In the EMF case study from last week, electrical and magnetics fields (EMF) were thought to be correlated to Jacob’s cancer.  Correlation is the degree to which two things are linked.  Correlations are talked about all of the time.  You hear in the news that (insert food name here) is linked to (insert cancer type here), and what they are talking about is usually correlation.  However, it does not mean that one thing causes the other. 

For instance, look at the following spurious correlations relationships.

Causation can be tricky to determine, so how much should we rely on just correlation to make a decision?  

Assignment:  Submit a paragraph to this dropbox (minimum 250 words) describing EITHER: 

1) Give an example of where in your opinion showing a correlation between two things is enough for you to believe or act on data…and a second example of where something would need to be shown to be causative before you would act on the data.


2) How could confirmation bias or ad populum fallacy play a role in the EMF case study?  

Mary and Pablo met while attending college and fell in love. Mary was a dual business and biology major, while Pablo studied graphic design. They both graduated during the fall of the same year and decided that it was time to get married. The newlyweds went out into the world hand in hand, looking for jobs, but couldn’t seem to find anything within the region. A few of their friends who also graduated that year ended up getting jobs in North Carolina, so Mary and Pablo shifted their job search to that region. Soon they both found their dream jobs and planned to move into the area…

They ended up renting a small apartment but hated such cramped living. They also wanted to start a family and decided that a home would be much better, so they contacted a real estate agent and began to look for one. However, their search for housing was difficult because, like Mary and Pablo, many people had moved into the area for jobs over the last couple of years. This caused housing prices to rise sharply. As a young couple just starting out, they didn’t have a large amount of money but could afford a small house.

Week after week, Mary and Pablo searched. Each house within their budget was not what they were looking for. They were small or needed a large amount of maintenance or were right next to very busy highways. Naturally, Mary and Pablo began to lose hope that they would find anything. The real estate agent had one more property to show them. The house seemed perfect. It was in good repair, had enough bedrooms, and even had a large yard out back. They both wondered why the price was so low, so they asked the agent. She pointed out the window to the large cellphone towers visible just past the back of the yard. They asked the real estate agent if the towers were harmful and she assured them that they weren’t. After much discussion, the young couple decided to buy the house, as it was the best one that they could purchase on their budget.

Years passed and Pablo and Mary had one son named Jacob and two younger daughters, Delilah and Piper. They moved up in their jobs but were happy in that little house, so didn’t see a need to move. The kids enjoyed exploring beyond the yard and playing under the towers. The children grew up and seemed healthy until the son was diagnosed with a rare type of liver cancer at age 15. The doctors were puzzled, as this type of cancer is rarely seen in children, and asked Pablo and Mary about their living environment. They couldn’t think of what could have caused this cancer. As they were walking around the yard, looking for possible environmental factors, Mary looked up and saw the cellphone towers. She vaguely remembered reading a study or two linking exposure to electromagnetic fields and cancer.

After Pablo and Mary told their friends about their concerns with the cell phone towers, they received a ton of information from their friends from the internet that ranged from saying there was no cause for concern to a few blog posts that seemed to leave little doubt that the towers were the culprit for Jacob’s cancer. They were contemplating moving the family out of sight of the towers, but the housing market had dropped and they would potentially lose about $20,000 between closing costs and the difference in housing prices. Before they made a decision about moving though, they were visited by Pablo’s Aunt Sylvia. Aunt Sylvia worked for a research firm that specialized in researching preferences of mouthwash. When they showed Aunt Sylvia the information they had received from their friends, she looked at them and said, “So, you are going to make this decision to uproot your family and possibly lose $20,000 all based on secondary sources?”

Pablo turned and looked at her, “What do you mean?”

“All of these sources have already interpreted the information for you. Are you sure you want…” Aunt Sylvia paused and read from the documents, “Bob Arnot to make this decision for you?”

“Who?” asked Mary.

“Exactly my point,” Aunt Sylvia said sarcastically. “You don’t know anything about this person who wrote this blog or this website. For all you know he could be like your Uncle Jim.”

Mary laughed, because everyone in the family knew that Uncle Jim was a sweet man, but would bombard you at every opportunity with “facts” that astrology was an “indisputable” effective method for making decisions.

“Well were should we look then?” asked Mary.

Aunt Sylvia shrugged, “Well you might at least check into the primary literature, you know the information that has been researched and published.”

“Isn’t that like…impossible to read?” asked Pablo.

“It can be hard to read at times, but if you are going to make an important decision, you might at least check it.”

Mary and Pablo thanked Aunt Sylvia for the suggestion, and they decided to give the primary literature a try.

Initial Post:

In your initial post, choose a topic that interests you (for example a hobby, your major, or a health issue or condition, etc.) go to

and search the database for articles on that topic. When you find one you like,

· post the topic you searched for

· the title and author of the article

· the weblink to the article

· one sentence that sums up the article (you do not have to read the whole article, you can just make your summation from the abstract, the paragraph description at the beginning of an article).

For your response, choose another student’s post and find their article in Google Scholar. When you find their article click on the “Cited by” button to see a new list of articles (see picture below). All of these articles used the article that you were searching for (that your fellow student posted) in their research. In your response…

· Choose one of these articles that used your fellow student’s paper as a basis for their new research.

· Give the title of the article you chose and a weblink

· Provide a few sentences speculating on how your paper relates to the original one posted by your fellow student

· This interconnected network of ideas makes up the idea of Science as a body of knowledge. Write a few sentences (short paragraph) discussing why you think this interconnected system of information is important and make an estimate for how much of this information is in agreement.

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