Sociology Index

ECOLOGICAL FALLACY

Ecological fallacy is the error made in reasoning about differing units of analysis. Specifically, ecological fallacy is the error of using data generated from groups as the unit of analysis and attempting to draw conclusions about individuals.

If neighborhoods with high rates of unemployment also have high crime rates, it is ecological fallacy to conclude that it is necessarily the unemployed people in neighborhoods that commit crime.

The fallacy of the ecological fallacy: the potential misuse of a concept and the consequences - Ecological studies have been evaluated in epidemiological contexts in terms of the "ecological fallacy."

Although the empirical evidence for a lack of comparability between correlations derived from ecological- and individual-level analyses is compelling, the conceptual meaning of the ecological fallacy remains problematic. S Schwartz, Div. of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, Columbia Univ., American Journal of Public Health, Vol 84.

The ecological fallacy and the gender ratio of suicide in China 
PAUL S. F. YIP, PhD, KA Y. LIU, MPhil - The British Journal of Psychiatry (2006) 189: 465-466.
Declaration of interest None: China is the only country in which the suicide rate is higher among women than men. We provide a demographic perspective on the gender differential in suicide in China. This shows that the male/female ratio of suicide increased between 1991 and 2001 and there is reason to believe this trend will continue. Among the population subgroups, only young women living in rural areas had much higher suicide rates than their male counterparts.

Health-exposure modeling and the ecological fallacy 
Jon Wakefield, Departments of Statistics and Biostatistics, University of Washington
Gavin Shaddick, Department of Mathematical Sciences, University of Bath, Bath, UK 
Biostatistics 2006 7(3):438-455. 
Recently, there has been an increased interest in modeling the association between aggregate disease counts and environmental exposures measured, for example via air pollution monitors, at point locations.

On ecological fallacy, assessment errors stemming from misguided variable selection, and the effect of aggregation on the outcome of epidemiological study
Boris A Portnov, Jonathan Dubnov, Micha Barchanac, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology advance online publication 11 Oct. 2006
Abstract: In social and environmental sciences, ecological fallacy is an incorrect assumption about an individual based on aggregate data for a group. In the present study, the validity of this assumption was tested using both individual estimates of exposure to air pollution and aggregate data for 1,492 schoolchildren living in the in vicinity of a major coal-fired power station in the Hadera region of Israel.

Is the "Ecological Fallacy" a Fallacy? 
Authors: Seiler, Fritz A.; Alvarez, Joseph L.
Source: Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, Volume 6, Number 6, November-December 2000, pp. 921-941(21)
Abstract: Ecological studies of health effects due to agent exposure are generally considered to be a blunt instrument of scientific investigation, unfit to determine the "true" exposure-effect relationship for an agent. Based on this widely accepted tenet, ecological studies of the correlation between the local air concentration of radon and the local lung cancer mortality as measured by Cohen have been criticized as being subject to the Ecological Fallacy and thus producing invalid risk data. Here we discuss the data that a risk assessment needs as a minimum requirement for making a valid risk estimate.

Ethnography, the Ecological Fallacy, and the 1995 Chicago Heat Wave 
Duneier, Mitchell - Source: American Sociological Review, Volume 71, Number 4, August 2006, pp. 679-688(10)
Abstract: In Chicago in July 1995, the Cook County Medical Examiner classified 739 heat-related deaths after one week of record high heat and humidity. In the 2002 book Heat Wave, Eric Klinenberg provides an influential account of these deaths. Klinenberg specifically contrasts mortalities in two neighboring communities, black North Lawndale and Latino South Lawndale. He explains the mortality difference by focusing on how elderly black residents, including those in "literal isolation," were impacted by neighborhood conditions. However, Klinenberg's book provides no data on the individuals who died. The author of this Research Note reports more data obtained by traveling to these two communities and to the bordering white community of Archer Heights. The author compares his findings against data available on death certificates for all decedents. At the time of the heat wave, many of the people who died were not elderly and only two elderly victims in North Lawndale were living alone. In the bordering white community, most decedents were living alone during the heat wave and none had ever married. The author questions whether Klinenberg's theory operates at the individual level in North Lawndale and assesses whether Robinson's "ecological fallacy" pertains to Klinenberg's study.

The Attitudinal Model, Political Science, Ecological Fallacy and Exaggeration 
SEAN WILSON, Penn State 
Abstract: Empirical scholars of the United States Supreme Court, Jeffrey Segal and Harold Spaeth, have long contended that Supreme Court decisions are based primarily upon the ideological beliefs of the justices, and that ideology alone accounts for the bulk of choices made in civil liberties cases. However, this conclusion results from the misinterpretation of an ecological regression model. The researchers never modeled the votes of the justices; they only analyzed an index of grouped aggregates. When announcing conclusions, however, scholars equated variation in a voting index with the frequency distribution of binary observations that comprised it. As a result, model conclusions were exaggerated and disciplinary misinformation was created. This work exposes and corrects this problem by re-estimating the relationship between justice ideology and votes with a multilevel approach that uses a logistic regression to directly examine the dependent variable prior to its manipulation into grouped data. The findings demonstrate that ideology models lose about two-thirds of the level of explanation researchers previously proclaimed.

Ecological Inference and the Ecological Fallacy
by David A. Freedman
Department of Statistics, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720
International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences 6: 4027–30
In 19th century Europe, suicide rates were higher in countries that were more heavily Protestant, the inference being that suicide was promoted by the social conditions of Protestantism (Durkheim 1897; also see Neeleman and Lewis 1999, Whitley et al 1999). According to Carroll (1975), death rates from breast cancer are higher in countries where fat is a larger component of the diet, the idea being that fat intake causes breast cancer. These are ‘ecological inferences,’ that is, inferences about individual behavior drawn from data about aggregates.
The ecological fallacy consists in thinking that relationships observed for groups necessarily hold for individuals: if countries with more Protestants tend to have higher suicide rates, then Protestants must be more likely to commit suicide; if countries with more fat in the diet have higher rates of breast cancer, then women who eat fatty foods must be more likely to get breast cancer.

The potential for bias in Cohen's ecological analysis of lung cancer and residential radon
Jay H Lubin 2002 J. Radiol. Prot. 22 141-148
Abstract. Cohen's ecological analysis of US lung cancer mortality rates and mean county radon concentration shows decreasing mortality rates with increasing radon concentration (Cohen 1995 Health Phys. 68 157-74). The results prompted his rejection of the linear-no-threshold (LNT) model for radon and lung cancer. Although several authors have demonstrated that risk patterns in ecological analyses provide no inferential value for assessment of risk to individuals, Cohen advances two arguments in a recent response to Darby and Doll (2000 J. Radiol. Prot. 20 221-2) who suggest Cohen's results are and will always be burdened by the ecological fallacy. Cohen asserts that the ecological fallacy does not apply when testing the LNT model, for which average exposure determines average risk, and that the influence of confounding factors is obviated by the use of large numbers of stratification variables. These assertions are erroneous.

Epidemiological contexts in terms of the ecological fallacy.