William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Don’t Say “Hiatus.”

1711years

Don’t say “pause”, either. Update: Nor (see this post) “natural variability”.

What a mistake it is to use these words! There is no possible meaning of them which is sensible in the context of the (operationally defined) global temperature series.

Look, sisters and brothers, if we (as in climate scientists) knew what the temperature was going to be, we would have been able to skillfully forecast it. We were not able to skillfully forecast it, so we did not know what the temperature was going to be.

To speak of a “hiatus” or “pause” logically implies we knew the “hiatus” or “pause” was going to be there, that it was expected, that we knew in advance its causes. We did not know. If we did know, we would have predicted it. Which we didn’t.

To say there is a “hiatus” is to say that, eventually, we know not when, the temperature will continue its inexorable rise. What evidence is there for this belief?

It cannot be in the models we currently possess, because these models did not foresee what actually happened. The incontrovertible evidence is that these models are wrong. That they should not, in their current state, be trusted. That whatever they say is subject to extreme reasonable rational doubt. That decisions should not be made based upon their predictions (except the decision to produce better models).

To say there is a “pause” is to say that the models were right after all, even though Reality differed from the models. To say there is a “hiatus” is to say Theory is better than Reality. This is to commit the Deadly Sin of Reification.

There is no hiatus, there is no pause. At least, we can’t say so now—or maybe we will never be able to say so. We might someday look back and see that we now were living in a hiatus. Then again, we might look back and say, “I miss when it was warmer.”

There is no hiatus. There is only what the temperature actually did. Way back when, it wiggled to a fro, it went up a little more than down, but for these eighteen or so years, it stayed about the same. Why it did these things is an entirely separate different matter than saying what it did.

To say there was a “pause” is to say we know why the temperature did what it did. But again, if we knew, we would have known the “pause” was coming, which we didn’t.

Anybody who says “hiatus” or “pause” non-ironically or non-derisively is reifying theory, promoting it above reality. This is nuts, scientifically speaking.

“But look here, Briggs. Isn’t it true that man is injecting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and doesn’t carbon dioxide absorb radiation?”

Yes, it’s true.

“Is that all you’re going to say?”

That’s all you asked.

“Don’t play cutesy, fella. You’re just as aware of the implied question as I am. Adding carbon dioxide warms the planet, yes or no?”

I don’t know. And neither do you, and neither does anybody else. If you instead say we do know, then you have to explain why this knowledge led to such awful models.

It is true that man injects carbon dioxide, all right, and even other gases. And he also changes the land, say, by growing crops. But every species influences the climate to some extent. This is trivially true.

Now if we held everything constant—via some crude approximations—and only considered the increase of CO2, then temperatures should rise. Since they didn’t uniformly do so, it’s clear that this “hold everything constant” ploy is an awful rendering of reality.

Since our predictions failed, it must be that some thing or things we didn’t and don’t well consider should be considered. Maybe the extra CO2 is causing a boom in plant or plankton growth or whatever, species which then interact with variable X and then X interacts with Y, which modifies Z, and which, after a few more Latin letters, pushes the temperature to lower levels.

Hey. You can’t rule this out. The opposite is true: you must accept it, or accept some other alternative to the status quo, if you value truth.

God help the environmentalists if it turns out CO2 is actually a net benefit!

Meanwhile, don’t say “hiatus” or “pause.”

That Conservatives Smell Different Than Progressives Study Stinks

Some brave conservatives about to tour an American university campus?

Some brave conservatives about to tour an American university campus?

Several readers asked me to examine the peer-reviewed study “Assortative Mating on Ideology Could Operate Through Olfactory Cues” by Rose McDermott, Dustin Tingley, and Peter K. Hatemi appearing in the American Journal of Political Science.

It’s showing up everywhere. Like the Powerline blog, also in Pacific Standard, and The Week, and of course The Washington Post.

The paper opens with a proposition which is surely false, though it is asserted by many authorities, “Similarity between spouses is common across domains, but in humans, long-term mates correlate more highly (between 0.60 and 0.75) on social and political attitudes than almost any other trait, with the exception of religion”. I would have guessed race, followed closely by geographical and age. But skip it.

