William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

No Christians In Public Life? Kentucky Clerk Jailed For Refusing To Issue Gmarriage Licenses.

A Kentucky courtroom

A Kentucky courtroom

So this Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, an elected official (Democrat) and therefore unfireable, has refused under court order to issue gmarriage licenses. The judge was asked by lawyers representing two persons suffering same-sex attraction to fine Davis and not jail her, but the judge reasoned Christians would come to Davis’s monetary aide and so tossed her into the hoosegow to punish her and force her to violate her religious beliefs.

Davis is a sinner and corrupted, as we all are. She has been civilly divorced and she has since undergone gmarriages herself—don’t forget gmarriage means government-defined marriage, and not real or actual marriage, which is, by universal definition, one-man, one-woman to death do them part. (Even those in gmarriages can be forgiven.)

The argument of hypocrisy carries no force here. This is the argument that, since Davis has sinned before, she ought to sin again, which is absurd. Another non-starter is that because Davis took an oath to uphold the laws of her state, she ought to follow all new laws that arise. Yet “I was just following orders” is a despicable defense. Illegal and immoral orders or laws ought not to be followed.

Is issuing gmarriage licenses a sin? I think it is. It is participating in an evil; it is to be complicit in the act, albeit in small way. Davis thinks it’s a sin. She said:

To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience. It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision. For me it is a decision of obedience. I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word. It is a matter of religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment, the Kentucky Constitution, and in the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Davis went on to ask for, in effect, conscientious objector status; that others and not she should handle gmarriage licenses.

Those are the preliminaries. Let us not argue the law, because that subject is murky and beside the point: we are asking if Davis can violate the law while maintaining her position.

The Tolerance Brigade cheered Davis’s incarceration, proving once again that the Tolerant enjoy the pain of their enemies. Jailing clerks for refusing government-sanctioned sin is not going to last, however, even if the Tolerant demand it, because Davis did not violate any criminal law, and she couldn’t be fired like most people in her position could be. She was held in contempt, which is very different. Anyway, the class of unfireable folks like Davis is small.

The more interesting argument is the wide-spread and persistent call for Davis, and others like Davis, to resign. Those making that cry are equivalently saying, “We don’t want faithful Christians in government.” The Tolerant believe that if the government says “Jump!” the only possible response is “How high?” To the Tolerant, it is government which defines right and wrong, and if (traditional) Christianity disagrees, they say the Christian should concede to the “higher” power, which is government. The Tolerant have no tolerance for Christian exemptions. The Tolerant believe everybody should think alike.

Remember that Christian Colorado baker who refused baking a cake for a gmarriage? A judge forced him and his employees into a reeducation camp. The judge called it “sensitivity training”. The judge told the man he had no choice but to violate his conscience if he wanted to stay in business. The call from the Tolerant in that case was the same as with Davis: the Tolerant said the man should get out of business. He should resign.

The same is happening elsewhere in the world to Christian hospitalist doctors who refused to kill the lives inside women. The Tolerant say that if these doctors can’t follow orders, then they should resign.

What’s next? If a Christian public school teacher doesn’t want to teach the “benefits” of anal sex, she should resign. If a Christian state college professor doesn’t want to add a lecture on “diversity” in his course on particle physics, he should resign. If a Christian judge doesn’t want to perform a civil gmarriage, he should resign. If the Christian nurse doesn’t want to inject the “patient” with the euthanizing drug, she should resign. If the Christian day care doesn’t want to accommodate a boy who is pretending to be a girl, they should resign their business.

As the Blonde Bombshell suggested to me, our culture is saying to Christians, If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.

Stream: Global Warming Update: Obama Seeks to Still the Glaciers of Alaska


Today’s post is at The Stream: “Global Warming Update: Obama Seeks to Still the Glaciers of Alaska.”

Have you heard the story of King Canute? Lord and Master of the Northmen a thousand years ago, a wise and humble ruler, a man who had that rarest of qualities in a leader: he did not let the adulation of his subjects go to his head.

His swooning soupy sycophantic courtiers worshiped the man, and thought no deed beyond his powers. An absurd and sickening state, because why? Because functionaries who believe their leader is a god are not going to understand the true cause of things and thus they will not make good decisions.

So the King, disgusted by these attitudes, had himself conveyed to seaside at low tide. Posing majestically, he bade the ocean to remain where it was, for the tide to be still. He was King! His word was law! The oceans must not rise!…

The real question is why people increasingly believe that all change is bad. I have an answer. Go there to read the rest. What a good time you’ll have!

Frequenstism Is Entirely Ad Hoc; And So Are Priors. Use The Third Way Instead

Short note today, because today, and most days for the next couple of weeks, are book days. I am nearly finished with the damned thing. I’m now handling drudgery like the bibliography and rooting out typos (yes). And also tying the thing together so that all my terms and examples are consistent.

It’s nearly there. I think the editor I contacted, who was initially enthusiastic, must have looked me up on line and discovered my, um, academic non-conformities, because I haven’t had any email answered from her for over eight months. So once I’m done done, I’ll go searching for another. But I’ll also send a draft copy of the book to selected colleagues for comment.

In the book, incidentally, there is no global warming, no ethics, no (let us call them) social questions. It’s pure philosophy of probability and statistics, it’s all applied epistemology.

As you can see from the tweet above (if you can’t see it, click here), I was dragged into a discussion about p-values. Mayo is a respected philosopher of probability, but she takes the frequentist line and objects to Bayesian procedures because, she claims, priors are ad hoc.

