Spurious correlations

A chance conversation with my two dear friends Tor and Sarah (who are massive football fans) brought my attention to a popular and bizarre theory making its rounds about the ‘Grim Reaper of Football.’ Apparently – and the statistics prove it – whenever Aaron Ramsey the Arsenal midfielder scores a goal, a celebrity or famous personality dies. Most recent evidence being the passing of David Bowie barely 24 hours after Aaron scored a goal. So strong is the correlation, that there have been numerous articles written (examples here, here and here) and even a Facebook page dedicated to discussing and dissecting the ‘Ramsey Effect‘ of poor Aaron who is understandably not amused.

After many minutes of giggles with Tor and Sarah though, conversation turned to how correlations can – and indeed, have – been created between the most inane occurrences.  I vividly recall how in one researcher development  workshop on data interpretation, I learnt about the ‘10 weirdest things linked to Autism.’ Among them, maternal factors which include getting an infection during pregnancy; not getting an infection during pregnancy; being pregnant near freeways and other dubitable factors:

Source: E.J. Willingham, “10 Weirdest Things  Ever Linked to Autism,” http://www.forbes.com/sites/emilywillingham/2013/09/04/10-weirdest-things-linked-to-autism/#8a581053fb1a

However, one of my all-time favourite questionable statistical relationships (aka spurious relationship) is that of per capita cheese consumption correlated with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets. Yes! – apparently the CDC in America collects data on people who become tangled in their bedsheets. (Note to self: Must thank my boss for allowing me to manage more, ahem, robustly evidence-based research projects!)

I could, of course, go on and on about other entertaining correlations that have been developed over the years. However, as with any good idea, I have been beaten to the punch by an entire book being dedicated to the subject; I highly recommend ‘Spurious Correlations’ for a riveting and hilarious read. For now, I’ll leave you with this bemusing statistical visual of the number of people who drowned by falling into a pool correlated with the number of films that Nicholas Cage appeared in that particular year… oh dear!

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016