William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Book review (page 1 of 26)

Please email me at matt@wmbriggs.com before sending books to be reviewed.

The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels Reviewed

His fig.

His fig.

People first

Just in time for the Federally-Recognized-Holiday-Of-25-December-That-Shall-Go-Unnamed we have a suitable gift for science deniers everywhere. Alex Epstein’s The Moral Case For Fossil Fuels

Science deniers? Yes, sir. Those who deny the science that failed forecasts imply failed theories, and those that claim fossil fuels have been more harmful than good to the human race. Invariably and amusingly, these deniers use fossil fuel-derived technologies, like computers, to make their claims. But we don’t expect rationality from deniers, do we?

Deniers is as stupid a word as it sounds, folks. Be embarrassed for whomever uses it. To the book!

Here is a scientific near certainty: if we were to curtail dramatically the use of fossil fuels, the world would be destroyed. Here is a scientific probability: that if we do not dramatically curtail the use of fossil fuels, the world might be inconvenienced by global warming.

The chance of heat doom is exceedingly small both because the models which predict this devastation have proved themselves incapable of making skillful forecasts, thus there is little evidence of such a calamity, and because humans are clever at adapting to changes in the environment, proved by you sitting at your computer reading this. But the chance that we fall into chaos and death by the removal of oil is so certain as to be almost a truism.

Incidentally, when Epstein uses world he means human beings, their livelihoods and culture and not anything else. Aren’t these the most important things on the planet? Doesn’t the welfare of human beings trump every other consideration?

If you say “yes”, you are sane. If not, not—and probably even a little dangerous. If you would choose the life of a tree or snail over a person, then you are fundamentally broken. Many are. And it is this divide—people versus everything else—which most interests Epstein. This is why he says correctly things like “the 50-95 percent bans [of fossil fuels] over the next several decades that have been proposed, is a guaranteed death sentence for billions—we would be willing to accept ten times more hurricanes if we had to.” And “The less [oil] we produce, the more preventable suffering and death will exist. To not use fossil fuels, therefore, is beyond a risk—it is certain moral peril for mankind.”

Wait. Who endorses 95-percent bans? Bill McKibben, for one. And don’t forget John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser, called McKibben “the nation’s leading environmentalist.”

I was thrilled to read that Epstein understood “hindcasting” is not a measure of future forecast skill. He knows “a model is not valid until it makes real, forward predictions“, a once prominent scientific precept now abandoned for obvious political reasons. Epstein also knows that “every prediction of drastic future consequences is based on speculative models that have failed to predict the climate trend so far and that speculate a radically different trend than what has actually happened in the last thirty to eights years of emitting substantial amounts of CO2.” I wept when I read that.

Here’s more science Epstein knows: “What’s most striking is that these extremely positive plant effects of CO2 are scientifically uncontroversial yet practically never mentioned, even by the climate science community. This is a dereliction of duty.” I once mentioned this to a prominent scientist during a television interview at the Madrid Royal Science Academy. The scientist went apoplectic, said it wasn’t, couldn’t be true! Yeesh. Try taking carbon dioxide from plants and see how many bowls of Corn Flakes you can fill.

A thousand words

The book is filled with wisdom, but my favorite story is the (admittedly cartoon-like) graph which appears at the top of this post. Unquestionably, CO2 output from humans is on the increase. But look at what tremendous benefits that arise from this! Life expectancy is soaring, and so is our ability to create things. Population is also increasing.

“Briggs, you fool! Population increase is a bad thing!”

Why? Don’t you like people? Are you a hater? Those who misunderstand Malthus never get this right. It is increasing food supplies and other creature comforts provided by oil that caused the population increase (and now decrease in birth rates in Western nations). “To put it bluntly, in our ‘natural climate,’ absent technology, human beings are as sick as dogs and drop like flies.” If there wasn’t enough food, then there wouldn’t be new people. That’s that. That people can’t see this seems to be one of those uncorrectable errors, an error which is a central tenet of enviro-religion.

A gas fire would warm them nicely.

A natural gas fire would warm them nicely.


Epstein emphasizes that resources are made, not discovered. Gaseous and liquid pockets of stuff underground amount to nothing until we turn them into useful things. “Oil is the most coveted (and controversial) fuel in the world because it is almost eerily engineered by natural processes, not just for cheapness, not just for reliability, not just for scalability, but also for another characteristic crucial to a functional civilization: portability.” And “It’s true that once we burn a barrel of oil, it’s gone. But it’s also true that human ingenuity can dramatically increase the amount of coal, oil, or gas that is available.” Like by the new f-word, fracking.

“For something to be cheap and plentiful, every part of the process to produce it, including every input that goes into it, must be cheap and plentiful.” This is not so for wind and solar energy, nor biofuels. The first two are not reliable, are expensive, variable and unpredictable. The last sacrifices food for expensive feel-good car fuel. How about hydropower, then? Why not! It’s clean, sure, and efficient? Oops. No. “Environmental activists have spent decades shutting down as many hydroelectric dams as possible…despite hydro’s proven track record as a cheap, reliable source of CO2-free power, in the name of protecting species of fish, free-flowing rivers, and other justifications that focus on nonhuman nature.”

