William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 2 of 410

Another Academic Calls For A Return To Eugenics (To Battle Global Warming)

Trust us. We're academics.

Trust us. We’re academics.

Academic philosopher S Matthew Liao (NYU) and pals are coming to get you. They want to monkey with your genes, kill your unwanted, inject growth-stunting hormones into your womb, poison your food, and hook you permanently on oxytocin. But, hey: it’s for your own good. And it’s going to save the planet.

In the peer-reviewed article Mein Kulturkampf—no! I’m only kidding. It’s “Human Engineering and Climate Change” in Ethics, Policy and the Environment. Our jolly eugenicists set out a Master Plan to create race of genetically superior Supermen, enlightened beings who care deeply about the environment.

How’s it work?

“[P]eople often lack the motivation or willpower to give up eating red meat even if they wish they could. Human engineering could help here.” Solution? Poison the food. Add vomit-inducing chemicals to your chops. Presumably armed government agents would pull up to supermarkets and supervise its administration.

Sadly, “anyone not strongly committed to giving up red meat is unlikely to be attracted to this option.” Solution? Force (he uses the word “encourage”) people to wear poison-release patches that would “induce mild intolerance” (emphasis mine) by causing the immune system to “react” against meat proteins. “[H]enceforth eating ‘eco-unfriendly’ food would induce unpleasant experiences. Even if the effects do not last a lifetime, the learning effect is likely to persist for a long time.” You bet it will.

S Matthew Liao is a little guy. Yours Truly is the opposite. Fellow big men, ever notice how some of our diminutive brothers bark excessively and nip at our heels like small dogs trying to prove their toughness? And how others, enraged by their lack of stature, cherish a hate against our superior manliness? Perhaps this is what accounts for Liao’s next idea.

There are too many tall people, Liao says. Solution? Reduce height via “preimplantation genetic diagnosis”. How? “[I]t would simply involve rethinking the criteria for selecting which embryos to implant.” Implanting embryos? Say, isn’t that the brave new idea Aldous Huxley had? I wonder which government bureaucracy would certify embryos.

Yet Liao, perhaps because of the blindness of jealously, has neglected the obvious solution: since there are more short people than the majestic tall, just eliminate the unsightly short people! This removes unwanted flesh and preserves beauty. For those men less than 6′ who manage to escape the Gene Police or are not killed in the womb, I say after-birth abortion should be considered seriously. And since we need a mechanism for their dispatchment, how about baseball bats upside the head? Let this be our song!

Liao seems to believe only stupid people have kids. Thus he suggests “cognitive enhancement” to lower birth rates. He says “many environmental problems seem to be exacerbated by—or perhaps even result from—a lack of appreciation of the value of other life forms and nature itself.” Solution? Shoot people up with the “prosocial hormone oxytocin” or a “noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor”. And also—you could see this one coming from a mile off—reduce testosterone. Sorry, big men. Liao seems to have it in for us.

All this seem intrusive to you? Not so, says our little friend: “human engineering could be liberty-enhancing.” Liberty enhancing? Yes, sir. Why, “if we were able to scale the size of human beings, then given the same fixed allocation of greenhouse gas emissions, some families may be able to have more than two children.” How generous!

But, say: have these guys thought this all through? Sure, they’re all PhDs at major universities, and therefore are as near to human infallibility as possible, but nobody bats 1.000. Should we be concerned?

Of course not. Human engineering is safer than geo-engineering, say our cognitively superior colleagues. Safer? Yes, sir: safer. Proof? Hey, if their word is good enough for themselves, it’s good enough for us. Besides, their recommendations have been peer reviewed. What more proof do you need?

Liao knows what you’re thinking and says, “examining intuitively absurd or apparently drastic ideas can be an important learning experience”. Amen to that. I learned to steer clear of NYU. Also: “History is replete with examples of issues or ideas which, whilst widely supported or even invaluable now, were ridiculed and dismissed when they were first proposed.”

