William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 151 of 427

NASA Faked Moon Landing—Academic Psychologists Swoon, Tie It To Climate Change

One day a terrific psychological study is going to be written on the madness and mass lunacy which arose after climate change swam into the public’s ken. I don’t mean the actions and thoughts of the man-in-the-street, which were and are no different in this area than they were and are in any political matterhe . No: the real curiosity is what happened to academia, inside departments which haven’t anything to do with climatology.

There, surrounded by people eager to agree with each other and fueled by infinite estimates of their own intelligence, great hoards of degreed non-experts, people who couldn’t derive the Omega equation if you threatened to remove their tenure and who think Vorticity is a town in Spain, lectured all of mankind on why The End Was Near, Unless…

Unless they, the non-experts, were hearkened to, esteemed, feted, moneyed, and just plain listened to, dammit.

The cornerstone of this future pathological report may well be the peer-reviewed Psychological Science paper “NASA faked the moon landing—Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science” by Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer, and Gilles Gignac, perhaps the completest, most representative work of its odd era.

Everything that could have been done wrong, was done wrong. Every bias that could have been manifested, was manifested. Every fallacy pertinent to the matter at hand was made. The conclusions, regurgitated from unnecessarily complicated statistical procedures, did not follow from the evidence gathered, which itself was suspect. In its way, then, the paper is a jewel, a gift to the future, a fundamental text to how easy it is to fool oneself.

Consider that its errors are not far to seek1. Take the opening sentence: “Although nearly all domain experts agree that human CO2 emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence.” Isn’t that gorgeous? I count at least seven mistakes, and we are only at the very beginning!

  • Mistake 1: Lewandowsky is not a domain expert, and by his argument is not qualified to speak on matters climatic, yet speak he does.
  • Mistake 2: His opinion about how to consider the science of climate change is therefore no more valuable than any other non-domain expert’s (about the physics), but he considers by this act of publishing that it is.
  • Mistake 3: He conflates voting with truth. His fallacy is to suppose that because the majority of domain experts say X, X is therefore true.
  • Mistake 4: He conflates numbers with weight of evidence. His fallacy is to suppose the minority of domain experts who do not agree with the majority are not to be listened to because they are only a minority.
  • Mistake 5: He confuses physics with economics, a vulgar but common error. It may be true that, say, temperatures will rise by 0.5o C in the next five decades, but it does not follow that any theory of what will happen because of this temperature rise is true, nor is it true that anybody’s suggestion to combat the adverse consequences of what will happen is therefore worthy of consideration.
  • Mistake 6: Since Lewandowsky committed this howler, and is obviously unaware of it, he cannot see it in the people he interviews, who often make a similar error. That is, when a civilian is asked, “Do you believe in climate change?” he often answers “No,” but the mistake is to assume he is answering the question as stated, when in reality he has answered the modified question, “Do you believe in climate change and should the government regulate, rule, tax, control, mandate, penalize, etc., etc. to combat this change?” Such an elementary mistake by a psychologist shows us just how far the madness has progressed.
  • Mistake 7: Lewandowsky, because he is not a domain expert, misunderstood the basic physics. There are no domain experts who do not agree that mankind changes the climate. The only matters in question are: how much? where? when? with what certainty can we know? Notice the absence of “What can be done?” because this requires expertise in human behavior, and that expertise is what is suspiciously missing in this paper.

My dears, I emphasize that this was merely the opening sentence, and that much worse was to come. But before that, there was one more error, more grievous than any other, embedded in his starting sentence. This is Lewandowsky’s befuddlement that any non-domain expert could deign to question “the scientific evidence” (when much of what is “science” is instead politics). He assumes that any who do so, even in the admitted presence of disagreement over what “the” science is, suffers from a psychological flaw. Science has spoken, thinks he, and therefore nothing remains to be said. An actual instance of doublethink, and really quite marvelous when you consider the economy of words used to express it.

Now, the rest of Lewdandowsky’s work is more mundane. He commits the freshman mistake of only seeking evidence for his beliefs, and for none that would contradict him (and of which there is plenty); he says things like “Another common attribute of the contemporary rejection of science is its reliance on the internet” and then uses the internet himself in his “science”; he questions the influence of Steven McIntyre of Climateaudit forgetting that McIntyre is a domain expert and he, Lewandowsky is not.

He admits confirmation bias by calling dividing his sample into “pro-science” and “skeptic”, when the point in question is what the science says. He builds “latent variable” models to “prove” what he already believed, and biased himself to confirm; latent variable analysis being a lovely technique to give desirable results. He amusingly assures his audience of his “theoretical results”: not theories of climate, but psychological (academics do love a theory). He can’t help himself but use the ugly term denial, an appalling word one would have thought a psychologist would have understood was inappropriate.

As I said, a book could be written, and probably will be written on everything that has gone wrong with this paper.


