Thursday, March 23, 2006

Faculty Follies - Correlation is Not Always Causation

A study reported in the Higher Education section of The Australian on March 22nd is alleged to have found that "just turning up gives female students an edge over the men". However what was actually established by the study was that "attendance has emerged as the best predictor of academic performance".

The authors of the study are claiming insights which are not supported by their research. Attendance may be a good predictor of academic performance, but that does not mean that attendance is also a cause of better academic performance. High levels of attendance and high levels of performance may both be caused by another variable... perhaps high achievement motivation. The false cause/correlation error is easy to miss when prediction is confused with causation.