Electrocution and Marriage Rates: Correlation or Cause?

The comic charts on the website Spurious Correlations are already familiar to many TOK teachers. But if you’ve missed this resource till now, you won’t want to miss it any longer. Did you know that the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets correlates with the total revenue generated by skiing facilities in the US – or that the number who were electrocuted by power lines correlates with the marriage rate in Alabama? Would you infer that one ...

TOK and Counterfactual History

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Ho hum? Heard this before? In the first place, this famous "quotation" is apparently a distortion--albeit a slight distortion--from George Santayana's actual assertion, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. " More to the point, the statement raises important questions about the nature of historical knowledge. In fact, it doesn't really matter what a particular philosopher actually said (or even whether, as is often claimed, ...

How wolves change rivers: variables and causation

This four and a half minute video, with splendid filming of animals in Yellowstone National Park in the USA, could be effective in a TOK class on the topic of the search for cause in the natural and human sciences: http://youtu.be/ysa5OBhXz-Q  It could be used to stir thoughts (or summarize them) about causes, variables, experimental controls, and the limits of experiments outside a lab. It's not often that in nature, with all its intricately interconnected variables, one variable can be be traced ...

Correlation or causation?: climate change and increased violence

Few recent scientific studies have received as much media coverage as one published recently in Science, arguing for a causal link between climate warming and violence.  The range of media sources covering it is as impressive as the number:  not just general news media at all levels, in many parts of the world, and not just science journals, but also those with particular perspectives, among them religious (or, at least Christian) environmental, police-based, medical and business.  Why should this particular ...