“Olfactory mechanisms have proven important in mate seeking and reproduction in both humans and animals because smell may signal mate immunocompetence, social compatibility, or other characteristics associated with mate quality and optimal reproduction.” Cue hippy joke #1.

While you’re at it, cue the amygdala, too, a pea-sized pair of brain “organs” which, as near as I can tell, account for every single human behavior that can be studied by academics. Our authors call to it here, too.

Here’s the question: “Why and how might smell signals be linked to political ideology?” Well, smell helps “maximize prospects for disease avoidance, cheater detection, defense against out-groups, and social cohesion”. Cue hippy joke #2.

Hey, did you know that “greater disgust sensitivity, which is intimately interconnected with the neural substrates of smell, predicts more conservative positions, particularly around issues involving morality and sexual reproduction”? If this is true—and it is peer reviewed—it must imply that conservatives excel at sniffing out the cheesy arguments of their unwashed opponents.

Whatever it is is in the genes, too. “Suggestively, Hatemi et al. (2011) identified several genomic regions that account for variation in ideological orientation, one of which contained a large number of olfactory receptors.” That “suggestively” actually means, “Oooh, we hope it’s true!”

Tying it all together:

If social attitudes are linked to odor, as the literature suggests, then one mechanism that odor preferences transfer from parents to children may operate through their mother’s choice of mate. In this way, social processes may drive some of the pathways by which individuals come to prefer those whose ideological “smell” matches their own.

The Just-So stories having ended, we proceed to the experiment itself, in which “participants rated the attractiveness of the body odor of unknown strong liberals and strong conservatives”. Ten lefties and 11 righties “provided body odor samples” (“menstruating or pregnant women were excluded”). One other sample was excluded: I couldn’t discover whether it was a leftie or rightie.

Affiliation was decided by a questionnaire (7 point scale), and so was smell (5 point). On an 11-point scale, dear reader, rate your belief in the validity of these “instruments”.

Anyway, the noses went to work. Data was collected. People were thanked. Now it is here is where you would expect a simple summary, maybe some pictures, showing the distribution of smelliness broken down by the evaluators’ and targets’ political affiliations. Did the raw data reveal that leftie evaluators prefer the smell of target lefties? And did conservative evaluators dislike the smell of leftie targets?

Alas, we shall never know. For why use actual data when you can have a statistical model instead? Actually three models. Regression of course (one logistic, two Gaussian). As if the uncertainty in a 5-point smelliness scale is well approximated by a normal distribution. And what’s with shoehorning in strange terms like “absolute value of the difference between the target’s and evaluator’s ideology, multiplied by negative 1″ and “Avg. Target Attract” and “Avg. Eval. Attract”?

No wee p-values for the logistic model, but why worry when the results are “consistent with our theoretical expectations.” Sadly, consistent with is now our highest standard of evidence. Skip it.

Oh, wait, now I get it. The “absolute value of the difference between the target’s and evaluator’s ideology, multiplied by negative 1″ is what had the wee p-values, and an effect size of about 0.02. That’s for a change on a smelly scale of 1 to 5. And don’t forget the maximum political difference can only be 6, so that the maximum effect can only be 0.12. At best: if the model is good.

That’s it. That’s the study. That wee, which is to say, trivial effect confirmed by a wee p-value, all wrapped up in an inappropriate model. But the authors still say “individuals find the smell of those who are more ideologically similar to themselves more attractive than those endorsing opposing ideologies”.

The authors added a few hundred more words in an attempt to escape the obvious. They never make it. But the press believed they did.

Statistics Good, Bad & Ugly

Lee van Cleef doesn't like your models.

Lee van Cleef doesn’t like your models.

In an attempt to catch up on my 300-some emails (yes, the total has grown considerably; probably because of recent publicity), here are some articles sent in by readers that bear attention.

Wee p-value surge

From our friend John Cook, the paper (pdf) “A surge of p-values between 0.040 and 0.049 in recent decades (but negative results are increasing rapidly too)”.

Whatever the theory is, the result is that P-values are magical thinking.