She’s right: they are. But then, with even greater force, so are frequentist models, which raise ad hocness to an art form—but one resembling the graffiti at the backs of grocery stores. Seems to me, if you can swallow regressions—used for everything—you can buy flat priors for the parameters of that regression.

And you should. Swallow them, I mean. Because, as Mayo knows, a regression with flat priors gives the same numerical results as frequentism. The same.

Thus the battle between frequentists and Bayesians is a fight over a territory we logical probabilists have long abandoned. This is why I advocate (the title is goofy) The Third Way Of Probability & Statistics: Beyond Testing and Estimation To Importance, Relevance, and Skill.

This is logical probability, where models can be deduced, where the origin of parameters is made clear, and where parameters don’t even exist, unless one heads out the limit. The Third Way recognizes that we will never be able to eliminate all ad hocness, so the attention is turned from an arbitrary model’s innards to its actual performance.

This has the added benefit of being natural and easy to explain to users of our models. We speak in plain English. And since our models are exposed to the world, they can be verified by anybody. Plus, some of our models are deduced, and therefore impeccable.

The focus in the Third Way is on understanding cause, and understanding probability isn’t cause. Now that sounds mysterious because cause is deeply misunderstood in probability and statistics. The old way—hypothesis testing and Bayes factors—confuse decision and probability and thus mix up cause.

Best part of the Third Way is the dramatic reduction of over-certainty, which is now at pandemic levels. Hence the “replication crisis”, among other calamities. The Third Way, i.e. logical observable-and-not-parameter-based probability,

Notice I said “reduction” and not “elimination.” No program can do that. The old methods pretend they can, though. They claim to have discovered truth or the “optimal” action (hence the confusion of decision and probability implicit in hypothesis testing etc.), but logical probability forces due consideration of all uncertainties.

Anyway, there you are. You can read my Arxiv papers for a small taste of the book, but only a very small taste.

Incidentally, I’m available to speak on these topics. Even, possibly, for no cost.

A Prayer For The Earth: Answering The Pope’s Call. A One Act Mini-Play.


Father: “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

Penitent: “Bless me father, I have sinned. It’s been about six months since my last confession.”

Father: “Go on…”

Penitent: “I visited a prostitute twice. I gave her counterfeit money the second visit. I took drugs maybe three, four times. I haven’t gone to mass since my last confession. I didn’t make my kids go, either. But that’s because my ex took them after we divorced. Um…last time I was at mass, I dropped the wafer thing, which I know is not supposed to happen. Uh…”

Father: “Anything else?”

Penitent: “Well, I was in a hurry last week, so…”

Father: “There is no shame here, my son. You must confess all.”

Penitent: “I was late for work, so I didn’t recycle. I threw a pop can in the regular trash. And…well, I knew it was wrong. I hid the can under some coffee grounds so the EPA police wouldn’t see it. That’s it, that’s everything.”

Father: “That’s it?”

Penitent: “Yes.”

Father: “This is very bad.”

Penitent: “I know.”

Father: “Failing to recycle hurts the Earth, you know.”

Penitent: “Yeah.”

Father: “And that can was also money. The deposit. You threw away money, money that could have helped The Poor™.”

Penitent: “I figured one of those bums or illegals might fish it out. They’re always going through the trash.”

Father: “No person is illegal, my son.”

Penitent: “Even those who break the law? No—I’m kidding. I’m joking. Nervous tension. You know how it is.”

Father: “Our bishop said we must be on ‘environmental alert‘. That we must examine our lifestyles with respect to the Earth. We need to meditate on how Brother Sky and Sister Moon feed and nurture us. The bishop said we need to ‘have a greater awareness of environmental and ecological issues’. He wants us to moderate our lifestyles. That’s it. That’s key. I’ve thought a lot about that and I feel we need to put the Earth first and foremost in our lifestyles. With every action, we need to ask, ‘Is this good or bad for the Earth?'”

Penitent: “It was just one can, and—”

Father: “That’s how it starts! A can is tossed into the wrong bin might seem like a small crime, but it’s a gateway. It opens the door. It starts you on a dark path. Today it’s a can, tomorrow you use a large wattage light bulb when you could have got by with one half as bright. And once you do that, what’s to stop you switching on the air conditioning? Next thing you know you’re leaving the car on idle at red lights, forgetting, even, that you have a carbon footprint. You mustn’t forget that your behavior influences others. If everybody threw cans away, the planet itself could face global warming! We could see a temperature rise of nearly a quarter of a degree by the century’s end. And then where would we be?”

Penitent: “I know. I am sorry.”

Father: “Yes, I can sense that you are. It’s well that you came in, and today of all days. It proves the Earth is watching out for you. Today, in case you have forgotten, is the day the Holy Father set aside to pray for the Earth. To pray for the ‘Care of Creation’. The Pope wants us to ask God’s forgiveness ‘for sins committed against the world in which we live.’ Your blithe can was one of these sins. ”

Penitent: “I see that.”

Father: “Pope Francis said we are experiencing an ‘ecological crisis’. He said, ‘living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.’ No more cans in the trash!”

Penitent: “Yes. I mean, no, father. Never again.”

Father: “Very well. I can feel that you are contrite. The Pope wants us to ‘reaffirm [our] personal vocation to be stewards of creation.’ So for your penance I want you to meditate on what the Earth means to you. And re-read the EPA’s Steps to an Environmentally Pure Life. Make that your prayer for Creation.”

Penitent: “I will.”

Father: “I absolve your from your environmental sins. Go in peace and sin no more.”

Penitent: “Thank you, father.”

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