Op-Ed: Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc - Air Conditioners Cause Rapes
I was reminded of an old criminologists' inside joke when recent news reports announced that global warming will lead to higher crime rates (which is odd since crime in America has been in a two decade decline while global temperatures have crept upwards). Long ago someone noticed that more rapes occurred during the summer months, and also noticed people ran their air conditioners during the summer. In an attempt to show the absurdity of some pseudo-scientific thinking applied to politics, they made the absurd statement linking rape to cooling down your apartment.
(For the intellectually curious, rapes do increase in summer, mainly due to people being outdoors more, intermingling, and some would contend wearing less clothing and being both more attractive and exploitable)
People with politically unpopular objectives often turn to "causality" arguments; the relation between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), maintaining that the second event was a direct consequence of the first (Latin lovers know the disease as post hoc ergo proctor hoc, or "after this, therefore because of this"). But this "thinking" is a first order logic fallacy because it is based on the observation of only one possible cause, not the dozens, thousands or even millions of possible causes.
This logical disconnect is the father of much bad thinking in politics, which is why the gun control movement loves to use it.
Gun control propagandists can go further in their air-conditioner-rape type studies and thereby arrive at any conclusion they choose. What they don't do is what working criminologists and economists do every day, namely: multivariate analysis. Such an analysis examines many relationships between possible causes and effects to determine which ones actually produce an effect, by how much, and if some are co-contributors.
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