Letters to the Editor

Don't be deluded by statistical illusion


In response to Ted Yellman’s letter, responding to my letter, which criticized the King County Prosecutor’s recent editorial: I did not, as Yellman asserts, criticize the editorial for suggesting causality. Rather, my criticism was for the clear assertion of causality contained in this quote from the editorial: “Every layer of education is like a protective blanket that protects the potential of that young person and protects our community.”

It if had been a mere suggestion, for example, “every layer… might be like” I would not have been alarmed. Yellman further states that those dropping out of high school earn less. But again, this can be largely explained by a common root cause for both not finishing high school and low earnings.

I did not mean to imply that fetal alcohol syndrome is a particularly widespread cause for students failing to finish high school. No doubt every student’s story includes a complex interplay between nature and nurture. There are so many variables in every human life.

My point is that we must not permit ourselves to be deluded by statistical illusion. Our process of forming policy that affects the young is far too important for that.

Simply because two phenomena coincide does not mean that there is a causal link between the two. We should care enough about our young people to think in a clear minded manner about the costs and benefits of any policy affecting them, including coercing high school attendance.

Timothy Siegel, Bellevue

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