Reading Reflection #9: Rival Causes and Statistics

  1. What are rival causes and when how should you look for them (what questions should you use to find them)?
    • “A rival cause is a plausible alternative explanation that can explain why a certain outcome occurred” (Browne, p.120). You can detect rival causes by asking: can I think of any other way to interpret the evidence? What else might have caused this act or feelings? If I looked at this event from another point of view, what might I see as important causes? And if this interpretation is incorrect, what other interpretation might make sense?
  2. Explain the difference between causation and association/correlation. Which is more difficult to demonstrate and why?
    • Causation explicitly applies to cases when action A causes outcome B. Correlation is a relationship between A and B but action A does not necessarily cause action B to happen. “Causal arguments are the most difficult for writers to construct because they must show that the actual causal relationship exists” (Browne, p. 127). With that, people have a tendency to think that if event B followed event A, then they believe that action A caused outcome B; we have a tendency to believe when two things happen close together, 1 must have caused 2.
  3. Identify the conclusion and reason (cause) for the conclusion in the following passage. Name two potential rival causes (other possible causes) for the conclusion other than the one given.

Increased amounts of germs and bacteria on college campuses cause higher rates of illness in college students. College students are less likely to sanitize living areas and common areas on campus, which in turn creates excessive germs on surfaces and in the air leading to more sickness in students.

      • Conclusion: Increased amounts of college students are sick because they don’t clean.
      • Reason/cause: College students get sick from increased amount of bacteria.
      • Rival (other possible) causes: Students are getting sick from seasonal sicknesses that are occurring not bacteria. Students walk outside without jackets and become sick from the weather and seasonal allergies.
      • Evaluation (How strong is the original argument? What’s missing?): Facts to prove that student sickness is due to lack of cleaning and increased bacteria.

4. Based on your reading of ARQ chapter 10, “Are Any Statistics Deceptive?”, summarize how the following types of statistics can be deceptive. What are some strategies you can use to determine how reliable each type is?

    • Unknowable and biased statistics: use of statistics to impress or alarm others with large numbers, presenting them with suspicious precision. Ask them where they got their numbers form.
    • Confusing averages: there are three meanings of average: mean, median, mode. People often use average when talking about statistics to give a better and more accurate number.
    • Measurement errors: there are different ways of coming up with one answer. People often have different ways of finding an answer so asking how they got their answer can help.
    • Concluding one thing, proving another: conclude one thing with a statistic but then using claiming the statistic helped prove another thing. Ask what statistical evidence will help the conclusion?
    • Deceiving by omitting information: use a statistic that is incomplete and you can’t understand why they are using it or where it is from. Ask how does this statistic help your reasoning?

5. Read the following passage. Identify the conclusion, and reasons, and evaluate the evidence (in this case the statistics) used to support the writer’s argument.

The home is becoming a more dangerous place to spend time. The number of home-related injuries is on the rise. In 2005, approximately 2300 children aged 14 and under died from accidents in the home. Also, 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year. To make matters worse, even television, a relatively safe household appliance, is becoming dangerous. In fact, 42,000 people are injured by televisions and television stands each year. With so many accidents in the home, perhaps people need to start spending more time outdoors.

    • Conclusion: It is becoming more dangerous inside peoples homes.
    • Reasons/causes: Home related injuries are increasing.
    • Evaluate the evidence (the statistics): 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs yearly. 42,000 people per year are injured by TV’s. 2300 children died in a year from in house accidents.