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View Poll Results: They're correlated-- but does one cause the other?
Yes. 2 16.67%
No. 9 75.00%
Not sure, but our kid's TV is going to weekends only. 1 8.33%
Don't care-- there's no TV in the house anyway. 0 0%
Voters: 12. You may not vote on this poll

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Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 12:07 PM   #1
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Causality or just correlation?

This Scientific American news link reports a study that claims kids who watch TV during the week do worse in school than those who don't watch during the week.

Gee, I can think of a few other factors besides TV watching that might affect the results of this study, but no one's sound-bite journalism ever seems to describe those important details.

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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 12:29 PM   #2
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

I vote correlation mainly with minimal causation. The only reason I would suspect watching a lot of tv during the week would cause poor school performance is if the homework and studying isn't getting done and is being displaced by tv watching. But spending a few hours doing homework each night and then spending a few hours watching tv shouldn't interfere with one's academics.
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 12:32 PM   #3
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Where's the poll?

I vote causation. Watching TV does teach kids something: how to be passive.

Other studies have shown that not all TV is bad. For example, Blue's Clues (the only show my kid watches) is interactive and apparently really teaches kids things and encourages them to yell at the TV set.
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 12:54 PM   #4
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

It's the same problem with most of the studies reported in the media. This study could easily be used to support the hypothesis that good students who really enjoy learning don't like TV that much.

The way to find out about causality is to do an experiment in which kids are "randomly and independently assigned to positions on the independent variable." Hifalutin talk for lining the kids up, and for each one flipping a coin to decide whether for the next few years he/she will watch TV during the week or not.

Of course, that's not going to happen, so we know nothing about causation.
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 01:03 PM   #5
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
Where's the poll?
Your wish is my moderator's command!

Feel free to start over...
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 01:06 PM   #6
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

I'm not sure why this is controversial.

Imagine two sets of kids. Tell one set to sit passively in front of a box with pretty colors for, say, one hour per day. Tell the other set to go outside and actively explore their environment.

Which set do you think will become better students?
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 01:10 PM   #7
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
Which set do you think will become better students?
The ones who watch the Teletubbies!

That's the whole problem. We have to filter the result through our own personal biases to come up with a "scientific" result to be published in a peer-review journal.

There has to be a way to separate out the hundreds of interfering factors that could be confusing the results, bu that rigorous problem analysis just doesn't fit into a one-minute "News at 11!" teaser.

Same problem with homeschooling. It seems to work out well for the kids that enjoy doing it-- because the kids who hate it are in public school. And how do you tell which outcome was better-- rewind the kid's life and start them over at the local public school?
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 01:15 PM   #8
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
Imagine two sets of kids. Tell one set to sit passively in front of a box with pretty colors for, say, one hour per day. Tell the other set to go outside and actively explore their environment.
I'd guess the kid who sat in front of the tv and watched a documentary on [insert whatever piques your kid's interests here] would be a lot smarter than one who went outside and dug holes in the dirt or sat in a swing for an hour. Well, the tv watcher would probably do better in academic subjects, but the dirt digger/swinger might outperform on the playground during recess/PE.

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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 01:18 PM   #9
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Quote:
Originally Posted by justin
I'd guess the kid who sat in front of the tv and watched a documentary on [insert whatever piques your kid's interests here] would be a lot smarter than one who went outside and dug holes in the dirt or sat in a swing for an hour. Well, the tv watcher would probably do better in academic subjects, but the dirt digger/swinger might outperform on the playground during recess/PE.
Yeah, that's basically what I think too. If there are too many confounding variables, then use good old-fashioned logic.

TV is passive. Passively wasting your time probably won't improve your scholastic performance. But passive learning via educational TV is better than no learning. And interactive learning is better than passive learning. Finally, interactively wasting your time is probably better than passively wasting your time.
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 01:22 PM   #10
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
Finally, interactively wasting your time is probably better than passively wasting your time.
Like "surfing", "golf", and "martial arts"?
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 01:25 PM   #11
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
Like "surfing", "golf", and "martial arts"?
Cowabunga, dude. Beats the hell out of the best TV shows. Except for the Simpsons, perhaps.
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 02:34 PM   #12
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Nords,
can you add an option for "Not sure, but no TV in the house anyway"?
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 04:07 PM   #13
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Everything Bad is Good for You, by Steven Johnson kind of turns Neil Postman on his head by showing how most of modern pop culture actually improves mental capacity. He would say the kid sitting in front of almost any modern show (or ad) would be thinking about several parallel complex plots in a way that would befuddle someone from 100 years ago.
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 04:35 PM   #14
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sailor
Nords,
can you add an option for "Not sure, but no TV in the house anyway"?
Yes, but posters can edit just about any poll.
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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 04:39 PM   #15
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
For example, Blue's Clues (the only show my kid watches) is interactive and apparently really teaches kids things and encourages them to yell at the TV set.
Hey, I never watched Blue's Clues and I yell at the TV all the time. It drives my wife crazy!

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Re: Causality or just correlation?
Old 10-04-2006, 05:08 PM   #16
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Re: Causality or just correlation?

Freakonomics author Steven Levitt looked at this using regression anaysis on the Department of Education's Early Childhood Logitudinal Study including 20,000 children. He claims that after removing other underlying causes that TV has no affect on children's academic performance.

He found the following factors to be positively correlated (after removing other factors): highly educated parents, high socioeconomic status, mother was 30 years or older at time of 1st born, parents speak english in the home, parents are involved in PTA, child has many books in the home.

Following are negatively correllated: low birthweight, child is adopted.

He found the following to be uncorrellated: intact family, family recently moved, mother didn't work between birth and kindergarten, child attended head start, child is spanked, child is taken to museums regularly, parents read to the child every day.
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