Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc – Why my iPod Didn’t Kill my Computer

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc is Latin for “after this, therefore because of this,” or in other words, associating correlation with causation.

People are notorious for making this error in logic, because when something significant happens we want to be able to know & explain why it happened.

I was guilty of this error the other day when my laptop broke (I lost all of my files, I cried and learned my lesson – back them up!!!). I was going about my computer business as usual, and remembered that my iPod battery was nearly drained, so decided to plug it in. As soon as the cord hit the USB port, the screen went black, it crashed, and I couldn’t turn it back on.

I blamed this crash on the iPod, I even yelled at it and threw the cord against the wall! But when my husband took it in to get fixed, they said it wasn’t possible that the iPod was what caused the problem. Sorry iPod, it was just a coincidence that my computer happened to die at the exact moment that I plugged it in. I think this is a great example that helps to understand why many people buy into the anti-vaccine movement in spite of the complete lack of evidence correlating vaccines with autism.

Just like a certain amount of peoples’ computers will crash shortly after they plug their iPods into their USB ports, a certain number of children will be diagnosed with autism shortly after they are immunized. Just because it happens before, doesn’t mean it was the cause.

There’s a story that Paul Offit, author of Autism’s False Prophets, likes to tell that illustrates this beautifully:

My wife is a privately practicing pediatrician in the suburbs. And she was in the office one day and there was a four-month-old sitting on her mother’s lap. And my wife was drawing a vaccine into a syringe that she was about to give this child. Well, while she was drawing the vaccine into a syringe the child had a seizure, and actually went on to have a permanent seizure disorder—epilepsy. And there had been a family history of epilepsy, so she was certainly at risk for that. If my wife had given that vaccine five minutes earlier, I think there’s no amount of statistical data in the world that would have convinced that mother that anything other than the vaccine caused the seizure, because I think those sort of emotional events are very hard to argue against.


3 Responses to “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc – Why my iPod Didn’t Kill my Computer”

  1. 1 Mom January 8, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Hi Lindsay,
    I was reading one of your blogs back in Sept. where you wrote that you don’t believe in the soul. I just came across a definition of the soul that really made a lot of sense to me. Robert Price of The Reason Driven Life describes the soul as referring to one’s integrity. “It is what Heidegger calls the authenticity of your existence. As Tillach puts it, it is the living of your days in obedience to the law of your own being. You can disobey yourself you know. You do every time you cast aside your better judgement. Every time you stifle your conscience”.

    I like these definitions, I think what they are getting at is that your soul is essentially your essence. What do you think?

    Further, I think spirituality is whatever we do as individuals to improve and enrich our souls. Any thoughts?

  2. 2 Global Villager January 9, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    I think that makes sense as a definition for soul but we already have words like integrity and conscience that refer to the same thing.

    The problem with the word “soul” is that it carries a very supernatural connotation and is linked so much with religion.

  3. 3 EnlightningLinZ January 9, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Hi Mom, that’s definitely a more secular definition for the soul, but I think the word “soul” holds the connotation that there’s some supernatural cloud that makes up “me” floating in my body that will be released after I die. Maybe Price is trying to change that definition to something based in reality, and I could get behind that goal. I believe in what Price says is the soul, but I won’t say I believe in the soul as the word is used by most people. (the same could be said about spirituality, as long as the word holds supernatural connotations, I see no need to believe in it)

    PS: I didn’t realize that Robert Price was the author of that book, I love Robert Price! The Bible Geek!

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