There’s a skill I think everyone should have, and this skill is tied inseparably to epidemiology.
One way to illustrate the skill, is through alcoholism. If people who drink alcohol are healthy, does that fact mean drinking alcohol is healthy, or does it mean people who are healthy will take risks, such as imbibing something known to kill brain cells?
Another example is the recent and continuing controversy over what flavor green Skittles should be. The company decided to swap the flavors back and forth (lime to apple, apple to lime). Far too many questions could be asked about this, so let’s simplify the situation. Let’s say the company made the initial change without any research or customer input. Let’s also say the company noticed a steady decline in sales. Then they decided to return to the original flavor. Regardless of the new sales count, did the drop in sales have anything to do with the new flavor, or was the cause the change itself? According to their customers, the new flavor is now desirable (hence the continuing controversy), so probably the decline was due to the unwanted change.
By now the skill I alluded to in the beginning should be obvious. It’s the skill of recognizing a true cause and a true effect. Sometimes, in our minds, we transpose the two. We end up looking at the cause as if it was the end result.
Other times we look at a cause, and it seems logical, but it’s still not the real cause. In times such as this we might be attributing a cause that fits our bias. We jump on the first cause we hear, or the most common, or even the one our school teacher taught us. Beware the bias.
One other thing to be aware of is our potential to be influenced. We succumb to peer pressure. We fear the derision of the crowd. Or we simply fall for faulty logic. Whichever the reason, we can be influenced, sometimes right, and sometimes wrong.
How to gain the skill of recognition is the same as the one to relieve you of the burden of peer pressure. It requires you to be more skeptical, even a little bit cynical. You have to be able to hear a statement touted as fact and take it as not fact until proven otherwise.
This isn’t a skill to pick up overnight. It requires a lot of practice before you start to get good at it. Practice now. Go back to the top of this article and doubt everything I told you. Fact check. Ask a friend. Find out for yourself what is true, and what isn’t.