# William M. Briggs

### Statistician to the Stars!

#### Author: Briggs (page 3 of 407)

Don Knuth. The equations below are beautiful because of him.

Party trick for you. I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 4. Can you guess it?

Two? Nope. Three? Nope. And not one or four either.

I know what the number is, you don’t. That makes it, to you, truly random. To me, it’s completely known and as non-random as you can get. Here, then, is one instance of a truly random number.

The number, incidentally, was e, the base of the so-called natural logarithm. It’s a number that creeps in everywhere and is approximately equal to 2.718282, which is certainly between 1 and 4, but it’s exactly equal to:

$e = \sum_0^\infty \frac{1}{n!}$.

The sum all the way out to infinity means it’s going to take forever and a day, literally, to know each and every digit of e, but the only thing stopping me from this knowledge is laziness. If I set at it, I could make pretty good progress, though I’d always be infinitely far away from complete understanding.

Now I came across a curious and fun little book by Donald Knuth, everybody’s Great Uncle in computer science, called Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About whose dust flap started with the words, “How does a computer scientist understand infinity? What can probability theory teach us about free will? Can mathematical notions be used to enhance one’s personal understanding of the Bible?” Intriguing, no?

Knuth, the creator of TeX and author of The Art of Computer Programming among many, many other things, is Lutheran and devout. He had the idea to “randomly” sample every book of the Bible at the chapter 3, verse 16 mark, and to investigate in depth what he found there. Boy, howdy, did he mean everything. No exegete was as thorough; in this very limited and curious sense, anyway. He wrote 3:16 to describe what he learned. Things is a series of lectures he gave in 1999 about the writing of 3:16 (a book about a book).

It was Knuth’s use of the word random that was of interest. He, an expert in so-called random algorithms, sometimes meant random as a synonym of uniform, other times for unbiased, and still others for unknown.

“I decided that one interesting way to choose a fairly random verse out of each book of the Bible would be to look at chapter 3, verse 16.” “It’s important that if you’re working with a random sample, you mustn’t right rig the data.” “True randomization clearly leads to a better sample than the result of a fixed deterministic choice…The other reason was that when you roll dice there’s a temptation to cheat.” “If I were an astronomer, I would love to look at random points in the sky.” “…I thin I would base it somehow on the digits of pi (π), because π has now been calculated to billions of digits and they seem to be quite random.”

Are they? Like e, π is one of those numbers that crop up in unexpected places. But what can Knuth mean by “quite random”? What can a degrees of randomness mean? In principle, and using this formula we can calculate every single digit of π:

$\pi = \sum_{k = 0}^{\infty}\left[ \frac{1}{16^k} \left( \frac{4}{8k + 1} - \frac{2}{8k + 4} - \frac{1}{8k + 5} - \frac{1}{8k + 6} \right) \right]$.

The remarkable thing about this equation is that we can figure the n-th digit of π without having to compute any digit which came before. All it takes is time, just like in calculating the digits of e.

Since we have a formula, we cannot say that the digits of π are unknown or unpredictable. There they all are: laid bare in a simple equation. I mean, it would be incorrect to say that the digits are “random” except in the sense that before we calculate them, we don’t know them. They are perfectly predictable, though it will take infinite time to get to them all.

Here Knuth seems to mean, as many mean, random as a synonym for transcendental. Loosely, a transcendental number is one which goes on forever not repeating exactly its digits, like e or π; mathematicians say these numbers aren’t algebraic, meaning that they cannot be explicitly and completely solved for. But it does not mean, as we have seen, that formulas for them do not exist. Clearly some formulas do exist.

As in coin flips, we might try to harvest “random” numbers from nature, but here random is a synonym for unpredictable by me because some thing or things caused these outcomes. And this holds for quantum mechanical outcomes, where some thing or things still causes the events, but (in some instances) we are barred from discovering what.

We’re full circle. The only definition of random that sticks is unknown.

Government Is Driving Inequality

One thing my lefty friends are right about is the growing number of rich. The distributions of income and of wealth are moving ever farther from uniform.

The left say it is the fault of corporations, like Google and Apple, and it is true that they’re raking it in. But to say it is the fault of corporations is like blaming the fever for the disease.

