Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Wrong direction

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Wrong direction is an informal fallacy of questionable cause where cause and effect are reversed. The cause is said to be the effect and vice versa.

For instance, the statement:

Driving a wheelchair is dangerous, because most people who drive them have had an accident.

In other cases it may simply be unclear which is the cause and which is the effect. For example:

Children that watch a lot of TV are the most violent. Clearly, TV makes children more violent.

This could easily be the other way round; that is, violent children like watching more TV than less violent ones.

Likewise, a correlation between recreational drug use and psychiatric disorders might be either way around: perhaps the drugs cause the disorders, or perhaps people use drugs to self medicate for preexisting conditions.

Gateway drug theory may argue that marijuana usage leads to usage of harder drugs, but hard drug usage may lead to marijuana usage (see also confusion of the inverse). Indeed, in the social sciences where controlled experiments often cannot be used to discern the direction of causation, this fallacy can fuel long-standing scientific arguments. One such example can be found in education economics, between the screening/signaling and human capital models: it could either be that having innate ability enables one to complete an education, or that completing an education builds one's ability.

A historical example of this is that Europeans in the Middle Ages believed that lice were beneficial to your health, since there would rarely be any lice on sick people. The reasoning was that the people got sick because the lice left. The real reason however is that lice are extremely sensitive to body temperature. A small increase of body temperature, such as in a fever, will make the lice look for another host. The medical thermometer had not yet been invented, so this increase in temperature was rarely noticed. Noticeable symptoms came later, giving the impression that the lice left before the person got sick.

In other cases, two phenomena can each be a partial cause of the other; consider poverty and lack of education, or procrastination and poor self-esteem. One making an argument based on these two phenomena must however be careful to avoid the fallacy of circular cause and consequence. Poverty is a cause of lack of education, but it is not the sole cause, and vice versa.


Wrong direction Wikipedia

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