William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

People’s Climate March: D-Day


Today’s the day!

According to the Mashable’s Andrew Freedman, “the ‘People’s Climate March’ will likely mark the moment when global warming transitions from being a science and policy issue into a full-fledged social movement. Perhaps it will become as large as the gay rights and civil rights movements.”

The worry is that Freedman will be right. Whatever (small-s) science there was will soon be long forgotten, if it hasn’t been already, and all that will matter, like Freedman said about gay and civil rights, will be your level of devotion.

Which had better be all or nothing, or out the door you go, exiled, forced to spend your days writing blog posts for the remnant, hoping for the occasional donation (button on the upper right). You might think you can get by keeping your mouth shut, but it won’t do. If you want to enter into the secular cathedral, full-throated approval is necessary.

Of course, you will not be required to believe what you’re saying. Belief is for the masses and useful idiots. But if you don’t believe, the price you pay for entry is your soul.

Freedman says:

…six busloads of Minnesota climate activists are on their way to New York, along with a “climate train” that set out from California and picked up activists during its trek across the country. At least 3,000 college students are slated to turn out from New York area universities alone. Around the world, more than 2,000 events are scheduled for Sunday as well. In total, about 100 million people globally will be represented, according to the organizing committee overseeing preparations.

Again, the fear is not that Freedman and a handful of devout activists, but that the secular saints which rule our days, believe that wholly fictional “100 million” figure. Strike that. The concern is that politicians will believe others will believe that number, which would give the politicians (they would feel) justification to call for “action”—which will translate into more control for themselves.

And less freedom for you.

See if you can find the (small-s) science in the following:

The People’s Climate March is backed by an unprecedented coalition of 45 major labor groups, including heavy hitters such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — a group that Henn said “doesn’t mess around” — along with prominent grassroots environmental organizations like 350.org as well as religious organizations.

Now SEIU’s contribution to global climate modeling has been even less than Al Gore’s. So why are SEIU and other labor groups concerned? If it really is true that Chicken Little’s worst fears will be realized and that the sky, laden with excess carbon dioxide, really does fall, union members will be just as bad off as even Apple Corporation employees.

Never mind. The answer is as plain as Joe Biden’s thinning hair plugs. For most, global warming was never about the science. It’s a good bet something north of 80% of these marchers won’t know the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit or even why clouds float. But they’ll believe with all their hearts that the climate is out of control—and that what other people have should be theirs and that, dammit, something ought to be done about it.


I’m at the march today and will be writing about it afterwards. Some of the material, and maybe even all of it, will appear on this blog. But some might appear in other places. I’ll keep you updated.


Note: The series on Summa Contra Gentiles will continue next week.

People’s Climate March Prep: Your Help Requested

The People's Climate March: you will believe.

The People’s Climate March: you will believe.

It’s party time

Your intrepid reporter, with full bona fides as a people, will be at tomorrow’s People’s Climate March in Manhattan, and you can help. More about how in a moment.

First, if you can go, you should. After all, you’ve been asked to by climatological eminences: “Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.

Michael “I make a nice living with this stuff” Oppenheimer will be there, MIT’s Kerry Emanuel can’t make it but is “delighted it is happening.” Michael Mann, who did to climate science with his hockey stick what Bob Probert did to his opposition, isn’t coming, and admitted-willing-to-lie-for-the-cause liar Peter Gleick won’t be there because he “made an explicit decision not to fly to New York because of the carbon cost.”

But celebrities will be there, and, admit it, that’s what really counts, right?

The festivities have already begun. Last night, to pick an example which to you is at random, you missed “A Queer Response to Climate Change” at the NYC Metropolitan Community Church (W 36th), which asked “How on earth is Global Climate Change a Queer Issue?” Hard to answer:

Nancy Wilson, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church with 40 years’ experience faithfully and thoughtfully addressing social justice concerns, along with Peterson Toscano, a queer comic performance artist and off-beat Bible scholar, team up to offer a presentation that is guaranteed to expand your thinking, give you hope, and provide direction for you and your community in the face of big changes on our little planet. Discover what your role might be on our new earth and learn how LGBTQ folks and faith communities already have experiences and resources to draw on in the midst of our current and growing climate crisis. It’s time for the ultimate makeover!

Of course, if you weren’t last night veering queer, you were probably angling occult at the “Pagan Mixer in Honor of the People’s Climate March” at the Lovecraft Bar (East Village), which shouted “WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, WITCHES!”

There’s plenty to do today, too. You could head to the “Decolonize Climate Justice” event at the Free University (East Village) which insists

Those most affected by the first symptoms of climate change­­ such as extreme weather and environmental disasters brought on by capitalist exploitation ­­are indigenous people worldwide, marginalized majorities of the Global South and poor people of color in the Global North. These connections are not coincidental…

Tonight there’s the “Apocalypse How? Climate Change, the Political-Economy of Energy, and Reigniting the Radical Imagination” at the Graffiti Night Church (East Village), which boasts, among others,

Eddie Yuen is coauthor of Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (PM Press), teaches in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department at the San Francisco Art Institute. He is the co-editor, with George Katsiaficas and Daniel Burton-Rose, of Confronting Capitalism: Dispatches from a Global Movement.

Socialists will enjoy the “Climate Satyagraha: Revolution on the Ecosocialist Horizon” at the Alwan Center for the Arts (Downtown), which says

Climate change is part and parcel of a global ecological crisis whose driving force is the cancerous capitalist system. Accordingly, though all change must be grounded in local struggle, it must also be integrated with a planetary revolutionary uprising that incorporates the struggles of traditional socialism and its Marxist articulation into the vision of a post-capitalist mode of production centered on the production of integral ecosystems.

And, yes, there are several puppet shows and puppet building events. Where would a demonstration be without giant puppets? See the main events page. For example, tomorrow morning fortify yourself for the day’s activities at the “Queer Planet pancake breakfast pre-march meet-up” at the Abrons Art Center (ass end of China Town) where you can help put the final touches on the “giant puppet drag queens related to the four elements (air, fire, water, earth) plus related drag looks & snappy signage!”

What you can do

But how can you help if you can’t make it to the city?

As said, Your intrepid reporter will be there, voice recorder in hand (unfortunately, no camera), and he will be asking people questions. But what questions?

It will by now be obvious that few to none of the marchers have the least idea how the atmosphere works, and it’s a good bet that a substantial minority of them don’t even know there’s an atmosphere. Further, every thinking person knows these facts. So is there any point asking marchers science questions?

If you were there, what would you ask? Or what other suggestions do you have? Are any of you coming?

Your reporter will be at the north end of Columbus Circle wandering around Central Park West sometime after 10 am (the parade begins at 11:30 am), and will likely join at least part of the march. Look for the fellow in the white linen suit and white hat.

160 Eco Prize Winners Take Out New York Times Ad, Beg Money: UN Climate Summit. Update: Fake Winners


Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the slickest money grubbing stunt since Al Sharpton met Tawana Brawley. 160 secular self-ordained priests of the Environment have taken out an ad in the far-left New York Times which—

—Nay! Nothing so humble as a mere advertisement. No, sir! This is a declaration, a noble document, a moral plea on par with anything John Hancock put his pen to.

So shattering are the words that we must take them in pieces lest we be destroyed. First, the glamorous headline!

An appeal to the world’s foundations and philanthropists by the world’s environmental prize winners.

Prize winners? We have everybody from Ibrahim Abouleish, 2003 laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, i.e. the “alternate Nobel”, to Ellen Zimmerman, who snagged the 2006 Yves Rocher International Foundation Terre de Femmes (literally, woman covered in dirt).

Aghast that the Earth is heading for 4 to 6 degrees Celsius of global warming, given current policies on the burning of coal, oil and gas;


Terrified that we will lose our ability to feed ourselves, run out of potable water, increase the scope for war, and cause the very fabric of civilization to crash as a consequence of the climate change that global overheating will bring about;


But, say, who cares about potable water when the very fabric of civilization will crash!

Devastated that our governments have not succeeded in slowing, much less stopping, the flow of greenhouse gases into our thin atmosphere, in the full knowledge of these risks, despite a quarter century of trying;


Wait, did they just imply they want to stop all greenhouse gases? Dude.

Aware that the UN Climate Summit in Paris in December 2015 may be the last chance to agree to a treaty capable of saving civilization;


This is it! This is the end. Unless we act now. So how should we act?

Believing that the world’s philanthropic foundations, given the scale of their endowments, hold the power to trigger a survival reflex in society, so greatly helping those negotiating the climate treaty;


Listen up, rich people. We have Tomorrow, and if you want to see her alive, you’d better give it up. Details to follow.

Recognizing that all the good works of philanthropy, in all their varied forms, will be devalued or even destroyed in a world en route to 6 degrees of global warming or more, and that endowments that could have saved the day will end up effectively as stranded assets;

Now, see, this is the danger of writing documents by committee. Above we were threatened with 4 to 6 degrees of warming, but here it’s morphed into 6 degrees “or more”. If they were trying to scare the bejeebers out of the wealthy, they should have agreed on something truly apocalyptic. Why not 13 degrees? Hot and unlucky!

We, 160 winners of the world’s environmental prizes, call on foundations and philanthropists everywhere to deploy their endowments urgently in the effort to save civilization.

If this works, I’m trying it. I mean, if these prize winners are able to shame rich folk into ponying up lest they be destroyed, them I’m having a go, too. Why not? Only question is, what sort of frightener (yes, frightener) should I use?

How’s Send me money or I shall blog again? Or If I don’t see the cash, every channel on every TV will show nothing but The View twenty-four hours a day? Or If you don’t deploy your resources my way, you’re going to feel awfully bad? Maybe, The world might end unless you create a sinecure for me?

That last is a logically true statement, incidentally. I mean, it is true the world might end unless I’m given employment, but only because all contingent propositions with “might” in them are true. That means it’s also true that the world might end in heat death by 2040 unless philanthropists open the taps.

Problem is, I can’t construct a plausible end-of-the-world story with a “might” that doesn’t sound like the plot from a bad Hollywood movie, and doesn’t cause me to blush and worry about the status of my soul.

Maybe you guys have ideas?

Update More Dubious Eco Laureates. “Green energy lobbyists pretending to be eco prize winners have signed a climate change declaration. Its real purpose is to secure more green energy funding.”

Autism And Stem-Cell Derived Vaccines: Deisher’s New Paper


Stacy Trasancos asked me to review her post “Why Are Catholics Criticizing Dr. Theresa Deisher?“, and in particular the paper “Impact of environmental factors on the prevalence of autistic disorder after 1979″ in Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology by Theresa A. Deisher and four others (Trasancos has links to all the material).

It is Deisher’s (implied) claim that vaccines created (in part) with stem cells “harvested” from the human beings killed for being inconveniences to their mothers are causing an increase in the rate of autism.

There are several matters of interest people are having a difficult time keeping straight. Here’s a list:

  1. Whether it is, or under what circumstances it is, ethical to kill human beings still living inside their mothers.
  2. Whether it is ethical to use the tissue from these killed human beings, considering this tissue might lead to more efficacious or cheaper vaccines (which will surely save lives).
  3. Whether these vaccines might cause any form of autism.
  4. If so, how likely is it to contract some form of autism from these vaccines.
  5. Whether it is ethical for Deisher to investigate these claims, given that she might personally benefit (monetarily or spiritually or whatever) from identifying this cause of autism.
  6. Whether Deisher is a liar, cheat, or a fraud.

Matters (1) and (2) I will not here discuss; they are irrelevant to (3) and (4), which are the subject of Deisher’s paper. Matter (5) is easy: the answer is yes. If it were not, we’d have to fire every scientist everywhere who working for a paycheck, which is to say, all of them. And anyway, claims have to be investigated independent of how they are made. If you rebel at that idea, or automatically dismiss Deisher because of some perceived “red flag”, you are committing the genetic fallacy. Matter (6) we shall come to, but for the lazy among you, I think the answer is no.

Autism diagnosis

Whether vaccines created, in part, from cells “harvested” from dead babies possibly causes any form of autism is a question which I am not competent to answer. I have read enough in the literature to have learned that while there is great and consistent suspicion that they cannot, there is no absolute proof that they cannot; further, Deisher does introduce valid evidence that shows these cells can wreak havoc in other body systems, so it remains possible that (at least some forms of) autism are caused by these cells. But, don’t forget, “possible” is an extremely weak hook to hang your hopes on.

