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It can be hard for computers to find hidden causes for observations.  The above animation shows fictional statistics for the number of people going to the beach, ice cream sales, cinema ticket sales and umbrella sales.  The corresponding icon is bright if one of these statistics is above average on a certain day, otherwise it is dark.  From the data alone a computer might guess the model on the left, because everything is intercorrelated.  A bad statistician might then look at this and suppose for example that umbrella sales are caused by people not going to the beach. A better model is the one on the right, which introduces a ‘hidden variable' not in the data- the weather.  It's really the weather that is causing these things, and this gives a simpler model even though it produces exactly the same statistics. [code]

It can be hard for computers to find hidden causes for observations.  The above animation shows fictional statistics for the number of people going to the beach, ice cream sales, cinema ticket sales and umbrella sales.  The corresponding icon is bright if one of these statistics is above average on a certain day, otherwise it is dark.  From the data alone a computer might guess the model on the left, because everything is intercorrelated.  A bad statistician might then look at this and suppose for example that umbrella sales are caused by people not going to the beach. A better model is the one on the right, which introduces a ‘hidden variable' not in the data- the weather.  It's really the weather that is causing these things, and this gives a simpler model even though it produces exactly the same statistics. [code]

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    That’s as catchy as my professor’s example to illustrate the hidden variable problem / third-cause fallacy / spurious...
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    Fancy seeing a Bayesian network on tumblr.
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Matt Henderson

I post original stuff about maths, space, computational linguistics and other things that I like. This blog is meant to be accessible and interesting to people of all backgrounds. My undergrad was maths in Cambridge, and I'm now starting research in Speech and Language technology. Email me at If you're new, check out this overview of my posts. All code posted is in Mathematica.

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