People are well down the list of things to protect for environmentalists.

Example? Epstein writes of a lake in China, a “vast, hissing cauldron of chemicals…seven million tons a year of mined rare earth after it has been doused in acid and chemicals…Dalahai villagers say their teeth began to fall our, their hair turned white…severe skin and respiratory disease..cancer rates rocketed.” Etc. He puts this story to college students who then call for whatever it is that caused this lake to be “banned”.

Until they learn this waste is the result of processing for solar energy materiel. Then students have appointments they suddenly remember.

Environmental “Impact”

Environmentalists want to “minimize” our “impact” on the environment. But to minimize is to eliminate, for if any man lives, even for a moment, he must necessarily “impact” the environment. Even dying “impacts”. Thus the only way to minimize is for everybody to commit suicide instantly.

Skip it. Logical arguments won’t get you far when dealing with enviro-religion, nor with the mostly well-to-do Westerners who pray at the temple of Gaia. Quoting Milton Friedman: “The rich in ancient Greece would have benefited hardly at all from modern plumbing—running servants replaced running water. Television and radio—the patricians of Rome could enjoy the leading musicians and actors in their home, could have the leads artists as domestic retainers] ” The wealthy environmentalists have their comforts, but what they can’t abide is anybody else joining their club.

“There are 7 billion people in the world, but 1.3 billion have no electricity” and another 3 billion have very little. If by allowing these people to use oil, we ever-so-slightly, and probably not at all, increase the chance of a wee increase in the temperature, one which we could well adapt to, then it’s worth it. Unless you care more about yourself than others.

Ah, but everybody already knows environmentalists love The People and hate people. Example. “Prince Philip, former head of the World Wildlife Fun, has said, ‘In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, in order to contribute something to solve overpopulation.'” Charming.

We need to say “loudly and proudly” that “human life is our one and only standard of value.” Yet what do oil companies do? Epstein discovered Exxon Mobil, Shell, and Chevron won’t even use the word oil on their home pages. They instead focus on “charitable contributions”, they praise their enemies as “idealistic”, they apologize for their “environmental footprint.” They play only defense. “The industry’s position amounts to this: ‘Our product isn’t moral, but it’s something that we will need for some time as we transition to the ideal fossil-free future.'”

Appeasement never works: it only exacerbates.

Four fallacies

Epstein outlines four common bad arguments (there are more). (1) “Abuse-use”: “It is irrational to say that because a technology or practice can be abused, it ought not be used.” If we followed this reasoning, we’d have to eliminate all government. Right? (2) “False-Attribution”: As in showing your water can catch fire and blaming fracking. “A more sophisticated version of false attribution uses prestigious studies based on speculative models.” Amen. (3) “No-threshold”: “A poison or pollutant is always a combination of substance and dose….People said we should have zero tolerance for radiation—not knowing, apparently, that the potassium in their bone tissue emits radiation, enough so that sleeping with a spouse gives you almost as much radiation as standing right outside a nuclear power plant.” (4) “Artificial” “Man-made.” All we need say here is Boo!

What about fusion, the epitome of clean, renewable, potentially unlimited energy? “Leading environmentalist Jeremy Rifkin: ‘It’s the worst thing that could happen to our planet.'” “Paul Erhlich: Developing fusion for human beings would be ‘like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.'” And that’s only a small sample of the appeals to emotion progressives use. Radiation! Boo!


Epstein wanders into strange territory when he says curious and false things about religions (“many religious people think that it is wrong to eat certain foods or to engage in certain sexual acts, not because there is any evidence that these foods or acts are unhealthy or otherwise harmful to human beings but simply because they believe God forbids them”), and he uses too many stacked bar and line charts, which are always a sin. But nobody bats 1.000. Buy the book.


Mr Epstein graciously provided me with my draft copy of his book. All emphasis marks above original.

Classic Posts

A collection of fundamental posts in philosophy, probability & statistics, and global warming & environmentalism.

Subjects: (click to brings you to a list)

My Favorites

  • William M Briggs, Statistician To The Stars, Now A Thought Leader link
  • Damn Straight News: Manly Men More Likely To Be Conservative link
  • The True Meaning Of Statistical Models link
  • Netherlands Temperature Controversy: Or, Yet Again, How Not To Do Time Serieslink
  • Homeopathic Blog Post link


  • Mysticism of Randomness: Philosophy of Probability & Statistics Series link
  • Probability Is Logic: Philosophy of Probability & Statistics Series link
  • The Mathematics Of Santa Claus’ Present Delivery System link
  • Is There Free Will? A Conversation With Dr. Sam Hurtus link
  • Bill Whittle on the Love of Theory link

