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SO if someone tells you that they took cough syrup and they don't have a cough anymore so therefore cough medicine works. I have kept a virus scanner and malware scanner on my computer and never got a virus so it works.

There is a word that I know describes these false correlations but its all about the fact that they cannot prove it. You can't go back in time and then not take medicine and see if the same thing happened. You cannot go back in time and do the exact same thing with your computer to see if you still don't get a virus.

I am struggling to find the word that describes this and cannot remember what its called. Wondering if someone else can help.

  • Still haven't found your word? There's also the word "factoid". It has two meanings but in relation to your question it's a claim to truth that's been circulated so widely that it becomes embedded in pop culture and widely believed. The most famous example of this is probably that the Great Wall of China can be seen from the moon with the naked eye. – Zebrafish Sep 10 '18 at 22:14
  • I'd start here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlative-based_fallacies – MetaEd Sep 10 '18 at 23:00
  • There is a term 'non-causal'. But it is specialised and does not express complete dissociation of variables and it seems to me that it would not be an accurate answer, here. – Nigel J Sep 11 '18 at 20:15
  • I think I found the word that I am looking for "A logical fallacy" thanks everyone – Steve Main Sep 12 '18 at 13:18
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There is an exact expression for the circumstance you describe.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

No, I know: it is not a word. And, yes, it is Latin, not English.

It means

After this, therefore because of this.

It is, even now, the expression for a logical fallacy.

No standard English expression has replaced this precise description of the logical howler.

  • From here: "Correlation does not imply causation is the logically valid idea that events which coincide with each other are not necessarily caused by each other. The form of fallacy that it addresses is known as post hoc, ergo propter hoc." (In other words, correlation does not imply causation is the English expression commonly used for this fallacy.) – Jason Bassford Sep 11 '18 at 1:18
  • @JasonBassford Yes indeed. And this, in turn, leads to the simple statistical caution to say that even where the occurrence of two phenomena rises and falls in in similar proportions, the most we should attribute to them is an ‘association’ - that they are ‘associated’. Nevertheless, ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ can even be used adjectivally: this, “that is a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument”, or “Your reasoning was post hoc ergo propter hoc”. I don’t think any talks about a ‘correlation fallacy’. Perhaps we should, given the post hoc propter hoc pandemic! – Tuffy Sep 11 '18 at 7:00
  • I think this is what i was looking for "A logical fallacy" – Steve Main Sep 12 '18 at 13:17
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What you've described is an example of many things. I'll just list a few. I'll bold certain important terms. In research experiment terminology it's a Type 1 error, also known as a false positive. They've accepted the hypothesis that A causes B, and if it's not true, then it's a false positive. This conclusion arrived at by a person is most likely due to a confounding variable (another variable which may have caused B which a person did not consider or control for.) But it may be also for another reason (a cognitive bias for example).

You can't go back in time and then not take medicine and see if the same thing happened.

Technically you could replicate the experiment to support the original claim. However if you can't repeat the same experiment and get the same results they are irreproducible or not replicable, and weakens the strength of the original results and claim. If the person tells you that the result is not a general phenomenon, but simply a genuine phenomenon that happened once, eg., "It may not work for you but I swear it happened to me", then the claim/anecdote is unfalsifiable.

Unfalsifiability and irreproducibility are somewhat related.

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What you're talking about is, as alluded to in your question title, the fallacy of anecdotal evidence which the website Your Logical Fallacy Is describes as:

You used a personal experience or an isolated example instead of a sound argument or compelling evidence.

Or, as I put it, anecdotal evidence isn't.

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First of all, do you really mean false correlations? After all, the examples you gave might actually not be false. It is quite possible that your antivirus program is indeed the reason you didn't get any computer viruses lately. A better example of a correlation that is definitely false might involve e.g. astrology (as in, My astrologer told me that today I should avoid Librans, and indeed I got into a fight with a Libran at work).

If you really meant false, the word you're thinking of might be spurious.

There's a fun website dedicated to such things, appropriately called Spurious Correlations.

If, on the other hand, you meant something more along the lines of possibly true but lacking sufficient evidence, then some relevant words are unsubstantiated, anecdotal, unfounded, speculative, apparent.

Incidentally, it would help if you indicated what sort of word you're looking for, i.e. whether it is a noun or an adjective.

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subjective OED

b. Existing in the mind only, without anything real to correspond to it; illusory, fanciful.

As in:

"Your statement is subjective!"

and

"Our methodology was computational at the beginning and subjective at the end." Washington Post

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