William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Are There Any Arguments Against Eugenics Left?

Most, or even all, progressives say they are against eugenics. Yet most, or all, progressives were against the recent Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act which would have outlawed sex-selective abortions in these United States.

That Act failed in the House of Representatives with Ron Paul, six other Republicans, and all but twenty Democrats voting to abort it. Word was that progressives, women’s “rights” groups, and even a few Asian-American groups opposed the bill.

Now it is obvious that killing a female fetus because it is a female just is eugenics in practice. And so is killing a fetus that differs in any way from the ideal created in the mind of the non-mother-to-be. Killing a fetus which is guessed (genetic tests are not perfect; there is error) will be retarded or, say, medically “defective” is exactly what eugenics is. But killing a fetus because it would interfere with a woman’s plans for the weekend is not strictly eugenical, at least not in a strong sense of active deselection.

Incidentally, and entirely off topic, what do the selfish-genes folks say about the enormous and growing rate of self-gene deselection? (It’s at this point in the evolutionary psychology discussion that the subject is changed.)

It was, as even PBS reminds us, progressives a century ago who led groups like the Race Betterment Foundation. “In 1923, organizers founded the American Eugenics Society, and it quickly grew to 29 chapters around the country.” Woodrow Wilson was positively bullish on improving the human stock. And so forth. (See also this article by professor of anthropology Jonathan Marks.)

But after 1945 a great many who had been championing the culling of the less desirable sobered up or were shamed into silence. These feelings grew so that it was eventually reflexive for any right-thinking person to condemn eugenics.

Except in the case of abortions, where it is actively encouraged. This attitude can be summarized: Killing people once they are outside the womb is wrong, killing them before they emerge is not wrong. (Except that even this attitude is changing: see this.)

So let us ask progressives and leftists out there (1) why on moral grounds they are for allowing sex selective abortions, (2) why on moral grounds they are for allowing abortions for what they claim are “defective” or “less desirable” human beings, and (3) why on moral grounds they are simultaneously against eugenics. Keep in mind that it is everywhere females who are killed off in the wombs at much higher rates than males.

It is a fallacy to argue, incidentally, that if the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act passed it would be difficult to enforce. That law and its policing is irrelevant to the questions just asked. It is a fallacy to argue, for example, that if the law passed “all women seeking an abortion are suspects” in a crime, as this person said, thus eugenics is morally right. It is also a fallacy to argue that the Act would have just plain outlawed abortion, for even if that turned out to be the case, it says nothing about whether abortion for sex selection or against “defectives” is morally right.

The questions of interest have nothing at all to do with what laws exist or what laws might exist. They are purely questions on the ethics of eugenics, whether or not eugenics is lawful. Consider the analogy that it is against the law to take certain drugs, yet many people can still argue that taking these drugs is not morally wrong. We can argue another day whether laws for or against eugenics are desirable, harmful, enforceable, whatever. Today they are of not the slightest interest (except as a means to inform us that some people are for sex-selective abortion, i.e. eugenics in practice).

And don’t forget it is not just sex-selection we are interested in, but the killing of any fetus seen as less than desirable for reasons other than convenience.

Remember that we are ladies and gentleman.

Gloom, Despair, Email Spoofing, And Kahan’s Science Literacy Paper

Somebody spoofed my Yahoo email address which I use for ordering, registrations and the like. Sent hundreds of emails to my contact list yesterday.

Now I ordinarily run Linux, which you will all agree is superior to all other operating systems. But for the past few days, because of work, I had to log on to a Windows machine. I checked my email on that machine. It was after this that I was spoofed, hacked, or scammed. Whatever you call it, it was a pain in the keister.

This happenstance in time is what we statisticians call a curious coincidence. It could be that Windows, notorious as it is for being leakier than a canoe made of screen doors, allowed some villain to sneak in and steal my password. Or it could be that some clever fellow guessed this password, which I humbly admit was magnificently complicated. Or it could be something else.

That’s probability for you: not enough information to say for certain. And I want to say for certain so I know to whom or to what to direct my cursing.

So I was already in a petulant mood when I got a tweet from Paul Matthews ‏(@etzpcm) asking me to look at the paper “The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risk” by somebody with the name of Danny Kahan, who looks to be a lawyer. At least he sits in a law department.

The paper is a poll, a survey of the kind telemarketers, politicians, and in increasing number, sociologists run. You know what I mean. A bunch of questions asked of hapless citizens, the results fed into a needlessly complicated statistical analysis which produces grand theorizing all “proved” with wee p-values. The kind of thing we review on this blog ad nauseam.

Science literacy. Just what is that? This question? “The government interferes far too much in our everyday lives.” Well, that’s one of their questions. I wonder how the responses would be if they asked this after hearing Nanny Bloomberg’s plan to steal the (liquid) candy from the hands of New York City’s babies.

