Beware the lurking variable. Even if you didn’t suffer through a semester of college statistics, you’re probably familiar with the adage “correlation doesn’t imply causation.” But if you haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a fairly easy concept to grasp.
Take a classic example: When ice cream sales rise significantly, the number of shark attacks escalates as well. But ice cream probably doesn’t cause shark attacks. The two things are correlated because they tend to occur at the same time of year but the relationship is not causal: Summer, in this case, is what’s called a lurking variable. While for ice cream and shark attacks the common cause is relatively easy to spot, in more complex analyses myriad lurkers and their confounding cousins can cause all kinds of mischief.
Herein lies the problem with much of the current rhetoric claiming that the automation of industry is leading to the annihilation of jobs and/or the enslavement of humanity.
Wired’s Geoffrey A. Manne and Jennifer MacLean examine the validity of claims that Amazon’s strong hold on ecommerce is bad for the economy and challenge the widespread belief that automation is negatively impacting the retail job market. They also stress the importance resisting the urge to impose regulatory fixes, where policies empowering people to get re-educated and acquire new skills will be much more beneficial.