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Explain why a correlation between two variables does not necessarily imply that one variable causes the other to vary as it does. Give an example.

marked as duplicate by whuber Sep 24 '14 at 17:27

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Example from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation

Suppose during a summer, ice cream sales increases. Also, the rate of drowning deaths increases sharply as well. Can we conclude that therefore ice cream consumption causes drowning? Obviously not, and it is easy to see a "third variable" involved here: the proportion of the population going for a swim or water-related activities.

This "third variable" is otherwise known as a confounder, and confounding is one of many mechanisms why correlation between two variables does not necessarily imply that one variable causes the other to vary as it does.

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