CNBC’s Rick Santelli—the guy whose previous rant launched the Tea Party—is back and has identified the cause. Government. The plot above is from Brian Maloney, a Santelli supporter, which he summarizes with these points:

1. By keeping interest rates artificially low, the Janet Yellen-led Federal Reserve has encouraged reckless government borrowing and spending while crushing savers, especially America’s retirees.

2. The Fed has focused all its efforts on making the rich even richer through Quantitative Easing while working people suffer and are ignored by Washington’s elite.

The most fun you can have is to show your lefty friends that Democrats and other big government supporters have more money (or at least no less) than Republicans and small government advocates. Big government supporters support monetary policies which make them richer. The evidence for this abounds, but it does not compute. And is therefore never accepted.

Instead, there are ever more calls for larger government to punish “the rich.” The punishment works, to an extent. Some are ruined, but except for a pittance the money flows to those who already have it. Income and wealth inequality grows.

This is why you have Joe Biden and Mrs Clinton running around saying they are “poor” and “dead broke”. Clinton shifted her millions and millions and millions into a fund which, by an accounting trick, is no longer her “personal” money. But who decides how it is spent? She does. Hilarious. Consequence? “Hillary cares for us!”

Trick is know when to move to cash. I’m thinking soon, soon. Near the mid-terms? Or closer to when our dear leader exits the scene?

Hobby Lobby Theocracy

Apoplexy wasn’t in it the day after the Hobby Lobby decision. A theocracy was only days away, screeched the left.

And you know what? The left were right again. A theocracy is coming, and when it arrives, those who refuse to deposit a pinch of incense into the flames will take it in the neck.

The new, or new-ish, religion is The State. Worship of, propitiation given to, prayers offered to, earnest supplicants for The State. The State is mother, The State is father.

Remember The State’s parable of Julia? She was held as the ideal congregant. A human being who from her lucky escape from the womb to her death relied on only one thing. The State.

Here’s what the new acolytes were angry about. The State said to employers, “Thou shalt give your employees these drugs and thou art forbidden to require from them any recompense.” Those employers who worshiped a different God said no. Sacrilege! That is the only thing that could have accounted for the frenzied anger. A god has been dishonored!

It’s true that some of the outrage was conditioned on the flight from reality (and science) that began with birth control and ends (or at least pauses before discovering a new diversion) with calls for State recognition of polyamory. Incidentally, remember when some of us predicted that? Slippery slope, said our unthinking enemies. Sigh.

That The State said It Shall Be and it wasn’t was too much for worshipers to assimilate. No debate was welcome or possible because, well, who can question a god?

Since the natural enemy of The State is Nature, which is to say Reality, look for ever shriller calls for its debasement.

The Curse of Doorknobs

Just so you don’t think it’s all doom and gloom around here, a bright (or at least funny) spot. Vancouver a short while back gave the cry, “What about the children!” and banned doorknobs.

Yes, doorknobs! Vancouver banned doorknobs.

The State having spoken, functional devices which previously all thought harmless and of little except decorative interest were seen as the true evil menaces they really were. The State cannot err.

Replacing doorknobs are those handle-type openers. If you want to see what one looks like, click to the Daily Mail, which has a picture of one sticking out of the arm of a schoolboy who ran into one.

Now I know what you’re going to say, and you’re right. At least he didn’t run into a doorknob!

Comment Policy

If you are an employee of The State, or rely on it for the majority of your living, common courtesy requires you to self-identify your conflict of interest. (Right, JH?)

Update High priests dispatched to investigate possible blasphemy.

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.

Previous post.

The First Way is in the bag. And now we continue, fresh as it were, with the Second Way. But since this introduces what are unfamiliar concepts to some, we again slow down. But have no fear: after this chapter, we can again speed up, because most of the terms will by then be familiar.

