William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 3 of 414

Gibbon (And O’Brian) On Too Many Lawyers


This is Gibbon, quoted in Patrick O’Brian’s The Reverse of the Medal by the character Dr Stephen Maturin, who then speaks:

‘”It is dangerous to entrust the conduct of nations to men who have learned from their profession to consider reason as the instrument of dispute, and to interpret the laws according to the dictates of private interest; and the mischief has been felt, even in countries where the practice of the bar may deserve to be considered as a liberal occupation.”

‘He thought—and he was a very intelligent man, of prodigious reading—that the fall of the Empire was caused at least in part by the prevalence of lawyers. Men who are accustomed over a long series of years to supposing that whatever can somehow be squared with the law is right—or it not right then allowable—are not useful members of society; and when they reach positions of power in the state they are noxious. They are people for whom ethics can be summed up by the collected statues.’

Gibbon would have agreed that “lawyers” include regulators and modern-day bureaucrats (many of whom are trained lawyers). The Authoritarian (these days read: progressive, leftist) believes that the law and morality are one, an ancient and diseased fallacy as ineradicable and as harmful as rats. This is why she seeks to enlarge the law to encompass all manner of activity, and of thought. Their well known slogan is “Whatever is not mandatory is forbidden!”

Help me. What group is it that constantly, loudly, nervously, and boorishly insists, at every opportunity, of their collective rationality and reason?

Skip it. Nobody needs another lesson on the left’s zeal for shackling, but what is less known is how progressive policy drives excesses on the right. Men who understand that the law is everything, and who know no other morals, will push that law to its extreme. This causes a natural reaction and encourages a greater tightening of the bonds. The process is iterative and ends only when the knots become so burdensome that life is strangled.

The law does not forbid a man from maximizing short-term profit by firing large swaths of employees who only yesterday he called “family.” It is natural to pity the dispossessed and to despise the (family) man, but the inclination to force the State (with the help of lawyers) to punish the man causes more harm than good.

The man is punished, but he feels aggrieved more than shamed, and thus seeks (with the help of lawyers) to further test the limits of the law, which causes more excess. And so on.

Through it all the State is seen as Arbiter, the Supreme Entity. This belief is encouraged by both sides. But people forget the State is made of people, especially those people who falsely believe in the equality of law and morality. Like lawyers.

Solution? A fundamental change in how we view the world. How do we bring it about? Don’t know. Blog posts? Your ideas?

Missing Global Warming Close To A Solution?

I can’t tell you where I obtained a photocopy of the note below. I can tell you that I am in Washington DC (at the lovely and recommended Morrison Clark Inn).

Look for this news to bust wide open once the “New Weathermen” are identified. A source (I cannot be more specific without betraying a confidence) hinted that the offspring of certain individuals want to carry on the “family business.”

My guess is the IPCC will pay. The ransom is peanuts next to the monies government expects to generate with Global Warming regulations. Your thoughts?


There Is No Difference Between A Forecast, A Scenario, or A Projection

There are all kinds of models.

There are all kinds of models.

This is a tad incoherent, but the gist is here. I had the opportunity of submitting an abstract to the AGU fall meeting, and had only a couple of hours in which to do it. This is the, eh, plain-English rendering of that abstract. Stand by for more news.

People trying to escape the implication of a bad forecast often claim their forecast wasn’t a forecast but a projection or scenario. The implication is that a bad forecast means a (possibly beloved) theory is no good. Therefore, if the forecast wasn’t a forecast, but a projection or scenario, the theory can still be admired (or funded).

This won’t do. Forecasts are scenarios are projections. And bad forecast-scenario-projections means bad theories.

These misunderstandings are not only found in making predictions, and in classifying which future-statements count as predictions, but also under which circumstances predictions must be verified. There is general recognition that good models produce good forecasts, but bad forecasts can’t be ignored by calling them a projection or scenario.

Now the finer points. For a start, the remarks below are general and apply to any data not yet seen, but for ease, predictions of future events are illustrated.

All forecasts are conditional on two things: a theory/model and a guess about what the future holds. Neither need be quantified or even rigorously defined, of course, but since scientists are keen on quantification, models usually have numbers attached to them.

Imagine the simplest model, which is a function of the past data, of time, and some set of premises which specify the model form (say, an ARMA process). This model can make a forecast. It will be conditional on the theory—which is the past data and model-form premises—and on a guess about what the future holds—which here is just that the future will come at us in discrete time points, t+1, t+2, etc.

Suppose the forecast is for time points t+17 and t+18. Here you stand at t+3, well short of t+19, but you still want to “verify” the forecast. Well, you can’t. The guess of the future has not obtained, therefore the forecast hasn’t, in effect, really been made. It is null. It is impossible to discuss the quality of the theory: it may be good or bad, we can’t know which.

Nothing changes if we add to the model other propositions of interest. Suppose we augment our simple time series model with “x” variables, propositions which, for the sake of argument, say something about matters probative of the thing forecasted. Now if the forecast does not change in any way regardless of the state of the “x” propositions, then these items are irrelevant to the theory. Irrelevant items shouldn’t even be part of a theory, but these days, in this heyday of the politicization of science, anything goes.

