William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Politics (page 32 of 69)

The empirical and philosophical arguments used by politicians and “activists”.

In Their Own Words: Obama On Health, Holder On Race

Pay for your own damn health care

In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, President O’bama said

What I hear you saying is that the notion that us saying to people that don’t have health insurance, don’t make me pay for your health insurance, if you get sick, you have a responsibility to make sure you have coverage. There’s nothing socialist about that. That’s saying to Americans, we’re going each of us be responsible for our own health care.

The sentiments behind these words are not consonant. If each citizen is responsible for his own health care, then each citizen should pay should he become ill or not pay if he remains healthy. He may also choose to contact a bookie and bet he will become ill, taking whatever odds he and the bookie negotiate. If he remains healthy, he loses the bet; but if he sickens, he wins and the bookie pays. If he chooses not to place a bet yet he subsequently sickens, then the resulting health care bill is his burden, not mine, not yours, and not Mr Obama’s. This system is simple and can be called the personal responsibility scenario.

The other scenario is Obama care, or health care socialism. Here, some citizens are forced to pay, regardless of desire or need, into a bureaucracy tasked to dole a fraction of these taxes back out for government-approved “health care” procedures. Many citizens pay nothing. All citizens receive the same level of minimum care. Richer citizens can, by paying still more, operate additionally under the personal responsibility scenario—unless, as often happens, the government decides this is not “fair” and bans departures from its mandated system. Both citizens and health-care providers become subservient to an unelected, self-satisfied bureaucracy.

It is clear to anyone with a rudimentary mathematical ability that proper “insurance” can only be found in the personal responsibility scenario. To call the mandatory payments under Obama care “insurance” is a deliberate obfuscation; it is newspeak: any enforced payment is a tax and nothing else. This is true even if you don’t want it to be.

A cowardly attorney on race

Attorney General Eric Holder called the American people “essentially a nation of cowards” because they would not “openly” discuss the issue of race. Evidently his definition of “openly” departs from its usual sense. Its context suggests Holder had in mind an antonym of “openly”, but that he had become confused by the time the words reached his lips, a not unusual symptom of politicians and lawyers.

But never mind. It is another, non-cowardly statement on race that is of interest today:

“The facts are clear,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.”

Yet we also learn that

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Justice Department’s own Bureau of Justice Statistics, the leading causes of death for African-American women between the ages 15-45 are cancer, heart disease, unintentional injuries such as car accidents, and HIV disease. Homicide comes in fifth — and includes murders by strangers. In 2006 (the latest year for which full statistics are available), several hundred African-American women died from intimate partner homicide…but far fewer than the approximately 6,800 women who died of the other leading causes.

Our task is to identify how Holder came to say what he did given these statistics. There are only two clauses in Holder’s statement which can produce confusion, “the facts are clear” and “the leading cause.”

Now, “the facts are clear” is so often a prefix to political statements that it is the equivalent to a clearing of the throat. And when we line up cases of “the facts are clear” with the actual facts, we find no correlation. Thus, though the phrase has a definite, literal English meaning, it is instead an idiom whose meaning is roughly, “I’m beginning to talk.” Holder, therefore, made no mistake in using it.

“The leading cause” is more problematic for our Attorney General. Each word is clear, and together their only potential ambiguity is if there are two or more causes tied for “leading” yet only one is mentioned. This is not the case here, where there is more than an order of magnitude separating the “leading” from the “least” (say) causes of death.

Thus, the only possible conclusions are that Holder lied, that he spoke in ignorance, or that he confused the word “leading” with “least.” If Holder lied, then we know our highest officer of the law is willing to lie for political gain. If he spoke in ignorance, then he is sloppy and apt to rush to judgment on matters racial. But if he confused those two words, then we are in for a lot of trouble.

Planet Earth Al Gore Explains ‘Snowmageddon’: Fox News Story

I was quoted by Gene Koprowski in his Fox News story “Planet Earth Al Gore Explains ‘Snowmageddon’“. (This accounted for the several hundred Google and other search engine redirects to this site from people searching for “dr william m briggs”.)

Apparently, our boy Gore was telling all who would listen that global warming is so evil, so unrepentantly vile, that anything that has gone wrong in the world did so because of climate change. To paraphrase David Stove, Gore didn’t quite say that wooden legs were caused by global warming, but I don’t think he’d like to hear it denied.

Koprowski (also picked up here):

But not surprisingly, some climate-change skeptics are a bit hot under the collar over Gore’s “scientific” explanation.

“Gore’s statement actually indicates a deeper problem — lack of precise predictions,” said Dr. William M. Briggs, a statistician and climate scientist. His research shows that there are no increased weather problems because of global warming, Briggs told FoxNews.com.

“He’s saying that anything bad that happens must be because global warming caused it. Activists like Gore are great at identifying events after the fact as being caused by global warming, but terrible at predicting them beforehand,” Briggs said.

My research points to world-wide tropical cyclones (hurricanes and typhoons). There is no evidence that these storms have increased in number, intensity or strength, or longevity. In fact, there might have been, over the past decade, a slight decrease in these attributes. But I think that this is well known.

The other argument I make is the better one. It takes no effort to point to untoward events after the fact and say, Jean Dixon-like, “See! More evidence that my theory is right!” If it is true that global warming will cause the Northern Hemisphere to experience cooler temperatures, then say so in advance. Don’t bustle to the cameras after things go wrong if you did not, or could not, say that they would in advance.

Vague predictions like “There will be snowstorms and rumors of snowstorms” do not count and are not evidence that the end is near. Take heed that no man deceive you. It is, after all, perfectly possible to forecast that there will be, say, “15% more snowfall in the 2010-2011 Northern Hemisphere winter”, or that “There will be at least three more Pacific ocean typhoons in 2011 than there were in 2010″, and so forth.

What is absurd is to point to a typhoon/cyclone/hurricane/snow storm after it has occurred and say that, “I could have predicted that if I wanted to. I chose not to because, among other reasons, I was busy. But that storm certainly indicates that my theory of climate change is true.”

Of course, it might be true that this storm was caused by mechanisms consistent with anthropogenic climate change theory; however, since every winter has its share of snowstorms, and that this winter is not unusual compared with history, this latest storm is also consistent with the theory that the climate is insignificantly affected by mankind. The same goes for weather events of other kinds.

It goes for non-events, too. Ever notice how talk of climate change always devolves to the apocalyptic? Floods! Droughts! Floods and droughts simultaneously! Windstorms! Deadly hurricanes! Heat waves! Democrats voting republican! One horror after another. This despite all historical and paleoclimatic evidence that warmer times were better, at least in terms biological.

Why won’t global warming be responsible for a “dramatic” increase in pleasant sunny afternoons? How come we won’t see an “unprecedented” number of warm, laconic evenings? Why won’t there be an “inconvenient” rise in bountiful harvests?

One reason folks like we (me and the regular crew here) are suspicious of global warming public scientists, activists, and miscellaneous proponents is because of their constant sourpuss attitude, their constant predictions of doom, their propensity to focus solely on the negative. They might even be right about all that, but when they tack on suggestions of how the rest of us should live our lives—which usually means surrendering freedom or money or both to government—we feel the winds blowing, all right. We also start feeling for our wallets.

New York City Democrats Remove Yet Another Right: No Smoking In Parks

The party that ever has “Rights!” on its lips, the party with the mania about diversity, the party that is most anxious that religious fundamentalists will take over and impose their puritanical wills on the rest of us, the party whose members remind us constantly of the dangers of the government meddling in our personal lives has, in a fit holy self righteousness, taken away yet another right, decreased diversity, imposed its puritanical will on the rest of us, and has used the law to meddle in our personal lives once more.

New York City Council Democrats have voted to ban smoking in city parks, beaches, pools, boardwalks, and, if it can be believed, marinas. Mayor Bloomberg, a man with much money and therefore with a near infinite belief in his infallibility, has said he will sign the new restrictions, and will do so with a smile on his face. One imagines it will resemble that of the Grinch’s.

Why did they take away the right to smoke in public? According to Speaker Christine C. Quinn, a Democrat, “The statistics don’t lie: second hand smoke kills. With this bill, all New Yorkers can now breathe easier and breathe cleaner air.” My dear lady, as a statistician I can tell you that if this is what the statistics are saying, then they are lying. A nasty habit, but one not unfamiliar to most statistics.

No council member mentioned that residents will still breath air polluted from tens of thousands of cars of which, even just one vehicle, in a single sight-seeing trip across our narrow isle, will pump out more “carcinogens” than an inveterate smoker can do in a week. Perhaps we should keep quiet about this, lest the government get ideas.

Another council member, Democrat Gale Brewer, said of her part in restricting her constituents’ behavior, that her vote “will help New Yorkers become healthier.” Ah, health. The modern be all and end all. This strange and recent worship of body is present perhaps because of the feminization of politics, or perhaps it is because of the increase of mothers and mamma’s boys (Bloomberg?) elected to office, or perhaps it is because of increasing secularization which teaches this is it!: miss your chance to be healthy now, and you miss out for all eternity.

