William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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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?

Stop making babies to reduce global warming

The other day, as a favor, I posted a scientific article from a friend of mine, Dr H. Harrister, PhD, who conclusively showed that fitter people have larger carbon footprints than do fatter people. You might remember Dr Harrister from his famous paper showing that zombie attacks will increase due to global warming.

Unfortunately, because of sloppiness on my part, several readers came to the conclusion that Dr Harrister, PhD’s paper was satire. That is to say, a joke. Far from it. That paper was just as rigorous and valid as the dozens that now appear monthly in scientific, peer-reviewed journals the world over.

As evidence of that, we have the essay by John Guillebaud, PhD and Pip (yes, Pip) Haye, MD, in the very prestigious British Medical Journal. The title of their work “Population growth and climate change: Universal access to family planning should be the priority.” For my slower readers, I emphasize that they use the familiar euphemism “family planning” for “contraceptives and abortion.”

These eminent authorities start their editorial by claiming

The world’s population now exceeds 6700 million, and humankind’s consumption of fossil fuels, fresh water, crops, fish, and forests exceeds supply.

Their statement is true, it must be true because it’s in a science journal. I suppose I am stupid because I have not seen wide-spread global famine or thirst or lack of lumber or sushi or etc. But these appalling conditions must exist or these men would not have said the use of resources currently “exceeds supply.” I am grateful for having learning something new.

It’s actually worse than this because each year there about 80 million new mouths to feed, or about 1.5 million a week by their calculations, which “amounts to a huge new city each week, somewhere, which destroys wildlife habitats and augments world fossil fuel consumption.” Anybody notice where they’re putting these cities? I haven’t been out to the Dakotas, but the people I’ve met from there have always acted suspiciously. You also can’t trust the Chinese.

Although this paper is, as I have said, scientific, they do make a mistake. They say “In 1798 Malthus predicted that as the population increased exponentially, shortfalls in food supply would be unavoidable.” Actually, Malthus did not say this. Malthus predicted that the population (of any species) will always be as large as the available food supply allows, barring war, disease, and other activities that increased deaths or suppressed births. Mathus’s theory was a steady-state one occasionally effected by “shocks.” But never mind that. Everybody makes this mistake about Malthus.

More importantly, the authors turn to “unmet fertility needs and choices”, by which, again, they mean increasing access to “contraceptives and abortions”; the later word they are unable or unwilling to expose.

They say “economists overlook the fact that, everywhere, potentially fertile intercourse is more frequent than the minimum needed for intentional conceptions.” Economists, those with academic PhDs, might have overlooked intercourse for pleasure, but I can assure you dear reader that I have not. I can’t answer for your own spouses, of course. Anyway, they scientifically state that, even though theory doesn’t predict it, “having a large rather than a small family is less of a planned decision than an automatic outcome of human sexuality.” Now I know!

Because of this mysterious, and anti-theoretical outcome, “Something active needs to be done to separate sex from conception” (emphasis mine). Guillebaud and Haye suggest giving out contraceptives (yes, they finally use that word). I’d say free televisions and cable subscriptions would have the same effect. Either way, handing out condoms and pamphlets explaining their use tends to happen in places where the population get richer and starts caring more about themselves than others, which “is consistent with normal consumer behaviour.”

Prophylactics are not the only recourse we have to discourage the “automatic outcome of human sexuality”. We also have soap operas!

The Population Media Centre [in Iran] uses serial radio dramas or “soaps”. Audiences learn from decisions that their favourite characters make—such as allowing wives to use contraception to achieve smaller and healthier families.

Thank God for government soap operas because, as we all know but rarely publicly state, people really are too stupid to think for themselves, aren’t they? I’d also suggest government-sponsored pictures of dirty diapers on milk cartons so that first thing in the morning as potential parents prepare their frosty flakes, they can see the horrors that await them as the result of the “automatic outcome of human sexuality.”

But what about the global warming menace?

The Optimum Population Trust [where both the authors work] calculates that “each new UK birth will be responsible for 160 times more greenhouse gas emissions . . . than a new birth in Ethiopia.” Should UK doctors break a deafening silence here? “Population” and “family planning” seem taboo words and were notably absent from two BMJ editorials on climate change. Although we endorse everything that those editorials recommended, isn’t contraception the medical profession’s prime contribution for all countries?

Unless I’m reading this wrong—and I admit to being in a different scientific class than our authors—they are advocating that doctors’ “prime contribution” should be contraception and abortion services. So much for healing ills and curing the sick. Well, they are the doctors, not us, and they do correctly note that “Unplanned pregnancy, especially in teenagers, is a problem for the planet.”

They rhetorically ask “Should we now explain to UK couples who plan a family that stopping at two children, or at least having one less child than first intended, is the simplest and biggest contribution anyone can make to leaving a habitable planet for our grandchildren?” The answer is obvious, my dear readers.

Incidentally, Guillebaud is an expert on contraceptives: he “has received fees and expenses from manufacturers of contraceptives for educational presentations, research projects, and short term consultancies.” But so what if he makes an extra buck from the government endorsing his plan? We’re trying to save the plant here, folks.

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