Deisher’s paper is premised on the supposition that “fetal and retroviral contaminants in childhood vaccines” might cause autism. If my reading was shallow, or if anybody else has certain proof this premise is false, now is the time to say it. Otherwise, we must continue.

Now there are many vaccines given to children and at various ages and manufactured by different companies (we are not just thinking of the USA, folks). Even before the vaccine-autism “controversy”, not all kids (in “developed” countries) were vaccinated, though most were. Records on vaccinations are, as far as records go, reasonably good, but not perfect. Records on autism diagnoses, given that there are many forms of autism, are far from perfect, though improving. Kind of.

The key word is diagnoses. Long ago, before autism was well understood, it was, of course, not well diagnosed, so that even if records were immaculate, which they were not, we would not have had a good idea of the actual rate of autism. The increasing centralization of medicine, in teaching, practice, literature, and regulation, undoubtedly contributed to an increase in the diagnosis rate of autism (the reader understands I mean the disease in its various forms; we’ll tighten this later). Indeed, a steady increase in autism diagnoses has been observed.

And then the disease hit public awareness. And then the disease underwent a broadening in definition, especially in the hugely influential Diagnosis and Statistical Manual and its revisions. And then western society increasingly decided that being and acting male was a disease. And then the media was flooded with “Ask your doctor if Profitozol is right for you” articles and ads. And then the Internet hit and facilitated self-diagnoses. And then some wacky celebrities decided vaccines must be causing autism.

The diagnosis rate increased, surely in part because of all these things. But the diagnosis rate could also have increased because something new was causing new cases of autism. How to separate the increase in diagnosis rate from (let us call them) “awareness” factors and actual disease causes? Some thing or things caused each diagnosis, and some thing or things caused each true case of autism. The two sets of causes are different (a doctor identifying a wound is not the wound). Or has the disease definition been expanded so much that even marginal cases are being accurately identified as autism: understand that I mean here accurate diagnoses but for an “autism” that is not be the same “autism” of two decades ago; e.g. every time a boy acts like a boy is now some form of “autism” (or “Aspergers” or whatever).

The Diagnosis and Statistical Manual has been changed many times, and various diseases and maladies have not only changed, but their diagnostic criteria have also changed, in general to broaden them (some jokingly say we’re all mentally ill now). New issues of the DSM are released, as Deisher reminds us, at fixed points in time. But that is not the whole story. The changes to the diagnostic criteria are (or were, up until this newest edition) generally and increasingly known before their actual publication date. After all, the DSM attempts to summarize a known literature, and doctors are free to change their behavior in advance of the new DSMs (which isn’t, anyway, legally binding on doctors).

Point is this: the appearance of new DSMs is not a hard-and-fast “change point” in physician behavior, though it does represent a change of some kind. And even if the contents of new DSMs were completely unknown to physicians until publication dates, not all physicians rush to the bookstore the day these manuals are issued and immediately and wholly change their diagnostic behavior. It takes time for the changes to be assimilated, for new doctors to be trained to come up through the ranks with the new ideas in their heads, and for the dinosaurs who stick to the old ways to die. And so on.

Deisher’s paper

We’re finally back to Deisher, who from her paper does not appear to appreciate these and similar points. I find the paper poor in conception, argument, and quality, and regard her main contention as unproved (which is logically consistent with it is still possibly true).

Here’s what she did. She collected statistics of autism diagnoses rates from various localities and in different forms. Sometimes she examines prevalence, other times incidence, and still other times raw counts. This is confusing. The data sources are not well documented, nor are the procedures she used to construct the eventual data used in her analyses. The “data sources” section in her paper is exceptionally thin, and mostly given over to detailing how she discovered publication dates of the DSMs, which is not disputed by anybody.

Here are one set of pictures she generated (incidentally, the figures in this paper are poorer than is usual in a science journal, and Deisher does not do a good job labeling or discussing them):

Part of Fig. 1 from Deisher et al., 2014.