That’s true. But History is even more replete with lunacies rightly rejected, their inventors tarred and feathered by a horrified citizenry or locked in a small padded cell without their shoelaces lest they come to harm.

That was then. Now we give promoters of the preposterous cushy jobs at elite universities. The end cannot be long in coming.

Update This paper has been rediscovered (YOS had it a year ago; see below) by HotAir and National Review.


Thanks to Mike B. for alerting us to this new idiocy. For more about eugenics, click here.

U Penn’s Latest Conn: Religious Schools Shouldn’t Be Accredited

We sell only the best educations. Trust me!

We sell only the best educations. Trust me!

Tell the truth: English Departments at our “top” universities are stuffed to the quad with (A) Progressives or (B) Conservatives?

Anybody claiming (B) is either ignorant (I mean this politely) of university politics or lying, and probably lying. Does the correct answer, (A), thus imply English Departments contain only leftist ideologues? No, sir, it does not. It does however mean that the majority of the faculty will be slavishly devoted to NPR and Jon Stewart, and that the minority of tradition-minded faculty will have learned to keep their mouths shut, or face being purged.

Here’s another opportunity for truthfulness: would you rather have your offspring learn English from a Department which bases its lessons on books chosen for (A) political correctness and the demographic characteristics and sexual proclivities (and excesses) of their authors, or (B) their intrinsic beauty and cultural importance?

If you said (A), then you’ll be happy to learn that our top universities, each accredited by sober agencies, are just the place. Think of accreditation as a secular imprimatur, an official guarantee that your child will not be able to take her mind off race and sex, even if she wanted to.

But if (B) is your choice, well, you’re running out of options. Best bet is to try a smaller school, perhaps even a Christian one (like many top schools used to be, e.g. Harvard, Georgetown). If you told the truth on the first question, you already know why.

Christian and religious schools are accredited, too. They (think they) have to be. Money is on the line. Our government, in its wisdom, says schools must be accredited else no loans to students, and no money to the schools, either (a simplification, but largely on the mark). If a school lacks accreditation, the credits earned by students won’t be transferable, and degree-obsessed employers might not accept the diploma.

The aptly named Peter Conn, a professor of English and education at the University of Pennsylvania, wants Christian schools to lose their accreditation. He says that any Christian school receives accreditation is a farce, as he writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Conn is upset at the insularity of religious schools. His obvious unfamiliarity with Christianity explains why he doesn’t know Matthew 7:3. Don’t bother to look it up. It’s the one about the plank in the eye.

Conn, a man, says accreditation “confers legitimacy on institutions that systematically undermine the most fundamental purposes of higher education.” Purpose? Hmm. Conn’s school is hosting a talk by Amanda Lock Swarr, “Forcing Sex: Violent Contestations over South African Masculinities.” Where “In preparation, we will be reading the introduction to Sex in Transition as well as ‘Paradoxes of Butchness: Lesbian Masculinities and Sexual Violence in Contemporary South Africa.’”

Or you could attend the Queer Method Conference, but I’m afraid we’ve already missed the ARCH center’s symposium on Addressing Global Rape Culture.

Conn, a man, says, “Skeptical and unfettered inquiry is the hallmark of American teaching and research.” Conn, a man, says, “such inquiry cannot flourish—in many cases, cannot even survive—inside institutions that erect religious tests for truth. The contradiction is obvious.”

At U. Penn, you can sign up for ENGL 090.401, Gender, Sexuality and Literature: Our Cyborgs, Our Selves: “Women’s bodies have also been among scifi’s most persistent objects of analysis…” Or ENGL 390.401, Reproductive Fictions: “fictional narratives often prompt us to consider how and why certain bodies, lives, and social structures are reproduced.”

Conn, a man, says accrediting Christian schools is a “scandal” and a “fiasco” and that it “makes a mockery of whatever academic and intellectual standards the process of accreditation is supposed to uphold.”

At U. Penn, you can take ENGL 769.401 Feminisms and Postcolonialities: “…to explore key intersections of gender and sexuality with the dynamics of colonialism, decolonization, nationhood, and globalization.”