Replication

Reader Al Perrella sends in “Why Psychologists’ Food Fight Matters: Important findings haven’t been replicated, and science may have to change its ways.

More wee p-values, but in disguise. The real reason for the “replication” or “reproducibility crisis” is revealed here, in The True Meaning Of Statistical Models.

Only when users of statistical models think of them, as physicists think of theirs, in a predictive sense, and thus become verifiable, will the crisis dissipate.

Placebos

Perrella also sent “Placebos work — even without deception”. How does knowing you’re receiving a placebo and either getting better or not differ from not getting a known-placebo?

The headline is busted in the usual way. It makes it sound like known-placebos always work, even though in the quoted experiment it is clearly seen that they don’t.

People who beat each other have better health

Reader I. Fox writes, “Recently, BDSM practitioners have put out studies that say they have better mental health than those overall, and that, like homosexuality, is a perfectly normal behaviour. This document, written by a queer child psychiatrist (conflict of interest is noted) with the usual emotional arguments.”

The paper (pdf) is “Psychology & BDSM: Pathology or Individual Difference?” by Margaret Nichols, which opens “As a clinical psychologist, I am a member of a profession that many believe has replaced religion in its power to influence social opinion and behavior.”

And off she goes trying to influence. She calls her pals, “the kinky community.” Her “work” naturally excited the minds of those who contribute to Live Science: Bondage Benefits: BDSM Practitioners Healthier Than ‘Vanilla’ People. “[S]ome psychiatrists see the inclusion of BDSM and other kinks in the manual as stigmatizing”.

Heaven forfend perversion should be “stigmatizing.” Equality will be our death.

Don’t think so? Fox also sent this: Trans-Uterus, in which men pretending to be women are given uteruses (uterii?) and who then pretend they might get pregnant.

Which is fine. Hey, who am I to judge? But it’s not fine when you insist I pretend too. That’s tyranny.

Book recommendation

Reader Chris writes,

I’ve been reading Standard Deviations by Gary Smith, and think of your blog every time I turn a page. It’s a popular work for sure, and not very heavy on philosophy. I’m not sure if prof. Smith is a logical probabilist, or what, however he touches on so, so many topics you’ve covered over the years. Regression to the mean, the “law of averages”, Texas sharp-shooter, correlation/causation, file-drawer effect and over-certainty in general.

Among the many studies he thoroughly debunks are the “abortion leads to crime reduction”, “successful businesses become mediocre and that’s what keeps our economy running”, and “EMFs from power-lines cause cancer in children”.

You could probably finish it in a day or two. I wanted to send the recommendation your way in case you’re ever lonely and feeling quixotic about fighting this uphill battle against statistical over-certainty.

I haven’t seen it yet, but looks like it could be good.

Antibiotics linked to child obesity

The beauty of the phrase “linked to” is that it means anything you want it do. Thanks to reader Alan Watt for alerting us to the article “Children who receive a lot of antibiotics before age 2 are slightly more likely than others to become obese, a new study shows.

Slightly. Add in the model uncertainty and that due to concentrating on wee p-values and parameters and not observables and make a guess what will happen.

Highway Help!

Reader Jason asks us:

My wife, child, and myself are considering a move to a property that is approximately 860 feet from HWY 5 in San Juan Capistrano. My wife is pregnant and we have been reading about the harmful effects of living too close to a major highway.

My question is if you would consider this distance from the highway exceptionally unsafe?

Only if you play in the traffic.

Bayes

More Bayes in the news, sent in by reader John B.

Harry Potter

Our friend Ye Olde Statistician alerts us to the breathless statistical study, “D​id Harry Potter Influence The Political Views of Millennials?

The right answer: probably not, but who knows?

Survey says

YOS also shows us the absurdity of surveys: “An item on the Beeb alerted me to the fact that the Danes have — yet again — scored highest in some international measurement of happiness levels.

Summary Against Modern Thought: Periodic Review

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Let’s catch up so that we’re not in danger of forgetting where we came from, where we are, and where we’re going. I do not mean here to give complete arguments. That has already been done in the original posts. What follows is only a sketch to reorient and reinvigorate us. Don’t be lazy.