Part of Fig. 1 from Deisher et al., 2014.

The picture on the left is prevalence of autism for the US in the years indicated, and the right is incidence for California. The black lines are the Deisher’s central “finding.” But don’t look at them yet; instead, look just at the dots on the picture on the left, and suppose these are genuine (like I said, I don’t have complete confidence this data is error free).

The diagnosis rate is increasing. Something must be causing this increase in diagnoses. An increase in diagnoses does not necessarily imply an increase in disease presence. The change in “awareness”, as detailed above, is surely a plausible cause in the diagnosis increase. Is it the only cause? Nobody knows. There might be others. Centralization (as discussed above) is one cause. It could be that Deisher’s contention is right and vaccines are contributing to an increase in the disease, which itself is causing an increase in diagnoses, or it could be that global warming is causing a disease increase, or that cosmic rays have been leaking through the atmosphere at increased rates, or it could be anything. Who knows?

The broken black line is the result of a statistical model called a “change-point regression”, a procedure which identifies were breaks might have occurred in data. The eye is drawn to this line, making the “break” appear realer than it would if the black line had been absent. Is there really an increase in the increase in 1980.5? Maybe. Are there really two increases in the increases on the figure on the right? Maybe.

But maybe not. If you subtract away the lines, the breaks are harder to see. Deisher’s point is that these breaks do not correspond to the DSM releases, and thus that something other than awareness must be causing the increases in diagnoses.

There are two big problems.

The first is that, as discussed above, DSM release dates do not cause instantaneous shifts in physician behavior. And anyway, changes to the DSM were not the only changes to awareness, as we saw.

The second is that, even if the change points are real, and even if the other statistics in her paper (which I don’t detail here, as we’ve already gone on too long) are accurate, Deisher has not proved that the cause of the observed changes must be vaccines, especially since the changes in vaccine types were concurrent with changes in awareness.

Deisher nowhere measured which vaccines each child received and which child developed autism, which is the only way to demonstrate potential causality. She only (crudely, too) measured various rates of diagnoses. To conclude the changes in these rates must be from the one cause she posited is to commit the epidemiologist fallacy.

Deisher herself is at least partly aware she has not proved her case, because she admits “While we do not know the causal mechanism behind these new vaccine contaminants and autistic disorder…” But absent any causal mechanism, there is no case.

Obviously, experiments cannot be run on children to see which vaccines might cause which disease. But vastly superior epidemiology can be performed. Specific records on children (including medical history, genetics, etc.) can be kept, tracking when and what kind of vaccines, and so forth. And because this has become a public concern, such things are being done.

Is Deisher a fraud?

Amateurs who have spent no time investigating quacks irresponsibly think all quacks are frauds, or that all bad science comes from scientists with evil motives, or that everybody who makes a claim that turns out wrong is only making that claim for nefarious reasons. Bosh.

(I have a book on one area of mistaken claims.)

Most quacks are not snake oil salesmen. And most scientists who cherish false beliefs (and I must remind us that we have not proved Deisher’s belief is false) are sincere. The homeopathist who sets up shop and the apocalyptic global warming climatologist who submits a grant do so not just because they want to make a buck, but because they believe they are helping mankind. They are not scamming anybody but themselves.

Indeed, the exact opposite is true: these people believe, which is why it is so hard to talk them out of their mistakes.

I have seen no evidence that Deisher is a quack or fraud or that she is lying or that she is ignorant. Instead, there is overwhelming evidence that she is highly intelligent and believes what she is saying. True, she does not help herself by showing up at the Autism One conference, which has more than its fair share of homeopathists and chiropractors, but if we condemned scientists who spoke before screwy audiences, we’d have to fire every researcher who ever appeared on television.

What Deisher’s harsher critics are doing when calling her a fraud or liar is changing the subject (just as do those critics who call global warming a lie or a scam) away from the claim of true interest—do certain vaccines cause autism?—to those of personalities and politics. The claim is forgotten or dismissed with a wave (“only a fool would believe…”) and people are encouraged to take sides without having to do the hard work of thinking.

Update Since it’s come up. What Does The Regression Equation Mean? Causality? and Regression Isn’t What You Think and The Biggest Error In Regression and What Regression Really Is: Part I, II, III. Warning: do not operate heavy machinery while reading these posts.

