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Yellow Fingers Do Not Cause Lung Cancer

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and computer engineer Bob Marks look at the ways Big Data can mislead us into mistaking incidental events for causes

It’s easy to explain what “information” is if we don’t think much about it. But what if we ask a student, what does your term paper weigh? How much energy does it consume? More or less matter and energy than, say, lightning striking a tree? Of course, the student will protest, “But that’s not the point! It’s my term paper.” Exactly. So information is very different from matter and energy. It means something. Realizing that information is different from matter and energy can help us understand issues like the difference between the causes of a problem (causation) and circumstances that may be associated with the problem but do not cause it (correlation). In last week’s podcast, “Robert J. Marks on…