Philosophy & Culture


  • Genetic. He works for an oil company! link
  • Ad Hominem, My Sweet link
  • The Imposing-Their-Beliefs Fallacy link
  • We Don’t Know Anything link
  • The Science-Is-Self-Correcting Fallacy link
  • Hypocrisy link
  • Wrong side of history link
  • The Apes Do It So It Is Fine For Us Fallacy link
  • The Epidemiologist Fallacy link
  • Mexican Hat link
  • One true religion link
  • The Somebody-Might-Get-Hurt! Fallacy link
  • The So’s-Your-Old-Man Fallacylink


  • The Summary Against Modern Thought, i.e. live blogging Summa Contra Gentiles link
  • Evolution & The Big Bang Are Perfectly Consistent With Christianity (And Catholicism) link
  • Comprehensive List Of Catholic Dogmas Refuted By Science link
  • Richard Carrier’s Argument To Show God’s Existence Unlikely Is Invalid And Unsound link
  • The Decline & Fall Of Radical Catholicism; Or, What The Synod Will Have Wrought link
  • What is faith? link
  • St Anselm and the ontological argument link
  • Swinburne’s P-Inductive and C-Inductive arguments (existence of God) link
  • Lawrence Krauss on nothing link
  • On The Probability God Exists link
  • Bayes Theorem Proves Jesus Existed And Did not Exist link
  • On Intelligence & Religiosity link
  • The Epistemology Of Miracles: Fulton J. Sheen Edition I, II

Diversity & Equality

  • Diversity is the dumbest idea ever I, II, III, IV
  • The tolerance paradox link
  • Variant on a theme link
  • Life Is Not Fair I, II, III
  • Equality is impossible link
  • Equality definitions link
  • Logan’s Run Is A Progressive Utopia link
  • Diversity! link


  • Genetic Engineering To Create New Super Moral Race link
  • The Moral Case Against Designer Babies link
  • We Are All Eugenicists Now. New Test Identifies 3500 Genetic Faults In Fetuses link
  • Killing newborns link
  • Killing Children Legally In Belgium link
  • Evolving past evolution link
  • Nine-month babies racist? link
  • Mark Twain On The Dictatorship Of Health link
  • Dutch Doctors Strange New House Calls link
  • Abortion to create master race link
  • Decisions made Angelina Jolie Should Not Necessarily Be Yours link
  • Health Is Not A Goal link
  • The Return Of Eugenics link
  • Sex Selection and In Vitro Fertilization link
  • Anti-Human Leader says Every Woman Should Have Contraception link
  • Bioethicist Calls Unborn Innocent Aggressors link
  • Bio-engineering humans and climate link
  • Pill to eliminate racism link
  • People Who Believe In Heaven Commit More Crimes link
  • Are There Any Arguments Against Eugenics Left link
  • Ask A Scientific Ethicist I, I

Free Will

  • Unsorted I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII
  • A Conversation With Dr. Sam Hurtus (Video) link
  • Free Will Cannot Be An Illusion link
  • Disbelief In Free Will Causes Disbelief In Free Will link
  • Free Will The Result Of ‘Background Noise’? link


  • If We Are What We Sexually Desire, How About These Curious People? link
  • Same-sex “marriage” I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X
  • Let’s Find And Fire Those Who Support Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ link
  • E-Lynching The Politically Incorrect: Mozilla Edition link
  • Woman To Marry Fairground Ride. A New Sexual Orientation link
  • Coming Out Christian link
  • Bake your own damn cake link
  • Is Laverne Cox Still A Man? Or, The Coming Transgender Wars link

Morality & Ethics

  • The Scientific Ethicist link
  • Atheism And Its Problem Of Evil link
  • If You Disagree You Are Full Of Hate, You Bigot link
  • Dogmatism link
  • Animal rights entail animal responsibilities link
  • Is violence decreasing link
  • Health & responsibility link
  • More fat people link
  • Sandra Fluke Mows The Lawn. A Play In One Act link
  • Abortion link
  • Deciding morality by vote link
  • Academic Philosopher Finds New Way To Dehumanize People link
  • The Slow Death Of Perversion link
  • New Poll Says Forty Percent Don’t Believe In Evolution. So What. link
  • Herd Immunity And Christianity link
  • Prime Minister Kenny Abortion Bill Would Save One Life A Year link
  • Sam Harris Asks if Science Can Answer Moral Questions link
  • A New Row Over Pregnancy Caused by Rape link
  • Germany To Ban Sex With Animals link
  • Women Do Not Have A Right To Do Whatever They Want With Their Bodies link
  • Voting (And Wisdom Of The Crowds) I, II
  • Resolved: Companies Should NOT Be Forced To Fund Employees’ Birth Control link
  • Theories And Predictions: Sociology Version link
  • Animals Suing People, People Suing Animals: Lawyers Rejoice link


