William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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The Reimaginings Of Exodus And Noah Inspires Moviemakers—And You!

John Nolte doesn’t like Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings.

…Scott makes a fool of himself. DeMille used the ancient biblical tale to tell a universal story about human liberty. Where Charlton Heston’s Moses demanded that Ramses “Let my people go!”, Bale’s Moses — and this is no joke — demands that Ramses pay his slaves a living wage and make them — again, no joke — citizens. DeMille’s Moses was a liberator. Scott’s Moses is a community organizer agitating for executive action on the minimum wage and amnesty.

Now Darren Aronofsky’s Noah was just as tuned to our post-Christian ever-so-delicate sensibilities. In his review of that movie, Nolte writes:

The sins of idolatry, blasphemy, dishonesty, adultery, and treating your parents with disrespect have absolutely nothing to do with why God wants to flood the earth and start over. “Noah” isn’t even interested in Jesus’ commandment to love one another as you love yourself.

Aronofsky’s “God” is only disappointed, disgusted and ready to be rid of man for the single sin of hurting the environment. And hurting the environment is defined in the film as strip-mining, eating animal flesh, hunting, and even plucking a flower no bigger than a dime because “it’s pretty.”

…Every glimpse of those God will wipe out shows these “sinners” exploiting Mother Nature. They butcher meat, tear live animals to pieces, hunt, mine, and cut trees. According to Aronofsky, that is all these people are guilty of and that is enough to justify the coming biblical genocide.

If “God” can destroy the world for the mortal sin of pressing pretty flowers, what sort of hell, with your enormous carbon “footprint”, do you think awaits you, you climate denier, you?

But Noah made money, and early forecasts are that Exodus will do at least okay. The Bible is in and profitable. It is a rich source of moral stories that has barely begun to be mined for movie material. So, our job today is to help filmmakers with suggestions of which tales we’d like to see.

Sanitized tales, of course. We don’t want to offend anybody. Feelings must not be hurt. We—us blessed folks living on the right side of history—know more than our unenlightened ancestors. Obviously, we cannot present the Bible as it is written and must tweak it a bit. Here are some of my ideas (in which I exercise artistic license). What are yours?

Sodom and Gomorrah: The Pride And The Glory

Two mysterious strangers approach the desert twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. A festival—a parade, wine, food, circus acts—is in progress. The innkeeper Lot sees them approach. He curses under his breath, “This is all I need.” Flashback: Lot kicking out tenants who could not pay, kicking in the teeth of a man who will later be seen in the festival parade, and kicking around cats and small children.

The strangers ask for a room. Lot, seeing they are rich, boots other guests to make space. He offers his daughter and wife to the aggrieved as recompense, throwing all into the street. Seeing this, the incensed crowd reacts and tries to bring Lot to justice. The man with the kicked teeth shouts, “You inhospitable brute!”

Lot escapes into the night through a hidden back door. Meanwhile, the strangers, who have been at the wine, realize what has happened. Turns out they are members of the Yogic Guardians, mythic creatures from the planet Cron charged with meting out punishment throughout the seven hundred worlds! The strangers go into Down Dog Supreme in order to blast Lot to smithereens. But as they are inebriated, their aim is off and the towns are destroyed instead.

Lot sees this and his heart softens. He weeps and vows to mend his ways. We end with an elderly Lot (who now runs a bathhouse in Nineveh) sharing a lovely sunset on his porch with his beloved goat Franklin.

The Sharing (A Lifetime movie)

After a long day community organizing, a weary Jesus wants nothing but to rest and eat. But his followers bring a women to him saying, “This woman has said, ‘All lives matter‘.” Jesus knew they were testing him and said, “That’s racist.” He directed that the woman be re-educated by trained experts.

His followers were many and Jesus was worried there would not be enough food. But an apostle reminded that good man that all his followers were members of the Green Organic Cooperative and that they had plenty and were willing to share. “That’s a miracle,” said Jesus.

Later, all sit around a single organic candle and sing songs celebrating how nice it was to be nice to one another.

Confession: I claim no originality. Minus the cinematic details, these plots are directly from modern theologians.

Podcast: Peer Review, Bob & Ray Do Statistics, Academic Calls For Killing Of (Post-Birth) Babies


Show Notes

Wired’s PubPeer article. PubPeer.com itself. PubPeer’s discussion of “Macroscopic Observability of Spinorial Sign Changes under 2π Rotations“.

Bob and Ray can be found at, inter alia, the Internet Archive, which is also where you can find today’s snippet.