For illustration, add another component to “x”, say, the price of oil exceeding some level. Point is this. If the guess of the future is t+1 and t+2, and here you stand at t+3, you have met the time criteria, but still have to check whether the price of oil exceeds the stated level. If it does, you can check the validity of the forecast; if not, not.

Nothing changes if we add other “x” variables, or turn the model into physics instead of statistics. Get it? There is no difference between a physics and statistics models in terms of forecasts. (Most models are mixtures of both anyway.) If the guess of the future conditions obtains, then the forecast may, even must, be evaluated (the technical term is “verified”).

A difficulty arises with the word scenario, which is “overloaded”. It can mean guess of what the future holds, the time points plus the price of oil, i.e. the “x”, and is therefore not a forecast but part of one, or it might mean a forecast. To avoid confusion, this is why only “forecast” or “prediction” should be used.

It’s time t+3 and the price of oil did not exceed the stated level, so the forecast is null. But, since the price of oil is probative, we could make a new (after-the-fact) forecast assuming the appropriate price. In this way, we can still verify the model.

If we’re using that model for making decisions, particularly in government, we must verify it. We must input the “scenarios”, i.e. the “x”s that obtained, and then recompute the forecast. If the forecast has no skill, the model must be acknowledged as unworthy, to be abandoned of overhauled.

Update Reading is a difficult art, rarely mastered. Many after reading a title feel they have assimilated all the material there under. Strange. Many others gloss. More than a few shot right by where I said scenarios were sometimes the “x” and sometimes the forecasts themselves.

But it sure is nice to have an opinion, isn’t it?

What I Have Learned From Global Warming: Contest Winner Essays 2. Plus Secret Bonus!

Global warming will cause an increase in clement afternoons.

Global warming will cause an increase in clement afternoons.

Another essay from the winners of the Rename Global Warming Contest is here! Plus, a special bonus, a treat for all readers! See below! Don’t miss it!

John Buckner, “Climactic Climatic Calamity”

I learned how HARD it is to rewrite the past record in order to reflect the true past record.

This actually happened to me back in 2003. I paid GOOD MONEY to see the Viking Exhibit featured at the Minnesota Science Museum in St Paul. I’m looking through all the cool exhibits about Viking life and conquest back in their day. I was admiring their accomplishments despite the fact that it was as cold then as it was today.

And then I saw it. It was so offensive and wrong. Michael Mann had recently PROVED that this display could NOT be correct.

The exhibit showed three depictions of a non-descript “mountain” purportedly in Iceland circa 1000, 1400 and Today.

The 1000 picture showed this mountain (hill actually) lush and green from bottom to top. The 1400 picture showed this hill with a snow cap. The Today picture showed the mountain entirely covered in snow.

I fumed and seethed all the way home. Not having won this prestigious award, I had no say or power to effect the change required by the exhibit to show the true past.

Not long after 2003, I started hearing rumors about the fact that the Medieval Warm Period (WMP) may have occurred but it was a regional thing. Only the Vikings enjoyed the benefits or suffered the consequences of the MWP.

The “deniers” harped about how the MWP benefited the Vikings and today’s improving temperatures would benefit us. Thank God, er Gore, someone answered this with the “Tipping Point” of Arctic Methane (that is a proper noun isn’t it?) that would overheat the entire globe not just the Arctic.

WAAAIIIITTTTT. If I HAVE to accept that the Viking’s had perhaps experienced warmer temperatures than today, then wouldn’t the Tipping Point have occurred then? NO! The WMP really MUST be expunged…and all those warmer times before could NOT have occurred. We’ve never had a time when climate changed naturally—ONLY MAN can change a climate!

(Or was that ONLY MANN can create a Yamal Tree?)

Mike Hulme “Climate Change and Virtue: An Apologetic” (Quotations from his peer-reviewed article in Humanities, 2014, 3, 299–312.)

Tim Flannery closes his recent book Here on Earth: A New Beginning with the words “…if we do not strive to love one another, and to love our planet as much as we love ourselves, then no further progress is possible here on Earth.”

In all the climate models I have examined, used and criticised over 30 years I have not yet come across a variable for love or an equation for calculating humility. The thermometer may have been essential to tell the story of a warming world, but environmental scientists have not yet invented or seen the need for a hope-ometer.

And there are those who still believe in this project [i.e., pinning hopes on The Consensus]. They excoriate others who obstruct and obscure this pure guiding light of rationality—a position adopted, for example, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their recent book Merchants of Doubt.

At the time [~1990] it seemed entirely reasonable that with one of the last “enemies” of progressive Enlightenment liberalism having been swept away (i.e., communism), a new irrepressible world order would emerge. And it would be one that would now fully exploit the predictive power of fruitful globalised science.

Far from the end of history, then, and the inexorable onward march of the secular project, we are witnessing an overdue reconsideration of the place of rationality in human knowing. There is a challenging re-examination underway of the role of religion in the public sphere.

