William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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More Proof Music Is Growing Worse

New proof (which wasn’t really need) that popular music is, as has long been claimed, been growing worse has arrived thanks to the diligent work of Joan Serrà and his colleagues in the Nature: Scientific Reports paper, “Measuring the Evolution of Contemporary Western Popular Music.” From the abstract:

[W]e prove important changes or trends related to the restriction of pitch transitions, the homogenization of the timbral palette, and the growing loudness levels.

The central results could not have been summarized better than in the Australian, which correctly wrote:

OLD fogeys have long proclaimed it, parents have long suspected it, and ageing rockers have long feared that even thinking it would turn them into all they used to despise.

But it seems that believing today’s music is samey, boring and, well, just too loud does not necessarily make you a miserable reactionary. Rather, it is the scientific truth.

Before continuing, let’s snap our minds back to May of 2010, when Yours Truly posited a theory of Musical Badness.

Musical Badness (MB) quantified is this: the proportion of the time a length of music is devoted to repetitiveness.

Then in September of last year, Yours Truly and his Number Two Son computed one practical measure of Musical Badness, best summarized in this picture:

For the Billboard number one song of each year, we computed the number of unique words per song from which we formed the ratio of unique words to total number of words. The idea is that—on average—a song that is more repetitive is worse than a song which is more expansive in its use of lyric—or melody, harmony, or rhythm. As we then said,

Of the three songs with the lowest proportion of unique words, two are by the Beatles. 1964′s I Want Hold Your Hand (21%), and 1968′s Hey Jude (18%), which featured the lyric “na na na, na na na” sang 40 times. Simple to digest, no? The other worst offender was a song called Too Close by Next in 1998 (18%), which featured the subtle refrain:

Baby when we’re grinding
I get so excited
Ooh, how I like it
I try but I can’t fight it
Oh, you’re dancing real clos
Cuz it’s real, real slow
You’re making it hard for me

(Incidentally, see also proof that it is global warming which causes musical badness.)

Return to the present, where I am delighted to report that the new work from Spain confirms one aspect of the Musical Badness measure, the growing simplicity, i.e. repetitiveness, of popular music. The Australian quotes study co-author Martin Haro, who said “The complexity of the pitch transition – chords and melodies – is simplified over the years…Right now, music is full of these simple transitions. In the Fifties, new chords were tried and we were more experimental…[music today] is less an artistic expression and more a commercial product. Old music was more expressive, more experimental.”

For their work, they used a dataset which included “the year annotations and audio descriptions of 464,411 distinct music recordings (from 1955 to 2010)” in genres “rock, pop, hip hop, metal, or electronic.” They looked at loudness, pitch, and timbre. The main findings are that:

Yet, we find three important trends in the evolution of musical discourse: the restriction of pitch sequences (with metrics showing less variety in pitch progressions), the homogenization of the timbral palette (with frequent timbres becoming more frequent), and growing average loudness levels (threatening a dynamic richness that has been conserved until today).

The paper is clear and uses simple mathematical and statistical methods. The plots require some expertise understanding distributions, but all are crystalline and unambiguous: pop music has held the same structure over long periods of time, but individual songs are “one-note Johnnies” (with some hip hop offerings, this is literally true). These changes are not some subtle signal hidden where only advanced models can discover it. No. The decline of musical quality is plain.

And easy to place in time: the period of decline began in the later 1960s, which is no surprise to anybody.

Shown here is just one of their plots, proving popular music is growing—on average—louder:

Popular music splitting more eardrums than ever

The authors say that the “evidence points towards an important degree of conventionalism, in the sense of blockage or no-evolution, in the creation and production of contemporary western popular music.” There is “less variety in pitch transitions, towards a consistent homogenization of the timbral palette, and towards louder and, in the end, potentially poorer volume dynamics.”

Yes, kids, you heard it right: get off my musical lawn!

Müller lite: Why Every Scientist Needs a Classical Training—Christopher Monckton of Brenchley

His Lordship sent this around to all the usual suspects asking that it be given a wide audience. I’m traveling today.

