If you ever took a course in statistics, you may have learned the phrase “correlation does not imply causation.” In other words, just because two things happen together does not mean that one caused the other. A famous example of this concept is that, apparently, yellow cars are involved in fewer accidents proportionally than are cars of other colors. Does that mean that there is something about the color yellow that makes cars safer to drive? Of course not.
Correlation does not mean causation.
As policy makers struggle to find solutions to societal problems, they may need to remember that correlation does not mean causation. For example, recently a Senate committee in Virginia’s legislature heard a story about a tragic suicide that occurred on a playground in Williamsburg on Thanksgiving day. The person who committed suicide had been a resident of a nearby group home. A community member tearfully testified about the candlelight service that followed the sad event, then pleaded for the Senate to pass a bill banning group homes from being located near schools and children’s facilities. It was hard to discern the connection: did the supporters of the bill think that the playground caused the suicide?
Sadly, that Senate committee passed the legislation, perhaps unaware that Williamsburg has held the honor of the having state’s highest suicide rate for many years. Later, the Senator who sponsored the bill pulled it back, saying that it needed “work.” Because of the timing of that decision in the course of this legislative session, that proposal is effectively gone for this year.
We would hope that the idea is gone for the future as well. Group homes located near schools and playgrounds do not cause suicides. Only with a better funded community mental heath system can we hope to help Williamsburg and the rest of the Commonwealth to avoid that kind of tragic outcome.