William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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The Pathetic Madonna

The insane level of self-regard and idiotic self-indulgent behavior we accept from our celebrities should embarrass us.

There will always be utterly spoiled brats, but that these blots on humanity should be elevated to glorified status such that they are never held accountable for their tantrums is mind boggling.

The disrespectfully-self-named teen-music singer ‘Madonna’ is the latest in an unfortunately long and growing line of such luminaries. At a concert away from her home country yesterday, she played a song, apparently autobiographical, entitled “Get Stupid”, during which John McCain’s “image was flashed up alongside images of destruction and global warming and of Hitler and Mugabe” (from MSN news.)

This is no different than a rotten child going into the home of another and disparaging and disowning her family because she was denied a treat. It is pathetic, cowardly and ordinarily induces disgust on those who witness the spectacle.

But not if that person is a celebrity. Then, even though fans know better, they reach with all their might to seek justification and a reasonable explanation of their idol’s outburst. They should shun the woman, but they don’t want to deny themselves the small entertainment they receive from the simplistic music, so they relax their own morals. In short, the fans only think of their own pleasures, thus effectively mimicking what they have seen.

Well, all that is not new or even unexpected nowadays. This sort of thing is so common that my indignation probably seems out of place and reactionary.

What makes it worse is the reporting. Try Googling “Madonna Hitler” and you will see numerous headlines like this: “McCain camp blasts Madonna’s Hitler dig,” and “McCain staff slams ‘outrageous’ comparison with Hitler by Madonna.” Note the scare quotes around outrageous which, as the philosopher David Stove has taught us, means “not really outrageous but thought by so-and-so to be outrageous.”

The reporters, people who we are repeatedly told are well educated and discerning, cannot bring themselves to say what is obvious. They instead blame the “controversy”, using their best questions-were-raised style of empty prose, and say it is McCain’s staff that is having the problem.

Has Couple Found Formula To Win Lottery?

I stole that title from WNBC’s web site, where they have a similarly titled story. The only reason I bring this to your attention—the story itself is ludicrous on its face—is that it is another piece of evidence that either (A) reporters care more about their hair than the organ under it, or (B) reporters are willing to say anything to gain viewers.

Of course, both (A) and (B) might be true.

It’s Friday afternoon; we might as well have a laugh. Here’s the story

Verlyn and Judith Adamson of Mount Horeb each claimed a $350,000 jackpot this week for having the winning numbers in the state SuperCash drawing last Saturday.

But they didn’t mention at the time that they also held two more of the winning tickets.

They claimed two more $350,000 jackpots Thursday. All four were purchased at different locations, but with the same numbers and for the same drawing…Verlyn Adamson, an accountant, said earlier in the week that he’s a big fan of math puzzles. He claims he developed a formula for lottery picks, but his winnings have been small until now.

[Their lawyer] said the Adamsons are “exploring patent protection” for the equation.

OK, I’ll bite. Why mention that they bought the tickers at different locations? It’s the same set of numbers on each ticket for the same drawing! It makes no difference where you bought them. The “reporter” obviously didn’t bother to look up the fact that the SuperCash drawing is a standard ball draw: “Choose 6 different numbers from 1 through 39″ (it took me nearly 30 seconds to find this; time I could have spent combing my hair).

You can, in this lottery, increase your winnings by buying multiple tickets, a practice which must be exceedingly common. But note that the Adamson’s didn’t win four different draws, just the same draw with four tickets with the same numbers. I feel stupid for harping on that observation, but apparently it wasn’t obvious to the “reporter.” It’s also not clear how many winning tickets they had: according to the SuperCash rules, you get two plays per ticket, so if they had four tickets they would have won eight jackpots, not four. Well, who cares about details?

Poor Adamson is now going to dump a substantial portion of his winnings (those not confiscated by the government) on a patent application for a formula for winning the lottery. I doubt his lawyer, who will of course be paid a fee, will discourage them. But I fear (and hope) the Patent Office won’t oblige them in the end.

If I were a cynic, I’d guess Adamson and his lawyer don’t care about the patent. It’s likely that they will be willingly persuaded to part with the formula for a fee, perhaps several times. How else did the “reporter” get the story in the first place?