Does God exist? How do we know? Given the logical implications of answering those questions, how do we explain what can we know about God? What can we know about God? Well, some things, but not every thing. But more than you’d guess. These questions, all worthy and deserving of our attention, form the discourse of Book One of SCG. Let’s review.

Our efforts will not be in vain. From Chapter 3: “Now in those things which we hold about God there is truth in two ways. For certain things that are true about God wholly surpass the capability of human reason, for instance that God is three and one: while there are certain things to which even natural reason can attain, for instance that God is, that God is one, and others like these, which even the philosophers proved demonstratively of God, being guided by the light of natural reason.”

Let’s don’t be lazy; let’s attack each point assiduously, as argued in Chapter 4. Why? Because “the checking of presumption which is the mother of error” Chapter 5. Repeat that thrice. Most of what we believe is given to us. Let’s think things through, guided by those of superior intelligence. God is an embarrassing subject for our world, except to denigrate religion or sneer at theology, these unthinking irrational ill-educated attitudes being thought a mark of sophistication. Don’t be lazy.

The proof, using only reason and not a whit of divine revelation (beyond that which we all possess) which forms the backbone of Aquinas’s efforts, is that of first motion, which begins in Chapter 13 (part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5; don’t be lazy).

3 The first way is as follows. Whatever is in motion is moved by another: and it is clear to the sense that something, the sun for instance, is in motion. Therefore it is set in motion by something else moving it. Now that which moves it is itself either moved or not. If it be not moved, then the point is proved that we must needs postulate an immovable mover: and this we call God. If, however, it be moved, it is moved by another mover. Either, therefore, we must proceed to infinity, or we must come to an immovable mover. But it is not possible to proceed to infinity. Therefore it is necessary to postulate an immovable mover.

This simple and quite beautiful eminently reasonable and (thus far?) irrefutable argument has never stopped being misunderstood. Aquinas, and we following him, went to great pains to show that this movement is here-and-now. That which accounts for how any movement, which is to say how any change, happens must be because of a First Mover, an Unchanging Changer.

From this argument we learned (among other things) the concepts of act and potential. Something actual changes a thing from one “state” to another “state”, which before the change was only a potential. It cannot be the potential that is an efficient cause, it must be something actual.

What follows from this is that, because for any and all change there must be a First Changer, that God is not only “everywhere”—but not in the pagan sense; in the sense that if God did not exist, the universe would immediately cease—but God is also eternal, outside time, because time is the measure of movement, and God is Unmoving, Chapter 15. Few of these terms carry the same colloquial definitions we ordinarily carry, so don’t be lazy: read the original argument.

Another consequence is that God does not have any passive potentiality, Chapter 16.

2 For everything in whose substance there is an admixture of potentiality, is possibly non-existent as regards whatever it has of potentiality, for that which may possibly be may possibly not be. Now God in Himself cannot not be, since He is eternal. Therefore in God there is no potentiality to be

Not surprisingly, from these we learn that God is not made of matter. He is not physical stuff, Chapter 17. God is not the god of the atheists; He is not a clever, long-lived alien being composed (say) of energy fields. God is beyond matter: He is spirit.

It immediately follows that God is not made of parts, that he is “simple”, Chapter 18.

1 For in every composite thing there must needs be act and potentiality: since several things cannot become one simply, unless there be something actual there and something else potential. Because those things that are actually, are not united except as an assemblage or group, which are not one simply. In these moreover the very parts that are gathered together are as a potentiality in relation to the union: for they are actually united after being potentially unitable. But in God there is no potentiality. Therefore in Him there is no composition.

Another consequence: there is nothing in God against Nature, Chapter 19, and that God is not a body, Chapter 20, the simplest demonstration of which is, “For since every body is a continuous substance, it is composite and has parts. Now God is not composite, as we have shown. Therefore He is not a body.”

This brings us up to date. God exists, is responsible for the universe remaining in existence and is the ultimate cause of all change, that He is eternal, that He has no potential, that He is not made of stuff and is not a body. Well, fine. But that doesn’t tell us much. This could all describe the some kind of weird immaterial physical uber-field. Though we’ve gone a great distance, we haven’t really done much. We haven’t come close to describing God in full.

