A14: Causal Essay

Your third and final short paper is due THU APR 12. It will make an argument essential to your Research Paper, which is due THU APR 19. This of course sounds like a ridiculous amount of work over the next nine days, but actually, it’s just a clever way to get you to finish a large portion of your Research Position Paper before the ultimate deadline.

I would be very surprised if you can’t use virtually all of your causation argument in your final paper to very good effect. So, try to think of Thursday’s deadline as a chance to finish your final paper early.

This Causal Argument Essay will identify one or more cause-and-effect relationships essential to proving your thesis. We’ll talk today about the most likely causal arguments in each of your papers. Until now, you may not have thought of your particular paper as having much to do with causation, but by the end of the class I hope you’ll each have a good idea how to approach this project.

Causation Basics

We make causation statements all the time, without necessarily realizing that we’re engaged in argument and proof.
1) The Sixers lost because they didn’t rebound and turned the ball over too often
–Lack of possession caused the loss
2) His parents’ divorce made it difficult for Charles to form lasting relationships
–Early childhood trauma caused Charles’s three divorces
3) A dispute over abortion prevented the government from passing a budget
–A small detail kept a huge compromise from being finalized

Types of Causation Statements
Causation is complicated because life and the world are complex webs of interconnected activities all with consequences. Rarely does a single cause yield just one effect. Your job in writing causal arguments will often be to identify the most important of the several causes for one effect (or the several effects of a single cause).
1) Immediate Cause
–Deep philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats caused the US Congress to have difficulty passing a budget last week. But tiny matters like the funding of a few abortions can be cited as the Immediate Cause of the last-minute budget crisis. So an immediate cause and a persistent conflict combine to create an episodic effect.
2) Remote Cause
–It’s been decades since Charles’s parents divorced, but the lingering effects of that childhood trauma do bedevil his relationships with women to this day. The immediate cause of his third divorce is that he visits hookers, but he blames the remote cause instead when he talks to his therapist.
3) Precipitating Cause
–Very similar to the immediate cause, the precipitating cause is the sudden change that allows an underlying cause to have its way with objects or events. We should say gravity caused the car to roll downhill into the bay, but we’ll probably say instead it was the failure of the brakes.
4) Contributing Cause
–The Sixers don’t have the skilled players to match up against the Celtics most nights, and that’s always the underlying cause for their losing when they do, but on this particular night, the turnovers and bad rebounding contributed to the skill mismatch to cause a loss.

Other Complications

Considering how many causes are usually in play to achieve any individual result, you’re not responsible to prove causation beyond a shadow of a doubt. Your demonstration of a likely cause, with evidence and reason, will suffice. Your “proof” will yield a probable cause, not a certain conclusion. That said, you will need to defend against oversimplification and false causation. Because they often occur together, correlations mimic causations; you never want to make the mistake of claiming that breakfast causes lunch.

Correlation as False Causation
Annie does well in school because?:
–Annie always brings her lunch in a brown bag
–Annie gets nothing but support for good scholastic performance
–Annie’s parents are both brilliant
–Annie’s parents don’t let her watch much television
–Annie’s house is full of books
–Annie was born after a full 9-month gestation

It turns out television viewing has little predictable correlation with strong academic performance, so even if both exist in Annie’s case, neither is likely to cause the other. But the IQ of parents does have a causal effect, and so does low birth weight. House full of books? Not so much. Bringing your own lunch? None at all. The rules here are fuzzy, but the best refutation for your strongest argument is often that you’ve only demonstrated a correlation, not causation. Yes, most heroin addicts have smoked marijuana, but an even larger percentage of them drank soft drinks as a kid. Which one is causal?

What I Think
You’re under no obligation to accept my thesis recommendations, but after thinking about your research topics, I believe you might find it fruitful to ask the following questions or consider the following theories for your papers.

Tikeena Sturdivant
Tikeena’s paper about Adrian Peterson’s comment that the NFL operates like modern slavery might not sound like a great opportunity for a causation thesis, but there’s always one available. I’d like to see her investigate the persistence for hundreds of years of the effects of America’s slave-holding history. Whatever one thinks of Peterson’s comment, the fact that wealthy white men still gather in rooms to decide how many times a year to put their mostly black players onto the field to put on a show for the fans is symbolically extremely important. And the common rebuttal that football players choose their profession and should accept whatever treatment they receive for their lavish salaries loses its power when those owners can decide to lock the players out and pay them nothing. That’s cause and effect.

