William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Bad Science Of The Year Nominee: Global Warming To Cause Bad Music

Perhaps climate change is the cause of this young man.

Perhaps climate change is the cause of this young man.

Strike the title. It’s probably wrong. But, if so, it was an understandable mistake. After all, it was based on the news article “Music: Will climate change give us the blues?“. The answer is, according to Oxford’s Karen Aplin,—drum rollyes.

Every part of the article contributed to the notion that Aplin’s study would make the shortlist of the uncoveted Annual WMBriggs.com Bad Science Award. Consider: didn’t the reporter of that article say “the weather has powerfully but discreetly influenced the soundtrack to our lives”? She did.

And didn’t Aplin herself say, “These assumptions we have about certain weather being good and certain weather being bad, like sun being good — that might change”? Aye. She did. She also said that though some were enjoying the current warm weather, they might not always. “But if it’s going to be 40 degrees (Celsius, 104 degrees Fahrenheit) every summer for 10 years… that might change how people feel about the weather and the emotions they link to it.”

What of the study itself that hinted of its potential?

Aplin and five other scientists combed through databases of more than 15,000 pop songs, finding statistical backing for the assumption that our moods are strongly swayed by the weather.

These emotions, in turn, are expressed in the music that artists compose and what the public likes to hear…

They searched song titles, band names and lyrics for references to weather.

“We found about 800,” said Aplin.

And what did these songs say about the weather?

The sun was referenced most often, followed closely by rain, although “pretty much all types of weather came up”, said Aplin.

The seasons and wind or breeze were third and fourth most popular, while “frost” and “blizzard” were at the bottom of the list.

A quick YouTube search reveals one Gary Moore sang of the inclement weather one might find on descending from Heaven to that other place. And he didn’t sound too happy about it, either. Aplin concurs: “What we found about pop music was that the lyrics can be used very clearly to link the weather to a particular emotion, and usually the sun is positive and rain is negative.”

Who knew?

Of course, this is science, so she dug deeper. “An exception was some Country and Western songs, which ‘talked about rain as a positive thing: it brings crops and food'”.

So how does global warming figure in this? Aplin is glad you asked.

[There is the] potential for a shift in musical themes if climate change brings ever-more frequent extreme weather events, as predicted.

Chirpy songs about sunshine and gentle summer breezes could get elbowed in favour of darker, more dramatic fare…

“Under climate change, the type of weather people are influenced by to write might change,” said Aplin.

“You might find more songs about severe weather because that is more part of people’s live, or a backdrop to their lives, than the weather we have now.”

Now I ask you: based on these first appearances alone, wouldn’t it seem likely Aplin’s study was headed for a certain entry in this year’s BSA nominees?

Then it struck me. When did hip hop first attack the public’s ears? Right: the mid 1980s to mid 1990s. The same time global warming took off. And when did all that Techno and other such electronica, sounds designed to simulate music and cause incurable brain damage, infiltrate our shores? You know it: in the late 1990s. Just when the globe was doing some serious heating up.

Aplin might be right. What else accounts for phenomena like Justin Bieber and Beyonce? How else can you explain that we are forcibly made to hear execrable music in every public space? Since we’re no longer allowed to believe in Satan, climate change is the only possible candidate remaining possessing enough inherent evilness to do the job.

Lastly, I dug up this old scientific paper: Global Warming Increases Disastrous Music: A Scientific Paper. Abstract:

Global warming has reached unprecedented, dangerous levels. This is beyond question. Soaring temperatures are causing an increase in weather- and climate-related FEAM-tracked disasters (P < 0.001), thus stressing both the economies and the psyches of Western Civilization. These environmental and economic stressors are beginning to take their toll and have resulted in a rapid, unprecedented increase in musical awfulness (P < 0.001). If these trends are allowed to continue, music will soon have devolved into a debauched state so awful that hearing a pop tune will cause irreversible brain damage.

Update This (incomplete) list is apropos: Music that makes you dumb. Maybe somebody can “link it” to global warming.


Grandmaster: Men Better At Chess. Or, Data And The Underdetermination Of Theory


Update Note the New & Improved title!

Chess Grandmaster Nigel Short caused a stink, reaching oooo-weee! but not quite burn-him! levels, when he said that men and women are different and that men are better at chess than women.

Yes he did. He said the two sexes are “hard-wired very differently”. From The Telegraph:

Speaking in the magazine New in Chess about the lack of women playing the game, Short said: “Why should they [men and women] function in the same way? I don’t have the slightest problem in acknowledging that my wife [Rea] possesses a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than I do…”

He might have still been safe had he not added, “…we just have different skills. It would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess, and at a higher level, but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact.”

And that goes smack! in the face in the Theory of Egalitarianism. There is no gracefully accepting any disparity under that Theory. All unlevel (yes, unlevel) surfaces must be pounded flat in the name of Fairness, a corollary of the Theory.

