Asking the Right Questions 6/e -- Ch 10 notes

Critical Question: Are There Rival Causes?

rival causes --

When to Look for Rival Causes

...when you have good reason to believe that the writer or speaker is using evidence to support a claim about the cause (to bring about, make happen, or affect) of something.


X has the effect of ... X deters ...
X facilitates ... as a result of X ...
X leads to ... X increases he likelihood ...
X influences ... X determines ...
X is a factor in ... X contributes to ...
X is linked to ...

The Pervasiveness of Rival Causes

Lessons Learned





Detecting Rival Causes

Clues for Detecting Rival Causes
• "Can I think of any other way to interpret the evidence?"
• "What else might have caused this act or these findings?"
• "If I looked at this from another point of view, what might I see as important causes?"
• "If this interpretation is incorrect, what other interpretation might make sense?"

The Cause or A Cause

frequent error --

Multiple contributory causes occur more often than do single causes in situations involving the characteristics or activities of humans.

Rival Causes and Scientific Research

Researchers start with tentative beliefs -- hypotheses -- about causes of events. Once a hypothesis has been firmly established by dependable research evidence, it changes from a hypothesis to a law.

In the domain of complex human behavior --

When speakers or writers use findings from research to prove that one event causes another:
1. Try to find out as much as you can about the research procedures.
2. Determine rival causes.

The more plausible rival causes that can account for the findings, the less faith we should have in the hypothesis favored by the communicator.

A major goal of scientific research is to minimize the number of plausible hypotheses. Scientists have come up with many techniques for ruling out, or eliminating, plausible rival causes. Sometimes these work; sometimes they don't (especially research studying complex human behavior).

Rival Causes for Differences Between Groups


Ask, "Are there rival causes that might also explain the differences in the groups?"


Confusing Causation with Association

Explanation 1:

Explanation 2:

Explanation 3:

Explanation 4:


Ask, "Are there other causes that explain the association?"

Confusing "After this" with "Because of this"

post hoc, ergo propter hoc ("after this, therefore because of this") fallacy


Ask, "Are there rival causes that could account for the event?"

Explaining Individual Events or Acts

When seeking explanations of individual historical events remember:




Clues for Evaluating an Explanation of an Event or Set of Events

Is there any evidence that the explanation has been critically examined?
Is it likely that the hypothesis may be biased by social, political, or psychological forces?
What rival causes have not been considered? How credible is the author's hypothesis relative to rival causes?
Is the hypothesis thorough in accounting for many puzzling aspects of the events in questions?
How consistent is the hypothesis with all the available relevant evidence?

Be wary of accepting the first interpretation of an event you encounter.

Evaluating Rival Causes

In comparing causes, apply the following criteria:



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Updated 05.20.01