Nah, by “literacy” (numerical) they mean the ability to answer gotcha questions like this:

In a lake, there is a patch of lilypads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

Sure it’s easy (for us superior beings). But admit it, Danny boy. How many of you and your authors got these zingers right without blinking or thinking? Tell the truth. Your mother might read this blog.

Funny thing. They asked only two questions about how the climate works. Imagine that. Science literacy about climate change fully discerned by asking “Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?” and “How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun?” That’s the beauty of theory, friend, which Dan and company provide in great heaps. All kinds of verbiage about the “science comprehension thesis” versus the “cultural cognition thesis”. Golly.

Here’s the main finding:

As respondents’ science-literacy scores increased, concern with climate change decreased (r=−0.05, P=0.05). There was also a negative correlation between numeracy and climate change risk (r=−0.09, P<0.01).

Just look at those publishable p-values! But wait. What’s that? As people’s so-called “science-literacy” increases, their concern about climate change decreases?

Look. The “r” means linear correlation, and here is a number of a size that we scientists “trivial”, “vanishingly small”, or “Are you kidding?” The effect is nearly non-existent. Remember: this correlation is in this sample of survey respondents. Replication would almost certainly show that this effect vanishes like reason at the New York Times editorial office.

Ah geez. Just skip it. The whole study is based on a fallacy. A citizen can not know which goes around which, the Earth or Sun, and still know the truth of the statement “The government should stop telling people how to live their lives.” He can be as wrong as can be about how lasers work (another question asked) and still know the lunacy of this statement: “Government should put limits on the choices individuals can make so they don’t get in the way of what’s good for society.”

This just goes to show you how useless science knowledge is to most folks, but how important political and moral knowledge is. Would the world really be a better place if all were made to swear to the belief that the Earth orbits the sun? Sure it’s a simple fact, but how useful is it to the average man? Except in answering questions on surveys like this, not much.

And so we end with the non sequitur: O science! Where are you! Why have you left us!

There Are Too Many Fat People: What To Do About It. Update: Bloomberg Bans Soda Pop

Update Mike Bloomberg, current owner of New York City’s mayoral title, has graciously allowed (by not yet banning) me to re-publish this article which expresses a sentiment dear to Mayor Bloomberg: that he knows best. In art, in habit, in what to eat. His newest crusade—and it is just that: a righteous jihad against the sins of the body—is to banish pop (also known as soda) if the pop is sold in containers too large to be held comfortably in Mayor Bloomberg’s hand (he is an awfully small man).

I cannot but agree with him. He knows best, not just what is best for himself, but what is ideal for all of us. And the reason he knows what is best is that he is a member of government. And there is no higher power than that.

Update And see this.


Time magazine has it right: “Everybody knows obesity is a massive problem in the U.S.” I know it. And so do you.

Time says we need to be willing to “demonize excess poundage” just as we shame smokers. All the techniques that worked in getting people to quit smoking need to be employed to get people down to their ideal weight. We need a war on the fat.

It isn’t just the fat being fat. What really concerns me is passive obesity. Sure, I’m thin, and damn proud of it. I take care of myself. I eat right, I watch Good Morning America, I exercise. On weeks where there are positive reports of the benefits of red wine, I drink exactly the recommended amount. But on those weeks where articles appear on the harmful effects of alcohol, I abstain. I take vitamins. I follow Michelle Obama’s lead in eating. I am healthy.

Obesity has reached epidemic proportions (source)
Santa is Obese

But there are a lot of fatties out there and it’s getting so it’s impossible not to be around one. People have a right to be fat, but only in their own homes—but maybe not if they have children.

Suppose you’re with a group of healthy thin people at a restaurant recommended by the New York Times. The people at the table will order what is right, what is good for them. This is made easier because, at least in New York City, and thanks to the efforts of Mayor Bloomberg, transfats (and smoking!) have been banned. You can only get them if you’re prepared to break the law, which is what many fat people do.

Anyway, now imagine a fat person joins the group. What happens? Gluttony, that’s what. Passive waves of obesity are given off by the fatty. He over-orders and over-eats. That’s what fat people do. This forces the superior thin people to do the same. They can’t help themselves! Whereas before the thin behaved themselves, when a fat person arrives the thin suddenly find themselves adding an appetizer or opting for dessert. Butter is slathered on rolls. None of this would have happened had the thin dined among themselves alone.

So, just like we did with smokers, the first thing we should do is change restaurant behavior. We can’t ban fat people from gathering publicly. Not at first. That would be considered draconian and would set the program back a decade. Instead, we should create separate areas for fat people, just as we used to do with smoking sections. We’d set up troughs at which the fat can feed, and elegant tables in another area for the thin.

You see the difficulty, of course. Unless the barriers are airtight, the waves of passive obesity will waft over to the thin side. The hope is that the barriers lessens the impact of these waves. But I’m afraid that reliable statistical studies (p < 0.05) show that even brief exposure to fat people increases the risk of obesity.