About 18 months ago, as soon as I heard of Dr. Richard Müller’s Berkeley Earth Temperature project, I sent an email to several skeptical scientists drawing their attention to his statement that he considered his team’s attempt to verify how much “global warming” had occurred since 1750 to be one of the most important pieces of research ever to be conducted in the history of science. This sounded too much like propaganda.

He was posing, I said, as a skeptical scientist; his results would broadly confirm the pre-existing temperature series; when his research ended, he would declare himself to have been converted from scepticism to the belief that merely because the world had warmed the warming must be our fault; and publication of his results would be exploited as a triumphant and final confirmation of the “global warming” orthodoxy.

My doubts about Dr. Müller’s motivation intensified after I met him at the Los Alamos Climate Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, late last year. We lunched. He was visibly disappointed when I said that I was happy to accept the official temperature record, at least for the sake of argument. And he subsequently seemed uninterested in getting to grips with the real divide between skeptics and true-believers, which has little to do with the accuracy of the temperature record and much to do with climate sensitivity – the question how much warming we will cause.

In this reply to Dr. Müller’s much-touted editorials in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, I shall demonstrate by Classical methods that his principal conclusion “that global warming is real, that the prior estimates of the rate were correct, and that the cause is human” is incorrect a priori.

Yes, the world has warmed since 1750. However, even if one accepts Dr. Müller’s estimate of 1.5 Co warming since then, that rate is indeed well within the natural variability of the climate. Indeed, in the 40 years from 1695 to 1735, Central England (not a bad proxy for global temperature change) warmed naturally at 0.4 Co per decade, seven times faster than the 0.057 Co per decade he finds in the 262 years during which we are supposed to have influenced the weather.

Natural variability, therefore, is sufficient to explain all of the warming since 1750. No other explanation is necessary. Accordingly, it is not legitimate to claim, as the Berkeley team claim, that in the absence of any other explanation the warming must be attributed to CO2. That claim is an instance of the argumentum ad ignorantiam, the fundamental logical fallacy of argument from ignorance. It is not sound science.

Dr. Müller’s assertion that fluctuations in solar activity are too small to have any effect on the climate is fashionable but erroneous. At the nadir of the Maunder Minimum, the 70-year period from 1645-1715, there were almost no sunspots. During that solar Grand Minimum, the Sun was less active than during any other similar period since the abrupt global warming that ended the last Ice Age 11,400 years ago. The weather was exceptionally cold both sides of the Atlantic: the Hudson in New York and the Thames in London frequently froze over in the winter.

As solar activity recovered at the end of the 70-year period of exceptionally few sunspots, global temperature recovered very rapidly in parallel. Man cannot have had any measurable influence on the rapid warming from 1695-1735. The warming, therefore, was natural. The solar recovery may have been amplified in some manner, perhaps by Dr. Svensmark’s cosmic-ray effect, so as to cause much (if not all) of the rapid natural warming over the period. Or some other natural cause may have been present. But Man cannot have been the cause.

It is worth noting, in passing, that solar activity increased quite rapidly from the Grand Minimum of 1645-1715 to the Grand Maximum of 1925-1995, peaking in 1960, during which the Sun was more active than at almost any other time in the past 11,400 years.

Yes, prior estimates of the warming rate since 1750 may have been correct, but the mere fact of that rate of warming tells us nothing of its cause. There was considerable warming in the Middle Ages: indeed, Dr. Müller concedes that the weather may have been every bit as warm then as now. Yet we were not emitting CO2 in vast quantities then. It necessarily follows that the cause of the medieval warm period must have been natural. Accordingly, there is no reason why much (perhaps nearly all) of the warming since 1750 should not also have been natural.

The greatest error in the Berkeley team’s conclusion is in Dr. Müller’s assertion that the cause of all the warming since 1750 is Man. His stated reason for this conclusion is this: “Our result is based simply on the close agreement between the shape of the observed temperature rise and the known greenhouse gas increase.”

