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Glossary of Statistical Terms

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: September 4, 1999
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

spurious relationship


  • spurious relaltionship - a relationship that appears to exist at face value, but that disappears when you control for another variable.

    The old joke to help you remember: Once a group of students decided to study empirically the causes of drunkenness.

    • They drank vodka and water. Got drunk.
    • They drank rum and water. Got drunk.
    • They drank scotch and water. Got drunk.
    • They drank bourbon and water. Got drunk.
    • They drank gin and water. Got drunk.

    They looked at the patterns of their data and saw that water appeared in every instance in which they got drunk, while no other factor appeared to remain in every case. They concluded that water made them drunk. Further research indicated that each of the substances combined with the water contained alcohol. The conclusion that water makes you drunk is spurious. By looking for other variables and other patterns we find that alcohol is the culprit variable.