by Tyler Vigen
Hachette Books, 2015 (($20))
“Correlation does not equal causation” is an oft-repeated, yet oft-forgotten, maxim. When two quantities happen to vary together, people are apt to think one depends on the other, whether or not they do. Vigen, a Harvard Law School student, illustrates that point in this hilarious and illuminating collection of completely coincidental correlations—such as the number of films Jennifer Lawrence appears in yearly and the gross domestic product of Australia (97.8 percent correlation) and the annual rate of shark attacks compared with that of tornadoes (77.4 percent). Beyond the humor, Vigen makes a serious point: spurious connections are becoming easier to find thanks to the increasing availability of large data sets and the tools to mine them. As science becomes more and more intertwined with “big data,” researchers must fight the urge to ascribe meaning to every association they discover.