Deaths by Swimming Pool Drowning vs. Nicholas Cage Films and Other Spurious Correlations

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It is by now an age old adage that "correlation doesn't equal causation," but the internet just loves stories that make spurious correlations. Just yesterday there was an article floating around from Time magazine about a study that showed bullies have a lower risk of chronic diseases, with the headline "Bullying Is Good For Your Health." Wouldn't it be nice if there was a website that put lie to this idea of correlation/causation by taking it to ridiculous extremes? Enter Spurious Correlations.

The brainchild of Harvard Law School student Tyler Vigen, Spurious Connections simply takes events that have similar statistical variances over time and charts them on a graph. It's an object lesson in how easily two completely unrelated events can be shown to have some kind of relationship. Here are just a few examples:

Tyler himself doesn't see the project in the same light as I do. According to his website, he's just interested in the way people read statistics:

I created this website as a fun way to look at correlations and to think about data. Empirical research is interesting, and I love to wonder about how variables work together. The charts on this site aren't meant to imply causation nor are they meant to create a distrust for research or even correlative data. Rather, I hope this projects fosters interest in statistics and numerical research.

Regardless of his intent, the Spurious Correlations website works because it forces is us to think about our relationship to statistics and the way they are presented, both visually and in relation to one another.