Correlation

I’ve been a member of the OEDILF, the Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form, since February 2007, an online project attempting to define every word in the English language by a suitable limerick. When a limerick alone isn’t enough, one may add an “author’s note” to provide additional information. Over the last years, I’ve written a number of limericks defining mathematical terms — a subject shunned by most and feared by some other OEDILF authors, and I’ll be presenting some of them here. Here’s an old one from February 2008:

Correlation

Recent tests show that so-called “IQs”
Bear no strong correlation to who’s
Rich or poor, black or white,
Male or female, but might
Correspond with the size of your shoes.

Statistics do, in fact, prove a strong correlation between IQ-test results and shoe sizes. Young children tend to have very small feet, and their test results, given the same tests, hardly ever beat those of adults (whose feet are larger). Such cases show that correlation between two seemingly unrelated numbers (test results and shoe sizes) may be due to a hidden factor (age).

Many statistics of this kind seem profound and meaningful until the hidden connexion is revealed, and then they look trivial. Say someone claimed that a study found a large majority of all traffic accidents in Israel were caused by Jews. That might lead you to think that Jews are bad drivers — until you start asking who lives in Israel and might own a car. So don’t trust statistics alone; use your brain!

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