Sociology Index


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. Ecological fallacy, also called ecological inference fallacy is a logical fallacy in the interpretation of statistical data. Ecological fallacy is also referred to as the fallacy of division, though not a statistical issue.

Ecological fallacy arises from thinking that relationships observed for groups necessarily hold for individuals: if provinces with more Protestants tend to have higher suicide rates, then Protestants must be more likely to commit suicide. Such inferences made using group-level data may not always be correct at the individual level. Ecological fallacy is a well recognized concept in sociology (Robinson 1950). A good description of the ecological fallacy in Durkheim's work is provided by Morgenstern (1995 & 2008).

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.

Emile Durkheim and the ecological fallacy - Madhukar Pai, MD, PhD, Jay S Kaufman, PhD. McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
In a book published in 1897, entitled Le Suicide, Emile Durkheim explored the differing suicide rates among Protestants and Catholics. In 19th century Europe, suicide rates were higher in countries that were more heavily Protestant. Durkheim found that suicide rates were highest in provinces that were heavily Protestant. He concluded that stronger social control among Catholics resulted in lower suicide rates. Durkheim's study of suicide was criticized as an example of the logical error termed the "ecological fallacy." Indeed, it is one of the most famous examples of ecological fallacy. So, what went wrong and why?

The ecological fallacy and the gender ratio of suicide in China 
PAUL S. F. YIP, PhD, KA Y. LIU, MPhil. 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, Gavin Shaddick. 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.

Reductionism in Fallacy Theory - Christoph Lumer. The aim of the paper is to develop a reduction of fallacy theory, i.e. to 'deduce' fallacy theory from a positive theory of argumentation which provides exact criteria for valid and adequate argumentation. Such reductionism has several advantages compared to an unsystematic action, which is quite usual in current fallacy but which at least in part is due to the poor state of positive argumentation theory itself.

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, Israel. 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? - Seiler, Fritz A.; Alvarez, Joseph L. 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. 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. 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. Abstract: 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 - David A. Freedman. 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. Abstract. 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.