Getting to be the worst person you can see if you’re worried about your health is a “doctor.” These fellows are now and increasingly killing people who come to them—especially in post-Christian Europe, in places like The Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. But here, too, in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont.

And if people like Udo Schuklenk have his way, it’s going to get worse.

The abstract of Schuklenk’s Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery article.

You can read about Heterotaxy Syndrome here.

The lecture from which Schuklenk’s clips were gathered.

Happy Birthday Frank Sinatra, and Merry Christmas.

Bonus! The podcast is also at YouTube (YouTube also says the video is blocked in Germany because of the 30 second Sinatra clip). I’ll work on restoring my iTunes feed. Maybe. Download the MP3.

Update It is to this level of podcasting perfection to which your host aspires.

Pascal’s Pensées, A Tour: III

PascalSince our walk through Summa Contra Gentiles is going so well, why not let’s do the same with Pascal’s sketchbook on what we can now call Thinking Thursdays. We’ll use the Dutton Edition, freely available at Project Gutenberg. (I’m removing that edition’s footnotes.)

Previous post. Due to orders from on high, I’m experimenting with putting footnotes closer to the material referenced, as I was told the other way made it too hard to read.


Mathematics, intuition.—True eloquence makes light of eloquence, true morality makes light of morality; that is to say, the morality of the judgment, which has no rules, makes light of the morality of the intellect.

For it is to judgment that perception belongs, as science belongs to intellect. Intuition is the part of judgment, mathematics of intellect.

To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.1

1This isn’t a plea for intellectual philistinism. What was it Socrates said? Something on the order of “I know that I know nothing.” And what did St Thomas say of his monumentally perspicacious lifetime’s work? “Straw.” And what do modern academic philosophers say of the work of their colleagues, particularly when soliciting government to fund its “research”? Superlatives and pomposity aren’t in it.


Those who judge of a work by rule are in regard to others as those who have a watch are in regard to others. One says, “It is two hours ago”; the other says, “It is only three-quarters of an hour.” I look at my watch, and say to the one, “You are weary,” and to the other, “Time gallops with you”; for it is only an hour and a half ago, and I laugh at those who tell me that time goes slowly with me, and that I judge by imagination. They do not know that I judge by my watch.2

2Time passing is surely subjective. But judging by a watch doesn’t fix this. Try watching a microwave count down one minute or waiting for the minute to change on a digital clock. As an experiment, talk to yourself while you are waiting. It takes something near an eternity.


Just as we harm the understanding, we harm the feelings also.

The understanding and the feelings are moulded by intercourse; the understanding and feelings are corrupted by intercourse. Thus good or bad society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to choose in order to improve and not to corrupt them; and we cannot make this choice, if they be not already improved and not corrupted. Thus a circle is formed, and those are fortunate who escape it.3

3This reminds me we have to create the One Week High Culture Challenge, in which the participant is allowed only that which is beautiful and ennobling. Since entrants won’t know what this means, guidelines will be provided. Loosely, no newspapers nor television, and no music, books, or art produced after 1900. Not that there are great and worthy items after this date, but they are becoming fewer and fewer.

Oh, it is a false that people have “always” said culture was in decline, but it is true that it is often said when culture is declining.


The greater intellect one has, the more originality one finds in men. Ordinary persons find no difference between men.4

4This includes cynicism, a sin which often tempts your intrepid interpreter. But this warning must also include (what we can call) Grubering, a corrosive and hate-filled version of the sin in which a self-awarded elitist looks out over the mass of humanity and finds them all unfortunately ignorant and incapable of understanding what only he, the elitist, knows as best.


There are many people who listen to a sermon in the same way as they listen to vespers.5

5Speaking of the Culture Challenge, vespers (Anglican evensong) is the evening prayer service. “O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” Immediately breaking my rule, here is a beautiful version (but produced after 1900), and here is a modern, uh, implementation.

Anyway, Pascal means, I think, that some let the homily wash over them, not attending to the content, but hearing the words as a sort of dull music. It probably doesn’t have to be emphasize that this sometimes is useful escape mechanism.

On The Attribution Of A Single Event To Climate Change


Rained yesterday here in the city of cities. Must be because of climate change, right? Hey. The climate did change and it did rain. What more evidence do you want?

Bonus trivia question: name a period in which the climate on this island earth never changed.

That’s right, guppies. It’s a trick question. There is no such period! The climate has always changed; therefore, it is rational to suppose that it always will.

