Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Correlation vs. Causation – repost for the Handover

This is a repost to fit in with the theme of the Handover over at Life Under the lights. Some coverage of research in comics by xkcd:

One of the amusing parts of xkcd is the mouse over text. It does not transfer to my blog (the text doesn’t transfer, the humor increases tremendously, or maybe not), but this is what pops up at the xkcd site:

Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’

Correlation is when things happen together. The whole purpose of the scientific method is to try to differentiate among the different correlations. Some will be purely coincidences. Some will be related, but some will not be the causes of what comes after them. And some will be causes.

All of the links in this are from the original article. The author trying to make his point, not me criticizing his points.

Cows with Names Make More Milk
By Robert Roy Britt, Editorial Director
posted: 27 January 2009 09:05 pm ET

Researchers in the UK say cows with names make 3.4 percent more milk in a year than cows that just feel, well, like cows.

There seems to be more than just names involved, however.

This sounds as if it is common sense. Call a cow by name and the cow will be more productive. People seem to prefer to be called by name, so why not cows?

Is this an example of anthropomorphic fallacy? Anthropomorphic fallacy is attributing human qualities to other creatures without any evidence to support these traits. Do cows feel happy? Do they feel sad? Do they feel unique? If they do, which is a big If, how do we recognize that the cow is feeling that feeling? What about an appearance that resembles a human expression of happiness, or sadness, or uniqueness (which would almost always be wrong)? Does that appearance mean the same on a cow as on a human?

The study, involving 516 dairy farmers and published online Tuesday by the journal Anthrozoos, found that “on farms where each cow was called by her name the overall milk yield was higher than on farms where the cattle were herded as a group,” write researchers Catherine Douglas and Peter Rowlinson of Newcastle University.

Nobody likes to be herded. Even a cow, one might presume. Indeed, the findings in fact point to an overall personal touch that — just a guess here — might say as much about the farmers as it does about the cows.

Precisely. There does not seem to be any attempt to control for variables in this study. Is the only difference between the farms that, some farmers called their cows by name, while other farmers did not? I called up Jimmy The Greek and he would not give me any odds on that bet. It seems that Jimmy The Greek, with no scientific research training, is able to recognize a major flaw in this research. And Jimmy The Greek has been dead for a dozen years.

Nobody likes to be herded?

I think that the economy is demonstrating exactly the opposite. There are a lot of people just begging to be herded. Tell us what to do! Save us! Is that not herd mentality? Nobody likes to be herded is what we would like to believe about ourselves, but a lot of people sure do seem as if they like to be herded. That freedom from the responsibility of having to think. They do seem to love it. Even the link provided does not support the claim that nobody likes to be herded.

“Just as people respond better to the personal touch, cows also feel happier and more relaxed if they are given a bit more one-to-one attention,” Douglas said. “By placing more importance on the individual, such as calling a cow by her name or interacting with the animal more as it grows up, we can not only improve the animal’s welfare and her perception of humans, but also increase milk production.”

Improve … her perception of humans?

This is not doing much for my perception of this human they call Douglas. Excuse me for taking a bit of a speciesist view of this, but what evidence do we have that cows’ perception of humans has anything to do with life as a cow on a farm? Do they view us as benevolent creatures, more so if we call them by name? Do they view us as soft touches, to be manipulated as much as possible? How would we know?

Happy cows. Okay. Well, if you are a farmer (especially one with a small farm that struggles to be profitable by milking only a handful of cows) you probably would not argue with success. Cows, after all (and in case you thinking of judging them as dumb animals) are known to have a magnetic sixth sense and are not as prone to cow-tipping as you might have heard. Who knows what else they are capable of?

A magnetic sixth sense?

Birds have a similar ability to sense magnetic north. Comparing a cow brain to a bird brain is not making a case for intelligent cows.

Not as prone (a pun?) to cow tipping?

Again, this has nothing to do with intelligence. Cows do not sleep standing up. If the cow is standing, the cow is awake. Not being completely oblivious to one’s surroundings correlates with intelligence. Awareness is not the same as intelligence. A Venus Flytrap has enough awareness to catch flies, but that does not make it intelligent.

