An Important Data Lesson from an Inconsequential Football Scandal

(Articles courtesy of the CCASA newsletter)

Those of you that watched the Super Bowl this year may have heard of the “scandal” that erupted in the weeks before it involving the New England Patriots and deflated footballs, which the media promptly christened “DeflateGate”, and then proceeded to report it to death.

Opinions on the media cycle aside, one of the unfortunate circumstances to rise out of the scandal were some truly tortured and wildly inaccurate uses of statistics, including, as this article from the Harvard Business Review astutely points out, some causal leaps inferred from correlations in the data. The article drives home an important lesson that our media seems to frequently ignore: correlation does not equal causation.

On that note, “DeflateGate” serves as a great reminder that the American Statistical Association has Ethical Guidelines for Statistical Practice.