William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 151 of 406

Boy Sues Government To Stop Global Warming. James Hansen Comes Out Of Hiding

I had thought the furor was over, that those who held ultramontane views about climatologists like James “Lock me up!” Hansen (see below the fold) had given up and gone home, the state of the world being so pleasantly clement and so on. But no. Many remain screwed up into tight little balls of pure fret.

Take poor Alec Loorz, who is nigh eighteen years upon this globe and who, so the Atlantic informs, became a climate activist at age 12 after watching An Inconvenient Truth twice in one evening. Now, I once performed a similar feat when I was that age with Star Wars but as much as I then lusted after a light sabre, I did not delude myself into thinking I was a Jedi Knight. Full disclosure: I still pine for a light sabre.

Poor Loorz is thoroughly American. Not only did he become an “activist,” he turned to that most modern of paths, the Way of the Lawsuit. So dedicated an adept is he that he managed to wangle four other “juvenile plaintiffs” to sue the “federal government in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.”

Incidentally, I say “poor Loorz” because I hate to pick on a kid and because, so the magazine says, poor Loorz has been “diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder” and it is not clear how much this malady drives his activism.

The five children “are demanding that the U.S. government start reducing national emissions of carbon dioxide by at least six percent per year beginning in 2013.” You will be interested in the name of the suit: Alec L. et. al vs. Lisa P. Jackson, et. al. The later named individual is the power-grubbing head of the EPA. It must have come as a pleasant shock to her to be sued to do what she most earnestly wants.

Skip all the legal mumbo jumbo and focus on what is tangible: the reduction of CO2 by six percent each year. Supposing the lawsuit wins (it won’t), we would have to find a way to measure precisely how much CO2 is emitted before we can know if the decrease from one year to the next is six percent. This being strictly impossible, we would have to resort to bureaucratic definitions of “emit” and “reduce” and of even what “CO2” means.

This tool, if in the hand of a progressive government, would dwarf the fear factor of the IRS by three orders of magnitude. Think of the indulgences given to “minority owned” and “union staffed” businesses (as in Obamacare). Think of a weaselly EPA “investigator” sniffing around your home with his “greenhouse gas” detector, issuing non-disputable citations for “leakage.”

Somebody needs to tell poor Loorz that the Way of the Lawsuit is a one-way path to hell.

But poor Loorz is not entirely culpable. We can put some of the blame of folks like James Hansen, who peeked out of his cell yesterday to issue yet another conditional threat which promised (again) that end is near.

A “conditional” threat is one which says, “If we don’t do X, then the end shall come.” X can be anything the activist earnestly desires, such as X = “reduce CO2 emissions by six percent,” or X = “enable the EPA to tax businesses on emissions,” and on and on. You’re hearing a conditional threat whenever you hear of “tipping points.”

One reason to be suspicious of environmentalist threats is that they are almost always in conditional form, and the X is always reduced to monetary or bureaucratic terms. Conditional threats can be valid, of course, but any physical theory worth its weight should be able to make unconditional predictions.

Hansen’s newest conditional threat is projected at Canada. “If Canada [uses its oil sands], and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.” Game over! Oh, Hansen also says the future he envisions is “apocalyptic.”

We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change.

That’s high confidence, brother. That extreme cold weather in Alaska and other parts of the globe this past winter? Also global warming. Say, medium confidence.

Anyway, Canada will indeed use its lucrative and much needed oil sands. And the US of A will do…what exactly? Well, either we take those oils for our own use or we let China buy them. Both of these scenarios see the USA “doing” something. Do these somethings thus negate the conditional apocalyptic prediction?

Come on, Hansen, old boy. Let’s give us a real forecast. Cease these vagaries and put some dates and hard numbers on the doom you see so clearly.

Many Lie About Their Support Of Gay Marriage: Study

Thanks to New York Times’s (yes) Russ Douthat who alerted us to the paper “Findings from a Decade of Polling on Ballot Measures Regarding the Legal Status of Same­ Sex Couples” by Patrick Egan (NYU).

Statisticians have long known that people when answering political questions lie like a rug, like their pants are on fire, like they are in a mighty hurry to be somewhere else. Not always of course, but especially over “controversial” topics. For example, I am a (part time) academic, a milieu where it is customary and expected to voice support “for” progressive causes. I cannot recall a single soul among my local associates who said at the time they were going to vote for George Bush.

I often use the tale that when Bush was battling Kerry, New York City polls had Kerry besting Bush by a multiple of three to five. The actually result was far smaller. You don’t tell the truth because you don’t know who could be listening. Just like on campus you musn’t let it be discovered that you are against gay “marriage” or that you are a climate skeptic (as to that, see “part time” above).

