By Douglas Valerio
As Aaron Levenshtein noted, “Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is interesting. But what they hide is vital.” As a mechanical engineer by degree, I have taken my fair share of math courses. Statistics are easy to calculate, harder to research, and frequently difficult to interpret. With guns as prevalent in our society as they are, there is plenty of data on many aspects relating to them, some more reliable than others. While I may not be a statistician or a college professor in the field, the basic concepts seem to escape the normal person to a point that is almost painful to witness. We can break this into 3 sections, correlation, causation, and how correlation does not equal causation . . .
Correlation is defined as a mutual relationship or connection between two or more things. All that’s required for something to correlate is that they relate to each other. One must move in relation to the other, whether it’s up, down, left, or right. Take, for instance, the fact that ice cream sales increase in hotter months. This makes sense, seeing as the hotter weather makes people want a cold treat like ice cream. Per businessinsider.com, ice cream sales top out in August and drop in December.
In 2015, the homicide rate in Chicago per the Chicago Tribune, peaked in August and September. Taking a look at both sets of data, I can say that ice cream sales correlate to the homicide rate in Chicago. Both ice cream sales and the homicide rate in Chicago go up during the hotter months and down in the cold months. But that doesn’t mean that eating ice cream causes homicides. Remember, for correlation, I don’t have to show any other relationship between the two other than their being mutual. Logically, this relationship makes sense to the average person.
Causation, however, is something else entirely. It’s the action of causing something, or the relationship between cause and effect. For causation to exist between two things, I must prove that one thing caused the other. Pulling a trigger mechanically causes a bullet to be fired from the barrel of a gun. I can prove this. So can you.
In statistics, this can be a more difficult task. How does one prove, without doubt, that one thing in society causes another with simple statistics taken separately of each other? Looking back at my previous example, does the fact that both ice cream sales and homicides in Chicago rise in the hot months and drop in the cold months mean that ice cream sales cause homicides in Chicago? Does it mean that homicides in Chicago cause ice cream sales to drop or rise? No, it does not. I have not statically proven that concept.
Correlation does not equal causation is a popular quote used in the world of statistics. Simply because you show you that two things have a mutual relationship does not mean one causes the other. Changes in ice cream sales don’t cause a change in homicides in Chicago anymore than changes in my wife’s mood will change whether it’s my job to take out the trash. On the list of other things that correlate to the homicide rate in Chicago, but don’t cause it are alligator attacks, lawn mower sales, visits to a swimming pool, or my personal consumption of Leinenkugel Summer Shandy.
Unfortunately, this goes both ways. When I see a statistic from the gun control lobby that the FBI shows a rise in mass shootings between 2001 and 2013, this is upsetting. While this statistic correlates with a rise in the number of guns owned in America between the same time period, that does not prove causation. There is no statistical proof showing that the rise in the number of guns caused more mass shootings. On the other hand, gun rights supporter love to use the fact that as the number of guns in America has gone up since 1993, the gun homicide rate has decreased in the same time period. They do, of course, correlate. But there’s no data showing that one has caused the other.
The left will use any tactic they can to trick, dupe, or otherwise fool the American public into believing their side of the story. They want what they want and will do anything to achieve it. They believe that the end justifies the means, and on the subject of guns, this is all too obvious. Ever notice how the people telling us that guns are bad are the same people surrounded by private security with concealed carry handguns protecting them?
To combat this, our side has used statistics that contradict the rhetoric that the left employs. This doesn’t justify the action on either side, however. But it does achieve the inadvertent goal of confusing the uninformed voter on what the facts really are, forcing them to work from emotion. Emotion is the means by which liberalism is spread…the concept that it doesn’t matter what caused something, it only matters how you feel about it. Are logic and reason enough to combat emotion? The way I see it, the answer to a question is often easier to attain than the reason behind it.