Conn, a man, says, “Let me be clear. I have no particular objection to like-minded adherents of one or another religion banding together, calling their association a college, and charging students for the privilege of having their religious beliefs affirmed.”

Hey, Conn, man, I agree with you. It has “become a melancholy fact of our contemporary cultural life” that university humanities departments have become bastions of asininities and foolish thought.

My advice to tradition- and reason-based schools is to skip accreditation. Do you really want to be in the same camp with Conn’s English Department? Accreditation costs too much anyway. Eschew government money. Do you really want to grip the purse strings of an increasingly immoral Mother?

Lovejoy’s New Attempt To Show We Are Doomed Does Not Convince

Lovejoy's new model.

Lovejoy’s new model.

We last met Shaun Lovejoy when he claimed that mankind caused global temperatures to increase. At the 99.9% level, of course.

He’s now saying that the increase which wasn’t observed wasn’t there because of natural variability. But, he assures us, we’re still at fault

His entire effort is beside the point. If the “pause” wasn’t predicted, then the models are bad and the theories that drive them probably false. It matters not whether such pauses are “natural” or not.

Tell me honestly. Is this sentence in Lovejoy’s newest peer-reviewed (“Return periods of global climate
fluctuations and the pause”, Geophysical Research Letters) foray science or politics? “Climate change deniers have been able to dismiss all the model results and attribute the warming to natural causes.”

The reason scientists like Yours Truly have dismissed the veracity of climate models is for the eminently scientific reason that models which cannot make skillful forecasts are bad. And this is so even if you don’t want them to be. Even if you love them. Even if the models are consonant with a cherished and desirable ideology.

Up to a constant, Lovejoy’s curious model says the global temperature is caused by climate sensitivity (at double CO2) times the log of the ratio of the time varying CO2 concentration, all plus the “natural” global temperature.

There is no such thing. I mean, there is no such thing as a natural temperature in the absence of mankind. This is because mankind, like every other plant and animal species ever, has been influencing the climate since its inception. Only a denier would deny this.

Follow me closely. Lovejoy believes he can separate out the effects of humans on temperature and thus estimate what the temperature would be were man not around. Forget that such a quantity is of no interest (to any human being), or that such a task is hugely complex. Such estimates are possible. But so are estimates of temperature assuming the plot from the underrated pre-Winning Charlie Sheen movie The Arrival is true.

Let Lovejoy say what he will of Tnat(t) (as he calls it). Since this is meant to be science, how do we verify that Lovejoy isn’t talking out of his chapeau? How do we verify his conjectures? For that is all they are, conjectures. I mean, I could create my own estimate of Tnat(t), and so you could you—and so could anybody. Statistics is a generous, if not a Christian, field. The rule of statistical modeling is, Ask and ye shall receive. How do we tell which estimate is correct?

Answer: we cannot.

But—there’s always a but in science—we might believe Lovejoy was on to something if, and only if, his odd model were able to predict new data, data he had never before seen. Has he done this?

Answer: he has not.

His Figure shown above (global temp) might be taken as a forecast, though. His model is a juicy increase. Upwards and onwards! Anybody want to bet that this is the course the future temperature will actually take? If it doesn’t, Lovejoy is wrong. And no denying it.

After fitting his “GCM-free methodology” model, Lovejoy calculates the chances of seeing certain features in Tnat(t), all of which are conditional on his model and the correctness of Tnat(t). Meaning, if his model is fantasia, so are the probabilities about Tnat(t).

Oh, did I mention that Lovejoy first smoothed his time series? Yup: “a 1-2-1 running filter” (see here and here for more on why not to do this).

Lovejoy concludes his opus with the words, “We may still be battling the climate skeptic arguments that the models are
untrustworthy and that the variability is mostly natural in origin.”

