Unfortunately, we all fall for what is actually bad reporting about science. –
“In his book Bad Science (UK), Ben Goldacre explains that “anyone who ever expresses anything with certainty [relating to health] is basically wrong, because the evidence for cause and effect in this area is almost always weak and circumstantial.”
The same is true when it comes to social media and depression. Let’s not assume that social media is to blame just because depressed adolescents are using it.”
We are hard-wired to find connections to things. It’s the way our brains work. It’s part of our DNA. It’s the kind of thing that serves us well when our lives are in danger, the ability to see a threat coming and act accordingly.
That part of our brain though, fails us outside of that situation. It creates cause and effect connections between things that are not related to one another, like social media and depression, or autism and vaccines, or mental illness and violence.
Just because two things seem to both be increasing, does not mean that one causes the other. In this case, social media use is higher among people who are depressed, but it’s not clear that depressed people don’t simply spend more time indoors on social media. There’s not direct cause and effect here.
It’d be like saying there was more rain this year, and more people bought Android phones. Clearly the rain caused people to buy an Android. We don’t know that. We know it rained more than usual, and we know people bought Androids more than usual. Those may be connected, they may have nothing at all to do with one another. Unfortunately, in the never ending quest for attention, these studies are usually reported as if a cause and effect connection absolutely exists, when the studies don’t show that at all. Seriously, what’s better than a headline that says something like “people who don’t eat bananas more likely to have cancer.” Is that because bananas help people avoid cancer, or is it simply that the segment of the population that doesn’t eat bananas happens to have a slightly higher rate of cancer and the bananas are just a coincidence? (BTW, I just made that example up, I do not know of any such study)
Stop to consider this whenever you read a story about health studies. Ask yourself, does this show me two things that increase or decrease, or does it actually show a relationship between the two? There’s a huge difference!