This is why female chess player Amanda Ross said in response to Short, it is “incredibly damaging when someone so respected basically endorses sexism”. Sexism is when a disparity of any kind exists between males and females and which is caused by men pushing down or limiting females. Egalitarianism demands disparities be abolished, but it also claims men should not be better at pushing-down than females, but this internal contradiction is never spoken of in public. Skip it.

Ross takes some comfort in the observation that a female once beat Short in a game, which to Ross proves males and females are equal. And she would be right if “equal at chess” meant “some woman somewhere can beat some man at chess.”

Evidently, this is not what Short meant when he said men and women were “unequal at chess.” He meant something like, “In any list of top players, the majority will be men.”

There exists such a list of living Grandmasters. The compilers admit that the odd entry might be deceased (the list is large), but they also claim it is generally correct. On the list there are 1413 men and 33 non-men. This evidence bolsters Short’s claim that men are better.

But it also boosts Ross’s theory that sexism is rampant!

You read that right: the same data supports both theories. Think about it. Short says men are superior chess players and here is a list showing they are. But Ross says mankind (and presumably culture) is sexist and keeps women from reaching top levels, and here is a list showing her prediction is right.

The data cannot decide which theory is true. The theories are underdetermined. And, of course,other theories might also explain the data. Men and women might be equal, but men like playing more. And so on.

There is no use bringing in Bayes’s Theorem and asking about “prior” probabilities on the truth of each theory, because the holders of both theories start by believing they are true. The data we have can’t shake either Short or Ross free from the conviction he or she is right. The data wouldn’t help us either if we are indifferent between the theories.

It is true that different data might support Short and Ross differently. Suppose on the list were 722 men and 722 non-men. Ross, claiming the triumph of equality over sexism, is upheld. But then it would be Short’s turn to claim that men really are superior, but the culture is pushing them down.

There is no general solution. The underdetermination of the contingent is a fact.

Collecting more data wouldn’t work, either. What we have to do, and even this is not a complete solution, is to look outside the data. For instance, chess is an abstract analytical activity. If Short is right, men should be better than women at other abstract analytical activities.

For Short to be right, only one thing must be true: men must have different brains. For Ross to be right, many more things must be happening in more places and at more times. Sexism under Ross’s scheme must operate like the nervous say the Trilateral Commission does: a worldwide occult top secret network with strange unstoppable powers.

If we accept the premise that fewer premises are more often associated with true theories, than there is good evidence Short is right. But it’s doubtful we’d get Ross to agree.

Close readers will realize that this article is one more argument against p-values.


Willie Soon & I Are On An Internet Radio Show Today Celebrating Earth Day: Update

Ma Nature says: You just listen to what these boys have to say.

Ma Nature says: You just listen to what these boys have to say.

Gaia herself was reportedly besides herself with excitement when she heard Willie Soon and I were to be interviewed on The Yaron Brook Show today.

You can tune in to the show by clicking over to Blog Talk Radio. It’s scheduled to begin at Noon Eastern, 9 AM Pacific.

I gather the title of the show is “The Climate Science Article Greenpeace Doesn’t Want You to Read“. Copies of that mystery article, and the brouhaha surrounding it, can be had here.

If I understand the website correctly, if you miss the show, it will be archived at the link above, so you’ll have plenty of time to listen in.

It will be co-hosted by Keith Lockitch, a physicist at the Ayn Rand Institute. Lockitch has an article from last year that will be of interest: “Earth Day Pop Quiz: What Is the ‘Most Ethical Meat?’” No, not whale, though it’s darn yummy; nor is it monkey, which makes a terrific stew. You’ll have to click to find out.

The other co-host is Amanda Maxham, from the same place as Lockitch. She too is a physicist. Does a lot with GMOs.

In case the question arises: No, I’m not an objectivist nor a Randian. I don’t think I’ve ever even finished one of her books, and I know I haven’t started most. It has been said one must attack them while young. And young I’m not, comparatively speaking.

However, unlike herself, her followers don’t mind a little disagreement here and there, which is the opposite sentiment of the global-warming-or-bust folks. And in any case, I don’t think we’ll be disagreeing about the physics.

After the show, when I have time, I’ll come back here and update this post to let you know how it went, in case you won’t have a chance to or won’t remember to listen in.


Went well. Lockitch, being a physicist, asked very good questions about the physics. Imagine that! Most of our interview was about how the models work, what parameterizations are, what assimilation is, what climate sensitivity is and whether it is even meaningful.

I emphasized, as I never tire of doing, and as true believers cannot understand, that because the IPCC models have consistently made forecasts we know with certainty that they are flawed. Why they are flawed is an open question, though we have some ideas on that. Indeed, that’s what our “Why models run hot” paper was about.

Willie was in fine form. To steal from Jean Shepherd, never had his words flowed with such feverish fluidity! (P.S. He always talks like that. As, I think, do I.)

Go and listen!


Hey, Triggered College Kiddies: Come To The Ultimate Safe Space!

The solution to the problems all universities are having.

The solution to the problems all universities are having.

More than related: Universities? Nuke ’em From Orbit. It’s The Only Way To Be Sure.

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