Evan Horner
The arguments about the War on Drugs are almost all cause-and-effect. The War causes massive pointless incarceration, death to traffickers, and corruption in law enforcement, and ruins the lives of productive citizens, say its opponents. Decriminalization or legalization would cause widespread addiction and overdose deaths, and hugely wasteful production losses, say the War supporters. Marijuana use causes heroin addiction. Legalization would be a big tax bonanza. Etc., etc., etc. Evan can have his pick, but I hope he’ll take a look at something small, discrete, and provable, like the number of convicts currently in jail for simple possession who would never have been there without overzealous law enforcement or a judicial system burdened by mandatory sentencing.

Tony Shilling
You may know Tony is writing about the Marvel corporation’s aggressive program to prohibit their own artists from making a few bucks doing commissioned private drawings of characters they draw for Marvel, which Marvel owns. It’s tantalizing to consider how the causal argument might sound in court: Your honor, when Gabriel Hardman drew Hawkeye for little Johnny Meister at the comic book convention, he violated the copyright owned by Marvel to the character Hawkeye. “And how did that harm Marvel, sir?” Well, your honor, it made . . . Well, it sent a message to Johnny . . . You see, your honor, it diluted the purity of the . . . Johnny might not have bought a Secret Avengers book that day because he already had a Hawkeye. Marvel has the right to protect its property, as Tony knows. But the question he might investigate in a causal essay is whether Marvel needs to show damages to pursue a suit. Criminally, it might not have to if a law is broken by the artist. Is it? Civilly, if it chooses to sue instead of prosecute, it might need to specify how it was hurt. Could it? To me, these are the central questions of Tony’s topic.

Cassie Hoffman
Cassie is working on the impact social media sites, specifically Facebook, have had on our privacy and our professional lives, and the places they intersect. I keep hoping she’ll stumble across an internal document from Facebook about their hiring practices, and I’m disappointed she didn’t apply for a job at Facebook for research purposes, to find out whether they would demand to know her password in order to see her private posts (or whether they would need to!). In part, she’s looking at how our social media personae affect our job search desirability. I would like to see her examine a few test cases of people who have lost jobs based on material they’ve posted online and whether their arguments that their personal and public lives are separate have done them any good. She seems to support a notion that schoolteachers, for example, need to be good role models even in their private lives, but I’ve read cases of sales representatives fired for offhand comments about what they did at trade shows. Effects for small causes can be pretty devastating.

Marty Bell
Marty is advocating the use of anabolic steroids in Major League Baseball. He has examined the effect of increased home runs. He has examined the effect of taking the substance on fertility and heart health. What he hasn’t examined is the cause of steroid abuse. Do athletes just want to be bigger? Are they natural competitors who want to hit one more home run than Roger Maris? Are they glory whores? Or does each long ball per season equal a million dollars in the bank? During their last year before free-agency, does an extra home run or two mean a longer contract? for a lot more money? on a winning team? It may seem obvious, but just how much does the data back up the theory that steroid use is really, really profitable?

Ally Hodgson
Ally is arguing that marijuana should not be a Schedule 1 drug, like heroin, a “controlled, dangerous” substance with no medical benefit, highly likely to be abused and lead to dependence. But she hasn’t spent much time examining how it came to be so classified. She could. What’s the reason it landed in this category in the first place? She says it was placed there because there wasn’t much data at the time. But was it routine practice to place all substances about which there “wasn’t much data” into the most restrictive category of all? Or was marijuana already special for other reasons? If so, perhaps it’s still “special,” and the most reasonable arguments in the world in favor of reclassifying it will never make a bit of difference as long as there’s political value to its Schedule 1 status. Just a thought.

Dale Hamstra
Dale’s researching the phenomenon of our inability to walk a straight line blindfolded, or in dense fog, or otherwise deprived of visual cues. The obvious c/e relationship here, of course, is that we humans navigate visually, at least on foot. But an intriguing sub-theory is that we don’t respond to cues other than visual because we don’t need to, but that we could if we did. My hope is that Dale will run his volunteer subjects through enough trials to find out whether they can learn from feedback. If they routinely fail to the right, can they learn to correct left? If they don’t have sight, can they learn to respond to aural cues and aim themselves better by judging their distance from a constant sound in the environment? So many possibilities here.

Sam Sarlo
Like Evan Horner, Sam is writing about the War on Drugs. Unlike Even, Sam will remember that back when we were choosing and defending topics, I challenged Sam to make the War on Drugs topic worth my while (much as I despise it as a choice) by proving or disproving that if marijuana were decriminalized, fewer people would die. He appears to have strayed from rising to that particular challenge. I’m hoping he’ll get back to it in his Causal Essay. The timing would be perfect.