So when the pollster calls, people lie. The real question is: how much? Egan thinks he has an answer for gay “marriage.” This is:

  1. “The share of voters in pre‐election surveys saying they will vote to ban same‐sex marriage is typically seven percentage points lower than the actual vote on election day.”
  2. “survey estimates of the proportion of voters intending to vote against same‐sex marriage bans tend to be relatively accurate predictors of the ultimate share of ‘no’ votes.”

I find Egan’s wording confusing (he changes for and against in the sentences), so I’ve re-written his conclusion:

  1. Votes to ban same-sex marriage are on average seven percentage points higher than polls indicated. So that if polls found (say) 45% will vote to ban SSM the actual vote will be 52% (on average).
  2. Votes for SSM, i.e. votes to ban the SSM bans, match poll estimates on average. So that if polls found 55% against an SSM ban the actual vote will be 55% (on average).

These numbers aren’t far off actual polls and votes. Problem is, they don’t add up, and won’t unless in real cases there are large numbers of undecideds. So is must be that there is lying on both sides, with more coming from those who say they favor SSM. Egan says there is no “immediate evidence” in his data that people are lying to pollsters. But there’s plenty of experiential evidence. Certainly the scenarios I mentioned above are well known. And you yourself will know if you dare to voice opposition to SSM.

This is Egan’s Fig. 2. Each dot is a separate poll, taken over various states. This seems to me pretty good immediate evidence that many people, if they weren’t lying to pollsters, underwent an Obama-like evolution once they stepped behind the curtain. Or it could be that people all told the truth (in a way) but that supporters of SSM much more often stayed home on election day.


Egan has another intriguing result (his Fig. 3). Each of various states had the percent of gay and lesbian population estimated. Surely that is fraught with error, but never mind that. He then plots the average gap between poll-projected support and the actual vote to ban SSM. Regardless of the gays and lesbian estimate, this gap averages about 4%.

This, and a similar result found for automated versus human-contact polls, is the evidence Egan uses to say that people don’t lie to pollsters because of the subject matter. But I don’t buy it. Who trusts the computer which calls your house? Who trusts a pollster? Many people just don’t like being put on the record. Right, Mr Obama?

I like this kind of research and hope we can see many more papers who examine the outcome of actual elections versus polls. This will allow us to put real, not abstract mathematical, plus or minus bounds when giving out a poll result. When you hear a poll if you listen carefully you catch something like, “The margin of error is plus of minus four percent.” But that number is a theoretical calculation based on at least the assumption that everybody is telling the truth.

Because people lie, we need real margins of error discovered from real data. This would be an excellent masters of dissertation topic.

Also see this article from the Washington Post; via HotAir.

What The North Carolina Gay Marriage Vote Means To You If You Were Against It

North Carolina voted 61 to 39 to amend its constitution to read that marriage is solely a union between a man and a woman. This was, as far as democratic elections go, a “landslide.” Even NPR called the result “overwhelming.”

According to a theory of government to which many claim they subscribe, this vote has decided what is right. That is, saying marriage is one man-one woman is now something which all from North Carolina must accept (if this theory is true). The day before the election they might have thought that marriage was between any group of humans who cared to call their grouping a “marriage”, but after the vote they surely must accept that they were wrong.

Yet somehow this is not so. There are many in that state who claim the result has not decided what is right. They agree that they will have to abide by the implications of the vote, but they say that the moral question was decided incorrectly. The Huffington Post reports that citizen Linda Toanone said, “”We think everybody should have the same rights as everyone else. If you’re gay, lesbian, straight — whatever.” The “evolving” Obama campaign said it was “disappointed.”

I only wish to make one point, a very small one, and only to those who were in the 39% or their supporters, to those people who say the vote “got it wrong.” If you say the vote is wrong you are admitting that there is some principle higher than democracy which decides what is right and wrong. You are saying that a true moral matter can, even must, be discerned in ways which are not appeals to the “People.” You are saying Rousseau and Mill were wrong.

Once you realize this, that there really are true and false moral questions that are true or false regardless of what anybody believes, you have made perhaps the most important step you can make, philosophically speaking. Although I am on the opposite side of you with this vote, I welcome you to the ranks of those of us who say that universals exist. It is now only a matter to discover what these universals are.

As to that, and to show that some of the “higher” principles which you might hold don’t work in this case, here is the case for and against so-called gay marriage:

The brief argument against is this: marriage, except in rare instances and very narrow circumstances (e.g. one man from many in a culture who holds a harem, concubines for the king), has everywhere and always been between a man and a woman; it is biologically natural, i.e. natural law says one man-one woman; and there are plenty of well known religious justifications we needn’t bother explicating. And notice I’m not giving any of the negatives, of which there are many.