I wonder how many people who pay for access to his formula will wonder why he’s selling it, because Adamson could make a boatload more by just using it himself.

Oh, yes. The reporter, as he must have learned in J School, provided balance by quoting a mathematician saying (in politer language than this) that Adamson was crazy.

If, and I know the odds of this are vanishingly small, any reader wants to know why such a formula is impossible, just ask and I’ll create a post explaining it.

Reportorial entrails and other auguries

“The VP speculation continues” is the headline of the day.

Some reporters camped out at Senator Joe Biden’s house and discovered he had visited a bank and a clothing store. This caused trembling and angst. What do these signs mean? Could Biden be withdrawing cash just in case he’ll soon be far from home? And maybe he bought a new tie at that clothing store! And where do you wear ties? At press conferences, such as those announcing VP picks.

Meanwhile, other pundits wonder if the Great Leg Tingler hasn’t really chosen his VP after all, and that he only said so to stall for time.

Are reporters as thick headed as they appear?

Not one of these bright journalism-school graduates hit upon the most likely reason for the delayed announcement: The longer the deferral the more free air time the Leg Tingler gets. They are being led by the nose and not one of them has the guts to say so.

Note carefully that I am not faulting the Democrat nominee: he is doing just as he should, and nothing less than his opponent will soon do. I am instead dismayed at the simple mindedness of the media—yes, even despite all evidence that I should have expected no less.

Suicides increase due to reading atrocious global warming research papers

I had the knife at my throat after reading a paper by Preti, Lentini, and Maugeri in the Journal of Affective Disorders (2007 (102), pp 19-25; thanks to Marc Morano for the link to World Climate Report where this work was originally reported). The study had me so depressed that I seriously thought of ending it all.

Before I tell you what the title of their paper is, take a look at these two pictures:

temperature in Italy 1974 to 2003
number of suicides in Italy 1974 to 2003

The first is the yearly mean temperature from 1974 to 2003 in Italy: perhaps a slight decrease to 1980-ish, increasing after that. The second pictures are the suicide rates for men (top) and women (bottom) over the same time period. Ignore the solid line on the suicide plots for a moment and answer this question: what do these two sets of numbers, temperature and suicide, have to do with one another?

If you answered “nothing,” then you are not qualified to be a peer-reviewed researcher in the all-important field of global warming risk research. By failing to see any correlation, you have proven yourself unimaginative and politically naive.

Crack researchers Preti and his pals, on the other hand, were able to look at this same data and proclaim nothing less than Global warming possibly liked to an enhanced risk of suicide.” (Thanks to BufordP at FreeRepublic for the link to the on-line version of the paper.)

How did they do it, you ask? How, when the data look absolutely unrelated, were they able to show a concatenation? Simple: by cheating. I’m going to tell you how they did it later, but how—and why—they got away with it is another matter. It is the fact that they didn’t get caught which fills me with despair and gives rise to my suicidal thoughts.

Why were they allowed to publish? People—and journal editors are in that class—are evidently so hungry for a fright, so eager to learn that their worst fears of global warming are being realized, that they will accept nearly any evidence which corroborates this desire, even if this evidence is transparently ridiculous, as it is here. Every generation has its fads and fallacies, and the evil supposed to be caused by global warming is our fixation.

Below, is how they cheated. The subject is somewhat technical, so don’t bother unless you want particulars. I will go into some detail because it is important to understand just how bad something can be but still pass for “peer-reviewed scientific research.” Let me say first that if one of my students tried handing in a paper like Preti et alia’s, I’d gently ask, “Weren’t you listening to anything I said the entire semester!”

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Roger Kimball’s Challenge

The famous writer Roger Kimball has issued a challenge:

Name the silliest argument to be offered by a serious academic in the last 25 years and to be taken up and be gravely masticated by the larger world of intellectual debate.

A leading contender is Global Warming. Kimball’s own entry is Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis.

