The other day I was reading Kotaku (shock, I know, for a gamer) when I came upon this article about a man in Kansas who doesn’t understand the difference between correlation and causation. His claim specifically is that because boys are playing so many video games, it’s given women the chance to take their place in education. That’s right, he’s saying that women are doing better because video games are making guys do worse. Let’s let that sink in for a second before we delve into exactly why this is an offensive and unreliable conclusion.
Has it sunk in? Let us begin.
First, the most blaring thing about his statement is the piece about women. We are doing better because men are doing worse. Allowing for no other factors like empowerment, changing social stigmas, and encouragement for women to have careers, Mr. Schrock instead decides that the driving factor for womens’ success is because men aren’t taking their rightful place as most educated, employed, and intelligent gender. Yes, women are getting higher education in larger numbers because men are too busy playing video games. This also, of course, ignores the fact that 40% of all gamers ARE women. Now I say that statistic fully understanding that some of those female gamers are farmville and bejeweled addicts, but it still holds true. No matter what kind of game we are playing, women are gaming almost as much as men. He also bases his idea that there are more women than men now on the fact that he says he sees mostly women faces in his lectures and that there are more women in he workplace than men. First of all, there aren’t more women, though numbers are closer than ever to being at least equal, and secondly, we have no idea what Mr. Schrock teaches. Some fields do attract more women than man, such as Psychology.
My second important note to point out is his confusion with correlation and causation. Let me briefly explain. When I was young, being an inquisitive mind hungry for science, I learned that causation does not equal causation. I always assumed it was a basic science fact everyone learned like having a control when conducting an experiment or the difference between a hypothesis and a theory. Though there are long stories connected to my astonishment as I slowly learned that these easy to understand concepts are not always grasped by a shocking number of scientifically illiterate people, I again was taught this idea in my Academic Statistics class.
Let me break it down for you. A correlation is when two or more variables linearly match, like if one variable increases as the other decreases at an equal rate or they both decrease at an equal rate. Causation is when one or more variables is directly contributing to the increase or decrease of one or more variables.
This is the example we were given–
The community pool sold the more ice cream on days with higher drowning rates.
According to Mr. Schrock, this would mean that ice cream would cause the drownings. Someone who knows how to look at data would see something different. The correlation could be caused by a different variable altogether, such as higher number of people present at the pool or greater number of children. More people means more potential drownings, and more children means more less experienced swimmers are at the pool. These two variables make a lot more sense as to why there were more drownings on those days.
Using this same eye, let’s look at Mr. Schrock’s data. As video game usage increased, so did women getting jobs and attending University. Mr. Schrock says that one causes the other, but we know better than to confuse correlation with causation, don’t we? In this case, because there are so many other variables involved in this scenario, one variable may not even cause both increases. The increase in video game usage can be connected to an increase in mainstream acceptance and greater accessibility for the masses as well as other factors. Increase in women in the workforce and Universities can be contributed to social change as well as other factors I have listed in my paragraph on the sexism of Mr. Schrock’s words.
Seriously, if you get the chance, take a statistics course. I hope for most of you this was a ‘no duh’ moment, but if this news to you, I urge you to learn about critical thinking and the scientific method to better navigate the often confusing world of scientific research and findings. If someone tries to connect the frequencies of seeing TLC programs and weight gains, point out that maybe it’s not the programming that’s causing the weight gain but the lack of movement.
Remember, our greatest tool in our metaphorical toolbox of life is our ability to think, and when we do it we want the sharpest tools of critical thinking to be at the ready.