The trouble with having The Onion in my twitter feed is that the fake articles are right alongside the real ones, and sometimes they blend in. Not sure what it says about the state of economics that it took me a minute to realize that this one was fake. “Freakonomist Keeps Close Eye On GE Stock Versus Height Of Mexican Weightlifters”:
CHICAGO—A University of Chicago freakonomics professor told General Electric investors Monday to keep a close eye on recent fluctuations in the heights of competitive powerlifters from Mexico. “Usually we can count on a stable average of 5 feet 8 inches, but last month’s quarter-inch drop in height among Mexican dead-lift competitors in the middle-heavyweight division could spell disaster for GE’s aviation and software subsidiaries,” freakonomist James Duncan said. “But, like anything else, a shrewd investor must always ask himself one thing: How many hot dogs did I eat last year?” Duncan previously gained recognition for tracking first-time home ownership and teenage mothers’ gum purchases against the Times Tom Jones Is Played Per Day Index.
Dear Onion: Economists (read, good economists) know for the most part to not fall into the correlation does not imply causation trap that you illustrate here. James Duncan seems to be describing nothing more than a spurious correlation, and I’m pretty sure that Steve Levitt could totally do better.
(Sidenote: How much must it suck to spend your whole career cleverly teasing evidence of causation out of data and then be parodied in this way?)