Kimball’s rules of the contest:

I’ll collect proposals for the next week or two and then announce the winner. (The decision, from which there is no appeal, will be determined by a committee staffed, overseen, and operated entirely by me.)

This tournament reminds me of the one issued by philosopher David Stove, who sought to find The World’s Worst Argument. The winning entry was entered by Stove himself:

We can know things only: as they are related to us; under our forms of perception and understanding; insofar as they fall under our conceptual schemes, etc. So, we cannot know things as they are in themselves.

By “worst”, according to Jim Franklin, his literary executor (Stove is dead) and student, Stove “meant that it had to be extremely bad logically and also it had to be very widely believed.” (Quote is near the end of the link.)

We’ll discuss Stove’s worst argument another time, but the thing to notice now is this. Since he was so familiar with bad arguments of every stripe, Stove capered to the finish line. All other entries didn’t have a chance. It is probably the same with Kimball: he knows too many appalling arguments so it will be difficult to beat him.

Readers of this blog might also nominate “Global warming” for Kimball’s contest, but the category is ambiguous, there is no specificity to it. Of course there is global warming, and mankind is certainly responsible for some of it (think of thermometers placed in urban settings that have grown in population through time). The entry has to be clarified before it has a chance. I don’t think Al Gore will collect this prize.

It will be difficult, therefore, to beat the “End of History” nonsense. This is Fukuyama’s thesis, first promulgated at the end of the Cold War, that “The end of history as such” has been reached; that we have realized “the evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”; and that “the ideal will govern the material world in the long run.”

(As Russia is clipping Georgia, I realize I should have written “First Cold War” in the previous paragraph.)

As Stove himself (Kimball has edited a volume of his writings) said

[T]he mixture which Fukuyama expects to freeze history forever–a combination of Enlightenment values with the free market–is actually one of the most explosive mixtures known to man. Fukuyama thinks that nothing will ever happen again because a mixture like that of petrol, air, and lighted matches is widespread, and spreading wider. Well, Woodrow Wilson thought the same; but it is an odd world view, to say the least.

It’s a strong contender, this silly argument, and will likely win. But we shouldn’t acquiesce without a fight. Here is my entry (well, it’s a modification of my entry; I clicked “submit” too quickly):

Moral Equivalence

This is the thesis that all ideas are ethically commutable. Moral equivalence often goes by the terms “Diversity” and “Multiculturalism.”

Diversity, as in “we value diversity in our student body.” One major ivy-league university, for example, states that it “is committed to extending its legacy recruiting a heterogeneous faculty, student body and staff; fostering a climate that doesn’t just tolerate differences but treasures them [etc.]” You cannot now find a university that isn’t constantly and loudly devoted to diversity.

However, we can be sure that by this they do not—and should not—mean intellectual diversity. This should be obvious. For if we merely wanted to increase intellectual diversity, we would create classes and recruit subject matter experts in “How to Murder”, “Advanced Pedophilia”, “Creative Robbery”, “Marxist Theory”, or similar idiocies. You often hear conservatives ask to increase intellectual diversity on campuses; conservatives are arguing poorly, because they really mean they want to increase conservative thought.

Diversity, then, cannot mean intellectual diversity. Therefore, to “increase diversity” usually means to “without regard to merit, forcibly manipulate the ratios of student/faculty races so that it matches that of an (unstated) specific goal.” Of course, this implies quotas, which is to say, legalized discrimination based on race. Incidentally, statistically speaking, it is nearly impossible to achieve “diversity” without resort to forced quotas—I’ll talk about this another time.

Multiculturalism is just as bizarre. I have often thought it would be instructive to set up a “Multiculturalism Booth” at a college fair. Participants would take part in common rituals of many different cultures. For example, there would be the stoning of homosexuals, the honorable murder of raped women, the clitorectomy ring toss, a foot race whereby the losers are killed and eaten, and so on. Naturally, the booth’s staff will be equipped with native costumes and pamphlets describing the history and cultural relevance of each topic. This is meant to be educational, after all. At the end of the day, those that survived would be given a survey asking their opinion on the importance of multiculturalism.

How many participants would finally admit that all cultures are not equal, that some are better than others?

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