The chicken or egg question – and valid research measures

 

So which came first – the chicken or the egg?

 

It’s a brilliant question – destined to cause creased foreheads and even headaches if someone tries to figure it out.  I’ve an answer for you.  But first I want to tell you about another chicken and egg scenario.

 

China recently announced that it’s reversing its 35 year-old one child policy.  The official line is that the policy was a success – by limiting the population and growing the economy’s output the per-capita income grew.

 

But maybe it’s not so simple.  Picture the one child policy as the chicken – and the income growth as the egg.  And now ask – which came first?

 

To try and answer that we should look beyond China to what happens in other countries that do not constrain the number of children people can have.  And, guess what?  Birth rates typically decrease with increasing income!

 

So remember the chicken and egg conundrum the next time someone claims, with respect to two things happening at the same time, that one thing caused the other.  Firstly, it may actually have been the reverse!  And, not to be cynical or anything, but you might also get closer to the truth if you probe to see if the people making the claim have a vested interest in the claim being true!

 

Of course if you’re a bright spark and/or if you’ve been reading my emails for any length of time you’ll know that there’s also the possibility that neither caused the other.  This is because correlation doesn’t imply causation.  Rest assured I’ll return to that topic in the future.

 

The moral of the story?  Simple.  If you’re ever having the results of research being analysed by someone, be sceptical when that someone claims that a change in one variable caused a change in another.  Challenge them.  Is the connection they’re drawing based on valid research measures?

 

And as to the big chicken & egg question?  The answer is that it’s the egg – here’s a wonderful explanatory video – less than 4 minutes long.

 

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Posted on by Brendan

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