Correlation does not imply causation

This is a widely used phrase in statistics (and you might add Data Science to it too). Often, some things do not manage to cross the fords we have in our minds which effectively compartmentalize what we think and where. Most often, we are guided by our biases and beliefs.

Aesthetic Blasphemy - XKCD Comic on Causality

For some hours in the mornings and in the evenings, the control of traffic lights at CDR chowk on the MG Road connecting Delhi to Gurugram is wrested from the automatic timing circuits by men dressed in white shirts and navy blue pants - the Delhi Traffic Police. People call these hours - the rush hours. Having spent some time waiting for these lights to turn green from red during rush hours and otherwise, I assert that it takes ages for the lights to go back to green during rush hours - despite human intervention. I hold human intervention responsible for this delay.

Also, there is a small T-point a couple of hundred meters further from the chowk. There is another traffic light and cars merging from the tee like to inch forward into the highway little by little every second the light shows red. So much so that a few actually make it to the other side by the time lights turn green! There again, on the fateful times when a Police-wala is managing the traffic, it is a bigger mess (as I see it arriving after the policeman).

So, whenever I see a mismanaged traffic junction wherever I am traveling I make this stereotypical guess - "There must be a policeman managing traffic on this junction". I haven't kept score (and maybe because of that), I have found it to be true most of the time! So, my belief is "Traffic Police in NCR is lousy at managing traffic. It makes things worse and that too for a time longer than it would have taken otherwise".

At the back of my mind, I do find it odd - Intelligent Human intervention should make the traffic flow more steady and organized - but it seems to just do the opposite. We must expect to find the Policeman managing traffic only because the lights couldn't! However, I see it as put the policeman at a traffic light and see him screw things up! Why? Because the evidence seems to support my belief!

Now, a friend of mine tweeted about the lousy state of affairs in Gurugram (somewhere near Sona road). The tweet went something like - "Expect to find a policeman at the place of least traffic, and rest of the places jammed due to traffic! Kaamchor police!" Wait! Maybe the places where we see Policemen and no congestion is because the Policeman decongested it? So, the Police in Gurugram might be doing a good job, but no one believes that! (Because we think Police is lousy and lazy)

It looks more like "cum hoc ergo propter hoc" - with this, therefore because of this [more].

I would like both of us to be wrong, but in the absence of data, I would like to avoid rush hours nevertheless. Oh, and by the way, if getting somewhere on time is paramount, I'd take the metro!

Image Credits