William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Author: Briggs (page 3 of 543)

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.

Columbia Law School Kiddies ‘Traumatized’, Exams Postponed: Update Harvard Joins

New York City Council members engage in a falsely advertised "die in". Pic from NY POST.

New York City Council members engage in a falsely advertised “die in”. Pic from NY POST.

There’s a story in John Toland’s magisterial The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire (volume two) which depicts a Japanese ship transporting Western prisoners in conditions worse than on any (other) slave ship. It was dark, confined, covered in human filth, and unbearably hot. Unbearably is a strong and apt word. The men went mad and what they did to each other is difficult to relate. I won’t try. Few survived.

Ivo Andrić’s must-read The Bridge on the Drina describes the construction of the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge bridge in the sixteenth century by Christians under (at times tyrannical) Muslim rule. In one vivid scene, one of a succession of Muslim rulers decide to punish a man by impaling, directing the executioner to insure the man would survive at least for a day. Would-be “enhanced interrogator operatives” would do well to read this horrifying how-to and sequel.

Incidentally, as often happens with certain places, the bridge was to retain its infamy and was the site of the Višegrad massacre in 1992, in which Serbians slaughtered some 3,000 Bosnians, many of whom where women and children.

There was a certain Roman emperor (which? my memory flags) who used to wine and dine, especially wine, enemies. As the fattened guest excused himself to attend to nature, the emperor had his guest seized and a cord was tied securely around the guest’s penis. This resulted in a prolonged, painful, and, to the demented emperor, hilarious death.

Do we need to discuss the Amalekites? The retreat from Moscow in 1812 (and again in the twentieth century)? The guillotine? Should we recall certain religious practices of the Aztecs? The scene in The Brothers Karamazov in which we learn that babies were tossed in the air to be bayoneted for amusement? The Goths? Cannibalism? The practice of sati (also spelled suttee)? Utopian scheme A, B, …?

Enough. It is impossible to be familiar with any serious literature and not realize the human race is fallen, that man is broken, that bad things have always happened and, at least in this form of our existence, always will. A vale of tears isn’t in it. Evil.

So what kind of childish naive sheltered coddled whimpering intellect would allow itself to be “traumatized” over reading about a minor criminal beating up a shopkeeper and then attempting to do the same to a policeman and getting himself killed in the attempt? Traumatized?

I’ll tell you: Columbia law students.

According to today’s New York Post, “A group of Columbia University law students demanded the school postpone their finals because of their ‘trauma’ over the Eric Garner and Michael Brown grand-jury decisions.”

This demand traumatized the Dean, poor Robert Scott, whose immediate thought was to placate his little dears. He said the decisions “have shaken the faith of some in the integrity of the grand-jury system and in the law more generally.”

Scott said “students who feel that their performance on examinations will be sufficiently impaired due to the effects of these recent events” could apply to have their tests rescheduled.

And not only that: “the school planned to have a trauma expert on hand this week, and several faculty members scheduled special office hours next week ‘to talk about the implications of the Brown and Garner non-indictments.'”

Only two things are possible. Either some or all of the students really are “traumatized”, or some or all of them, like Dean Scott, are lying.

For those who really are traumatized, it confirms critics’ charges that professors and students at “elite” universities are disconnected from all reality, that the true state of the world is a mystery to these ivory tower denizens, that these folks prefer fantasy and their own sad company to mixing with normal human beings. It proves that none of these kiddies has ever read a book and that they are therefore monumentally ignorant.

For those who are lying, it confirms what everybody thinks about lawyers. That they will say anything to get what the want, the truth be damned, that they are out only for themselves and that they are willing to ride over any (like their brother and sister students who actually studied) that get in their way. It proves that modern politicians (like Scott) are gutless and unmanly.

No matter which, it proves what we already knew to be true. That people like “trauma experts” are willing to inflate the importance of events just so they can cash in. And that self-satisfied idiocy can be found anywhere, but especially at Western universities.

Update Not to be under done, Harvard weepies want in on the posturing.

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