William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Rhode Island Schools Forbid Gender, New York Schools Sneak Drugs To Students

No more shall the Cranston, Rhode Island public schools allow the ignominy of father-daughter dances. The horrible public spectacle of mother-son outings shall cease forthwith! Any reliance of gender—that awful, culturally derived artifact—is hereafter banned.

Yes, the ACLU—champion of the Exceptionally Nervous, facilitator to the Perpetually Outraged, suer of the Least Suspecting–has won for us another glorious civil rights victory!

Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU and cause of the glad tidings, explained to us, “Not every girl today is interested in growing up to be Cinderella.” This being true, and it being implied that he, Brown, does not share that same dream, the legal brain reasoned that none shall ever consider it.

He magnanimously allowed that Rhode Island may “remain free to hold family dances and other events, but the time has long since passed for public school resources to encourage stereotyping from the days of Ozzie and Harriet.” Heretofore, father-daughter dances have been a scourge, an affront to all right-thinking people who are repelled at calling the man that sired his genetic offspring a “father” and the offspring itself a “daughter.” After Brown, we have learned a better way.

How did the glass-slipperless counselor hit upon the idea of disparaging father-daughter, mother-son pair ups? He, and not the school, received a (one) complaint from a “single mother.” About this he said, “The woman’s daughter had no father in her life so she was precluded from attending the father-daughter dance.” Brown wept.

And then threatened to sue. If one pre-woman doesn’t have a father, then none do, he reasoned. Or at least, none should be so gauche as to mention they do.

Yet in his earnestness, this suited interpreter of culture, when telling us of the complaint, has evidently forgotten that the words mother and daughter reek of gender specificity. Once he becomes aware of this misstep, he will surely correct it—and also lead the fight against the use of such charged, biased words.

Meanwhile, back in the city, the New York Board of Education decided it would ban sodas over 20 ounces. No, wait: that was a different branch of this most beneficent government. The schools will hand out “free” birth prevention drugs, “morning after” pills in the lingo, for those underage, ineligible-to-vote pre-women who have, through no fault of their own, had mornings after.

The best news is that the parents of these children are not to find out about the drugs. That would be wrong, sayeth the government. The government has the idea—it is full of experts, certified, degree-holding experts—that it knows better than parents what is best for the pre-women.

Sure, parents are allowed to “opt out” of having their children given drugs, but only if they can discover the way of doing so on their own, it not being immediately obvious. Not all are pleased with this new policy.

“We can’t give out a Tylenol without a doctor’s order,” said a school staffer. “Why should we give out hormonal preparations with far more serious possible side effects, such as blood clots and hypertension?”

Because, my dear, side effects in abortions and caused by birth prevention drugs, are like gender in Rhode Island schools: they shall not be mentioned. Activist figure that if these words are proscribed, then their referents do not exist. Ban the phrase “side effects” and therefore none exist. Forbid “gender” and biological sex disappears.

Will the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences strike in RI and NY? Could the banning of father-daughter dances and the free and secretive use of birth prevention have unanticipated ill effects? Proponents argue, “Nay, fear monger. For to claim facetiously ‘What could go wrong?’ is to utter a fallacious argument.”

Incidentally, the picture above is a slippery slope; the kind your mother warned you to stay away from because if you weren’t careful, one step over the edge and down you’d go. Slippery slopes exist and can be deadly (this one was).

Update Half way down the hill we see this: Teenage Girls Should Get IUDs or Hormonal Implants for Birth Control, Says American College of OBGYNs.

In the near future, if we are not careful, the word parent will degrade to a synonym of government. And people will flee from “doctors” bearing syringes uttering, “We’re from your parents and we’re here to help.”

Best statistical advice: Do not read “5-star” reviews, glowing recommendations, or positive plugs. Go straight to the sourpusses, the rants, and the ravings. If you already want the thing, the thumbs ups tell you what you already believe, but the thumbs downs tell you something new. Plus, the positives are often fakes, frauds, or fleshed-out flimflam filed by PR flacks.

Should Humanity Take Religion on Interstellar Space Voyages?

In case you thought it was only theologians who debated strange questions like how many angels could dance on the head of a pin1 (ouch), today we have a group of sober (hic) scientists arguing over how many cherubim should waltz inside a space capsule. Consensus: none.

Not just scientists, no. Celebrities—I cross myself—too. Yes, and artists and even a few “religious leaders”, all of whom met at the “second annual 100 Year Starship Symposium“, a fête funded by DARPA (hence you) “to ponder the technology, psychology, sociology, and economics of interstellar spaceflight”, and to debate on whether and how to freeze dry seraphim for the long journey.

