SYMP 1-4
Correlation and causation in ecology and economics

Monday, August 10, 2015: 3:10 PM
307, Baltimore Convention Center
George Sugihara, UC San Diego

While everyone knows Berkeley’s 1710 dictum “correlation does not imply causation” few realize that the converse “causation does not imply correlation” is also true. This conundrum runs counter to deeply ingrained heuristic thinking that is at the basis of modern science.  Ecosystems are particularly perverse on this issue by exhibiting “mirage correlations” that can continually cause us to rethink relationships we thought we understood.


Here we examine a minimalist paradigm, empirical dynamics, and a method based on Taken’s theorem that can distinguish causality from correlation in dynamic systems. It is an approach that is radically different from Granger Causality as used in economics, in they way that it leverages time series information from complex systems of interacting parts (ecosystems). The approach is a departure from equilibrium-based classical theory and turns the apparent liability of complex nonlinear interconnections into an asset that allows real prediction.