Chapter 13: Arguments in proof of God’s existence

16 We have thus clearly proved both statements which were supposed in the first process of demonstration whereby Aristotle proved the existence of a first immovable mover.viii

17 The second[16] way is as follows. If every mover is moved, this statement is true either in itself or accidentally. If accidentally, it follows that it is not necessary: for that which is accidentally true is not necessary.i Therefore it is a contingent proposition that no mover is moved.ii But if a mover be not moved, it does not move, as the opponent asserts. Therefore it is contingent that nothing is moved, since, if nothing moves, nothing is moved. Now Aristotle holds this to be impossible,[17] namely, that at any time there be no movement.iii Therefore the first proposition was not contingent, because a false impossibility does not follow from a false contingency. And therefore this proposition, Every mover is moved by another, was not accidentally true.iv

——————————————————————————-

iMost things you know are contingently true. It is true (supposing) that your car is in your driveway, but only because you bought a car and parked it there. The universe did not require you to buy this car. Not everybody has a car (Yours Truly does not). Propositions which are contingently true can be imagined false. I can easily imagine you too do not have car. No rules of logic would be violated were that to be so.

A necessary truth is that which cannot be other than true. A necessary truth cannot be imagined false. Here is a necessary truth: “A thing cannot both exist and not exist simultaneously.” It is impossible to imagine, or more properly to think of, a thing existing and not existing at the same time. Logic cannot be violated.

When speaking of contingency, some speak of “possible worlds”, as if the world in which you do not own a car is, somehow, brought into existence by your imagining you do not have a car; a sort of milky idealism. Or that this “possible world”, simply because it can exist, actually exists; perhaps part of a multiverse or one of the “many worlds” where all events occur.

But this thinking mixes up the existence of a thing with the knowledge of the thing. Ontology is not epistemology. Things can exist without your, or anybody’s, knowledge. And you can have knowledge (or rather can think) of things that do not exist, like conservative sociologists or the Starship Enterprise. The latter does not come into existence just because it can be imagined.

Now some say of necessity that nothing occurs “at random” or “randomly”. But this is to make the same mistake. Randomness isn’t a thing. It therefore cannot be a cause. Best way to think of this is to substitute “ignorance” every time you see random. If the sentence is still sensible, then the author has a proper understanding; if not, then not.

iiIf it is only contingently true that “no mover is moved”, it can be imagined that “it is false that no mover is moved.” And you have to love the next two sentences.

iiiSome highlights from Aristotle (following the footnote):

…Now the existence of motion is asserted by all who have anything to say about nature, because they all concern themselves with the construction of the world and study the question of becoming and perishing, which processes could not come about without the existence of motion.

It is not always asserted by some readers here, but let that pass. Continuing, we see that talk of “infinite possible worlds” is not a new invention. (I added extra paragraphs for readability.)

But those who say that there is an infinite number of worlds, some of which are in process of becoming while others are in process of perishing, assert that there is always motion (for these processes of becoming and perishing of the worlds necessarily involve motion), whereas those who hold that there is only one world, whether everlasting or not, make corresponding assumptions in regard to motion. If then it is possible that at any time nothing should be in motion, this must come about in one of two ways…

…Motion, we say, is the fulfilment of the movable in so far as it is movable. Each kind of motion, therefore, necessarily involves the presence of the things that are capable of that motion. In fact, even apart from the definition of motion, every one would admit that in each kind of motion it is that which is capable of that motion that is in motion: thus it is that which is capable of alteration that is altered, and that which is capable of local change that is in locomotion: and so there must be something capable of being burned before there can be a process of being burned, and something capable of burning before there can be a process of burning.

Moreover, these things also must either have a beginning before which they had no being, or they must be eternal. Now if there was a becoming of every movable thing, it follows that before the motion in question another change or motion must have taken place in which that which was capable of being moved or of causing motion had its becoming.

To suppose, on the other hand, that these things were in being throughout all previous time without there being any motion appears unreasonable on a moment’s thought, and still more unreasonable, we shall find, on further consideration. For if we are to say that, while there are on the one hand things that are movable, and on the other hand things that are motive, there is a time when there is a first movent and a first moved, and another time when there is no such thing but only something that is at rest, then this thing that is at rest must previously have been in process of change: for there must have been some cause of its rest, rest being the privation of motion…

We went as as this for two reasons: (1) Aquinas was not pulling his assertion about Aristotle out of thin air, and that Aristotle’s assertion is true, and (2) for the phrase “rest being the privation of motion”. This is a tease, but the concept of privation will become important for us. For instance, evil, as it will turn out, is privation of the good. But let’s not get distracted by this today.

ivSince we’ve already done a lot, without really have done much, we leave this phrase hanging in the air, as it were. We’ll pick up with it again next week. Very little was proved this week, except Aristotle’s small proposition.