But we still have 80 chapters to go! Don’t be lazy.

The Strange Case Of Robert F. Kennedy Jr: Or, Jail Climate Deniers!

No, this isn’t a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel take-down of yet another bug-witted politician who has stayed long past his expiration date. We’re after something deeper today.

Here in a piece (“What States’ Attorneys General Can Do About Climate Deniers”) under his name at the ultra-left Huffington Post (running a curiously old picture of the man), is Kennedy’s opening:

Hysterics at the right-wing think tanks and their acolytes at The Washington Times, talk radio and the blogosphere, are foaming in apoplexy because I supposedly suggested that “all climate deniers should be jailed.”…Of course, I never said that. I support the First Amendment which makes room for any citizen to, even knowingly, spew far more vile lies without legal consequence.

Well, technically he’s right. He never said “all”, but here is a link to a video which has him (at the People’s Climate March) calling for the invention of new laws, and prosecution under old ones, including “treason”, of so-called deniers. Depends on all the meanings of all, I suppose.

He continues:

I do, however, believe that corporations which deliberately, purposefully, maliciously and systematically sponsor climate lies should be given the death penalty. This can be accomplished through an existing legal proceeding known as “charter revocation.” State Attorneys General can invoke this remedy whenever corporations put their profit-making before the “public welfare.”

He slips in “death penalty”, allowing his dimmer readers (this is the Huffington Post) to infer he means it in its literal, cut-their-throats sense. Only later does he reveal it’s a euphemism for some obscure law which has the power to unincorporate corporations. So not real death, but slow asphyxiation by the removal of the means of livelihood. After this legalese is forgotten, he slips in at the end with, “The notion that a State Attorney General might actually execute one of these villains is not a pipe dream.”

His charge:

For over a decade, petroleum industry behemoths led by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, have waged a successful multi-million dollar propaganda blitz to mislead the public about global warming using the same techniques honed by Big Tobacco in its campaign to hoodwink the public about smoking.

It never does any good to tell people that you get nothing or next to nothing for your work in skeptical climate science (my total, from all sources, is fast reaching double digits). They don’t believe it. No, it’s worse than that. It’s like telling a UFO hunter that the government isn’t engaged in a secret cover-up. Of course you would deny the cover-up! That means there’s a cover-up!

Next week, in a review of Alex Epstein’s forthcoming The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, we’ll learn the opposite of Kennedy’s charge is true: that oil companies have done everything except abandon oil in order to conform publicly to Kennedy’s religion.

And how much money does Big Green—Greenpeace, Sierra Club, the federal government through the EPA, USDA, etc.—pump into the system? I’ve seen many estimates, but by any count the amount dwarfs what skeptics receive.

Kennedy mentions some “culprits”, like Cato and Heartland, and says:

Like the Tobacco Institute and CTR, these front groups are snake pits for sociopaths. Run by venomous carbon industry toadies, they stable a craven menagerie of propaganda wizards, slick biostitutes, tobacco scientists, snake oil hucksters, voodoo economists and other so-called “experts” employed to publish beguiling studies, appear on TV and radio, and write deceptive articles critiquing the “flawed science” predicting climate change.

I have to admit liking that last sentence, though I haven’t any idea what a “biostitutes” is. We have seen time and again that “believers” like Kennedy have almost no understanding of climatology. They couldn’t define, say, a sigma coordinate system to save their lunches, let alone their lives. There is complete mystification over what convective available potential energy could mean. To them, the satellite inverse problem sounds like a vague oxymoron.

But it doesn’t matter. Belief is all they are after, and belief is what they get. Their belief is raw, primal. We’ve seen enough to know that environmentalism is pure religion, based on the false and ridiculous idea that Nature somewhere exists in its pristine, non-human state.

This is why questions are heresy, why Kennedy can foolishly call for his enemies to be jailed or executed. This deluded man isn’t the only one. Here is an abbreviated list of enviro-worshippers full of bloodlust: here, here, here, here.

Nature—a living god—must be appeased.

So the real question for discussion is, not the state of Kennedy’s sanity, but how this religion will progress. Ideas?

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