Listen: if the GCMs (not just Lovejoy’s curious entry) made bad forecasts, they are bad models. It matters not that they “missed” some “natural variability.” The point is they made bad forecasts. That means that misidentified whatever it was that caused the temperature to take the values it did. That may be “natural variability” or things done by mankind. But it must be something. It doesn’t even matter if Lovejoy’s model is right: the GCMs were wrong.

He says the observed “pause” “has a convincing statistical explanation.” It has Lovejoy’s explanation. But I, or you, could build your own model and show that the “pause” does not have a convincing statistical explanation.

Besides, who gives a fig-and-a-half for statistical explanations? We want causal explanations. We want to know why things happen. We already know that they happened.

On The Kaya Identity

A valid identity.

A valid identity.

A reader asked about my take on the Kaya wars that are flaming at Anthony Watts’s place.

Here is the form of the Kaya Identity, which is to say, the Kaya non-equation:

Y = X_1 \times \frac{X_2}{X_1} \times \frac{X_3}{X_2} \times \dots \times \frac{X_{n}}{X_{n-1}} \times \frac{Y}{X_n} ,

The Ys and Xis are numbers and a free choice, given the limitations of algebra (no Xi equals 0). Try it and see: for fun, let X_i = i . Works. A perfectly harmless manipulation.

There is no explicit word about causality in the Kaya. The Xis aren’t necessarily causing the Y or each other. If we wanted to know about what caused Y, and we believed that the Xis were in the causal path of Y, we wouldn’t set up an identity but an equation which looked like this:

Y = f(X,\beta) .

Where X is a vector and where the vector of (known and unknown) parameters β may be larger or smaller than X. Notice that Y does not appear on the right hand side. We are solving for Y here. One possibility (and probably a too simple one for most Y)is a linear equation:

Y = \beta_0 +  \beta_1 X_1 + \dots + \beta_1 X_n .

This is not regression. This is a causal model: it says Y will certainly change by \beta_i when X_i increases by 1 unit. Regression is a probability relationship where we first assume Y \sim N(\mu, \sigma) and then substitute μ for Y on the left hand side. Regressions says Y might, not that it certainly will, change.

Anyway, since the Kaya is an identity we can put anything we like in for the Xis and Y. Let’s try.

\mbox{CO}_2 = \mbox{Puppies} \times \frac{\mbox{Cats}}{\mbox{Puppies}} \times \frac{\mbox{Meteors}}{\mbox{Cats}} \times \frac{\mbox{Cosmic rays}}{\mbox{Meteors}} \times \frac{\mbox{CO}_2}{\mbox{Cosmic rays}} ,

where each is a number existent or occurring over a year in some suitable units. Notice that I was careful to put things that we know change over time, but I needn’t have. Everything could be static (more or less), like this:

\mbox{CO}_2 = \mbox{Mountain ranges} \times \frac{\mbox{Continents}}{\mbox{Mountain ranges}} \times \frac{\mbox{Great lakes}}{\mbox{Continents}} \times \frac{\mbox{Gold}}{\mbox{Great lakes}} \times \frac{\mbox{CO}_2}{\mbox{Gold}} .

Some of these quantities are known for sure, and one, the amount of Gold, is not. But whether we know the value of any of these is immaterial to the Kaya. As long as none are null quantities, and Gold isn’t, we’re in business. Also note that the number of entries was up to me. I could have made the list shorter or longer as I pleased.

What do any of these things have to do with CO2? Who said the items had to have anything to do with CO2? Who said I had to use CO2? Insisting that the Xis are causative of Y and using the Kaya and not an equation is doing it, as they say, the hard way.

But we can certainly manufacture cause-like stories. Puppies eat, and their food both requires and releases CO2. Cats, too. Meteorites often have carbon in them, and boy do they disturb the atmosphere; lots of cloud nucleii strewn hither and thither during their journey. Same thing with cosmic rays. Plus, these energetic creatures effect life, and life is important for understanding carbon. This is just off the top of the head; spend some serious time and you can spin this tale out to saga length. Peer reviewed, of course.