Next installment.

[16] [8 Phys. v.]
[17] 8 Phys. i.

All Men Are Mortal

SCENE:

A windfarm in Absolute County, a dry patch of land out west.

CAST OF CHARACTERS:

BRANDON, a speechwriter for Earth Is It!
RUSS, Sheriff of Absolute County
BERT, a jovial retired country doctor
JAMES, employee of Green Wind
HJ, a mysterious dyslexic billionaire, owner of Green Wind
GEORGE, an illegal alien
BAMBI FREEDOM, a professional activist with Earth Is It!
DAV, an EPA bureaucrat
SCOTIAN, an EPA bureaucrat
LUIS, an EPA bureaucrat
SYLVAIN, an EPA bureaucrat
MIKE, the manager of the EPA bureaucrats

SCENE ONE

DAV AND SCOTIAN IN A FIELD STAND UNDER AN IMMOBILE TURBINE.

DAV: The serial number on this one’s sun bleached. Can you make it out?

SCOTIAN: No, I left my glasses back in the car.

DAV: Go get ‘em. We can’t leave until these forms are filled out. You know what Mike’s like.

SCOTIAN TRUDGES THROUGH THE FIELD. AFTER A FEW PACES, HE CLUTCHES HIS CHEST, CALLS OUT, AND DROPS STONE COLD DEAD, ONLY HIS FEET VISIBLE STAGE RIGHT. DAV PULLS OUT HIS BLACKBERRY.

DAV: It’s me. Remember what I told you would happen? Well, it happened. Yeah. Better send him. No, I won’t touch him.

DAV HANGS UP.

DAV: These Canadians just can’t take the heat.

ENTER STAGE LEFT, BRANDON AND BAMBI.

BAMBI: Excuse me, sir. Do you have a minute to save the planet?

BRANDON PULLS OUT HIS SMARTYPHONE.

BRANDON: Wait a minute. Here. Walk up to him again. I wanna get this…Hold on, let me answer this first.

BAMBI: Never mind him. Let me give you our brochure on the sustainability of wind.

DAV: No need, ma’am. I work for the government. If there’s one thing we understand, it’s the endlessness of wind.

BAMBI: You work for the government? Why that’s so wonderful!

DAV: It’s a noble cause, ma’am. Citizens need directing, and I’m just the man to direct ‘em. But you’ll have to excuse me. I have to check the serial numbers of these turbines.

BAMBI: Serial numbers?

DAV: Yes, ma’am. We have a master list of all turbines which companies are required to submit quarterly. After we receive them, we send armed agents into the field to ensure the serial numbers match. Those teams send their counts to field offices, which forward them on to DC. And then my team comes along to run a second-level verification of the numbers. We submit both the originals and our duplicates to our boss—who shares an office with an Office of the Interior functionary—who runs occasional triplicate checks. If fact, I’m expecting him here today. My boss, I mean.

BAMBI: But how can he check your work before you’ve even submitted it. I know the government is efficient, but it can’t be that efficient.

DAV: Ha ha. No, he’ll be checking last quarter’s results. That shows you the kind of intense time pressure we’re under. No sooner than have all the numbers have been verified for the past quarter, than we have to start all over again on the next.

BAMBI: Have any of the serial numbers not matched?

DAV: Not on my watch, ma’am. And if they did, the companies wouldn’t legally be able to sell the electricity generated from the mismatching units.

BAMBI: Why’s that?

DAV: For safety, ma’am. Our motto is: you can never be too sure.

BRANDON: Sorry about that. I had to respond to a tweet. We’re thinking of changing our catch line from “Do you have a minute to save the planet?” to “Do you have a minute to save the Earth?” Quite a controversy raging. Mind if I ask a question? Why aren’t any of the turbines spinning?

DAV: Because there’s no wind.

BRANDON: So how do you know if they work?

DAV: That’s a good question, sir. Each of them has a maintenance mode that switches them on. It draws electricity from the grid and spins the turbines.

BRANDON: Say, good idea. Let’s do it. I can get a few pictures. Use them for the blog. “Your EPA in action”, that sort of thing.

BAMBI: But won’t the blades disturb the eagles and other birds which are nesting on top of the posts?