No Classically trained scientist could ever have uttered such a lamentable sentence in good conscience. For Dr. Müller here perpetrates a spectacular instance of the ancient logical fallacy known as the argument from false cause — post hoc, ergo propter hoc. However closely the fluctuations in one dataset appear to follow the fluctuations in another, one cannot legitimately assume that either caused the other.

Dr. Müller admits elsewhere in his editorial that mere correlation between one data series and another does not imply a causative link between them. Nor, one should add, does it tell us which caused which; nor whether all possible natural influences that might have driven both data series simultaneously have been allowed for.

In logic, though correlation does not necessarily imply causation, the absence of correlation necessarily implies absence of causation. During the past 15 years, notwithstanding record increases in our CO2 emissions, there has been no global warming at all. The former, then, cannot have been the principal cause of the latter.

Dr. Müller describes the current stasis in global temperature as “the ‘flattening’ of recent temperature rise that some people claim”. Yet the failure of temperatures to warm at all over the past 15 years is plainly evident in all the principal datasets. If Dr. Müller were as “careful and objective” as he claims, he would surely concede that there has indeed been no global warming for a decade and a half. He would not have described it merely as a phenomenon “that some people claim”.

He is entitled to his opinion that “the ‘flattening’ of recent temperature rise that some people claim” is not statistically significant. However, I beg to differ. Since CO2 emissions have risen at a record rate during the past 15 years, it necessarily follows that the failure of the planet to warm at all over that period points to a natural influence strong enough to overcome — at least temporarily — the rather weak warming effect of the large additional volume of CO2.

What might that natural influence be? Step forward the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a naturally-occurring warming and cooling cycle. In 1976, the PDO switched suddenly from its cooling to its warming phase. Global temperature rose rapidly till late in 2001, when the PDO switched just as suddenly to its cooling phase, since when there has been no global warming.

The global temperature anomalies since 1850, compiled by the Hadley Centre for Forecasting, show three periods of warming that lasted more than a decade: 1860-1880; 1910-1940; and 1976-2001. These periods coincide with the cyclical warming phases of the PDO. On any view, the first two periods could not have been much influenced by us. Only in the most recent period were our CO2 emissions sufficient to cause some warming, at least in theory.

Yet in all three periods the warming was at the same rate: just 0.17 Co per decade. The warming rate in the most recent of the three periods was – within the margin of statistical error — no greater than in the two earlier periods. This inconvenient truth vitiates Dr. Müller’s conclusion that Man is the sole cause of warming.

Dr. Müller’s claim that his results are “stronger” than those of the IPCC also needs some qualification. If he were right that all of the 1.5 C° warming of the past 250 years was our fault (or, rather, our achievement, for warmer weather is better for life on Earth than cooler), it would follow, unexcitingly, that his estimate of climate sensitivity is more or less identical to its own.

Here is the math. To obtain climate sensitivity, one multiplies the radiative forcing of 5.35 times a given proportionate increase in CO2 concentration by some climate-sensitivity parameter. The IPCC’s implicit value of that parameter over the 200 years to 2100, on all six emissions scenarios, is 0.5 Co per Watt per square meter. Dr. Müller’s analysis covers 260 years, so let us call it 0.6. CO2 concentration has risen from 280 ppmv in 1750 to 390 ppmv today. Note also that the IPCC increases the estimated warming from CO2 by 43% to allow for other greenhouse gases. Then the expected warming since 1750, on the assumption that we caused all of it, is simply 1.43 x 0.6 x 5.35 ln(390/280), or 1.5 Co, which is Dr. Müller’s value.

In short, the IPCC’s central climate-sensitivity estimates are already predicated on the daring assumption that all of the warming of the past 260 years was caused by us, even though they state no more than that “most” of the warming was our achievement.

What, then, is the implication of Dr. Müller’s result for global warming to 2100? That is the $64,000 question. By that year, the IPCC estimates there will be 710 ppmv CO2 in the atmosphere, compared with 390 today. Its current central estimate, as the average of all six emissions scenarios, is that there will be 2.8 Co warming, of which 0.6 is warming that is already in the pipeline as a result of our past sins of emission. That leaves 2.2 Co caused by the greenhouse gases we shall add to the atmosphere this century.

