It’s hard to believe that it is nearly 8 years since Ed Sheeran released what would be his breakthrough album +. What’s even harder to believe is the strange relationship there appears to be between Sheeran releasing music and the falling rate of homicides in his Native country of England and neighboring nation of Wales.
If you look at the number of recorded intentional homicides in England and Wales there appears to be less homicides recorded each year that Sheeran releases an album. The homicide data (taken from Eurostat) only goes up to 2016, so I wasn’t able to check this effect for the year Sheeran released his third album, but the below graph shows the number of recorded intentional homicides in England and Wales from 2010 to 2016 and I have highlighted the years Sheeran released an album (2011 and 2014) in red.
While this data would seem to indicate that there is a relationship between Ed Sheeran releasing albums and falling homicide rates, I very much doubt that this is the case. The purpose of this example is to illustrate a very important idea in academic thinking; Specious Reasoning.
Specious Reasoning is reasoning which appears to be well-informed and correct but isn’t. This type of reasoning can become a big problem in research when we attempt to explain what is happening in the world. The problem here is that the data being used is not incorrect, Ed Sheeran did release an album in 2011 and 2014, and there was a drop in recorded homicides in both of those years.
So, the argument that his music being released has a relationship with the drop in homicides would appear to have some kind of evidence backing it, however just because there appears to be a relationship between the two events this doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a causal relationship.
Events can be correlated with each other coincidentally but this does not mean that they help cause each other. While this seems like quite a novel example there are instances where specious reasoning can really get in the way of our understanding of the world.
American economist Steven Levitt noted that the most cited explanation for the fall in crime in New York in the 1990s was new innovative policing strategies, but through research he discovered that one of the main causes for the drop in crime was the legalization of abortion 20 years previously and that new innovative policing strategies were completely unrelated toward the crime drop.
These two examples hopefully demonstrate that just because two events happen at the same time, it doesn’t mean that they are linked to one another, or in the language of economists all over the world; Correlation ≠ Causation. It is this specious type reasoning which leads to incorrectly informed prejudices all over the world.
By Daragh O’Leary
Data collected for this post was accessed at: http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/setupDownloads.do
On the 11/02/2019 at 10:35