Facebook causing lower grades? Doubtful...

How about Facebook related to lower grades? This is a classic case of causation versus correlation.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

How about Facebook related to lower grades? This is a classic case of causation versus correlation. Of course, I'm referring to the recent study at Ohio State showing that frequent Facebook users have lower grades than those who keep their noses in their books.

I have one word for this: Duh. The sources of bias in this study make it a poster child for a high school statistics class. Researchers found that students who were frequent users of Facebook tended to have lower GPAs than those who didn't use the social network:

Typically, Facebook users in the study had grade point averages between 3.0 and 3.5, while nonusers had GPAs between 3.5 and 4.0.

So here are the potential biases:

  • The majority of Facebook users in the study were in the physical sciences, rather than the humanities. Have you taken organic chemistry recently? It's bloody hard and you'll probably end up with a lower grade than you would in Sociology 101. Not that there's anything wrong with sociology, but orgo convinced me that I had no business being pre-med in college.
  • A large percentage of non-Facebook users were graduate students. Obviously, by the time you've begun your masters and doctoral work, you're going to be significantly more focused than the average undergrad, for whom frat parties still represent a good time.
  • The researchers hypothesized that the physical science majors spent more time on the Internet in general than their liberal arts counterparts. I can think of 2 or 3 things besides Facebook that they might have been doing online that would have also distracted from their studies.
  • Finally, as CNET blogger, Chris Matyszczyk, points out,

    I have a suspicious and entirely unscientific feeling that all this research may tell us so far is that bookwormy, people-uncomfortable types do well in school tests...So nothing's changed, right?

The researchers did acknowledge the idea of correlation/causation, but the media haven't been as keen to publicize it:

"We can't say that use of Facebook leads to lower grades and less studying, but we did find a relationship there," Aryn Karpinski, co-author of the study and a doctoral student at OSU, said in a statement.

So keep Facebooking, my friends. Better yet, dump Facebook and create a Ning. You communication and creativity skills will serve you well in the workforce, especially those of you majoring in the hard sciences.

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