“Briggs, you fool. When people say ‘climate change’, they don’t mean the climate changed. They mean the nature of the climate has remained stationary up until some point, after which is changed—and even fools like you know this means a change in the statistical nature of the climate.”

So that if you say, as I’ve heard you say, that temperature is “normally distributed” and yesterday the high was 62F and today the high is 38F, you’d say the temperature didn’t change?

“Well, you know what I mean.”

Funny definition, that. Besides, even if the model—your normal distribution—remained the same from day to day, it’s still true that some thing or things caused the high to plunge (i.e. change), right?

“The climate didn’t change. The temperature did.”

That either makes no sense or it’s a circular argument. Your model—your normal distribution—doesn’t say diddly about what caused the observed change. Do you agree?

“It doesn’t have to! If the model doesn’t change, the climate didn’t change!”

You avoided the question while committing the Deadly Sin of Reification. You’re defining “climate” as your model, and not as the real-life observations. At least you’re in good company. Like that of Gerrit Hansen, Maximilian Auffhammer (cool name), and Andrew R. Solow who wrote a peer-reviewed paper of the same name as today’s post in the Journal of Climate, which makes the same mistakes you make (vol 27, 15 Nov 2014, pp 8297-8301).

These authors define a “stochastic” “point process”, which is to say, a probability model, which describes the uncertainty in event occurrences. Like, say, blog posts. Once a day here—a good and highly accurate model! Which is not meant as a joke. Why?

Their probability model, like any probability model, announces, conditional on specified premises, which usually include past observations, the probability some proposition is true. Thus, given our blog point process model and the history of posts at the venerable WMBriggs.com, you might say the probability “A post shows tomorrow, 11 December 2014″ is high. Tune in tomorrow to see how useful this model is.

Again, this isn’t a joke. I started this blog seven, eight years ago. Back then the climate was different, and so was my posting frequency. It was on the order of twice to thrice a week.

That means were I to fit a point process model to this history of posts, it would show a correlation with climate change. There would be parameters inside this model which would measure this association, parameters which I could use to quantify the correlation, I mean.

Now the real question: is the changing climate causing me to write now daily posts?

Of course not!

And it’s silly to suggest that it is, even though the parameters in our model show a “significant” correlation (with time or climate change). The two things—climate and my fevered imagination—have nothing to do with one another.

Just to be perfectly crystalline transparently forcefully clear, a parameter in a point process model, which might be pegged to time or some other external thing, cannot say why the observed series changes or doesn’t change.

Here’s our authors (pp. 8297-8298):

Given that an event has occurred after the climate has changed, was it or was it not caused by climate change? This question implies that, once climate has changed, the point process of events represents the superposition of a point process of events that would have occurred in the absence of climate change and a point process of events that would not have occurred in the absence of climate change and are, therefore, attributable to climate change. Moreover, these point processes must be independent; otherwise, the former would inherit a climate change effect through the latter.

They assume a model which has a rate indexed by a parameter, and after “climate change” this parameter increases, and the increase is “attributed” to climate change.

As you can see, this whole thing, start to finish, confuses the nature of causality. What does “once climate has changed” even mean? If we knew the climate changed at some point, and how this new “climate” (and the old) caused, say, hurricanes or lightning strikes, then we don’t need a probability model. We’d just say, “There will be this many hurricanes and lightning strikes”—and we could not be wrong.

We certainly don’t need a model to tell us if a hurricane struck. We can just look. And if we don’t know the precise causes of the hurricane, it’s silly to claim it was “caused” by climate change. Some thing or things caused the hurricane before the climate changed and some thing or things will cause hurricanes after the climate changes. The probability model just can’t say anything definitive about causes.

The authors:

Over the 30-yr period 1950–79, there were a total of 39 intense North Atlantic hurricanes while over the following 33-yr period, 1980–2012, there were 53 such hurricanes. If we assume that the effect of climate change over the entire 63-yr period was to increase the rate of these hurricanes, then the ML estimate of the estimated probability that a hurricane in the later period is attributable to climate change is 0.19 and an approximate 0.95 confidence interval for this probability is (-0.17, 0.44).

Again, this makes no causal sense. Add emphasis: “If we assume that the effect of climate change….was to [cause an] increase” then the estimated probability that the hurricane is “attributable”, i.e. caused by, “climate change” ought to be 100% or nothing.

Scientists spend far too much time on these vaporous models when they’d be better off searching for causes and in understanding physics.

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