Cause and Effect

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One thing which really annoys me in articles is confusion or deliberate misrepresentation of cause and effect, so I thought I'd collect a few good examples to disect.

Of course this is just my opinion, which colours my reading of articles and may not be the original intention of the writer.

1. Man dies after Taser arrest near Bolton guardian.co.uk

IPCC to investigate police use of Taser to subdue man, 53 - the third fatal arrest using stun gun or pepper spray in a week.

Clearly tasers and pepper spray are dangerous, three fatalities in a week is something worth investigating and the writer is right to raise serious concerns.

Or perhaps the first paragraph of the article is more relevant:

A man who stabbed himself in the abdomen has died after being Tasered by police officers.

I'm not a trauma specialist, but I'm fairly confident a knife in the abdomen is more likely to be the cause of death than being zapped by a taser, although I suppose being tasered as well may not improve things. I don't imagine the chief constable who volunteered to be tasered (Top cop tastes a Taser) would have tried the same with a knife in the gut.

No doubt the post-mortem will clear things up, but it seems likely the journalist has conveniently ignored cause and effect to get a better headline.

  • Effect: Death
  • Claimed cause: Taser
  • Much more likely cause: Stab wound to abdomen

The BBC managed to find a more realistic title: Stab man Tasered by Greater Manchester Police dies

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