Calculating on the basis of Dr. Müller’s result, and taking 0.4 as a suitable climate-sensitivity parameter for a period as short as 90 years, one would expect 1.43 x 0.4 x 5.35 ln(710/390), or 1.8 Co warming. This result is not “stronger” than that of the IPCC, but just a little weaker. To reach Dr. Müller’s implicit result, one would have to assume that natural influences on their own would have caused a little cooling over the past 260 years. But that assumption would contradict the exceptionally rapid increase in solar activity from Grand Minimum to Grand Maximum over the period.

If Dr. Müller had had a Classical training, he would have been made familiar with the dozen logical fallacies first codified by Aristotle 2300 years ago. He would not have attempted to draw any firm scientific conclusions as to causality merely from a superficial and in any event inadequate and uncertain correlation; and still less from a monstrous argumentum ad ignorantiam. Perhaps it is time to ensure that every scientist receives a Classical training, as nearly all of them once did.

Richard Muller’s Political Move—BEST is Best? Sophisticated Statistics!

Our Berkeley Earth approach used sophisticated statistical methods developed largely by our lead scientist, Robert Rohde, which allowed us to determine earth land temperature much further back in time.

Ah, yes. Statistical methods. And sophisticated ones at that1. Case closed, right? After all, you can’t go wrong with proof by statistics.

Last October, I advanced a number of (sophisticated!) criticisms of BEST’s “sophisticated” methods (here and here). At least some of the study authors know of these criticisms: I emailed Muller, Charlotte Wickham, and Judy Curry, but only received a reply from Curry (on her blog).

As far as I can tell, none of the criticisms I made, nor any of the criticisms advanced by D.J. Keenan, have been answered satisfactorily; indeed, they have not been answered at all. I must admit that in politics, it is sometimes best not to acknowledge your critics. In this sense, Muller may be wise.

Muller has two op eds out today, a double whammy meant to influence politics. Well, this blog is meant to influence politics, so there’s noting in the world wrong with that. But just you count how many people, in support of Muller’s position, will call his pieces “science” and not polemic; whereas the opposite labels will be applied to Muller’s critics.

There is nothing new scientifically in Muller’s press releases, except announcements the BEST papers that were long available are still available.

Muller says, as people in his position have long been saying, that he himself, a one-time skeptic, a veritable prodigal son, has settled “the scientific debate.” The fallacy he makes is to say to himself, “I do not know of any flaws in my work, therefore there are none.” Common enough in academia.

I imagine the New York Times won’t be publishing a rebuttal; news that is unwelcome is not newsworthy there. So the interesting test will be how much “traction” Muller’s ploy evinces on the left. The perpetually offended will raise a stink—blog posts with lots of exclamation points, arguments that if one skeptic converts all should, pieces filled with angry glee, that sort of thing. But what effect on the citizen? Nothing more than brief interest on a slow news day, and all forgotten next week? Or a resurgence in fear that, if we don’t start taxing and regulating people now, the end is nigh? Tax dollars, see, absorb carbon dioxide.

Muller has a bit of luck on his side (it’s hot and dry in a few places in the USA this summer; but, for instance, England is cold and wet). Some man will say to himself, “Maybe this guy is right. I had to sweat yesterday.” But then that man will soon be distracted by Romeny’s and Obama’s attack ads, by worries the economy is again suffering, by the closing ceremonies of the Olympics, and so forth.

I’m guessing that the global warming movement is losing steam. The state of anxiety that was once present among the electorate has ratcheted down. This is why Muller is “striking” now. The professionally outraged will remain outraged that “nothing” is being done (besides the billions already being spent, of course). The EPA will reason that it has more reason to swell in size. But the man-in-the-street won’t be able to sustain his worry—even to the point of some saying, “Yeah, this guy Muller is probably right. But so what? I can live with a little heat. Winter’s are too damn cold anyway.” The majority would just as soon forget about it.