  • Malthus’ Proof That Welfare Leads To Increasing Need For Welfare link
  • From Paganism To Christianity To Deism To Malleism link
  • Educators Disease Reaching Epidemic Levels, Experts link
  • The Dismal Economics of Utopia: Lesson One link
  • 8 Great Philosophical Questions That We Will Never Solve Solved! link
  • Language and Truth I, II, III
  • The Consensus In Philosophy link
  • Ways of speaking about truth I, II
  • Scientific Truths Are Not Better Truths Than Just-Plain Truths link
  • The Imperfectibility of Politics. Voting And Unhappiness I
  • Give Children The Vote I
  • On Defeating The NSA: Privacy In A Time Of Government Overreach I

The University

  • Universities? Nuke ‘em From Orbit. It’s The Only Way To Be Sure. link
  • University Professors Teach Too Much I, II, III, IV, V
  • It Is Time For A New (Old) Kind Of University link
  • Teaching Comes First. But Only If You Bring In Grants. And Publish link

Essential Book Reviews


  • Edward Feser. The Last Superstition I, II, III, Interlude, IV, V VI, VII
  • Peter Kreeft. Summa Philosophica I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X
  • David Stove. What’s Wrong With Benevolence? link, Annotated Stove bibliography
  • Steven Goldberg. Fads and Fallacies in the Social SciencesI, II, III, IV
  • Jonah Goldberg. Liberal Fascism I, II, III
  • David Bentley Hart. The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Being I, II, III, IV
  • Charles Murray. Real Education link
  • Essential (Philosophical) Conservative Book List link
  • Michael Gazzaniga. Who’s In Charge? I, II
  • Our Brains Are Not Us. Review of Brainwashed link
  • My Genes Made Me Vote For Obama: Predisposed Reviewed link
  • Making Gay Okay, Robert R. Reilly, Reviewed. link

Probability & Statistics

Statistics philosophy

  • Machine Learning Big Data Deep Learning Data Mining Statistics Decision & Risk Analysis Probability Fuzzy Logic FAQ link
  • The Cult of the Parameter! link
  • I Was Wrong About Axioms: Day One Teaching link
  • The Mysticism Of Simulations: Markov Chain Monte Carlo, Sampling, And Their Alternatives link
  • Selling Fear Is A Risky Business Part I, II, III
  • Why You Should Care About The Philosophy Of Probability & Statistics link
  • The Applicability Of Experiments link
  • Nothing Is Distributed: So-Called Random Variables Do Not Follow Distributions link
  • Confidence Interval Interpretation link
  • What Statistics Really Is I, Paradox digression, II, III
  • All Of Statistics I, II,III
  • Statistics Is Not Math link
  • Statistics 101 Class 0, I, II, III, IV, V, no VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI
  • What Is A True Model? What Makes A Good One? I, II, III, IV,V, VI
  • Probability leakage link
  • What Does The Regression Equation Mean? Causality? link
  • Regression Isn’t What You Think link
  • Occam’s razor link
  • Bayes vs. Frequentism: The Lady Tasting Tea; or The Final Battle I, II, III, IV
  • Another reason to abandon p-values (another way to cheat) link
  • Correlation Implies Causation link
  • All Models Are Not Wrong I, II
  • True value of parameter? link
  • Frequentists Are Closet Bayesians: Confidence Interval Edition link
  • The difference between a confidence and credible interval link
  • On The Evidence From Experiments I, II, III, IV
  • Objective Bayes Vs. Logical Probability (Vs. Frequentism) link
  • Direct And Inverse Probability: The Bayesian Way link
  • Jumping The Infinity Shark: An Answer To Senn I, II, III, IV, V, VI
  • Subjective Versus Objective Bayes (Versus Frequentism) I, II, III, IV, V

Probability philosophy

  • The Problem Of Grue Isn’t; Or, A Gruesome Non-Paradox About Induction link
  • Truth, Knowledge, Belief, & Gettier Problems link
  • Probability logic & induction I, II
  • Nine Counter-Arguments To Frequentism link
  • Comments On Dawid’s Prequential Probability link
  • Probabilities Aren’t Decisions link
  • There Is No Such Thing As Intrinsic Probability link
  • Failed Counterexamples To The Principle Of Indifference link
  • Physical Probability Doesn’t Exist link
  • What are the chances of that? link
  • The Humble Tautology And Probability link
  • Bayesian Probability Is Not Subjective (It Only Seems Like It Is) link
  • Symmetry Priors Logical Probability Infinities and Needless Paradoxes link
  • Intuitionist Math & Probability: Riemann Hypothesis Example link
  • What Is And What We Know Of It link
  • Why Falsifiability Is Alluring I, II
  • Most Probabilities Aren’t Quantifiable link
  • “Probably Fine” Isn’t A Number link
  • There Is No Such Thing As Unconditional Probability link
  • Russian Roulette And Certainty link
  • The Probability Of A Bottle Broken Into N Pieces When Struck By A Hammer link
  • It Makes No Sense To Say You’re More Likely To Die Of Bee Sting Than Shark Bite link

