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Tea Time and the Causation Fallacy

I was sitting at work, minding the business of someone else I would otherwise care not to, when I was alerted to this news story produced from The Record and reposted on northjersey.com: New Study Looks at the Potential Heart Health Benefits of Tea. As a semi-hardened skeptic, I couldn’t help but pointing out the informal fallacy present in this story, and used this as a teaching moment for my unsuspecting and, albeit, unenthusiastic coworkers. Here is my response:

I would be interested to know more about the sample group and their particular health habits. Drinking tea for medicinal purposes has been around for more than a millennium and I suspect that those more likely to drink a cup of tea would be more health conscious overall, possibly explaining the results of the study. This reminded me of the informal fallacy “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” or “after this, therefore because of this.” That being said, I wonder if people who drink tea more often have less heart problems because of a causal relationship between something in the tea and their cardiovascular system or if it is merely a correlation which has arose from the fact that some people who drink tea are more health conscious and, if not anything else, decidedly avoid the extra 10-12 grams of refined sugar and ounce of cream. Just a thought.

 

It’s always fun to wax on about the pitfalls of any particular science or health related news items, especially when it could provide an opportunity for a very light-hearted discussion about logic and skepticism for those who care to engage. Yes, it could make me [you] seem like a know-it-all douche, but that’s far less likely when the topic at hand concerns a beverage that most people regard as “less-than coffee.”

The response I received, from the original distributor of the article no less, was, “Unfortunately, the study was basic and didn’t dive deep enough to answer your questions. Perhaps you should do some research and send out a follow-up response.”

Touché.

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