Many of you are familiar with my favorite correlation versus causation cartoon. I have to admit that this one is a sick and twisted close second:
The general correlation versus causation problem is that when we see events A and B occurring together or one after the other, we cannot conclude that event A caused event B. We can’t do this because there are two other possibilities for an explanation- it could be that event B caused event A instead (admittedly difficult when event B happens later), or it could be the case that some renegade event C caused both A and B. This last case is particularly important because it highlights the possibility that events A and B have no direct connection.
In the example above, event A is the lights being turned off and event B is the guy getting shot. (Apparently my theory that people don’t like being lectured to has some merit.) It should be obvious which of the causal explanations is most likely in this case. (If it’s not, allow me to directly advise you to not enter a dark room with a serial killer.) This reminds of the time a friend of mine pointed out that she’s not scared of water, she’s scared of drowning- her argument was that it’s not like she looks at a glass of water and runs away screaming. This makes perfect sense, and yet how many people claim to be afraid of the dark???