Statistics practice

  • Statistical Follies and Epidemiology video
  • Please Don’t Smooth Your (Social Media) Data! link
  • The Coming Cancer Panic link
  • Why Do Statisticians Answer Silly Questions That No One Ever Asks? link
  • What Regression Really Is I, II, III
  • The Biggest Error In Regression link
  • A Statistician’s Lament link
  • On Scientific Polls link
  • How Presidential Polls Work: D+7 or R-3 And All That link
  • What is a Dutch Book? link
  • The Great Bayesian Switch! link
  • How to fool yourself with Statistics I, II, III, IV
  • WEIRD people link
  • Johnson’s Revised Standards For Statistical Evidence link
  • Logical Probability Data Analysis Measurement Error Example I, II
  • The Alternative To P-Values link
  • Everything Wrong With P-Values Under One Roof link
  • How To Mislead With P-values: Logistic Regression Example link
  • What Regression Really Is link
  • Unsignificant Statistics: Or Die P-Value Die Die Die link
  • Regression To The Mean (And Performance Curses) Simply Explained link
  • What’s The Difference Between Polls And Models? link
  • A Peculiar Prevalence Of P Values Just Below .05 link
  • Drug Companies Tweaking Results To Produce Publishable P-values? link
  • How To Present Anything As Significant link
  • All Forecasts Predictions & Prophecies Are Contingent link
  • The Hot Hand: Statistical Fluke Or Genuine Article? link

Predictive Statistics

  • Explanation Vs Prediction link
  • There Is No Difference Between A Forecast, A Scenario, or A Projection link
  • GPA Case Study I, II
  • Definitions link
  • What A Prediction Is And What It Is Not I, II, III, IV
  • Risk Analysis And Over Certainty link


  • Randomized Trials Are Not Needed link
  • Randomness is a Matter of Information I, II, III, IV
  • What Random Means In Random Number Generation link
  • Never Say “Caused By Chance” link
  • On Truly Random Numbers link

Asinine uses of statistics

  • List of asinine papers link
  • Nonpolitical Images Evoke Neural Predictors Of Political Ideology? link
  • Sex With 21 (Not 20) Women Lowers Risk Of Prostate Cancer. It’s Science! link
  • Exposure To Fracking Reduces Low-Birth-Weight Babies link
  • That Conservatives Smell Different Than Progressives Study Stinks link
  • Judgments About Fact And Fiction By Confused Researchers link
  • Casual Sex Is Good for You, Says New Biased Study link
  • Conservatives suffer from Dark Triad personalities link
  • Exposure to the American flag turns one into a Republican link
  • Exposure to 4th of July parade turns one into a Republican link
  • fMRIs can tell the difference between Christians and non-Christians? I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII
  • Newberg again link
  • Low IQ & Liberal Beliefs Linked To Poor Research? link
  • Weapons Make the Man Larger: New Scientific Growth Formula link
  • Brain Atrophy Responsible For Religious Belief? link
  • Do Conservatives Distrust Science More Than Liberals? link
  • Women Spot Snakes Faster Before Their Periods link
  • Wearing A White Coat Makes You More Careful link
  • Autism caused by highways link
  • Do Heat Waves Cause Birth Defects? link
  • Scientists: GOP Women More Feminine Than Dems link
  • Spanking Kids Causes Cancer. Also Asthma and Cardiac Disease link
  • Researchers Invent Exciting New Disease: Poverty Blindness link
  • Racism Eats Telomeres link
  • On The Role Of Genetics In Politics link
  • Do Dogs Poop In Alignment With The Earths Magnetic Field? link
  • Exposure to Fast Food Impedes Happiness link
  • Women With Large Posteriors Live Longer? link
  • Blinks As Lie Detectors link
  • Analysing Perceptions Of Cute Videos Of Threatened Species link
  • fMRI Discovers Freud Distribution Plushies Lurking In Brain link
  • Tweet Hate Map: Awful Really Awful Use Of Statistics link
  • Coal-Fired Power Plants Fuel Suicide—Or Maybe Sanguinity link
  • Scientists Discover Men Don’t Understand Women link
  • Poor Statistics Undermine The Reliability Of Neuroscience link
  • Thinking About Dying Or Just Saw Bad Art? Pop A Tylenol link
  • Science Can Tell If You’re A Racist Just By Looking At You link
  • Yet Another Study Proves Liberal-Conservative Brain Differences link
  • Statistics Proves Men And Women Are The Same link
  • Lightning May Cause Headaches Moon May Cause Domestic Intranquility link
  • Males Play More Sports Than Non-Males link
  • Political Neuroscience Shows Obama Voters Are Different Than Romney Voters link
  • GOP Women More Feminine Than Dems link
  • Stressed Men Prefer Chubby Chicks link
  • Personality Predicted By Pedal Extremity Wrappings? link
  • Believers Less Vindictive Than Godless Atheists: New Research link
  • Atheists More Motivated By Compassion Than The Faithful? link
  • Conservatives Produced By “Low Effort” Thinking link
  • Brain Atrophy Responsible For Religious Belief? link
  • Do Conservatives Distrust Science More Than Liberals? link
  • That Lefties-Drink-More-Than-Conservatives Study link
  • Scientists Discover Men Enjoy Looking At Women’s Breasts. link
  • Female-Named Hurricanes Deadlier Than Males. Implicit Sexism Kills! link
  • Can A Disgusting Smell Turn You Conservative And Against Gay “Marriage”? link

