Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Correlations and In Place of Parents

You know how medical researchers thought what was good for you is now bad for you? Or what was bad for you is now good for you. These were based in many cases on correlations. Probably the most egregious correlation studies were done by tobacco companies.

There are other silly correlations based on urban myths. Right now the Hong Kong stock market is jittery over actor Adam Cheng's new movie. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Stock Index often plunges when Mr. Cheng launches a new project.

Adam Gopnik discusses correlations in his blog posting "Armed Correlations". He is building a case for gun control legislation by correlating gun control laws with gun violence. Just like the debate over global warming and carbon emissions the debate is over a causal relationship of this correlation.

So when can we be confident of a causal relationship of a correlation? According to Mr. Gopnik:

"What makes a correlation causal? Well, it should be robust, showing up all over the place, across many states and nations; it should exclude some other correlation that might be causing the same thing; and, ideally, there ought to be some kind of proposed mechanism that would explain why one element affects the other. There’s a strong correlation between vaccines and less childhood disease, for instance, and a simple biological mechanism of induced immunity to explain it."

Mr. Gopnik believes he has found such elements between gun control laws and gun violence.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/03/armed-correlations-gun-ownership-and-violence.html#ixzz2PcMCUhDW


I am doing two posts here because they are, you know … correlated.

Eduardo Porter, reports in his article, 'Investments in Education May Be Misdirected ', that studies by economic and educational researches, show that parents are the problem with our mediocre educational proficiency. Given the nature/nurture issue the studies cited by Mr. Porter lean toward the distinct and overwhelming advantage of nurturing. The referenced studies show that education resources would be better spent BEFORE pre-school rather than in higher education and even K thru 12.

James Heckman, seems to be the primary source of the survey. He states:

"Children of mothers who had graduated from college scored much higher at age 3 than those whose mothers had dropped out of high school, proof of the advantage of young children of living in rich, stimulating environments.
More surprising is that the difference in cognitive performance was just as big at age 18 as it had been at age 3.
"The gap is there before the kids walk into kindergarten," Mr. Heckman told me. "School neither increases nor reduces it.'

This isn't about loving your child. It is about one aspect of nurturing that is deficient. I am not sold completely on this causal effect. I don't believe you must have a formal education to provide your child with an intellectually stimulating environment. I can see that it may be a correlation to be studied more. But, how are you going to get meaningful results without participant observation? And that is a very invasive, expensive and time consuming social research tool. Plus the fact that the participant researcher is not surreptitiously observing (Although one cannot be certain of this anymore.) contaminates the observations and conclusions. Furthermore cultural diversity and other intervening factors must be factored out to isolate Heckman's causal element. Some cultures in our nation may be very nurturing and stimulating, but do not mesh well with our homogenized educational schemes.

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