Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Drawing Faulty Conclusions of Causality

This morning I read an article in the SMH about two girls who committed suicide. I don’t know the girls. I don’t know why they did what they did. However, to quote from the article:

On the site Jodie and Stephanie talked about their fascination with the brooding "emo" subculture. With roots in the goth movement, emo is short for "emotional" and is known for its angst-ridden music and moody introspection.

This quote is taken from quite early in the article and demonstrates a cunning tactic of saying something without saying something. The implication is that there is some connection between their death and their interest in emo music. Although the SMH will probably deny that they’re drawing this conclusion (and grammatically, they’ve not actually said that they are), it is clear that they want the reader to think that the connection is strong.

However, the logic does not follow. It’s roughly the same as writing, “On April 24, Mary shot her neighbour’s dog. On April 24, Mary was wearing black shoes. Therefore, wearing black shoes is a contributing factor to Mary’s choice to shoot the neighbour’s dog.” The two statements are true, but there is no causation. Michael Moore makes these kinds of connections all the time and gets ridiculed for them.

This is a beat-up to stir the fires of moral panic in the community in order to sell more newspapers (or advertising clicks; your choice). “Drive out the emo from among you at once!” they say. “Look under every rock and hiding place for people who are ‘angst-ridden and introspective’ – they are a blight on the community! They’ll make you depressed. They’ll only kill themselves!” The logic of this is that if only people would stop listening to emo music, they’ll be safe from committing suicide. What should they listen to instead; The Seekers?

There are other groups within the Australian communities who are vulnerable to suicide. Many middle-aged men who feel that they have failed their families because they cannot provide for them (low pay, redundancies, high expectations for living standard, etc.) believe that they are unworthy to continue in the family and take their own lives. Does this therefore mean that we should stop people from becoming fathers? Folly.

Please, journalists and editors, take a moment to think about logical consistency before you write your articles. This is the kind of scaremongering that has happened with video games and roleplaying games - all of which is baseless. See beyond the next circulation figures and the associated advertising dollar.
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