people in the “skeptical” community can’t see past the propaganda on this subject. As much as I enjoy their thoughts on athieism, they are almost all left-wing statists.

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