Obesity is bad for you. Sure, some fat people tend to live a little longer than thin. But they’re living longer as fat people. This is shocking.

I care about these people. Dammit, I really do. My (unclogged by plaque) heart bleeds. I am sincere. This is what counts. Sincerity. I live in Manhattan and I have a PhD from an Ivy League university. In science. Not only does this equip me with the knowledge of right and wrong, it gives me license to dictate to others what is best.

I shouldn’t say this, because it’s delicate. But these fat people, especially those fatties with fat kids, just don’t know what is best for them. I do. I’ve studied the subject. I’ve read scientific papers by earnest people. They agree with me. Something has to be done.

The real problem is that most people just don’t have the intelligence to know what they’re eating. They are mere dupes of corporations who sell them food that is bad for them. They are powerless in the face of advertisements for fudgesicles. They see fat people on TV who are portrayed as jolly and happy. They are slaves to their genes which force them to gorge on blubber and salt and sugar, all of them bad.

What is bad should not be allowed. What should not be allowed should be controlled and regulated by the government. Government intervention is the only way to successfully control obesity. Mere exhortation by personal introspection, by doctors, family members, the clergy, and the guys down at the bowling alley isn’t going to cut it. Let’s face it. We need a program. We need taxes. We need to stop the obese before they eat again.

Astrologers See Obama Victory

Alas, our great nation is in retrograde, with the House of Koalemos (Greek god of stupidity) rising, ever rising. Dark cosmic forces have aligned—perhaps maligned is a better way to put it—and caused ill omens which to the adept implies that the shadow which has enveloped us will linger four more years.

Or so says the news emanating from “a meeting of the world’s top astrologers” (which is like saying a conclave of the world’s top intellectual Marxists, but never mind). What’s “astrology”? Well, this report tells us

Not to be confused with astronomy, the scientific study of the physical universe, astrology uses non-scientific methods to predict how the relative positions of celestial bodies may influence human behavior and future events.

Now that that’s settled, let’s meet Chicago astrologist and corporate lawyer (corporate lawyer?) Nina Gryphon, whose musings on the “Aries ingress” indicate that The One will best Romney.

Chris Brennan, pulling a switch, eschewed the Aries ingress and went straight to the “ingress of Saturn.” Which tells us all we need know of Brennan, but it also informs us that Obama will probably definitely win. That is, Obama’s victory is maybe certain.

Naming a particular celestial retrograde, Brennan says, “Most astrologers are pretty certain that this [retrograding] could cause problems similar to what happened in the 2000 election.” He tightens this with the addition that “something” is “up in the air about the election.” You can’t be more definite than that.

And in the end, the ingress speaks forcefully that Romney’s number is up.

I know you won’t scoff because, the report tells us, “Two of the panelists participated in a similar session four years ago when the panel also gave a unanimous thumbs-up to Obama.” However, another report on the United Astrology Conference said “At the last conference, in May 2008, six panelists unanimously predicted Obama’s win over Sen. John McCain [emphasis mine].”

Since these are media reports, both must be right, so we have a mystery how two can simultaneously be six.

Skip it. It’s the predictions and how to make them that counts. For instance, at the conference master astrologer Susie Cox asks us, “Do you know the Sun Signs? I mean Really know them! I thought I knew them too until I wrote the book, Susie’s Sun Signs, and now realize there is so much more to them.”

And it isn’t just ingresses, sun signs, and retrogrades. It’s also horary resolution charts, transiting lunar nodes, and magical rapport measurements. Boil all these together and you have a powerful predictive concoction which says Obama is in and Romney out.

But do not be disheartened! There is good news to be gleaned from this stream of fell forecasts. Astrologists, when they manage to make unambiguous political predictions are wrong more often than they are right. They are like the stock broker who frequently picks stocks to rise which fall and vice versa. They are reasonably accurate negative barometers.

That means their predictions of an Obama romp implies that it is Romney who is likely to win, that the veil will soon be lifted. So be of good cheer and tell the world. Tell this to everybody wherever they are. Watch the skies. Everywhere. Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!

Grade Inflation

Via GradeInflation.com via Mark Perry via HotAir comes this telling picture.

Be sure to read the original site. Although Stuart Rojstaczer doesn’t have much data from Community Colleges, he does show that grade inflation has not struck these institutions with equal force.

This trend must continue—not indefinitely, of course: it stops when all earn all As all the time—as long as enrollment increases. The greater the percentage of the population who attends, the more we must see either grade inflation or class simplification or both. Rojstaczer also identifies the “student as customer” grade-inflation driver.

All this is on average, of course. There will still be plenty of isolated schools and courses where students are held to a rigorous standard. See Rojstaczer’s plot on the difference between liberal arts and sciences, for example.

Interesting twists and turns to the curve, no?

More perhaps later. Busy day today.

UpdateFor starters, we’ve dumbed down college.

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