Tyson Still
Tyson has the same Causation problem he’s had since he chose his topic many weeks ago: there’s no effective way to prove that “broken homes” cause gang membership because there’s no clear definition of what “broken homes” means. Anybody can prove anything about gang membership by skewing the data. Tyson accepted my terms when I reluctantly agreed to his vague topic selection: he would prove that children whose parents divorced are more likely to join gangs. That sounds like a simple proposition, but I’m still waiting for the results. He’s still messing around with “positive male role models” and “fathers who are absent or emotionally unavailable,” and as long as he does, he can’t prove anything because the data are purely subjective.

Jon Otero
Jon is arguing in favor of the FDA approval of a drug, Qnexa, that can save the lives of obese patients by helping them lose weight. To do so, he needs to combat the opinion that obesity is a lifestyle choice, not a medical condition. In part, he has addressed this argument in his rebuttal essay. It would make a really nice Causal Essay as well, and well worth 1000 words. Opponents think cutting back on calories and exercising will cure every case of obesity, but what if they’re just ignorant, prejudiced, and poorly informed? A simple example: your aunt goes on Prednisone to reduce her emphysema symptoms and puts on 200 pounds. Did she suddenly change her lifestyle? No. She takes a drug now. She has changed her body chemistry. We’re all born with different body chemistry. Some of us are chemically lean, some chemically plump. I’m hoping Jon will track those differences.

Jesse Samaritano
Jesse argues that music piracy through file-sharing is and should be illegal because it’s rightly considered theft. Among the arguments he tracks, pro and con, are those that distinguish between independent artists and those who have signed contracts with major music labels and who is hurt more by piracy. But so far he hasn’t tracked the numbers. What I hope is that he’ll find a way to demonstrate just how much it hurts an artist (costs an artist in lost revenue) when I download her song for free, with relative calculations based on whether she recorded it in her garage and posted it to iTunes hoping for a few thousand sales or recorded it at Sony Music Studios with the backing of a big distributor and needs 10 million paid downloads to be the next big thing.

Brett Lang
Brett’s using the example of the weight loss supplement, Ephedra, to argue in favor of increased regulation of the dietary supplement industry. He does a lot of cause/effect arguing about side effects, efficacy, and health risks associated with FDA-approved versus unapproved remedies. So far I haven’t the number of new drugs introduced into the market in a given year compared to the number of new nutritional supplements, diet aids, over-the-counter remedies, and holistic health products. I imagine the FDA hurdle prohibits all but the biggest companies from introducing their products as drugs subject to approval that must prove their efficacy and safety. At the same time, small manufacturers can concoct herb blends and hurry them to market without proving they help anyone or that they don’t kill anyone. Does the “nutritional supplement” loophole cause undue harm by exposing consumers to hazardous formulas that wouldn’t gain FDA approval if they were forced to seek it? A good causal question.

Ashley Petit de Mange
Ashley will have a difficult time separating out a causal argument from her topic because her entire argument is causal. Recession causes a lower divorce rate, she says, and never as convincingly as in her rebuttal paper, which makes an elegant case. So, what’s left for Ashley to do? I’d suggest a prediction essay. Tell us what will happen as the economy improves, Ashley. At what point will the better job market make the unhappy spouses feel confident enough to hire a divorce lawyer, suck up the expense, take the new job, put the house on the market, and end the sham relationship they’ve been suffering through since the stock market tanked? Use real numbers if you can find them.

Eddie Jahn
Eddie’s writing about Sabermetrics, the deep analysis of baseball statistics that makes savvy teams better able to sign effective players at bargain salaries. He has been forced to do a lot of causal analysis to make his argument. Do teams that use sabermetrics actually win more games? Do teams that have better sabermetric players more often win, whether or not they were hired for those numbers? The tricky part of Eddie’s argument is proving that the statistics are causal, not merely correlative. For example, considering how much data is not collected, we might prove that teams wearing red uniforms are 1.45 times as likely to win on the road as teams wearing gray on the road. Is that a reason to change uniforms? In other words, if he’s up to it, I’d like to see Eddie defend the bizarre numbers sabermetrics employers use to make their hiring decisions. What makes them think they’ll translate into better individual performance, or to team wins?

