Don’t mistake activity with achievement.
—John Wooden

In his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman noted that no two countries with McDonald’s outlets had ever gone to war with each other (The Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention). Yet Vladimir Putin recently has disproven the presence of Ronald McDonald to effect world peace. In fact, over 400 McDonalds have not deterred him.

Sometimes we confuse coincidence and correlation with causality, partly because our minds seek closure, and our brains strive to end any dissonance.

But here’s the most illuminating research to date.

Numerous college professors have encountered the phenomenon of the relationship between important exams and sudden deaths among grandmothers. One researcher actually successfully explored that relationship. Mike Adams, a Professor of Biology at Eastern Connecticut State University, collected data over several years. He shows that grandmothers are 10 times more likely to die before a midterm, and 19 times more likely to die before a final exam. Additionally, grandmothers of those students who are not doing well in class are at higher risk: students who are failing are 50 times more likely to lose a grandmother compared with non-failing students.

Adams wondered if this phenomenon could be due to intrafamilial dynamics, meaning the students’ grandmothers care so much about their grandchildren that they worry themselves to death over the exam outcomes. Adams believes that this explains why fatalities are more frequent with increased stakes, especially when the students’ academic future is at risk.

So, should grandmothers, especially those of failing students, be closely monitored for ill health during the time surrounding finals? Should the students, especially those not doing well, be forbidden from telling their grandmothers anything about either the timing of the exams or of their performance? Could it have something to do with students’ lack of preparation and depletion by the end of the semester?

Or, should the relationship of correlation and causality be examined, remembering how carefully we need to pay attention to their distinction in our daily lives?