DAV: No, ma’am. Eagles like to live in high places. And when the turbines are on, it gives them a chance to get some exercise. Here, let me show you.

BAMBI: Oooh! It’s so exciting! You’re right! Look! They’re taking off! But aren’t they flying too close to—eek!

BRANDON LOOKS UP JUST AS TWO BIRDS CRASH INTO HIS FACE, CRUSHING HIS SKULL.

BAMBI: Brandon! Oh, poor Brandon! How could it have happened!

DAV: Simple enough, ma’am. Each of these birds weighs about 7 kilograms, and each fell 150 meters or so. That generates 103 thousand Newtons of force, which is roughly—let me think—yes, about 76,000 foot pounds. More than enough to crush ten skulls.

BAMBI: But it’s so awful!

DAV: It’s just physics, ma’am. But don’t worry. I see the help I called for has finally arrived.

ENTER SYLVAIN, STAGE LEFT.

SYLVAIN: Another one?

DAV: Ma’am, if you’d help my colleague move the body over to the car, I’d sure appreciate it. Like I said, we’re expecting our boss, and he likes to see things in order.

SYLVAIN: You can get the legs, ma’am.

SYLVAIN AND BAMBI CARRY THE BODY STAGE RIGHT. AT THE EDGE, SYLVAIN SUDDENLY DROPS THE BODY, WIPES HIS BROW, MOANS AUDIBLY, CLUTCHES HIS CHEST, AND KEELS OVER, ONLY HIS FEET SHOWING.

SCENE TWO

RUSS STANDS TALKING TO DAV, JAMES, AND BERT UPSTAGE, BAMBI SITS NEAR THE BODIES SILENTLY WEEPING.

DAV: Just like I said, Sheriff. The heat got to ‘em.

BERT: Could happen, Rusty. It’s a hot one, and these fellows from the north are prone to apoplexy. Of course, we won’t know for sure until the autopsy.

JAMES: Sheriff, if it’s all right with you, I’d like to switch off the turbine.

RUSS: Okay with me. I can’t see as we need it.

DAV: Just a second, Sheriff. EPA regulations forbid the switching off of a turbine until an environmental impact assessment is performed.

RUSS: But didn’t you just switch it on?

DAV: Yes, sir, I did. But the impact assessment for switching these on has already been done.

JAMES: I can tell you HJ won’t like it. Green Wind has already paid all the fees—

DAV: —You have no choice. None of us does. The regulation exists. The regulation is all you need know.

JAMES: Yeah, well, she won’t be happy.

DAV: You needn’t worry. While you were attending to the bodies, I called the regional office and asked for an impact team. They should be here with the forms shortly.

JAMES: I don’t think you understand just how angry she can be. Hell to pay isn’t in it. Why I remember one time…wait. Forms?

DAV: Certainly, forms. We need to file an Environmental Impacts Assessment request. That’s submitted to the regional office for approval, which is usually granted, as long as the serial numbers match. If they don’t, we have to file for an exception. That goes right to headquarters for expedited processing.

JAMES: Expedited?

DAV: A joint meeting of the assessment and maintenance group meets every three weeks—

JAMES: —Three weeks!

DAV: I know. Fast, isn’t it? But don’t forget the EPA has always prided itself on efficiency. Anyway, if the joint committee gives its okay, their recommendation is sent on to the Third Second Secretary of Regulations who has to give it the final stamp of approval—

JAMES: —Finally we reach finally—

DAV: —And then all such stamped recommendations are passed to the First Second Secretary. If she says okay, then the whole process works in reverse and then the Impacts Assessment can be said to have passed. As soon as the paperwork gets back to your hands, you can switch off the turbine. That is…

JAMES: I can’t wait to hear.

DAV: As long as you have a Turbine Toggle Training Certification from OSHA, of course.

RUSS: Enough of this. I’m more concerned with those bodies in this heat than this d—d turbine. Bert?

BERT: Let’s just say that if there were a wind, we’d be glad to have it at our back. As it is…Say, why are these things in this valley, anyway? Hardly ever windy here.