Given the utterly insane, unimaginable distances between the stars—go ahead, try and imagine them—and the technology to reach them equivalent to a leaky bicycle tube strapped to the ankle of a blind, broken-legged, ninety-year-old swimmer trying to circumnavigate the globe, the question whether to “take religion on an interstellar voyage” is not especially pressing. But as befits queries whose answers matter not the least to anybody, flags were planted, positions were staked, tempers flared.

For example (according to Live Science, from where I lifted the title):

“The only way humanity can survive is if they leave behind the Earth-based religions,” charged Rev. Alvin Carpenter, pastor at First Southern Baptist Church West Sacramento. “If there’s any way to make this fail, bring Earth-bound religions.”

Wait a second. Reverend? Baptist? Must be a typo. Nope. “When you bring religion on a starship, you bring the toxicity that we have seen on Earth…This is something that we do not wish to export to the stars.” Religions, he said, echoing one of the Enlightenment’s most endearing myths, “breed aggression and conflict.” The reverend must enjoy repeating the punchline “A good start!” to that old Twentieth Century state-sponsored joke, “What do you call a body count of 100 million?”

Hang on. This is Reverend Carpenter, isn’t it? Living in that puntastic city Sacramento?

Incidentally, how long before the American Atheists sue to have them, and cities like Saint Anthony (San Antonio), change their name? Never mind.

Taking counterpoint to the good rev. was Jason Batt, group life director at Capital Christian Center, also from the city of the Blessed Sacrament, who said, “I’m not going to lie,” which is good news indeed, “we’ve got a horrible history,” which isn’t so good. Neither was this: “There is a nastiness around religion.” Batt used the strategy of constructive retreat, popular with many Christians, so that his opponent’s guard would be down as he slipped him the knife: “But I would argue that might be part of humanity in general.” Touché!

The real story is of course this curious, inaptly named Carpenter, who on his website said, “I challenge anyone to make a case that religion should be introduced to a multigenerations interstellar starship.” If he really is a Southern Baptist—which isn’t clear: not much info on his purported church—his stance may hint at what is happening to this once stalwart denomination.

He said, “I have pastored for 40 years and there is nothing I have done that could have not been done by an atheist.” I believe him. And that is true, or near enough, as we have seen, of preachers in many mainline Protestant congregations.

Carpenter’s views are probably outré to most Southern Baptists, or at least I hope they are (“[religions] all seek to expand by some form of coercion”, “why would God impose any moral code?”, etc. ). We must wonder, however, how DARPA pegged him as an expert of religion in space. Yours Truly never gets invited to serve on these kind of panels, even though he is as opinionated as Carpenter (he also has the advantage of being right, bearing in mind that nobody bats 1.000).

Nevertheless, the good Reverend has issued an official Challenge. Can we answer him? Can anybody provide good arguments that religion be taken into space? Can we discover scenarios where it would be positive rather than a negative? Or should we instead recommend to him some decaffeinated brands “which are just as tasty as the real thing?”


1A debate which never happened but was alleged to by those unable to follow theological arguments beyond minimal complexity.

Update Correction made as per Alvin Carpenter. Thanks!

Aristotle On Non-Contradiction: Why UN Chief Ban Ki Moon’s Views On Free Speech Are Invalid

The simplest version The Philosopher gave is this:

It is impossible to hold the same thing to be and not to be.

If something is a “Quantum Superposition” it cannot also simultaneously be “Not a Quantum Superposition”. If something is a “House” it cannot also simultaneously be “Not a House.” That is to say, somebody cannot think that a thing is a “Quantum Superposition” or “House” and also think simultaneously that is it “Not a Quantum Superposition” or “Not a House.” Somebody may certainly claim to hold both beliefs simultaneously, but they are either confused about the word simultaneously, or they are lying or switching between beliefs temporally. It is plausible, or at least intelligible, to say that at this instant I think “House” and at the next instant I think “Not a House“, and that I may oscillate between these views, but I may not hold both at the same time.

Another example: UN chief Ban Ki Moon said yesterday, “Freedoms of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected,” but then he also said, “When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way.” So he is either deluded (or thinks his audience is), or he is lying or he changed his mind and settled on the position that speech should be regulated by the UN. Time will tell.

Dispute this? Then forget all of mathematics for a start, which depends fundamentally on this principle. Aristotle goes on to say (Metaphysics Book 4, Article 4):

There are some people who, as we have said, both maintain that the same thing can be and not be and say that it is possible to hold this view. This is the view of many who study nature. We have assumed here that it is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be at the same time, and on the basis of this we have shown that of all principles this is the least open to question.

But this principle is one which is not provable: it is one that just is true, or we believe is true, based on no evidence except our introspection.