Deisher’s use of change-point regression is certainly not unusual, but I don’t love it here for the long reasons explained in the new links. It can be and is useful in other contexts. Software geeks can think of it as edge-detection for points.

The Inevitable Red Skins Name Controversy Post

An early Cleveland tail-gating.

An early tail-gating.

Readers have been patiently waiting for the WMBriggs.com take on the Washington Redskins1 controversy, the gist of which is this: Lefties don’t like the name because they feel only they are allowed to worship skin color—generally to say it doesn’t matter at all and to insist it be tracked (and rewarded or punished) everywhere and always—while the Righties, who don’t give a damn about skin color but love tradition, wish the Lefties would take a long walk off a short dock.

Although it’s much been in the news, the Red Skins are only the tip of the political-correctness-berg. You probably weren’t aware, but there are many other teams targeted by the Outrage Police, even in baseball, the only sport of interest worth following in these once United States.

I did some research and was shocked at the breadth of the naming scandal. What follows is a brief summary of the mental agony which awaits us once these become more publicly known.

  1. Cleveland Indians: racist. The Mahatma Gandhi Appreciation Society (Ohio branch) insists the name does not accord with the non-violent philosophy of its idol after a fan was heard in the stadium shouting, “Kill ‘em!” The group plans a stadium sit-in, and say they will eat only raw rice and the dandelions harvested from the parking lot until the name is changed.
  2. Minnesota Twins: homophobic. GLAAD issued a press release intended to jerk tears from readers, in which they groan that single-sex couples can’t have babies, twins or otherwise, and thus feel the name is an insensitive and constant reminder of their constituents’ disability. They suggested the new name The Inclusives.
  3. Minnesota Vikings: racist. The North-American Danes and Nordics (NADA) Knitting Club are incensed over the stereotyping of their ancestry, and point out that many Vikings did not cut open their victims’ chests and splay out their lungs jokingly as wings, and that many Vikings were gentle farmers.
  4. Detroit Tigers: speciest. PETA is angry that animals’ images are being used without their consent and are suing on their behalf, asking for three million dollars and a year’s supply of goats (to feed the tigers). Detroit is seen as a test case, which the teams from the Orioles to the Cubs are watching closely.
  5. Kansas City Royals: anti-democratic. The Howard Zinn fan club of Boulder, Colorado voted to have a vote to vote on the motion to publicize their discontent and announce that since it is 2014 there is no place for royalist thought anywhere in the world.
  6. Los Angeles Angels: theocratic. The American Atheists and Freedom From Religion Foundation joined forces to sue, claiming that since the mayor of that city once threw out a first pitch, there was an unconscionable mixing of state and religion. The parallel suit against the St Louis Cardinals was subsequently dropped after a Bright attended one of the games and realized their mistake.
  7. Texas Rangers: racist. La Raza are organizing a march to the stadium. Participants will carry posters of Chuck Norris’s Lone Wolf McQuade with red Xs painted over them. Special badges to identify marchers will be handed out, though it is expected these will be refused.
  8. Milwaukee Brewers: corrupting influence Mothers Against Drunk Driving are planning a special bake sale on the state capitol steps featuring snacks all under 100 calories.
  9. Pittsburgh Pirates: sexist. The Collation of Women’s Studies Departments expressed “outrage” that the very symbol of misogyny and rape culture should be praised. They said it was “one more indication of the cruel patriarchal tyranny under which we live”. The group plans a rally at the south side Dunkin’ Donuts to “raise awareness” and to cash in on their coupons for limited-time Pumpkin Delite donuts.
  10. San Francisco Giants: sizeist. The San Francisco City Council realized they were falling behind in the latest progressive craze and seized on the opportunity to make themselves feel superior to ordinary citizens. Realizing they had no legal merit to close the Giants’ stadium, one council member introduced a proposal to ban baseballs within city limits, “for the safety of the children.”


1A professional franchise organized to play “football”, a game in which about four to five dozen men sit in booths far away from a field, directing another set of men to do very little and in short bursts, accompanied by a massive number of commercials.

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