JAMES: We applied to locate them on the crest over there, where there’s a steady breeze, but the EPA said a rare type of forked swallow sometimes once a decade might use the route along one of the ridges for their migration. So we decided to scrap the whole plan and invest in solar. But the contract we had to sign with the government said we had to build or pay daily fines of tens of thousands of dollars. It was cheaper to build and take the loss on the turbines.

DAV: The Endangered Species Act is there for your protection, sir.

BERT: Anyway, why don’t we put a tarp over the bodies until the ambulance gets here.

RUSS: I think I have something in the trunk.

RUSS EXITS STAGE LEFT, COMES BACK LATER WITH A BLANKET.

BERT: Meanwhile, I’ll see what I can do for that young woman.

DAV: That ambulance better hurry, doctor. You know the regulation. If the bodies lie in any one place for more than sixty-five minutes, they are considered to have been buried. And then we have to a ground water contamination assessment before they can be moved.

BERT: Regulation be…

JAMES: What’s taking those forms so long? We can’t stand out here all day.

DAV: I emphasized the need for haste, sir. He said he’d run. It’s only about four miles to the field office.

JAMES: Run! Why didn’t he drive!

DAV: The Carbon Pollution Act requires that agents travel by the mode which releases the least carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. It depends on the weight of the agent, of course, but as a rule of thumb anything less than about six miles requires we go on foot. There’s a balance between the amount of CO2 from exhalation—running shortens the distance—and that used in the electricity plants which charge the batteries of our cars. Besides, in this heat, the cars don’t hold a charge more than four hours.

ENTER LUIS, STAGE RIGHT, OUT OF BREATH.

LUIS: Sorry I’m late, sir! GASP. But you caught me just as I came back from counting the customers leaving Happy Burger. COUGH. You were right. GASP. They exceeded their allowed number of daily customers by over thirteen. WHEW. And probably more…but I knew how urgent this was.

LUIS PULLS PAPERS FROM HIS SHIRT, HANDS THEM TO DAV, SHRIEKS, CLUTCHES HIS CHEST, AND DROPS DEAD.

DAV: Oh no! This is awful!—

RUSS, WHO HAD JUST RETURNED, TAKES OFF HIS HAT AND PUTS IT OVER HIS HEART.

RUSS: —The poor man.

JAMES: SOTTO VOCE Must have been a foreigner.

DAV: I knew that Happy Burger was breaking the law! And we had the proof needed to shut them down forever. But there was no way that Luis could have filed the proper forms before coming here. We have to start the investigation all over!

RUSS: But the man is dead! Have you no heart?

DAV: Do not think me cruel, Sheriff. Luis knew the dangers involved when he signed up for the job. The life of the EPA agent is one of continual sacrifice. But he was just one man. Whereas Happy Burger was acting in an unsustainable manner by exceeding its daily customer quota and putting us all at risk! I could almost weep, except that as part of my oath I had my tear ducts fused shut. Oh!, the horrible unsustain—

BERT: —What the heck is that?

AN EERIE HUM FILLS THE AIR, AND THE LIGHTS RAPIDLY DIM, LEAVING ALL IN BLACK SILENCE.

SCENE THREE

ALL ARE LAYING ON THE GROUND, INCLUDING GEORGE. ALL SLOWLY RISE, THEIR WITS ASTRAY.

GEORGE: What happened?

DAV: THICKLY What…must have been a rapid increase in ambient carbon dioxide—

JAMES: —Carbon dioxide my eye—

DAV: —That caused us all to pass out. Did anybody else have ringing in their ears?

RUSS: I did.

DAV: That proves it. It fortunate I was here to document it. I’ve been saying for months we need to strengthen regulations.

RUSS: Wait a minute. Who are you?

GEORGE: My name is George. I was just passing by.

JAMES: That’s a great hat, mister.

GEORGE: Thanks. I saw the crowd and wondered if I might be of any assistance.

DAV: No need, sir. The EPA is here.

GEORGE: EPA?

DAV: The Environmental Protection Agency, sir.

JAMES: You haven’t heard of the EPA?

GEORGE: I’m not from around here. Does the environment need protecting, then? Can’t it take care of itself?

JAMES: From my angle, it surely can.

DAV: He’s joking, sir. If it wasn’t for the government protecting the environment, there’d be no environment to protect. There’d be no air to breathe and no land upon which to walk. Life without regulation would be black chaos. Without the government mandating the actions of its peoples for their own good, the people might do anything.

