“Households with maids use 20 per cent more water”: Correlation is not causation

Careful reporting of survey findings is important. Focusing disproportionately on the observation that households with foreign domestic workers use 20 per cent more water than those without (ST, Mar. 9) – 160 litres compared to 135 litres, on a daily, per-capita basis – and attributing the higher water consumption to the hypothesis that “washing and cooking activities are done more often in homes with maids” results in two problems. First, the conflation of correlation and causation, especially when other factors potentially related to consumption, besides the number of individuals in a household, have not been adequately considered; and second, relatedly, the leap to a causal explanation without convincing empirical evidence.

Mental health

Tackling mental health issues: Improved data collection, presentation, and collaboration

Even though a survey conducted by nominated MP Anthea Ong and her team of volunteers yielded some useful insights about the accessibility and affordability of mental health treatment in Singapore, from a research perspective more data is still needed to better understand the state of mental health in the country. In fact, the concession that the survey was “not an official study aligned to rigorous standards of academic research” (ST, Mar. 5) should bring attention to the need for improved data collection, presentation, and collaboration.

Singaporeans are getting more sleep in 2020 (compared to 2019). But why?

A study by health technology company Royal Philips found that Singaporeans now get an average of 6.9 hours of sleep every night in 2020 – compared to 6.4 hours in 2019 (CNA, Mar. 13) – but beyond the descriptive information there is little explanation for the increase in the number of hours. In other words, among the 1,000 surveyed respondents*, why are they getting more sleep over the last year? As per the study findings, is it solely related to caffeine intake? More proper bedtime or wake-up schedules? Or the increase in the take-up of reading?

Man on laptop

“Coronavirus: 81 per cent afraid of infection”: Reporting more than just poll proportions

Poll proportions alone (or percentages) – for instance, that 81 per cent of Singaporeans are afraid of infection and that 35 per cent would still attend events even with mild symptoms (ST, Feb. 17) – may provide some useful descriptive information, yet news agencies could explore more effective ways to present the information, include cross tabulations to explore the relationship between different variables, and consequently use the data to better inform policy decisions.

Fresh bear garlic on wooden table with knife

Food insecurity in Singapore: Tackling the root causes of hunger, not just intervention mechanisms

Through a two-part series – the first documenting the 4.1 per cent of Singaporeans facing moderate to severe food insecurity (CNA, Feb. 16) and the second evaluating the over 100 food assistance groups helping those in need (CNA, Feb. 23) – Channel NewsAsia (CNA) cast additional light on a phenomenon which demands greater attention on its root causes, not just the shortcomings of existing intervention mechanisms. In other words, how do we prevent Singaporeans from going hungry in the first place, and if they do experience food insecurity what are the more effective, not just more efficient, ways of dealing with the problem?