Matt Ridley stole my post’s title

Well, sort of… I was going to call my post on his WSJ column “Effect and Cause”.   Then I checked his blog and found he had cross-posted the piece on his blog using my title.  The nerve!

OK, enough mock self-absorption.  The WSJ title is less clever, but more direct: “When Scientists Confuse Cause and Effect.”  Ridley summarizes the problem neatly:

The nature-nurture debate has long been bedeviled by cause-effect confusion, as exemplified by the old joke: I’m not surprised that Johnny comes from a broken home; he would be enough to break any home.

The perils of “effect and cause” thinking are pervasive.  How many of us say “I don’t have time to plan, I’m too busy!”  Of course, that “busy-ness” is likely caused by the lack of planning itself.

Finally, I recommend checking out the blog post because it has a great graph — from a JoNova post — on climate change that illustrates these dangers.  Ice core data show a strong relationship between CO2 and temperature.  This relationship appeared to tighten the case against CO2.  However, more detailed analyses suggest that temperature drove CO2 concentrations, not vice versa.

The main reason I like the graph is that I could see both sides.  Looking at the synched CO2 and temperature lines made me sympathize with researchers.  Oh, that synch must have looked like proof that CO2 causes warming.  Unfortunately, the finer timescale appears to destroy,  or at least hobble, that proof.

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