You’re tired of seeing this, but it is my duty to remind you of the words of Mark Twain, a man surely wiser than Gale Brewer (D):

There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.

All of us are willing to trade health for other benefits. This must be so because people regularly strap themselves to two-ton SUVs and hurtle their persons down crowded highways that lead to cabins on lakes, whereupon are found boats which trail ropes that are gripped by the SUV drivers with wooden slats tied to their feet. All this pleasure is purchased at the price of the likelihood of injury, even death.

Life is for living, not for crouching behind doors in fear and paranoia that something might—just maybe!—damage our health. This is important to acknowledge because we must never forget that this country once before lost its mind and wrote into its very constitution an amendment forcing health upon those who didn’t want it. If it happened before, it can happen again.

Now, the City Council, in its wisdom, graced its new law with a loophole which allows “actors in theatrical performances” to smoke where they like. Thus, when you are stopped for indulging tell the parks officer that you are rehearsing a play by La Rochefoucauld, and quote to him—by all means, with flair and through a cloud of smoke—”Attention to health is life greatest hindrance.”

Incidentally, unlike those epidemiologists who have received cash and free trips to exotic locales to write their papers and present their results damning second-hand smoke, I have never received anything—no money, no free smokes, no consideration of any kind—from any tobacco company, nor, to my knowledge, from any company even tangentially connected to a tobacco company. I do not smoke cigarettes and never have. This new law limiting freedom will scarcely effect me.

The Statistics Of Racial And Gender Gaps

Suppose we have collected data on some measure deemed important to society. Examples are fireman entrance exams, standardized test scores in mathematics, income, IQ, and so forth. Higher measures are considered better. The raw statistics (whether as a whole or by “cuts”; say, age, etc.) indicate that the distribution of, let us call them “scores”, are shifted higher for whites/males than for blacks/women.

This rightwards-shift we can call a “gap.” Now, this being the universe in which we live, something caused this gap to be. This something cannot be “chance.” Chance isn’t a thing and thus cannot be a cause. Neither can “randomness” be a cause, and for the same reason. Instead, some real thing or, more likely, things caused each individual to have the score he did. Thus, the gap between collectives is a necessary outcome of that collective’s individuals, and, speaking exactly, nothing can be said to have caused the gap. Only the scores of the individuals themselves had causes.

It is logically possible that each individual had the same cause for his score. If we want to be fanciful, we can suppose that sunspots (via some mechanism) caused the scores to take the values they did. However, given our experience with these things in our own lives, it is more plausible that each individual’s score was brought about by a different combination of causes, some of which were different and some of which were the same across many or all individuals, but of varying degrees in each.

What can statistics tell us about these causes? Nothing. At least, nothing much and nothing directly.

But that hasn’t stopped people from claiming that the observed gap supports some theory. The two leading theories are that the gap is there because of some innate difference in ability between whites/males and blacks/females, or that the gap is there because of racism/sexism.

Now, innate ability makes sense as a cause: it could be that, all other things equal, whites/males are just better than blacks/females on standardized mathematical tests, say, where by “better” I mean that the probability that any white/male scores higher than any black/female is greater than fifty percent. The “all other things equal” is somewhat problematic, because in that phrase can lie plenty of indirect causes. But consider the analogy that innate ability favors those over six feet being better basketball “dunkers” than those under six feet. Even here we must speak of “all other things equal”, but we have no difficulty seeing that tallness is the major cause of being a better dunker.

But racism/sexism cannot be a direct cause; only actions as a result of these attitudes that can affect the score can be a cause. For example, a person might despise whites/males, but as long as she does not let this emotion influence her actions (along pathways that influence the score), then her racism/sexism is harmless (with respect to the score). The racism/sexism first has to “become active”; for example, by a teacher being more disapproving towards those in the group she disfavors.

We can envision many different ways racism/sexism may become active, each of differing strength, while the number of reasons for innate differences appear smaller (say, certain genetic combinations). Whether or not this is true, the data in front of us say nothing about it.

Again, we have collected data which shows a “gap”. Both theories, innate differences and racism/sexism, say that we should see a gap. Thus, the gap we see confirms both theories—as it would confirm any theory which predicted the gap. For example, the theory of cultural differences also predicts gaps. Even stronger, the data contain no information on which theory is confirmed to a greater degree.

This is important because the matter has long been political. The most common, even de facto, belief is that any gap is prima facie evidence of racism/sexism. Indeed, the burden of proof is on the organization that awards the scores to show that it, the organization, is not racist/sexist. Yet the observed gap could have also been caused by innate or cultural differences (or something else).