Jon Ostroph
John is investigating the strength of the argument that prolonged play of violent video games results in increased aggression in the players, a purely causal argument. It’s clear he doesn’t have much faith in this causal relationship, but so far he hasn’t taken the next step, as far as I can tell, the step we might call: “So what?” Aggression isn’t necessarily negative, particularly in a competitive capitalistic society. We value it in athletes, prosecutors, and sales professionals alike. So unless the data somehow connect the games to aggression (however that’s measured) and aggression to the harming of innocents, it’s hard to care much about the games.

Tabitha Corrao
Tabitha’s argument, that drug offenders should be offered involuntary rehab instead of jail time for minor drug offenses, is mostly a causal line of argument. Some of the effects the program she (and Joseph Califano) recommend will not be known unless it’s enacted, but others can and should be predicted. Instead of wondering whether rehab works for first-time patients, I hope she’ll find a source that explains the effectiveness of the first, second, third, and fourth visits. No matter how many times criminals do rehab before they stop misbehaving, the numbers are probably not worse than the number of times they get thrown back into jail before they finally reform themselves. Either way, numbers are available and would strengthen the cause and effect argument.

Bill Brooks
Bill is arguing in favor of stem cell research over the opposition of fundamental religious objections that the research requires the creation and destruction of human life. At one point he identifies the difference between two types of stem cell and the value of the research possibilities from each. I think he could easily write a valuable short argument that distinguishes the richness of the two types. In order to truly know what’s a stake in the argument, we need to know the promising research that has resulted already from research using stem cells from fertilized eggs. Then, when we know what’s possible, we’ll know the consequences of outlawing such research. Comparing what we’ve lost to what we can accomplish with bone marrow cells, for example, will vividly illustrate the effect of letting religion interfere in science.

Joe Mleczko
Joe is arguing that Affirmative Action had its day, did its job, and should be retired before it blows up. His essay is full of causation; for example, in demonstrating that AA did effectively improve representation of minority employees and students in the workplace and academia. He also devotes space to less obvious effects, such as the resentment that results in majority workers who feel they’ve been denied an opportunity because of their race. What I keep hoping Joe will do is to acknowledge that this was the plan all along—not to make the system color-blind, but to force it to accommodate more colors. The resentment is natural, but the inventors of the process must have considered it to be earned. No doubt the minorities not hired before AA felt resentment too. Anyway, I’d like to see Joe affirm the “affirmative” part of “Affirmative Action.” It’s never been neutral; it’s always been a deliberate attempt to favor under-represented groups by disfavoring the majority.

Aime Lonsdorf
Aime is attacking the credibility of a commonly-trusted measure of obesity, the Body Mass Index (BMI) number, not in itself a causal claim. But her essay takes on other causal topics: that sugar is the prime villain responsible for America’s obesity; that Americans started to get health-conscious in direct response to the Surgeon General’s proclamation that we were the world’s fattest country (as measured by the BMI). Now, apparently, medical experts believe waist circumference is a better indicator of obesity. Really? Pants size? This required research? Well, if sugar isn’t toxic and McDonald’s is a healthy restaurant, then what is to blame for America’s obesity? Or is Aime claiming we’re not as fat as we once were? Her position appears to be shifting with every rewrite, but that’s OK, as long as the end result is a coherent research paper. For the Causal Essay, I’d like to see either an analysis of what causes obesity and diabetes in children (if it’s not all the sugar they consume) or whether the decline in America’s ranking from “world’s most obese” to something more respectable means we’re less heavy or that the rest of the world is getting heavier.

Works Cited
Cite 3-5 sources for your Causal Argument Essay. It’s possible they’ll be repeats of earlier-cited sources, but consider it an opportunity to impress me by adding new legitimate sources for this new paper. If they are new, identify them before the citation as: NEW SOURCE.


  • Write your third Shorter Argument paper.
  • The paper will take the form of a Causal Argument as described above.
  • Identify and explain the strongest cause and effect sequence in your argument.
  • Anticipate and refute rebuttals to your causal analysis if necessary.
  • Include Works Cited.
  • Call your post Causal Essay—Author Name.
  • But in addition to that placeholder title, also give your essay a proper title. For example, this post is titled “The War on Drugs Kills More of Us than Them.”
  • Publish your causal essay in the A14: Causal Essay category.


  • DUE TUE APR 12 before class.
  • Customary late penalties. (0-24 hours 10%) (24-48 hours 20%) (48+ hours, 0 grade)
  • Shorter Arguments grade category (20%)

About davidbdale

Inventor of and sole practitioner of 299-word Very Short Novels. www.davidbdale.wordpress.com
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