Monday, March 14, 2005

Scare tactics

Do you know what the trouble with politics is? Once an issue becomes political, it also becomes impossible to do any useful analysis. Imagine hearing the following sentence, "The government should..." Already, the red flags are up and everything will be emotionally tainted and unobjective.

Case in point: an unnamed newspaper last Sunday carried a large number of letters to the editor debating the issue of whether "The government should..." ban food ads targeting children and/or food ads during programs aimed towards children.

What do we actually know about this issue? We know that childhood obesity and television with food advertisements are correlated. When I was taking psychology, the one point the professor hammered home was that "Correlation does not equal causation." Think about it this way, obese children have more difficulty being active, thus they watch TV. I can see the headline: "OBESITY CAUSES TELEVISION WATCHING!!!" The two are correlated, but correlations are interpretations. Even if the two are correlated, they could both be caused by a third thing. Poverty and crime are strongly correlated, but does that mean that crime causes poverty, or poverty causes crime? Could it be that, for example, drug use causes both poverty and crime, since drug use is strongly correlated as well? Or could poverty and crime cause drug use? Correlation does not equal causation.

So how does one "prove" causation? Ideally, we would set up a study with these groups: one group that watches no TV and sees no food ads of any kind. (They will be our control group.) The second group would watch no TV but still be exposed to food ads. (The difference between the two will determine how much influence non-TV ads have on kids.) The third group would watch TV with all the food ads removed and have no access to other adds. The fourth group would watch TV with all the food ads removed but be able to view outside ads. (The differences between this group and the first group would tell you how much of an influence TV has. The difference between it and the second group would check for a possible cumulative effect.) Finally, there would be a group that could watch regular TV and see all the ads. That's how one would "prove" that food ads cause childhood obesity. Will anyone do this? Probably not. If they did it, would anyone listen? Probably not.


Anonymous Philosopher Poet said...

How dare you suggest doing the logical, smart thing! Don't you know how the real world works by now? Complication and Diversion. It's the political way!

6:25 PM  

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