Books won’t Make you Clever


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Correlation does not imply causation

There is an apocryphal tale about an inner city education department in the American Mid West.

In their efforts to increase children’s performance they commissioned an extensive study of the socioeconomic environment their students were raised in, to see what impact it had on a child’s educational prospects.  The study delivered one simple, strong and statistically valid insight.

Households that contained lots of books had children who did well at school.

This finding gave the board of education cause to think and led to much deliberation.

An audacious plan

They decided to provide a library for every child.  For years they sent free books to every student registered within their geographic boundary. Over the 10 or so years that every child attended school they were given their own personal library.

The plan, audacious and expensive as it was, did nothing for the standard of education within the district.

Correlation does not equal causation

The reason children who lived in houses full of books did well at school wasn’t because they had lots of books in the house.  It was because they had parents who bought lots of books. It was all to do with the parent and nothing to do with the books.

This is good news for those of us who own a kindle.

Spurious correlations are everywhere

It is easy to jump to conclusions

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Correlation and causation are not the same thing

The point(s) of the post is simple:

  • To improve the system find the cause of the problem, not simply something that is correlated with it.
  • Buying books won’t make you clever — believe me, I’ve tried.

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Children reading

Read another opinion

Image by josefnovak33

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


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