Firearms & Homicide

  • Update On Gun Crime: Downward Bound. Vote Accordingly link
  • World firearms and homicide rates link
  • Mark Twain on firearms link
  • Black vs. White homicides link
  • Homicide Demographics link
  • Mass shootings link
  • Firearm Homicides Dropping link


  • Presidential mandates link
  • Changing Attitudes On Suicide And Euthanasia (GSS) link
  • Support For Abortion by Reason (GSS) link
  • Wishcasting the 2012 Presidential Election link
  • How Long Do Popes Serve? link
  • Abortion Safety: Doctors V. Nurses & Physician Assistants & Midwives I, II
  • The Most Depressing Graphs: Per Capita Federal Spending Rises Alarmingly I, II
  • More Proof Music Is Growing Worse link
  • The Decline And Increase Of Mainstream Religions In The USA link
  • Sexual Immorality, Low Birth Rates, And Religion link
  • Government Per Capita Spending: Up, Up, And Away! Or, Happy Tax Day! link

Probability Puzzles

  • Monty Hall (All Probability is Conditional) link
  • The Probability Of Your Existence link
  • Sleeping Beauty link
  • St Petersburg Paradox link
  • Sorites Paradox link
  • Two-envelope Problem I, II
  • One Son Born Tuesday link
  • Prisoner’s Dilemma link
  • Monkeys Typing Shakespeare link
  • Newcomb’s paradox link
  • Measurement Error Of Colored Balls link
  • Jeffreys-Lindley Paradox link
  • Does 1+2+3+… Really Equal -1/12? link
  • Every Family Has Children Until They Have A Boy link

Global Warming & The Environment

Time series & Data Handling

  • Netherlands Temperature Controversy: Or, Yet Again, How Not To Do Time Serieslink
  • The IPCC’s And McKitrick’s “Hiatus” Time Series Models I
  • There Is No Difference Between A Forecast, A Scenario, or A Projection link
  • How to think about time series (temperature example), I, II, III, IV, V
  • The BEST project I, II, III
  • How To Cheat (Or Fool Yourself) With Time Series link
  • The Data Is The Data (Not The Model) link
  • Do not smooth times series you hockey puck! I, II, III
  • Homogenization of temperature series I, II, III, IV, V
  • Hurricanes have not increased: misuse of running means I, II
  • Proper statistical description of temperature (parameter-based versus predictive statistics) I, II
  • How To Properly Handle Proxy Time Series Reconstructions link
  • (Most) Everything Wrong With Time Series link
  • An Ensemble Of Models Is Completely Meaningful link
  • Does Averaging Incorrect Data Give A Result That Is Less Incorrect? link
  • Time Series And Causality: Global Warming Example link


  • We Know The Climate Is Warming Because It Isn’t link
  • Don’t Say “Natural Variability” link
  • Don’t Say “Hiatus” link
  • Paper Claims Surprisingly Strong Link Between Climate Change And Violence. Nonsense. link
  • On The Kaya Identity link
  • Do You Believe In Global Warming Because Of The Seriousness Of The Charges? link
  • Idiots calling for my arrest I, II, III, IV, V
  • A Citizen’s Guide to Global Warming Evidence link
  • Use And Abuses Of Decision Analysis link
  • What Probably Isn’t: Heat Waves and Nine Feet Tall Men Prelude I, II
  • That 1 in 1.6 Million Heat Wave Chance, I, II
  • What is and isn’t evidence of global warming, Overview, I, II, III, IV, V, VI
  • Anthropogenic Forcing Signals Not Significant? link
  • Climate Model Uncertainty I, II
  • Causation And Correlation link
  • Parliament The Met Office And Statistically Significant Temperature Change link
  • A Common Fallacy In Global Warming Arguments link
  • 1 Billion To Die By 2030: Global Warming’s Deadly Rampage! link
  • End Of The World Approaches—This Time Via A “State Shift” link
  • HANDY Not So Dandy: NASA-Funded Mathematical Model Of Doom link
  • Ivy League Statistician Debunks NASA-Funded ‘Socialism or Extinction’ Study link

The Epidemiologist Fallacy

  • The EPA Dust And The Ecological Fallacy link
  • Criticism of Jerrett et al. CARB PM2.5 And Mortality Report link


  • People’s Climate March: The Face Of True Belief link
  • Zombie attacks might increase due to global warming link
  • Global Warming Increases Disastrous Music link
  • Interview With A Climatologist link
  • Lewandowsky’s Faked Moon Landing link
  • Sharknadoes To Increase Due To Global Warming link
  • The Case of the Missing Global Warming: A 17th Precinct Mini Mystery link
  • Homeopathic Blog Post link
  • Global warming causes prostitution! link
  • IPCC Intensifies Search For Missing Global Warming link

Mini Plays & Stories


  • Dinner with Atheists link
  • Ad Hominem, My Sweet link
  • Climate Change Summer Camp! link
  • All Men Are Mortal: A New, Award Eligible Mini Play link
  • Sandra Fluke Mows The Lawn link
  • A Priest And A Reporter Walk Into A Bar link
  • I Offend Thee! A Christmas Play link
  • Free Mumia! And Tunisia! link
  • Dances Without Feathers link

An Introduction To Uncertainty: Probability, Statistics, and Modeling of All Kinds

Spencer Tracy is trying to fit round pegs into square holes.