Thanks to K.A. Rodgers who alerted me to the precious topic. Thanks too to John Moore for keeping me sharp.

1We haven’t time here to list and review each error: we leave that to genuine psychologists.

Update At Lewandowsky’s site, he puts up this puzzler: “Quick, consider the following: all polar bears are animals. Some animals are white. Therefore, some polar bears are white. Is this conclusion logically implied or not?” After you answer, “Yes”, he writes, “There is a 75% chance you might endorse this conclusion despite it being logically false.”

This is typical of the “gotcha” questions academics tease civilians with to prove that they, the academics, are smarter than the rest of us and therefore needed. Lewandowsky’s goes straight downhill after “Quick.” Of course people are going to say yes because every damn polar bear is white. They are not answering the question, which was absurdly required to be answered quickly, but instead recalling what they know to be true: polar bears are white.

To get at the true psychology, Lewandowsky should have instead asked, “Take your time and consider the following: all polar bears are animals. Some animals are white. Therefore, some polar bears are white. Is this conclusion logically implied or not? I am not asking whether polar bears are white—we know they are—but whether this logical argument is valid.” Not everybody will get this right, but we’ll at least be able to better estimate the actual percentage of folks who can’t.

As Joseph Epstein observed about speedy answers required by academics:

Only years later did I realize that quickness of response–on which 95 percent of education is based–is beside the point, and is required only of politicians, emergency-room physicians, lawyers in courtrooms, and salesmen. Serious intellectual effort requires slow, usually painstaking thought, often with wrong roads taken along the way to the right destination, if one is lucky enough to arrive there. One of the hallmarks of the modern educational system, which is essentially an examination system, is that so much of it is based on quick response solely. Give 6 reasons for the decline of Athens, 8 for the emergence of the Renaissance, 12 for the importance of the French Revolution. You have 20 minutes in which to do so.

Obama On Way Out? Romeny Hasn’t A Chance? Last Day of Presidential Voting Study

Today is the last day to participate in the voting study. If you have not already done so, please click below. And please send this to people you know, especially those of a different political orientation.

Please take a moment to register who you think will win the presidency. This is a statistical study of how good people are at predicting presidential races.

The results will be posted after the election. This is a self-funded study, so please be honest, please vote just once. This survey takes about one minute to complete and is completely anonymous.


The study closes midnight 16 September 2012.

Help spread this study. Click on the Twitter or Facebook links below, or email the study to one of your friends. Post it on internet forums. We want both progressives and conservatives to take part. See this webpage after the election for the results. Thank you!

College Essays For Sale—By Professors

At last college professors have found a way to supplement their income, and perhaps to steal back some of the tuition dollars that traditionally head right to the pocket of deans.

The new method is this: assign essays, threaten to use Turnitin, software (which did not exist in pre-Biden days) which exposes plagiarism and thus encourages original writing, and then hope the kiddies find their way to UnemployedProfessors.com, a site which sells original essays written by professors to students who are too busy acquiring “social knowledge”, as one school put it.

Incidentally, besides checking for cheating, Turnitin also automatically grades papers, relieving professors of that dull duty, too.

“Unemployed” Professors is unabashed in its description. Step 1 of the process is to “Get a lame-ass project from your Professor,” an acknowledgement that much of college life is mere time filling. Step 2 is to enter the project into the site. Step 3 is “PARTY!”, which by coincidence is also Step 5.

They will write essays, lab reports, even dissertations. They will do math, physics, and statistics homework. They will write computer programs and then claim that, as they write your resume, that you know how to write computer programs. The student is left only one chore: clicking the payment button. Burdens!

The site has a blog which tells prospective clients why its services are superior to its many competitors. It has such entries as “Don’t Hate Da Playa; Hate Da Game” and “How to Sleep with Your Professor.”

It should be obvious that we have Reached The End. There is nowhere left to descend to. Some thought the nadir was in the student riots of the 1960s. Some pointed to the open enrollment policies of the 1970s. Others posited the creation of “Studies” degrees (Gender studies, Black studies, etc.) in the 1990s. But the end was not yet.

It must now be clear that when professors both assign and perform the work (while automatically grading it), and charge for both, we have bottomed out.

Therefore, it is time to admit that classical “liberal” education is finished.

The solution is obvious. Beginning in 2016 (to allow everybody now in time to finish), every high school graduate is to be automatically awarded, by our most beneficent government, a diploma stating that he or she has completed college. The diplomas shall all read “Harvard”, so that nobody can be accused of class bias. The student must only foot the printing and shipping and handling charges of their degree.

Think of the vast savings! Upwards of a quarter-million dollars per student, all of which can be left in their and in their parents’ pockets, to be spent on less moribund areas of our economy.