The same thing can be done with the fixed Xs. Or with any items you care to put into the Kaya. As long as you stay away from 0, you’re in business.

Here’s what Kaya himself put (adapted to just the USA):

\mbox{CO}_2 = \mbox{Population} \times \frac{\mbox{GDP}}{\mbox{Population}} \times \frac{\mbox{Energy}}{\mbox{GDP}} \times \frac{\mbox{CO}_2}{\mbox{Energy}} .

This is just as valid as the examples above, though this one seems more popular with economists. But then economists are prone to tying everything to GDP, which is a number, and economists love numbers (those without uncertainty, that is), often preferring them over reality. Never mind.

For an example of the Kaya in action, see the Pielke Jr video embedded at this link starting at around 21 minutes. Pielke appears to believe that the Kaya has something to do with causation and that he and fellow economists have captured all they need know about human beings and carbon.

The good news from an analytical standpoint is that there’s nothing else. There’s no other levers that you can use out there. This is comprehensive. You may wish there was some rabbit you can pull out of a hat because the good news is also the bad news: this is all you have.

That’s false, as we know from the Puppies example (recall we can add puppies or gold or whatever to the Kaya). And these items—GDP, etc.—are far from all we know about humans and carbon, though Pielke calls it an “extremely powerful tool for policy analysis.” For instance, he says (around 20 min. mark) that, as a lever governments can pull, “Less people, all else equal, equals less emissions” (I believe the guillotine had a similar lever). Another lever the government can yank, he says, is to purposely create poverty, i.e. “Limit generation of wealth” (does that include the wealth of government, one wonders?).

These claims are not quite false, but not quite true, either. More people mean more energy is used, but there’s also a greater chance for more innovation in, say, creating more efficient energy sources. And more people also means more food, and food is a terrific carbon sequestration vehicle, to say it in economic-speak. (Incidentally, one reason that there are more people is that there is more food.)

Now there’s nothing wrong with grappling with crude ratios like Energy/GDP to have some rough, first-blush idea of the amount of energy that is now required to generate such-and-such-a-sized economy, but as for the energy required to drive a future economy, who knows? Nobody in 1990 predicted Google. The Kaya is not a forecasting tool. And since it doesn’t carry any measure of uncertainty, and since every term is mixed up causally with every other term, nobody knows how much credence to give it.

And we can’t bypass the hard work of actually estimating the amount of carbon released and sequestered, both now and in the future. Yet the Kaya is mute on what causes CO2. GDP, after all, doesn’t cause CO2. That’s impossible.

The Kaya should be replaced with a probability model/equation, which can tell us how much change in GDP might be associated with a change in CO2.

That model ought to be under the same constraint as climate models. If it can’t make skillful predictions of future data, we shouldn’t believe it. Right? And how good are economists at forecasting the GDP or energy use one to two decades out?

Update I should have mentioned this above, but it might be in some problem that we know the last ratio Y/X_n (and each other ratio) but that we do not know Y. The Kaya can then be used to calculate Y. But in the case of CO_2, we do not know the last ratio.

Philosophic Issues in Cosmology: II. Relativistic Theories On Universe Origin—Guest Post by Bob Kurland

Robert Millikan, Georges Lamaitre, and A. Einstein (with hat).

Robert Millikan, Georges Lamaitre, and A. Einstein (with hat).

Bob Kurland is a retired, cranky, old physicist, and convert to Catholicism. He shows that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith.

There was a young lady named Bright,Whose speed was far faster than light;She started one day In a relative way, And returned on the previous night. A.H.R. Buller, Punch

Read Part I.

The usual exposition of Einstein’s General Relativity Field Equations is very forbidding, full of Greek subscripts and tensor notation; a clear, simplified version has been given on the web by John Baez, and is appropriate for considering the Big Bang. The standard general relativity model for cosmology is that given by Friedmann-LeMaitre-Robertson-Walker,1 usually designated by FLRW.

