Common Knowledge

No, this is not an April Fool’s post.

I found the argument about mexican lemons at Derek Lowe’s In the Pipeline (if you’ve not got it on your RSS aggregator, get thee behind me) and thought it was a better way to celebrate the day of fools than by doing something fake like “I’m going to work at Elsevier as head of intellectual property!” or some such.


You see, we get fooled all the time by data. And frequently we really, really want the data to tell us something specific – something we’ve been looking for, for a very long time. Or we want to have the data tell us something coherent – to tell us a story. Eric Schadt uses the phrase that “we are wired for storytelling, not for statistical uncertainty,” and I tend to think he’s right.

This means we’re wired in some ways to find causation when all we’ve got is correlation.

But no matter how badly we want it…mexican lemons just ain’t the reason highway deaths are going down.


  1. #1 NoAstronomer
    April 1, 2009

    “mexican lemons just ain’t the reason highway deaths are going down.”

    Well of course not! It should be obvious to everyone that the decrease in highway deaths is increasing the demand for mexican lemons.

  2. #2 Butternut Bill
    April 1, 2009

    Why not? This is the way the vaccine-autism people think, and if it’s good enough for them….

    I’m a gonna’ get me a case of Mexican lemons for my front seat!

  3. #3 bill
    April 1, 2009
  4. #4 AZAM
    April 1, 2009

    I noticed there is a high correlation to the people who ride bikes and drink milk. I still trying to figure out the significance and may take some time.

  5. #5 opony szczecin
    April 26, 2009

    it can definitly stop now

  6. #6 Anonymous
    September 16, 2009

    If this trend continues, some time in the mid 21st Century the US will be importing more lemons from Mexico than they are capable of producing, and, when the death rates go negative, past highway victims will start being resurrected from the dead.

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