The majority of our children will be satisfied with their well deserved degrees. And kids who still want to learn what a quark is, or how to titrate, or why Socrates is mortal, or how Constantinople derived its name, or what a div, grad, and curl are, can enroll in the one- to two-year trade schools which teach these subjects, schools which will be created from the remnants of the old colleges and universities, institutions which will not award “degrees”, but will issue letters swearing their students know the material.

And what of the mass of then truly unemployed professors of “Theory”, “Studies” and the like? Ship them to, say, Egypt and Libya and make them members of its bureaucracy. What better punishment for their recent ill behavior?

The Biggest Threat To Public Health? NYC Board Of Health & Soda Pop

Imagine New Yorkers’ reactions if a new strain of influence or some other community deprivation were enslaving hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers a year and causing debilitating lack of choice — including loss of freedoms — for thousands more. The call for bold action would be overwhelming — and completely appropriate.

So begins New York City Health Commissioner and Chief Busybody Thomas Farley’s editorial announcing today that he personally will ban soda pop sold in quantities the good doctor finds obscene. I might have made errors in retyping this: for strictest accuracy, see the original.

Farley is part of a large, systemic menace: humorless bureaucrats who think they Know Better. If something isn’t done soon, this infection will pass the point where the body politic can resist. After this, the disease will be incurable. The malady won’t be fatal, but will propel its victims into a near catatonic, zombie-like state, where they are unable to come to any decision without first referring to a government rule or to somebody holding a PhD.

Luckily, I have one of these things, so I Know Better, too. And in this case, Know More than Farley, who however slick a political apparatchik he is, could not reason himself out of a paper bag. Let’s see why.

For the vast majority of his existence, man has struggled to find enough food to live. Until about a century ago, where thanks to some clever fellows, food was provided in abundance for most souls. Mankind rejoiced—and began to eat. Those who in times of scarcity and to display their wealth were once fat, in times of bountifulness and to display their superiority grew thin. And those who used to be thin, because of their love of food, grew fat.

Fat people offend the Know-Better thin people. Thin people can’t stand thinking of fat people. Thin people say it is morally wrong for people to be fat, which is why they seek power, to force fat people to eat less so that fat people can be like thin people. But thin people know that appealing to morality directly sounds thin, so they mas their puritanism in the language of science and say instead, “Being fat makes you sick.”

This is still a moral statement, because it implies being sick is not good. But never mind. Farley said:

Obesity leads to the deaths of nearly 6,000 New Yorkers a year, more than any health problem except smoking, according to our best estimates. This epidemic is not a communicable disease like influenza, but it is more dangerous and more deadly.

Farley, who knows his Orwell, knew not to say, “Obesity causes 6,000 deaths” but merely that “Obesity is weakly correlated with 6,000 deaths.” But Farley forgot that something always causes death (or perhaps like many thin people he cannot imagine dying): every dead person died of something. He also forgot that there are many more fat people than thin people. Combing Farley’s forgotten facts means that when death statistics are compiled, it must be that fatness will correlate with the maladies put down as causes of death.

Oh, and Farley also forgot that there is some evidence that fat people, though perhaps not those who suffer from gluttony or who are grossly obese, tend to live longer lives than thin people.

Nevertheless, it is also so that fat people tend to have some diseases at greater rates than thin people, like diabetes. And it is likely that if some of these fat people resisted the urge to eat and stayed thin, they could avoid these diseases. That is, they could lay aside their fudgesicles and soda pop and instead take up the New York Times or jogging and become a thin person—who will die of a different malady.

In other words, fat people can sacrifice that which makes them happy for that which makes them unhappy (i.e. the NYT). In doing this, they will still die, perhaps even sooner, but they will die as thin people, and thinness, as thin Know-More people claim, is its own reward. And when these would-be fat people die, they will still die of something, but that something might not be the same something which they would have died of had they ate as they wanted.

Farley believes fat people are stupid and cannot be trusted to make decisions for themselves. This is indisputable—Farley’s opinion of himself, I mean. For Farley is set to ban soda pop in sizes larger than an arbitrary limit. By removing the freedom of choice of soda size, Farely believes he can make fat people thin. Because Farley Knows Better.


See also this and then this.

Statistical Follies and Epidemiology: Video

A video by a man not quite raving, not as amusing as you would hope, and with an embarrassing, horribly placed pants wrinkle. Ah, linen.

He has some good points to make, but tends to ramble. One has the idea that he did not practice beforehand. His jokes don’t always hit the mark. Perhaps he contents himself with the truism that nobody bats 1.000. And why, oh why!, could he have not buttoned his damn jacket!

I think he would look better, or at least more dangerous, with a moustache, but certain Powers That Be have nixed that idea. What do you think?

Points in his favor: he did not use a pointer. He waved his arms about in so vigorous a fashion as to create a refreshing breeze for his captive audience. He went under his allotted time; always a blessing. He obviously has a great haircut.

Overall: solid gentleman’s C.


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