In my pursuit of the idea of climate change I want to focus attention on the ancient idea of virtue, the possibility that the “wickedness” of climate change as a problem demands a flowering of human “goodness”.

But listen carefully to the new voices speaking in the desert—some of whom I mentioned at the beginning—and one will hear a new language emerging around the fringes of climate change research, discourse and action…the language of empathy, story-telling, trust, wisdom, humility, integrity, faith, hope and love [ellipsis original].

I need to be clear. A focus on human virtue is not a political programme. This is no techno-fix for climate change, no system for Earth governance, no exercise in social engineering.

[Yours Truly admits to being charmed by Hulme's simplicity.]

Judgments About Fact And Fiction By Confused Researchers


Good news first. The peer-reviewed “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds” by Kathleen Corriveau, Eva Chen, and Paul Harris in Cognitive Science is so awful that it automatically enters the short list for the First Annual WMBriggs.com Bad Science Award (to be announced each October). Congratulations!

The article opens, “Children often learn about people such as Cinderella, Tom Sawyer, George Washington, and Rosa Parks in the context of a narrative. However, these protagonists vary in their status.”

Bad Science of the First Kind re-packages commonsense as if were new and certifies it by official card-carrying researchers. Pace: “Five- and 6-year olds are able to use one important heuristic in assessing the status of story protagonists (Corriveau, Kim, Schwalen, & Harris, 2009). When hearing a story about an unfamiliar protagonist, they use the nature of the events in the narrative as a clue to the protagonist’s status.”

See what I mean?

Yet Bad Science of the First Kind is not harmless. It foster scientism and leads, all too often, to Bad Science of the Second Kind. This is malignancy, where what is not so, or is unknown, is said to be certain. Corriveau has done us a service by showing us the progression. Let’s watch.

“Woolley and Cox (2007) found that pre-schoolers increasingly claim that the miracles in religious (i.e., biblically based) story-books could have really occurred. Moreover, as compared to children from nonreligious families, children from Christian families were especially likely to regard such events as plausible” (p. 3).

Don’t see the problem because, obviously, miracles in religious “story-books” really for real could have happened, and that religiously educated children would more likely know this? Hint: She meant it negatively.

“The analysis offered by Corriveau et al. (2009) implies that, in the absence of a religious education, children will regard miracles as implausible because they involve ordinarily impossible outcomes. Accordingly, they should conclude that the protagonist in a story that includes a miracle is a fictional character rather than a real person” (p. 4).

The lack of philosophical training tells. Miracles are not “ordinarily impossible outcomes.” They are not impossible at all. If they were impossible, they could never happen, n’est ce pas? Anyway, here come the “experiments” on “religious”, by which she meant Christian (Jews were excluded), and non-Christian kids.

Kids were read stories like the following, and then shown a picture of the person and asked to put that picture into a “real [person]” or “pretend [person] box.”

This is Peter. One night he and the disciples were sailing a boat and got caught in a bad storm. Jesus walked on water to save them and Peter jumped out to walk toward him. Peter started to sink but Jesus caught him and they both jumped into the boat. The storm passed and everyone was safe.

This is Peter. One night he and his friends were sailing a boat and got caught in a bad storm. Peter fell into the water and started to sink. A fairy flew toward the boat to save them and used her powers to get him back onto the boat. The storm passed and everyone was safe.

This is Peter. One night he and his friends were sailing a boat and got caught in a bad storm. Lightning flashed and Peter fell out of the boat. Peter started to sink, but his friends threw him a rope and pulled him back into the boat. The storm passed and everyone was safe.

Lo. “Religious children…were more likely than secular children…to categorize these characters as ‘real.’” The scare quotes are hers. By “Religious”, I must emphasize, she meant Christian—and not Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Shintoist, Zoroastrian, Jew, etc.

What elevates this beyond Bad Science of the First Kind is not just that was accompanied by an unjustifiable and unverified quantification of the results, topped by an overly complex statistical model with wee p-values. No, sir. It was the extrapolations which followed.

“It is possible that religious teaching, especially exposure to miracle stories, leads children to a more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is, a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary causal regularities” (p. 13).

Miracles, when they occur, are always caused. How could they not be? Which strongly suggests the question: Shouldn’t a person experimenting on children to plumb their understanding of causality understand causality herself? Or do Corriveau et alia take the dogmatic, against-all-evidence position that miracles are everywhere impossible?

Or was her purpose to make Christianity into a pathology? I’ll let Corriveau have the last word (from the conclusion).

“By contrast, secular children displayed little recognition of God’s special powers. When presented with religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events, they categorized the protagonists as pretend” (p. 21).

“[E]ven if children have no natural inclination to believe in divine or superhuman agency, religious instruction can readily lead them to do so”. And, “An alternative possibility is that children are disposed to credulity unless they are taught otherwise by their families” (p. 23).


Thanks to Nicholas Senz at Catholic Stand where we first learned of this, uh, study.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2014 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