Bad arguments for are these: (1) “Jesus never said it was wrong.” Neither did He say raping a child and cyanide poisoning were wrong. (2) Two consenting adults. Why two people in a union and not three, four, more? All history says two, but all history also says one man-one woman, and you can’t take just the part of history you like and ignore what you dislike. (3) Two people have a “right.” Any two? Like a man of 70 and a boy of 9? If you’re willing to draw a line here, you admit that lines can be drawn, which is the point of this article.

Better arguments for are these: (1) “Equality.” Not that this is a good argument, but this tune when sung rings pleasantly in the ears of us Moderns. The default reaction is to support that which is claimed to lead to equality. But here it begs the question, which is “Why should so-called gay marriage be allowed?” or “Is it moral?” It cannot be a matter of equality if we discover that so-called gay marriage is immoral or wrong. Chanting “Equality!” means you have already pre-decided the argument.

(2) Marriage is a contract. But all history and experience says it is not. It is a much deeper union. It is only so that the state steps in after the union and regulates certain matters arising from this union, but only matters relevant to the state’s purse and not those relating to the union itself. Note that many elevate these temporal financial considerations over marriage itself. The state historically has banned some unions (cousins, siblings, and on on).

(3) Some people are born gay. Regardless whether this is true, accept that it is for argument’s sake. This is still another question-beggar. Just because one has “no choice” in being gay does not mean that gays can marry; that, after all, is what we are trying to decide. The argument is worse still when we consider this (weak) analogy (others will suggest themselves to you). Some people are born who never grow higher than five feet. These people do not have a “right” to be placed on an NBA team because tall people can join these teams.

(4) The only argument which remains is the (perpetual) “I should have it because I want it.” More background is here: I, II, III, IV.

Incidentally, that many argue in favor of so-called gay marriage is a powerful argument against evolutionary psychological explanations of the behavior of human beings. What would Richard Dawkins think?!

Remember in the comments that we are ladies and gentlemen.

Heartland Institute Accomplishes Act To Self Once Thought Physically Impossible

Heartland BillboardAt the risk of losing the argument before it begins, let me ask you two questions. Number One: What do Adolph Hitler, Mao Tse-tung, serial killer and eater Jeffrey Dahmer, and Barack Obama all have in common? No, really. Think about it.

Answer: they all believe in gravity. They all hold (or held) the view that what goes up must come down.

Number Two: Do you, in the company of these men, also believe in gravity? No, really.

The two fallacies are blatant. Just because a man unworthy of emulation holds a truth is no reason for you not to believe that truth. All truths should be believed regardless who believes or disbelieves them. And to put Mr Obama in list implies he is just like the other vile men—although, to be fair, Mr Obama’s views on state control are said to be “evolving.”

The two fallacies would still be present if “gravity” were swapped with “bigfoot” or “equality.” A bad person holding a falsity is not an additional reason to disbelieve the falsity, though it is a good argument to further dislike the bad person. All falsities should be disbelieved regardless who disbelieves or believes in them. Plus, in Mr Obama’s defense, many good people believe wrong things; cf. atheism or diversity.

Another point, which flows from these: it is rational for you to distrust anybody who advances fallacious arguments of this (or any) type.

These logical facts being obvious, it is a mystery why Heartland Institute would choose to run the billboard pictured above (image from Boing Boing).

I fear Heartland, which had public opinion in its favor after being scammed by academic environmentalist Peter Gleick, will lose whatever goodwill it had gained. They not only ran the billboard using the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, but they aslso cycled the images of “Charles Manson, a mass murderer; and Fidel Castro, a tyrant.” The career paths are tacked on in case you have forgotten who these men are. Heartland said future billboards might have included “Osama bin Laden and James J. Lee (who took hostages inside the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in 2010).”

They did not include Barack Obama, but they used, in their non-apology (“We do not apologize for running the ad…”), in the same sentence with Kaczynski, Al Gore’s name, the inference being clear. And then they said this:

The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.

Alas, this is false, unfair, unsympathetic, and, worst of all, ungentlemanly. I gather this statement is what is known in modern political terminology as “doubling down.” This is when you make an error but do not admit it. Instead, you bluster and puff out your chest and dare people to cross the second line you drew in the sand, while secretly hoping they do not.

Once more: “We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the ‘realist’ message on the climate.” But this phantasmagorical billboard can scarcely be called “realist.” And it worsens the situation when they claim “what these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the ‘mainstream’ media, and liberal politicians say about global warming.” This is an open acknowledgement that they do not understand the fallacy they committed—and unfortunately still cling to.