The FLRW model proceeds from the following simplifying assumptions: a) the universe is isotropic (looks the same in every direction, from every point in space); b) there is a constant amount of matter in the universe; c) on a large scale (hundreds of times the distance between galaxies) the universe has a homogeneous matter density (matter is spread evenly throughout space); d) the effects of “pressure” (from radiation or the vacuum) can be neglected.

With these simplifying assumptions, the equation for the “size” of the universe, its radius R, becomes simple, and looks just like the equation of motion for a particle traveling under an inverse square law, like that of gravity. (Note: this is not to say the size of the universe is really given by some value R, but to show how space is expanding; the universe might possibly be infinite—more about that later).

The universe might expand and then contract in a “Big Crunch” (like a ball falling back to earth), corresponding to positively curved spacetime (like a sphere); it might expand with a constant velocity of expansion (like a projectile going into orbit), corresponding to flat space-time (like a plane); or it might expand with an accelerating velocity of expansion (like a projectile achieving escape velocity), corresponding to a saddle-shaped curvature of space-time. It should also be emphasized that the FLRW solution to the Einstein General Relativity equations is by no means unique, nor is it the only solution with a singularity. It is a model, however, that is in accord with measured data (red shift, COBE microwave background radiation).

The assumptions stated above do not apply rigorously. Observations have shown a filament or bubble-like structure to the universe with clusters and meta-clusters of galaxies. (A theoretical picture for this filament structure has been proposed.) In the early stages of the universe radiation pressure was very likely significant.

More recently, measurements have shown that the expansion rate is increasing, which is presumed due to “dark energy”, possibly a pressure due to vacuum energy. Moreover, at some point in the expansion the scale of the universe gets so small that classical physics does not apply and quantum mechanics has to be used for theory. Unfortunately, quantum mechanics and general relativity have not yet been reconciled into one general theory, so there is a fundamental difficulty with this melding of the two theories.

The simple solution above for FLRW models gives an acceleration of R proportional to 1/R^2, which signifies that there is a singularity at R=0, that is to say, if you try to plug in R=0 you’ll get infinity. This would be the same as the infinity at the source for other forces proportional to 1/R^2, coulomb attraction or gravity. Ellis has this to say about the significance and existence of the FLRW singularity:

[T]he universe starts at a space-time singularity…This is not merely a start to matter—it is a start to space, to time, to physics itself. It is the most dramatic event in the history of the universe: it is the start of existence of everything. The underlying physical feature is the non-linear nature of the EFE (Einstein Field Equation): going back into the past, the more the universe contracts, the higher the active gravitational density, causing it to contract even more…a major conclusion is that a Hot Big Bang must have occurred; densities and temperatures must have risen at least to high enough energies that quantum fields were significant, at something like the GUT (Grand Unified Theory) energy. The universe must have reached those extreme temperatures and energies at which classical theory breaks down. [Emphasis in original.]

Ellis is saying that even though we can’t observe the universe at that time when it was so small and temperatures were so high that quantum properties would have been significant, we can infer that this was the case theoretically, that is to say that there was a “Hot Big Bang” at the beginning of the universe with extremely high temperatures (energies)and an extremely small volume.

Thus, given the contracting size of the universe as one goes back to the origin, there will be a time such that quantum effects must come into play. However, there are some basic limitations to using quantum mechanics as a theory for the origin of the universe. As Ellis points out:

The attempt to develop a fully adequate quantum gravity approach to cosmology is of course hampered by the lack of a fully adequate theory of quantum gravity, as well as by the problems at the foundation of quantum theory (the measurement problem, collapse of the wave function, etc.).

The Hawking-Penrose Theorems also show that a class of solutions to the General Relativity equations have a singularity in the solution. The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem shows that under conditions of universe average expansion, there is a beginning point. Since all such solutions are non-applicable at the singularity because quantum gravity enters the picture, the relevance of such theorems is perhaps questionable.


1Editor’s note: Georges LeMaitre was a Catholic priest and professor of physics. “He was the first known academic to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble.” See also Stigler’s law of eponymy.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2014 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