It is practically impossible that any organization can prove its innocence. This is because of what we noted above: the number of ways racism/sexism could have influenced an individual are legion. Further, these ways are often undefined, or if defined, they are unquantified. And even if the ways were defined and quantified, it is extraordinarily unlikely that these quantifications can be had for any individual (since racism/sexism operates over a long period of time and in many instances). Even worse, the organization’s inability to exculpate itself will be (incorrectly) taken as further evidence of racism/sexism.

Perhaps worst of all, if it is thought the innate difference theory is false, yet it is at least partly causative, then it will be impossible—not just unlikely, but impossible—to eliminate “racism/sexism”, because there will always be gaps caused by innate differences, and these will be ascribed falsely to racism/sexism.

Even though they are often used for the purpose, statistics cannot say which of many competing theories caused a gap in some socially important measure. At least, not without information that is external to the scores themselves. The best form of external evidence would be a controlled trial, in which all possible avenues of racism/sexism/cultural differences among individuals has been controlled (or eliminated). All experience of human nature argues that such a trial will never happen.

Rousseau And The New York Times

It All Started With Rousseau

‘The General Will is always righteous.’ Moreover, provided the State is ‘well-intentioned’…interpretation of the General Will can safely be left to the leaders since ‘they know well that the General Will always favors the decision most conducive to public interest.’ Hence any individual who finds himself in opposition to the General Will is in error: ‘When the opinion that is contrary to my own prevails, this simply proves that I was mistaken and that what I thought to be the General Will, was not so.’ Indeed, ‘if my particular opinion had carried that day I should have achieved the opposite of what was my will and I should not therefore have been free.’

From Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals, i.e. that class of people who find the sort of reasoning encapsulated in Rosseau’s quotation persuasive.

Incidentally, it was not too long after Rousseau’s theories were put into action that the body count began resembling the score of a pinball game. No doubt those who were so assiduous in the use of the guillotine were led to do so because they were “inflamed” by angry rhetoric from conservatives in England.

New York Times Attacks!

By now all know that the left, chronicled by the Gray-as-dust Lady, immediately proved, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that right-wing hate was responsible for the Tucson shooting. In the Weekly Standard, PJ O’Rourke writes (HT HotAir):

In the matter of self-serving, bitter, calculated cynicism, there wouldn’t seem to be much left to prove against the Times. Judging by what I’ve heard from my fellow conservatives, the issue is decided. The New York Times is a worthless, truthless, vicious institution. But I disagree. I think things are worse than that.

For leftest intellectuals characterized by those who write for the New York Time, there are only two reasons anybody would ever disagree with whatever view (du jour) they hold: stupidity or hate.

As an example of “stupidity”, in a debate with Motor City (as was) Madman Uncle Ted Nugent, actress Roseanne Barr accuses Tea Party members of being dupes of rich, evil—only one modifier is actually necessary—capitalists. By implication—and assumption—the ignorant rank and file are incapable of independent reasoning: they never would have come to the belief that unchecked growth of government will lead to tyranny had they not been coached. This alone is proof that the People (Rousseau’s General Will) need guidance from On High. A world led by Roseanne Barr must be superior than one helmed by, say, Ronald Reagan.

Yet somehow Barr forgot the wealth of George Soros, of Hollywood, of the myriad companies which begged for bailouts and subsequently awarded their employees six-figure bonuses, of herself. Well, after all, money isn’t the root of all evil.

But the love of it is. Those who have and seek it and who disagree with the catechism can only therefore filled with hate, even to the point where they are driven insane. Don’t like abortion? Then you must hate the poor. Against racial quotas? Then you must be a vile racist. The same is true if you disagree with anything President Obama says or does. Nervous about the FCC’s takeover of the internet? Then you must hate…well, something; probably whichever victim group hasn’t had enough press at the time your incoherent ravings about the FCC become known.

Opposed to Big Government (of which the New York Times feels itself a member)? Then you hate the People. You are in error and, as Rousseau has taught us, are against freedom itself. And that cannot be tolerated. Therefore, for you no punishment is severe enough. You will face protest marches, you will receive death threats, you will see yourself burned in effigy. None of these actions are motivated by hate, but are brought about by the same kind of well-meaning, kind-hearted wrath which drives a parent to beat his child with a switch.

Take your punishment like a man and learn to think properly.

Wodehouse Weighs In

As with many things, PG Wodehouse provides the answer: “It occurred to Lord Emsworth, as it has occurred to so many people, that the distribution of money in this world is all wrong” (from Blandings Castle and Elsewhere). This being so, the important thing is to do is very little.

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