Pretending they are a befuddled citizen, they ask their selves, “Are you saying anyone who believes in global warming is a mass murderer, tyrant, or terrorist?” And their answer, “Of course not.” But my dear Heartland, while you might not being saying it you have very clearly implied it. And this will certainly be the impression of nearly everybody who hears of your deed.

Yes, it’s true that the “other side” routinely calls skeptical scientists “Nazis or declare they are imposing on our children a mass death sentence”, but two wrongs, etc.

My suggestion to you is to do the manly thing. Apologize—at the least!—for being distasteful. If you do not, you will lose the public argument.

Study Finds 9-Month-Old Babies Are Racist

MSNBC reports this:

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers placed sensors on the heads of 9-month-old babies…and measured brain activity when infants were shown pictures of white and black faces expressing emotion. Five-month-old babies could differentiate between happy or sad faces in both races equally. Nine-month-old babies related better to their own race. Also, the 5-month-olds’ brain activity happened in the front of the brain; the older, more racist babies experienced activity in the back.

The paper is in the May issue of the journal Development Science. It’s called “Building biases in infancy: the influence of race on face and voice emotion matching” by Margaret Vogel, Alexandra Monesson and Lisa Scott.

The main finding is that babies’ “face recognition skills become tuned to groups of people they interact with the most.” Who would have guessed? The authors also say this: “This developmental tuning is hypothesized to be the origin of adult face processing biases including the other-race bias. In adults the other-race bias has also been associated with impairments in facial emotion processing for other-race faces.” Again, this is partly uncontroversial. Human beings are better at finding subtleties in the familiar.

Anyway, our trio gathered babies together whose “parents reported their infants having had little to no previous experience with African American or other Black individuals.” They did not do the opposite and find babies who never saw white faces. They had 24—count ‘em—5-month-olds and 24 9-month-olds. This makes 24 + 24 = 48, a simple math equation, but important to assimilate because of the authors’ admission that for the behavioral analysis

43 infants were excluded due to experimenter or technical error (n = 8), because they became fussy during testing (n = 1), because they exhibited a side looking bias (n = 14), because they failed to fixate both images during one of the test trials (n = 18), or because the infant was not Caucasian (n = 2).

I leave it as homework to discover what is 48 minus 43. For the electrophysiological analyses, they had 15 5-month-olds and 17 9-month-olds, but 19 these were added to the result from the homework question (how many were 5-months old or 9-months old we are never told); however, 23 of these 15 + 17 = 32 were excluded too. What we have here, in statistical terms, is small sample (get it? get it?).

For the behavioral analysis, babies were sat in front of a computer monitor on which was flashed images of smiling black or white women in pairs, some familiar some not. The amount of time babies looked at one or the other faces was measured. For the electrophysiological analyses, babies were subjected to mixtures of “happy or sad” black and white faces and voices.

If the babies didn’t buy any of this manipulation, “the experimenter viewing the infant via live video feed paused the experiment and presented digital images ⁄ sounds of ‘Elmo’ until they fixated the screen.” No word on how often that happened.

Oh, did I mention electrodes were glued to the kids? Indeed, “Trials were discarded from analyses if they contained more than 12 bad channels” from these electrodes. No word on how many were excluded. But they made the babies go through hundreds of trials; and “average of 95.93″ for one part of the study, etc.

Now, it appears that they did their t-tests based on the samples they would have had had they not tossed out the data. There are words about this being fairer. Or something. It is just not clear. But as larger samples make smaller p-values no matter what, they are biasing things in their favor.

Five-month-olds were not racist: the p-value just wasn’t small enough. But it’s the 9-month-olds where the trouble starts. Older babies spent on average “59.2%” of time looking at white novel faces but just “52.3%” of the time looking at the black novel faces (in the paired-faces experiments). Nine-month-olds also sparkled slightly more via the electrodes than did the 5-month-olds, but the difference is slight and only in on some but not all electrodes.

And it goes on. But it’s all—I hope the authors can forgive me for saying this—rather dull. The differences here are slight and, as said above, in some sense expected. The authors even manage not to include any speculation in their conclusions about “what it all means.” Overall, a fairly routine paper with a few (standard) mistakes. So why the fuss?

Well, it seems the authors just couldn’t help themselves and in the press release accompanying the publication said,

‘These results suggest that biases in face recognition and perception begin in preverbal infants, well before concepts about race are formed,’ said study leader Lisa Scott in a statement.

‘It is important for us to understand the nature of these biases in order to reduce or eliminate [the biases].’

Just couldn’t help themselves, I suppose. They went from something banal—babies can identify the familiar better the novel—to something asinine. All that was missing was the suggestion to create a government program to eliminate “racism” in babies.


Thanks to Al Perrella for suggesting this topic.

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