Concept Modules
     Causality Lab
     Case Studies






The Carnegie Mellon Curriculum on Causal and Statistical Reasoning (CSR) concerns causal claims and the scientific process by which they are established, particularly where it involves the use of statistical evidence. All students, for example, should be able to critically assess a newspaper report of a study that "links" the amount of violence watched on TV with anti-social behavior. Although most colleges and universities offer introductory courses in statistical or research methods, these courses give little in the way of a qualitative framework within which students can reason about causal claims of this sort, claims which must inform our medical and social policies.

The material in CSR is delivered in three integrated pieces, which we describe in more detail below:

1 Concept Modules
2 Causality Lab
3 Case Studies

The Causality Lab (along with an Exercise Builder) can be freely downloaded and used independently. The Case Studies can be viewed from this guest site (see the panel at the top), but to sample our concept modules, you must create an account on the OLI-Jcourse system, and then use the account to log in. A full set of instructions for creating the appropriate account are available if you wish them. Guests can do any of the modules in Area 1: Causation.

Encapsulating the basic results of research done over the last 20 years by statisticians, philosophers, and computer scientists, our curriculum presents a simple but rich theory of causation, distinguishes causation from association, presents the obstacles to establishing causal claims from associational data and explores the strategies for doing so. The curriculum is suitable for introductory level courses on critical thinking, quantitative methods, research methods, or formal reasoning. It is equally suitable as a first course of a two-semester or two-quarter introductory statistics sequence, to be followed by more conventional introductory statistics.

As part of the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, our course in Causal and Statistical Reasoning strives to be an example of widely accessible and effective online education.

Concept Modules

The Concept Modules deliver content on causation, association, how they connect, and many other topics, but they are nothing like standard textbooks. Although each module (there are almost 20 total) is approximately the length of a textbook chapter, after every page or so they present the student with a few questions, a simulation, an applet, or some other interactive material.

Most of the material covered in the modules is not traditional statistics, but rather complementary to it. Instead of teaching statistical formulas, we motivate the students by putting them in a scientific position where the need for statistical apparatus is obvious. There is an enormous amount of web-based material on more traditional statistics education already out there, much of it quite good. In the Related Links section, we provide an annotated guide to the major pieces of which we are aware.

Causality Lab

The Causality Lab is a simulated laboratory for setting up, carrying out, and analyzing experiments or observational studies. It is designed to put the student in the place of the scientist, providing hands on experience in the scientific pursuit of causal knowledge. Many of the Concept Modules use the Causality Lab for interactive exercises.

Case Studies

We have now collected almost 100 short case studies in a repository organized by topic and by the concepts illustrated. One of the goals of our courseware is to help students become critical consumers of the "studies" reported in the media. When a newspaper reports that researchers have established that time spent in day care as a toddler causes more aggressiveness later in life, for example, we want students to be able to separate causal theory from associational data, and to be able to critique the move from data to theory. The case studies in the repository, many of which are used in exercises within the concept modules, are meant to provide practice at applying the concepts taught to cases in the real world.


Funding for this project has been provided by the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, Carnegie Mellon, as well as the Andrew W. Mellon, the James S. McDonell, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundations.

Overview || Concept Modules || Case Studies || Applets & Shockwave ||
System Requirements || Personnel || Related Links || Users