1In a leaked, uncorrected draft of Muller’s piece, the word sophistical was originally in place of sophisticated. The leaked draft also showed Muller has an antipathy toward apostrophes.

Doctors For Disaster Preparedness Talk

Here’s the PDF of my talk DDP 30th Annual Meeting. “Statistical Follies and Epidemiology.” They picked the title.

Have fun!

Google’s Eric Schmidt & Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel Blaze Path Of Ugliness

They are appropriately walking downhill

This is a picture of Google’s Eric Schmidt & Chicago’s Rahm “Crisis” Emanuel from today’s Wall Street Journal story Google Move Buoys Chicago Tech Hub.

Chicago! The city of the walking, and voting, dead: in Chicago when they say they are a “Democrat forever”, they mean it. The Windy City! A fell wind: Chicago is murder central: yes, the bodies are really stacking up—just in time for November. The city of Clout! Where knowing the secret aldermanic handshake is a must to do business.

Schmidt and Emanuel worked out a deal to shift a few taxpayers from the suburbs to the city to create, in Emanuel’s words, a “digital Mecca.” A place where pilgrims go to worship and pray, to knell and adore. Chicago’s version of an Apple store.

But forget all that and look at the picture. Schmidt is not a poor man: his net worth isn’t a googol, but it’s orders of magnitude more than thine or mine. This is a man who if he wanted a candy bar could buy Hershey’s. And Emanuel, he is Boss. Snap his fingers and dozens of scurrying staffers will appear from beneath the cracks to do his bidding.

Both men could therefore afford to dress like men. Both men chose not to.

Schmidt looks like he has just pulled an all-night coding session, played a few hours of Warcraft to unwind, then crashed in the corner atop the (soft) pizza boxes, only to be awakened for a meeting he nearly forgot. The wrinkled, ill-fitting, billowy pullover does nothing to mask his sinking paunch; if anything, it exaggerates the swell. He hasn’t learned that short sleeves are only for vacation and while sporting. He gets points for having a man’s haircut, though, and more for workmanlike glasses.

It’s nice he’s humble enough to wear a name tag announcing “Hi I’m Eric Schmidt”, but a man in his position should embrace the authority that is his. It simplifies. And did you notice he’s carrying a Macbook Air? Wonder if he was able to install Chrome on it.

We can’t see his leggings, but there is a dark patch in the photo which suggests jeans. But I believe they are dark cotton; teacher pants, as Joe Queenan’s daughter calls them.

The overall effect is slobby. There is nothing to him which commands respect, except for knowledge of his bank balance which, while important, should never be the sole criterion of moral worth.

Emanuel is entirely different. He is a politician and is anxious to dress as a “man of the [computer] people”, though he knows he is not. Schmidt pulls that look off because he is. Look carefully: Emanuel is wearing French cuffs, but rolled up. French cuffs are not man-of-the-people wear. The shirt overflows his pants because this was a shirt cut to fit inside pants whose waist is where it should be, and not for jeans, which rest low on the hips.

His jeans are rich-people jeans. These are defined as jeans, made out of cotton, but made to look as non-jean-like as possible while still being jeans. They say, “I’m hip, but I have more money and taste than you.” The last point is debatable because a pair of trousers cut for a gentleman would be cheaper and would look better; but then they wouldn’t be jeans. His belt is expensive, though at least the buckle is simple and tasteful.

Emanuel also scores for his simple haircut—and then immediately loses his points for strapping a cell phone to his belt. He loses more for the shirt pocket pencil. But this is balanced out by his lack of a name tag. Chicagoans had better damn well know who he is. No computer or other toy for Emanuel, either. This is what staffers should carry.

No tie, or other neck-balancing accessory for either man, of course. And no jacket, either. A jacket is nature’s best creation: it covers flaws and accentuates merits. Schmidt’s gut and slopping shoulders need the masking a jacket would have provided, and Emanuel’s diminutive stature could have been heightened by a well-cut coat.

Just when was it that out bettors started dressing worse than us?

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