The Subtleties In Causation Talk

Randomized controlled trials are a gold standard for good reason, but the notion of causation established here departs from the way we often use causal language, says blogger Tania Lombrozo.
Source: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The gold standard for establishing a causal relationship — between, say, a drug and some health outcome — is a randomized controlled trial, or RCT.

RCTs are powerful for a few reasons.

First, RCTs involve an experimental manipulation of the causal factor of interest. Rather than merely observing a correlation between, say, chocolate consumption and levels of happiness in a large and diverse population, an RCT involves an on people's consumption of chocolate: People in one group are assigned to eat chocolate; people in another group are assigned to abstain. This ensures that if

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR2 min read
High School Bull Riders And Barrel Racers Barnstorm Wyoming For Rodeo Championship
"You get an adrenaline rush from it," says Zane Hall, a 17-year-old bull rider and steer wrestler from Australia. He took three airplanes with his dad to compete.
NPR3 min readPolitics
2nd Democratic Primary Debate: See Which Candidates Made The Cut
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock will make the stage, taking the place of California Rep. Eric Swalwell, who dropped out last week. The lineup for each night of the July 30-31 event will come Thursday.
NPR2 min readSociety
WNBA Suspends Riquna Williams For 10 Games Over Alleged Domestic Violence
The Los Angeles Sparks guard was charged months ago with assaulting an ex-girlfriend. She will miss nearly a third of the regular season, and the WNBA players union plans to file a grievance.