Some people, through their lack of education, expect this principle, too, to be proved; for it does show a lack of education not to know of what things we ought to seek proof and of what we ought not.

Note to moderns: this is not an ad hominem, but an observation. Here is the kicker:

For it is altogether impossible for there to be proofs of everything; if there were, one would go on to infinity, so that even so one would end up without a proof; and if there are some things of which one should not seek proof, these people cannot name any first principle which has that characteristic more than this.

If you don’t have a ground, then down you must go and forever, as each turtle supports the weight of those above it. You will never have anything to say that anybody should ever believe, and this by your own admission. Every valid argument, on the other hand, is a chain, anchored to a immovable base of truth.

Now, if you are one of the Moons of the world and believe (based on what principle?) the law of non-contradiction false, but do not wish to defend this view, then Aristotle says you are “no better than a vegetable” and shame on you. But if you do try a defense, then Aristotle asks you to “say something that has meaning both for [yourself] and for someone else. For this [you] must do if [you are] to say anything at all.” But in doing this while you are “trying to do away with reason, [you are] also accepting it.” And obviously, if you say Non-contradiction is false, you have “conceded that something is true quite independently of the process of proof.”

Aristotle then goes on to destroy the not-non-contradiction position, adding in the end that

if all contradictory assertions made about the same thing are true [a necessary implication is non-contradiction is false], all things will clearly be one. A trireme, a wall, and a man will all be the same thing, if it is possible to assert or to deny anything of everything…For if anyone thinks that man is not a trireme, according to their theory he clearly is not one; but in this case he also will be a trireme, if the contradictory statement is true.

There is of course more, much more. Best to go to the original.

What Do Philosophical Proofs Prove? — Guest Post by DAV

Note about civility: we are all, or should be, ladies and gentlemen here. Non-gentlemanly comments will henceforth be censored. Arguments, however, are more than welcome. —Briggs

There have been some recent posts which I believe have reached unwarranted conclusions.

First though, space is short here so I must resort to shortcuts. I don’t wish to get into arguments over definitions. It’s the concepts and not the words used to describe them that is important. The following are provided to move the discussion along:

  • Reality: that outside of ourselves. If you are inclined to believe reality is only in your mind then posting arguments here seems to put you in the curious position of convincing yourself to come around to your own point of view. Sounds like a family fight which should remain private. Concepts are real in the sense that they can exist in other minds as well as our own. However, I will limit real to mean outside of our collective minds.
  • Proof: Suffice it that, here, I mainly use the word to mean existing in reality.
  • Validity: proof of reality.

Let’s consider mathematical proofs. Theorems are proved in math through logical deduction. That is, they are shown to be logically true and can be traced back to the starting assumptions (axioms). Mathematical theorems exist only in the framework of mathematics. They can be used as simplifications in other problems by analogy. This doesn’t mean they exist in reality. Confusing these simplifications with reality can lead to problems such as over-confidence.

The scientific method sidesteps the concept of proof in the mathematical sense. This doesn’t mean science doesn’t employ logical deduction. Scientific results are not logical deductions. Science relies on consistency with observations: information that comes to us from outside of ourselves. Observations are generally taken as fact. In science, the only thing that can be proven with certainty is inconsistency with observations. Theories that fail to predict future results are in need of modification and are rejected as is. Science provides ideas which are testable, that is, verifiable against observation. In short, science comes up with ideas that seem to work and, whenever possible, eliminates those that don’t.

But, you might ask, what about theories that can neither be proven nor disproven to exist in reality? There are a number of these — the Theories of Everything, for example. Presumably, their status is temporary and hopefully they can be tested in the future. Until then, their validity remains an open question.

There are those theories that seem to be forever excluded from testing for validity, for example, the existence or non-existence of God. It’s been mentioned that God cannot be sensed. This precludes using any observation to test whether theism should be preferred over atheism.

Lately, we have seen claims that God has been “proven”. Well, in the logical deduction sense, yes indeed.

Logical consistency is expected for otherwise it would constitute disproof. I’m fairly certain atheism is also logically consistent given its assumptions. If not then why hasn’t its disproof been widely circulated?

The deductive proof is insufficient when it comes to the question: is it real? It accomplished nothing beyond non-elimination toward a validity test. In the common person’s mind, “proved the existence of God” means “proved God is real.” In this case, at least, the deductive proof is the analog of p-value. It provides a misleading answer.

Has God been “proven” by logical argument? My take: in the sense of “shown to be real”, not at all — to claim otherwise is unwarranted. At best what can be said is that the concept of God is not illogical. On the other hand, the concept of no God is not illogical either.


As always, reasonably and well written guest editorials are welcome.

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