GEORGE: It’s logically true that they might do anything that they can do, but would they do anything? I mean, would people pollute themselves out of existence? Wouldn’t the effects of any environmental damage be self-limiting?

DAV: We can’t afford to find out, sir. And though I’m sure you’re asking for the purest motives, we are coming awfully close to forbidden territory.

GEORGE: Forbidden territory?

DAV: Yes, sir. The Freedom of Speech act forbids people to interfere with the government in the performance of its duties. The government’s speech must remain free, which is only common sense.

RUSS: I’m afraid he’s right about that, mister. If there weren’t free speech, there’d be no chance of a civil society.

JAMES: Free speech, my eye.

RUSS: Careful, now. You’re just upset.

JAMES: Darn right I’m upset. You would be, too, if you knew how she could be. I just know this is going to be my fault! Wait! There she is!

SOUNDS OF A CAR ROARING UP, DOORS SLAMMING. HJ AND MIKE ENTER STAGE LEFT.

HJ: I demand to know what is here going on!

JAMES: I tried to tell, them, ma’am. But—

MIKE: TO DAV DAV.

DAV: TO MIKE Sir.

HJ: What are these bodies? Who switched the on turbine! Why is everybody around standing! Why isn’t anybody anything doing!

JAMES: We are, ma’am. I’ve already started filling out the proper forms—

HJ: Forms! Yet way another for the government to take money my! As if haven’t I paid dear enough!

AT THE SOUND OF THE WORD ‘MONEY’ BAMBI COMES TO LIFE, AND RUSHES THE TURBINE. BERT PURSUES HER.

BAMBI: Money! All you bloodless capitalists care about it money! Nobody cares for the planet!

HJ: Get down here from there!

JAMES: Yes, ma’am!

HJ: I’m not going to have another lawsuit on handS my!

BAMBI HAS CLIMBED HALF WAY UP THE TURBINE, FOLLOWED BY BERT THEN JAMES.

BAMBI: I’ll show you the value of money!

BAMBI JUMPS TO TURBINE BLADES INTENDING TO CAUSE THEM DAMAGE. SHE IS SLICED NEATLY DOWN THE MIDDLE, EACH PART DEPOSITED ON EITHER SIDE OF THE STAGE.

DAV: I don’t have the forms for this…

MIKE: Now, now. No need for concern. We can sort it all out.

HJ: No concern need? Are crazy you! Sheriff, your duty do! Get off them!

RUSS CLIMBS THE TURBINE AFTER BERT AND JAMES.

RUSS: You two get down from there! Don’t make me come up after you!

JAMES: I don’t know how to get down!

HJ: TO GEORGE Something do!

GEORGE: Me? I’m only an observer.

HJ: Observer?! What kind of nonsense that is? Get them off there of!

HJ, FILLED WITH RIGHTEOUS FURY, SCALES THE TURBINE WITH THE OTHERS. ALL ARE SHOUTING. DAV STANDS CATATONIC.

DAV: Forms…forms…

MIKE: Yes. It happens sometimes. No need to worry.

GEORGE: No?

MIKE: No. I have plenty of agents at my disposal.

THE TURBINE, FINALLY OVERCOME BY THE WEIGHT, TILTS. THE SPINNING BLADES HIT THE GROUND, BREAKING TO PIECES, SHRAPNEL FLYING EVERYWHERE. JAMES, DISMEMBERED, ALL FOUR LIMBS, FALLS TO THE GROUND WEEPING. THE LACK OF BLADES CAUSES THE MOTOR TO OVERHEAT AND THE TURBINE CATCHES FIRE. BERT IS CAUGHT IN THE BLAZE. HE TRIES TO GRAB THE MOTOR BUT THE FORCE FLINGS HIM LIKE A COMET INTO THE DISTANCE. HJ, ENRAGED AND IN A BLIND FURY, CATCHES UP TO RUSS AND THROTTLES HIM, CHOKING THE LIFE OUT OF HIM.

HJ: Me why!

THE TURBINE POST SPINS AND FALLS TO THE GROUND, MERE INCHES FROM DAV, CRUSHING HJ.

