Over at Slate, Shannon Paulus kindly reminds us that correlation is not causation — especially when it comes to a novel coronavirus for which we have very little knowledge, let alone enough scientific controls to do an accurate study of a fully representative sample set.
“A small but important subset of people with the coronavirus also really hate puppies.” That’s what I keep thinking to myself as I see story after story linking various, so-called surprising symptoms to COVID-19: pinkeye, loss of hearing, loss of smell, brain impairments, and “staring off into space.” These pieces provide varying levels of evidence, from a Twitter dispatch to a patient to surveys conducted by researchers to propose that the mere correlations their authors are writing about might actually have some sort of firm, causative relationship.
Each of these symptoms lacks substantial peer-reviewed evidence connecting them to the novel coronavirus; at best, there are a couple studies.
So look, it's an upper respiratory infection. Leave it there until we know more, and stop talking about that drug that Donald Trump keeps pushing because he has a financial stake in the company that makes it.
The Supposed Symptoms of the Coronavirus [Shannon Paulus / Slate]
Image: U.S. Air Force Graphic by Rosario "Charo" Gutierrez (Public Domain) Read the rest
For a while, I blamed myself. I had that noticed my paltry Bitcoin investment was doing well, so I threw some extra cash in, just to say what it would do. That was just this past July. Days later, the value tanked. By September, I was down nearly 25 percent. Things have started to settle, but it's seemed so unpredictable that I've been hesitant to celebrate.
Now I know the truth. It wasn't my fault. It was the avocados—those same god damn avocados that ruined everything for millennials like me. But at least I got to enjoy them for cheaper while I stuffed my face to escape the pain of my crashing investment.
This isn't the first time someone has noticed the correlation, either. Back in April, the price of both jumped 35 percent. The avocados made sense—at the time, Trump had threatened to completely close the US-Mexico border, which would have seriously diminished our access to those delicious Aztesticles. Of course, we can always grow more avocados, whereas there will only ever be a finite 21 million theoretical Bitcoins in the world.
Clearly, there's a deeper meaning here. Correlation is not necessarily causation, it's true. But it's hard to deny the synchronicity, so weighted as it is with meaning. Perhaps the answer lies in the last untried home investment for millennials: Bitcoin Toast.
Think about it. Read the rest
Jonathan Zittrain (previously) is consistently a source of interesting insights that often arrive years ahead of their wider acceptance in tech, law, ethics and culture (2008's The Future of the Internet (and how to stop it) is surprisingly relevant 11 years later); in a new long essay on Medium (shorter version in the New Yorker), Zittrain examines the perils of the "intellectual debt" that we incur when we allow machine learning systems that make predictions whose rationale we don't understand, because without an underlying theory of those predictions, we can't know their limitations.
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The web came of age with no-holds-barred finance capitalism, so it's hard to decide which of the last twenty years' worth of changes are the result of the tech industry, or of financialization, or a toxic mix of both.
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Correlation is not causation, and the data-set is awfully small (39 incidents), but computational epidemiologist Maimuna Majumder is working with what's available, because the federal government won't fund research into gun fatalities, and does not require states to gather data on police use of force. Read the rest
The Spurious Correlations engine helps you discover bizarre and delightful spurious correlations, and collects some of the most remarkable ones. For example, Per capita consumption of sour cream (US)
Motorcycle riders killed in noncollision transport accident at the astounding rate of 0.916391. Meanwhile, but exploring the engine, I've discovered a surprising correlation between the Age of Miss America and Murders by steam, hot vapours and hot objects (a whopping 0.870127!).
(via Waxy) Read the rest
Redditor Jasonp55 has a neat demonstration of the perils of confusing correlation with causation, and his well-chosen example makes this a potentially useful chart for discussing this issue with friends who won't vaccinate themselves and their kids.
/r/skeptic, I was practicing GraphPad and I think I may have discovered the 'real' cause of autism... (imgur.com)
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!) Read the rest