Facts are not the truth

I learned a new word today. Endogeneity. Don't worry we haven't turned this into a blog for English majors (not that there's anything wrong with that). Endogeneity is the technical term for confusing cause and association. For example, you could show a relationship between ice cream and drowning. It's easy, really. Ice cream sales go up in hot weather, more people go to the pool and the beach at the same times. More people in the water increases the number of folks who drown while those who are just hot eat more ice cream. Correlation, not causation.

We see this all the time in the health and fitness field. "Vegetarians live longer than omnivores." Probably true but not necessarily because of their diet. First, vegetarians do pay more attention to what they eat than the average American couch potato. They're also more health conscious in general. They probably sleep more, get a little exercise, don't smoke and might have a mindfulness practice (meditation) which all add years to their lives. 

"Exercise makes you live longer." Well, not necessarily. If you exercise to relieve a guilty conscious because you eat like crap, drink like a fish and stay up til all hours you're actually less healthy and will probably die early. And miserably.

The point of all this is you have to see the big picture. A fact taken out of context is not only meaningless but misleading. Marketers, advertisers and news outlets do this all the time. Its how they start a panic and sell more stuff. Learn to ask more questions. "How does that work, exactly?" is a good place to start. And keep asking. Perhaps most importantly, if it doesn't concern you stop thinking about it. And please don't repeat it if you don't understand it. That's how panic spreads.

Just because something is factual doesn't mean it's the whole story.

More related but not causal things here. The divorce rate in Maine and the per capita consumption of margarine? Good times.