DAV: No forms…

DAV GRABS HIS HEAD AND FALLS LIKE A PLANK ON HIS FACE. A LONG PAUSE AS WE CONSIDER THE WREAKAGE, SMOLDERING RUINS, AND BODIES.

GEORGE: PHILOSOPHICALLY Does this sort of thing happen very often here?

MIKE: From time to time.

GEORGE: Is this what your colleague meant by protecting the environment?

MIKE: Collateral damage can’t really be avoided, you know. But it’s all for the best. Consider the benefits. Why, in this small incident we have reduced the surplus population and subsequently increased sustainability by a significant percentage!

GEORGE: Most efficiently, too. I wonder if you’d mind coming with me and explaining your techniques to my leaders? We have a surplus population problem, too.

MIKE: It would be my pleasure.

GEORGE AND MIKE WALK OFF INTO THE DISTANCE. END.

The Lancet’s crack team of editors.

Here’s the title of a big new peer-reviewed paper in The Lancet:

Take your time and answer this question (you will be graded): TRUE or FALSE, scientists measured the effects of air pollution on mortality of a group of folks in Europe.

Come on. After seeing the words effects of air pollution on mortality, what else can you say but TRUE?

It is FALSE, of course. The three or four dozen researchers listed as authors never measured, not even once, the amount of air “pollution” any person was exposed to. Further, every single author knew that the title was false. And so did every editor.

So why was it allowed? What about the children!

No, it was our old friend The Epidemiologist Fallacy, a.k.a. the ecological fallacy. Nothing is better at generating papers—the currency in academia—than Old Reliable. Using it is vastly cheaper than relying on reality, which often lets scientists down (right, Gav?). I beg you will read the linked article to understand this ubiquitous menace and driver of scientism.

Not only wasn’t air “pollution” (dust, mostly) measured on individuals, but the proxies of air “pollution” weren’t even measured at the same time as mortality. And not only that, but, well, read the letter, which has it all.

The three of us submitted, fixed, and resubmitted a letter which explained the shortcomings of the Beelen et al., not asking it to be withdrawn—if journals withdrew epidemiologist fallacy papers, there would be oceans of blank pages—but to highlight the false claims made.

Alas, observation rarely trumps theory (right, Gav?). The Lancet decided not to publish and to let the paper stand, doubtless reasoning that since so many others used the epidemiologist fallacy, and got away with it, there was no reason Beelen shouldn’t, too. And anyway, it’s embarrassing to admit to error.

The epidemiologist’s fallacy – yet another example

Yours Truly

Pieternella S. Verhoeven
Associate professor at the Roosevelt Academy, Middelburg, the Netherlands

Jaap C. Hanekamp
Associate professor at the Roosevelt Academy, Middelburg, the Netherlands
Adjunct Associate professor University of Massachusetts, Environmental Health Sciences, Amherst, US
Chair of the Chemical Food Safety & Toxicity Working Group of the Global Harmonization Initiative

Beelen et al.’s paper carries a peculiar title considering that the authors never did what they claim: exposure to air pollution was never measured on any individual. It is only poorly guessed at, and not even guessed at over the right time.

The land-use regression models, which guessed the different kinds of pollution, are calculated using data from October 2008 through May 2011. Yet, the agglomerated studies ran from 1992 through 2007, with most from the 1990s. So even with correct pollution estimates, it would have had to operate backwards in time. Besides, it cannot be claimed that pollution from 2008-2011 accurately represents pollution in the 1990s because of weather dependency.

The “variance explained” by the land-use models is 57-89%, meaning the guesses are often wrong. Nevertheless, the guessed values at the participants’ residencies are presented as actual exposures, unreasonably leaving the participants ‘fixed’ in their residences within the study-timeframes.

Furthermore, the considerable error in the ‘exposure’ estimates is not encapsulated in the statistical analysis: the guesses are taken as fixed without accompanying plus-or-minuses. If that were done, the study’s results would have been rendered insignificant.

Additionally, the cities with the highest guessed pollution (Athens and Rome) had no and even a slight negative effect for PM2.5. Strangely, the one location (VHM&PP), which found a significant effect, was accorded the largest weight (ten times any other) in the meta-analysis.

Overall, the paper’s conclusions are obviated by making the exposure guesses error free, inflating one (of eight) slim results in favour of the proposed hypothesis.