Spencer Tracy is trying to fit round pegs into square holes.

This is a teaser, the first part of a 3,200-word narrative outline for the book that I’ve started to shop around. The current title is in the headline. Regular readers know it has undergone many changes, thus it is rational to conclude it might change again.

Why is this rotten thing taking so long? It took me forever to realize what I could leave out—which is a lot. I wanted to introduce to people not used to it to Aristotelian epistemology, and what this fine and true subject meant for the practical understanding and communication of uncertainty. But there’s no way to be complete about this without going on and on, at book length, by which time the reader, anxious to get to the “good stuff”, will have been put to sleep.

So out goes everything except the bare necessities. Besides, if readers are into that sort of thing, there’s plenty of other books to read. What’s left is an explanation of what probability is, what it means to “do” modeling, how to communicate results properly, and how to purge the magical thinking from our midsts.

I sent the outline to one well known publisher, who that very same day wrote back and called my bluff. The editor labeled the proposal “intriguing” and said that it “raises a lot of important points” but then asked me to immediately ship off two chapters. Sure. As if these were ready, and that, even if they were, I could pick the right two.

Finishing these chapters so that they are at least not embarrassing is what I’ll be doing for the next week.

Incidentally, the “Why?” which follows, suitably fleshed out, will become either the Preface or Chapter 1.


Fellow users of probability, statistics, and computer “learning” algorithms; physics and social science modelers; big data handlers; spreadsheet mavens; other respected citizens. We’re doing it wrong.

Not completely wrong: not everywhere: not all the time: but far more pervasively, far more often, and in far more places than you’d imagine.

What are we doing wrong? Probability, induction, statistics, the nature of causality, modeling, communicating results, expressing uncertainty. In short: everything.

Your natural reaction will be (this is a prediction based on observation and induction), “Harumph.” I can’t and shouldn’t put a probability measure to this guess, though. That would lead to over-certainty, which I will prove to you is already at pandemic levels.

You may well say “Harumph”, but consider: there are people who think statistical models are causal, that no probability can known with certainty until at the close of the universe, that probabilities can be read from mood rings, that induction is a “problem”, that randomness is a magical cause, that parameters exist, that computers learn, that models are realer than observations, that model fit is more important than model performance.

And that is only a sampling of the oddities which beset our field. How did we get this way? Best answer is that it is well known that the human race is insane.

More practically, our training lacks a proper foundation, a philosophical grounding. Introductory books plunge the student into data and never look back. The philosophical concepts which are necessarily present aren’t discussed well or openly. This is rectified once, and if, the student progresses to the highest levels, but by that time his interest has been turned either to mathematics or to solving specific problems. And when the student finally and inevitably weighs in on, say, “What models really are”, he lacks depth. Points are missed. Falsity is embraced.

So here is a philosophical introduction to uncertainty and the practice of probability, statistics, and modeling of all kinds. The approach is Aristotelian, even Thomistic. Truth exists, we can know it, and we can sometimes but not always measure its uncertainty, and there are good and bad ways of doing it.

This isn’t a recipe book. Except for simple (but common: regression, “binomial”) examples, this book does not contain lists of algorithms. Rather, this is a guide on how to create such recipes and lists. It is thus ideal for students and researchers looking for problems upon which to work. The mathematical requirements are modest: this is not a math book.

Do I have everything right? Well, I’m as certain I do as you were that you had everything right before you read this introduction. One thing which is certain is that we’re not done.

The Decline & Fall Of Radical Catholicism; Or, What The Synod Will Have Wrought

And to think that some people disbelieve in the satanic.

And to think that some people disbelieve in the satanic.

Update Comments restored. WordPress is acting strange.

The first part of the title isn’t mine, but belongs to James Hitchcock who wrote a book of the same name, published in 1971 in the wake of Vatican II. Hitchcock was then a self-labeling progressive1 looking back on the predictions made by competing groups during the great Council.

The book reads like it will be written in 2016.

With Synod I: The Blessing Of Remarriage & Homosexuality playing everywhere now (Synod II opens in October 2015) in the secular press to enraptured audiences2, I thought it well we should revisit how the last efforts to “radically” modify the Church were viewed. The lens Hitchcock used was American made, of course.

