Cobb illustrated the distinction by means of a famous example from the long struggle physicians and scientists had in overcoming the powerful tobacco lobby to convince governments and the public that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. Table 2 shows the mortality rates for three categories of people: nonsmokers, cigarette smokers, and cigar and pipe smokers.
At first glance, the figures in Table 2 seem to indicate that cigarette smoking is not dangerous but pipe and cigar smoking are. However, this is not the case. There is a crucial variable lurking behind the data that the numbers themselves do not indicate: age. The average age of the nonsmokers was 54.9, the average age of the cigarette smokers was 50.5, and the average age of the cigar and pipe smokers was 65.9. Using statistical techniques to make allowance for the age differences, statisticians were able to adjust the figures to produce Table 3.
Now a very different pattern emerges…