You read that title right. U.S. teen pot smoking is correlated with the number of honey producing bee colonies. In this piece Nathan Palmer uses this strange statistical fact to help us better understand correlations and causal relationships.
Did you know that the rate of divorce Maine correlates nearly perfectly with margarine consumption in the U. S.? It’s true. Furthermore, the more teens arrested for marijuana possession every year in the U.S., the fewer honey producing bee colonies we have. That’s a fact! Most important to us here at SociologyInFocus, research indicates that the rate of sociology PhD’s awarded each year is correlated with the number of rocket ships we send into space each year (but only the noncommercial ones, I mean why would rocket launches designed for commercial purposes have any affect on sociology, ammirite?).
Wait, none of this makes any sense. Fake butter has nothing to do with divorce, pot smoking teens aren’t killing honey bees, and sociology departments aren’t waiting for a space shuttle launch to award a PhD. I can explain everything, but first we need to talk about correlation and causation.
Sometimes a sociologist’s mind wanders and she starts thinking about research methods. Here, Bridget Welch discusses a case in which that happened to her and helps you understand some fundamental research methods concepts.
Driving through the beautiful Appalachian mountains in Kentucky, I hit the Bermuda Triangle of radio reception. For miles, all I can get are stations playing gospel — not really up my alley. Then, a dead zone. It’s all static until I finally catch some kicky beats. I nod my head to the tunes for approximate 1.73 seconds, the length of time it takes me to realize — it’s Blurred Lines. A song I boycott for OH SO MANY REASONS. I give up. The radio flips off. Stormageddon (that’s my nickname for my son) has paused in his attempt at world domination and has fallen asleep in his car seat. I got nothing to entertain me and over 500 miles to go. What to do?
I go through the usual. Think about work. Plan things that need to be done. Start calculating how many miles I’ll travel in the next hour, half hour, 20 minutes. [Please tell me I’m not the only one that does that.] When that’s all done I do something we usually try to avoid, pay attention to driving itself. Speeding up and slowing down occurs a lot in the mountains (particularly when you drive an old mom van) and I shortly notice something odd. I’m using my GPS to determine the route. The GPS estimates my speed giving me two sources — the GPS and the classic speedometer. And what I notice is that my van estimates my speed at 4 miles/hour slower than the GPS. I speed up, I slow down… 4 miles off. And I think to myself, “Huh. One — or both — of these is a reliable but not valid measurement of speed.” Really. I really thought almost exactly that. Getting a PhD does things to you. Continue reading