Progressives before Vatican II were, Hitchcock tells us, dissatisfied. To which the natural reaction is: aren’t they always? Isn’t profound irrational unthinking unrelievable dissatisfaction the definition of a progressive? What the progressive then wanted was change, mainly in the form of leveling. He wanted “renewal”.

He wanted a modernization of the liturgy, to get rid of the beauty, rigor, and awful uniformity and allow use of the vernacular. And puppets. He wanted a putting away of stultifying Thomism. He wanted to align the Church with the political left: perhaps not to the point of Marxism, but aimed in that direction. He “advocated loosening up the curricula of Catholic colleges to allow secular philosophies to be taught non-polemically” (p. 18).

He praised ecumenism, admiring theologians like Baptist Harvey Cox who suggested “monasteries be turned into retreat and conference centers” and Protestant theologian Arthur Crabtree (who then worked at a Catholic university) who asked “in an ecumenical journal whether the pope is Antichrist”, and liberal rabbi Everett Gendler who insisted that Christians must “abandon belief” in Jesus as a “supernatural purger of sin” (all p. 21).

About the liturgy, now often populated by music that would make even the Beatles blush, and by clowns and giant puppets (what the hell is it with progressives and giant puppets?):

In typical hysterical fashion conservative critics charged that if the Church made the least concession, let down the least barricade, the reformers would prove insatiable. Nothing would be treated with respect and sacred awe but would be shunted around at the whim of the liturgist. Conservatives also raised the faith question: If the liberals actually believed in the efficacy of the sacraments, why did they feel a need to reform them? (p. 17)

Conservatives warned “the liberals did not really derive their social principles from Catholic tradition but were actually breathing in the secular humanist air, which they attempted to give a superficial odor” (p. 18). They “charged that reform was really the ‘Protestantizing’ of the Church” (p. 22).

Hitchcock then makes a startling admission (p. 24):

There are many curiosities in the history of the Church in the post-conciliar years, and not the least is the fact that so few progressives have noticed the extent to which the reactionaries’ predictions prior to the Council have been proven correct and that their own expectations have been contradicted. They continue to treat the conservatives as ignorant, prejudiced, and out of touch with reality.

The progressive predicted reform (p. 24):

would lead to a massive resurgence of the flagging Catholic spirit…Liturgy and theology, having been brought to life and made relevant, would be constant sources of inspiration to the faithful. The religious orders, reformed to bring them into line with modernity, would find themselves overwhelmed with candidates who were generous and enthusiastic. The Church would find the number of converts increasingly dramatically…

Yet Hitchcock admits, “In virtually every case the precise opposite of these predictions has come to pass.” Sound familiar?

Although it has recently had a resurgence, in 1971 Hitchcock could say, “Thomism has disappeared almost without a trace, and there is now scarcely a single traditional doctrine of the Church which is not seriously questioned by some prominent theologians, not excluding the ‘existence’ of God” (p. 19). In many places the “Eucharist is regarded as at best a symbolic act…there is no mystical reality present.” (p. 22).

Progressives looked at the Council’s results and wept but “In fact, Vatican II exceeded the hopes of the liberals” as noted by the presence of, say, giant puppet masses. “There is no question, then, that Vatican II initiated almost every reform which American progressives, prior to 1965, generally desired” (p. 26).

In other words, Progressives got what they wanted (except for the “few persons [who] mentioned tentatively the question of remarriage after divorce”), but they felt like failures. Why the contradiction? My guess is that for the progressive no change short of constant revolution is enough. But Hitchcock perhaps more wisely says (p. 30):

By the end of the 1960s, however, many such progressives were forced to realize that their dislike of Scholasticism, their hankering after liturgical reform, their visits to choice monasteries, were really attempts to overcome a gnawing crisis of faith which they either did not recognize, lacking adequate self-knowledge, or did not want to recognized. However uncharitable, their conservative critics were simply right in postulating weakness of fundamental belief as being at the root of many liberals’ dissatisfaction.

Hitchcock says that conservatives “foresaw more clearly than the progressives the realities of change.” Further (pp. 30-31):

The progressives blithely assumed a period of swift, painless reform, in which desirable changes could be accomplished while undesirable ones were restrained. The conservatives realized that no large intricate society like the Catholic Church can be changed without considerable dislocation and outright loss, and they realized also that state programs for reform are never realized as they are set forth and that change tends to generate change, so that those who begin as moderate reformers sometime end as revolutionaries…

Here’s the kicker, as relevant then as now: “In retrospect it is possible to see the preoccupation of the progressives with changes of various kinds as a way of avoiding the ultimate question of their own faith.”

That’s just Chapter 1 folks, an overview. If this is popular, we can look into the book further.

Update Kinda sorta related. Newman “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” mugs.


James Hitchcock, 1971. The Decline & Fall Of Radical Catholicism. Herder and Herder, New York.

1Consider that 1971’s progressive is 2014’s conservative; a conservative or reactionary then is a reactionary now.

2There must be a Nicholas Cage pun lurking in there somewhere.

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