Dairy farmer Dennis Gibb, who co-owns Eachwick Red House Farm outside Newcastle with his brother Richard,

The Brothers Gibb?

Milkin’ the Cows sung to the tune of Stayin’ Alive. You know, the CPR song.

Well, you can tell by the way I name my cows,
I’m an udder man: no time to talk.
Bowels are loud and teats are warm, I’ve been excreted on
Since I was born.
And now it’s all right. It’s OK.
And you may milk another way.
We can try to understand
Callin’ their name’s effect on cows.

Whether you’re a twister or whether you’re a squeezer,
You’re milkin’ the cows, milkin’ the cows.
Feel methane breakin’ and everybody shakin’,
And were milkin’ the cows, milkin’ the cows.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, milkin’ the cows, milkin’ the cows.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, milkin’ the cows.

Naming cows is one thing, but do they teach them karaoke? Do they teach them to dance? How can you have a proper control group without these groups?

Sorry. I get just a little bit silly at times. Just a little bit.

Dairy farmer Dennis Gibb, who co-owns Eachwick Red House Farm outside Newcastle with his brother Richard, says he believes treating every cow as an individual is vitally important. “They aren’t just our livelihood — they’re part of the family,” Gibb said in a statement released by the university. “We love our cows here at Eachwick and every one of them has a name. Collectively we refer to them as ‘our ladies’ but we know every one of them and each one has her own personality.”


The findings:

* 46 percent said the cows on their farm were called by name.
* 66 percent said they “knew all the cows in the herd.”
* 48 percent said positive human contact was more likely to produce cows with a good milking temperament.
* Less than 10 percent said that a fear of humans resulted in a poor milking temperament.

* 66 percent said they “knew all the cows in the herd.”

Isn’t that shepherds. . .

Have I mentioned that you should try the veal? Badump bump.

* Less than 10 percent said that a fear of humans resulted in a poor milking temperament.

Are they claiming that fear results in poor milking temperament?

Or are they claiming that fear of humans results in poor milking temperament?

I don’t have a big problem with categorizing certain responses as indications of fear. We cannot ask the cow what she is feeling, but we can guess. All that this would be is a great big guess. OK, I guess I do have a problem with this. Now, if you take that great big guess, not only take it for granted, but attribute a specific cause to the presumed fear, that’s just silly. Even sillier than my little rewrite of Stayin’ Alive.

Unless you have John Edwards reading the minds of these cows for you:

John Edwards – I sense something from over here. Something that begins with an M. Is it Moo?

Cow – Yes. That is what my mother, an unnamed cow, always used to say to me.

After all, the lack of continuing success for his show isn’t because John Edwards is a fraud. He’s just misunderstood by the cows in the audience. Yeah. That’s the ticket. He’s just misunderstood. By the cows.

“Our data suggests that on the whole UK dairy farmers regard their cows as intelligent beings capable of experiencing a range of emotions,” Douglass said. “Placing more importance on knowing the individual animals and calling them by name can — at no extra cost to the farmer –— also significantly increase milk production.”

The cows are intelligent beings?

Compared to what? Bacteria?

Maybe these intelligent beings should be allowed to vote.

This is at no extra cost to the farmer?

Clearly, these farmers do not understand cows. You call a cow by the wrong name and no milk for a week.

* Amazing Animal Abilities
* My Big Beef with Cloned Cattle
* Love of Milk Dated Back to 6000 B.C.

Robert Roy Britt is the Editorial Director of Imaginova. In this column, The Water Cooler, he takes a daily look at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond.


Cows called by name.


Cows produce more milk.

This is a correlation.

Does this equal causation?

Does calling the cow by name mean that the cow will produce more milk, than if you do not call the cow by name?

To quote from the xkcd comic – Well, maybe.

Just because the research does not exclude the obvious, and even less obvious, variables, does not mean that one does not cause the other. It is possible.

However, because of the lack of control of variables, and other flaws, it would be a huge mistake to suggest that there is evidence to support that conclusion. For all we know, it could be an error of measurement – there may not be any real difference.

This isn’t research. This is comedy.


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