An Example of Spurious Correlation


IF I am not mistaken, the first method of forecasting the summer season proposed by Mr. A. B. MacDowall in NATURE of September 16, 1909 (vol. lxxxi., p. 335), is based upon a spurious correlation. If we take a series of departures from normal of a meteorological element and tabulate the sums of consecutive groups of thirty, there will always be a relationship between these sums, although tiie original departures may be entirely independent, and hence the relationship between the sums cannot be utilised for forecasting an individual term of the original series. That such sums of independent departures are not independent may be seen in the following way. If we denote the original independent departures by d1, d2,..., and the sum ot thirty quantities beginning with dp by sp, the correlation coefficient between such quantities as sp and sp+1, as given by statistical methods, will be the mean value of a long series of products sp sp+1 divided by the product of the square roots of the mean values of s2p and of s2p+1 Now as dp, dq are independent the mean value of the product dp, dq will be zero; and it is easily seen that the correlation coefficient in question is the mean value of (d2p+1 + d2p+2 + + d2p+29) divided by the product of the square roots of the mean values of (d2p+...+a2 p+29) and of (d2p+1 + + d2p+30); if we denote the mean value of d2q by m2, this becomes 29m/30m2, or 29/30. Thus the thirty-year sums of independent annual departures will tend to vary closely together, and the dots in a diagram like that of p. 335 would tend to lie on a straight line.

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

WALKER, G. An Example of Spurious Correlation. Nature 82, 279 (1910).

Download citation


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing