Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On Data, Logic, and Summer Camp

Ad hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Forgive me for taking Philosophy classes when I was younger. Forgive me for being a dork about logical fallacies. And forgive me for the fact that I am always, therefore, hesitant to assume that just because two things have a numerical correlation, they must be related.

This fallacy translates to "with this, therefore because of this." It is probably the most irritating, in my opinion, of all fallacies, and I have to note a problem here. A consulting/research firm called Hunch released survey information recently that showed a correlation between kids who went to summer camp and kids who have seen a therapist and announced that "Hunch users who went to summer camp were 13% more likely to patronize a therapist."


http://hunch.com/explore/prospect/report/?e1=671884&e2=785033

Excuse me, HOW are these related? At all? Yes, I went to summer camp. And yes, I have sought care from a therapist. Do I think the two are at all related? No. There are about 30 different factors that, quite honestly, contribute to seeking a therapist aside from attending a summer camp.

First of all, there's the possibility that a student who was sent to summer camp was sent because both parents were working which, admittedly, could cause some emotional instability in a child needing more attention. But, quite frankly, I'd attribute this correlation to what is actually a positive factor: the kind of parent who would send their child to summer camp because they want what's best for their child is, in my opinion, also probably the kind of parent who would more likely advocate that their son or daughter seek help when they're struggling with something. Which, I think, ultimately shows a more positive environment than a negative one.

Hunch presents this information as if going to summer camp is in some way emotionally scarring. And I'm sure it could be, as much as going to the circus can be mentally scarring for a child with an irrational fear of clowns or going to visit a family member can be emotionally scarring for someone who has been sexually abused. It doesn't mean that going to the circus or visiting family are universally scarring experiences. But if this little piece of survey information, framed in the logically unsound manner it has been, gets out, parents may decide to stop sending their children to summer camp.

And I can tell you that the summers I spent at camp are some of the best memories and healthiest experiences I have ever had, and it bothers me that a company that specializes in statistics and analyses of human behavior could so blatantly misguide people about the data they're presenting.

Irritatingly yours,
Rachel Leigh

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