William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 148 of 644

Secret Science Reform Act of 2014

Trust me. I'm from the EPA.

Trust me. I’m from the EPA.

Honesty & Science

Your government wouldn’t lie to you, would it? Well, maybe not lie, as in tell outright blatant whoppers. No government agent would do that. But your beneficent leaders, having only in mind that which is best for you, made competent and upright by virtue of their office, wouldn’t shade the truth in the direction that increases their power just for the sake of increasing their grip and control over you. Would they?

Would they?

Good question, that. Makes you wonder why the Environmental “Protection” Agency conducts so much of its work behind closed doors inside locked rooms in subterranean rooms guarded by armed agents.

Did you not know the EPA arms its agents?

The EPA tells citizens, “You don’t need to know how we got our results, just know that what we have decided is right and true and necessary. We’re experts and this is Science.”

Yet some of us are suspicious—not of the honesty of our highly paid government environmentalists; no, sir! We are suspicious that with the cataract of regulation gushing out of DC that perhaps, just perhaps, one or two slight errors might have been made. It would thus be good if citizens were allowed to see the ingredients of the secret sauce the EPA claims is healthful and nutritious, not because we doubt the honesty of the EPA chefs, but because mistakes happen.

Members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology have thus proposed H.R. 4012, better known as the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014. It’s goal: “To prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.”

Here is almost the whole of the bill, leaving out the introduction and caution that the bill won’t trump other laws:

(b)(1) The Administrator shall not propose, finalize, or disseminate a covered action unless all scientific and technical information relied on to support such covered action is:

   (A) specifically identified; and
   (B) publicly available in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results…

   (A) the term ‘covered action’ means a risk, exposure, or hazard assessment, criteria document, standard, limitation, regulation, regulatory impact analysis, or guidance; and
   (B) the term ‘scientific and technical information’ includes—

     (i) materials, data, and associated protocols necessary to understand, assess, and extend conclusions;
     (ii) computer codes and models involved in the creation and analysis of such information;
     (iii) recorded factual materials; and
     (iv) detailed descriptions of how to access and use such information.

One might say, and say truthfully, that this bill encapsulates the scientific method itself. Yet the reaction will be, as it always is when challenging self-knighted experts, how dare you.

A good guess is that they’ll also say, “If we are forced to show people our work, it will slow down the process.” They will think this is a criticism. They won’t understand that they are using a viciously circular argument. The bill’s intention just is to slow the process down so that only verified, reproducible, solid science is used in making decisions. Some wag will probably release a study (with proprietary guts) which shows that if this bill passes, this-and-such many people will die and suffer. Get ready for some top-level comedy.

This bill is meant to remove politics from Science.

Way it works now is the EPA makes a proposed ruling based on occult methods. It allows the public to comment on the ruling, but the comments are boxed and shipped unread to the same warehouse where they keep the Ark of the Covenant. And then the EPA implements its new regulations.

Way it should work is that the EPA does what it likes, but must show the country exactly what data, assumptions, and computer code went into its judgments. This is the way Science is supposed to work.

Isn’t it?

Background on the bill

A staff member of the Subcommittee on Environment sent me these notes on the background of the bill (i.e., it was not I that made rule makings into one word):

Examples of EPA secret science:

* EPA continues to rely heavily on secret data in major rulemakings, including in upcoming ozone standards, which the Agency has admitted could be the most expensive regulation in history.

* EPA frequently relies on undisclosed, proprietary models. Its recently-proposed New Source Performance Standards for power plants, which will functionally prohibit new coal plants in this country, was based upon one of these models.

* The Agency’s chemical risk assessments are routinely based upon taxpayer-funded studies in which the underlying data is not made public, even when members of the public send FOIA requests for the information.

* Virtually all Clean Air Act regulations under this Administration have been justified based upon nontransparent health data. The Science Committee was forced to issue its first subpoena in more than 20 years to try to obtain the basic scientific information behind dozens of multimillion and billion dollar rules.


* The American people are going to foot the bill for these multimillion and billion dollar regulations; they have a right to see the underlying data.

* Transparency and reproducibility are basic tenets of science. Costly environmental regulations should only be based upon data that is available to independent scientists and the public.

* A 2013 poll from the Institute of Energy Research found that 90 percent of Americans agree that studies and data used to make federal government decisions should be made public.

* These provisions are consistent with the White House’s scientific integrity policy, the President’s Executive Order 13563, data access provisions of major scientific journals, and the recommendations of the Administration’s top science advisors and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

* There are major concerns about the quality of published scientific findings even in peer reviewed journals. As The Economist stated late last year: “Modern scientists are doing too much trusting and not enough verifying—to the detriment of the whole of science, and of humanity. Too many of the findings that fill the academic ether are the result of shoddy experiments or poor analysis.”

* National Academy of Sciences, 2005: “When government-funded research is used for decision making, data sharing allows for analysis of problems by investigators with diverse perspectives.”


Image source. Hockey stick. Get it? Get it?

Summary Against Modern Thought: How Through Reason We’ll Prove God’s Existence

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles.

This is the last of the necessary but, it must be admitted, less-than-riveting introductory posts. It must be kept in mind that Summa Contra Gentiles is primarily a Teacher’s Guide and not per se a text for students. We’re adapting it as we go. Next week we launch into the good stuff, the first proofs for the existence of God. We’ve sped up to get here, but next week we reduce pace dramatically since to progress we need material Aquinas assumes but which we Moderns have largely forgotten.

Chapter 8: In what relation human reason stands to the truth of faith

(1) IT would also seem well to observe that sensible things from which human reason derives the source of its knowledge, retain a certain trace of likeness to God, but so imperfect that it proves altogether inadequate to manifest the substance itself of God. For effects resemble their causes according to their own mode, since like action proceeds from like agent; and yet the effect does not always reach to a perfect likeness to the agent…i

Chapter 9: Of the order and mode of procedure in this work

(2) Wherefore in order to deduce the first kind of truth we must proceed by demonstrative arguments whereby we can convince our adversaries. But since such arguments are not available in support of the second kind of truth, our intention must be not to convince our opponent by our arguments, but to solve the arguments which he brings against the truth, because, as shown above,[1] natural reason cannot be opposed to the truth of faith.ii

In a special way may the opponent of this kind of truth be convinced by the authority of Scripture confirmed by God with miracles: since we believe not what is above human reason save because God has revealed it. In support, however, of this kind of truth, certain probable arguments must be adduced for the practice and help of the faithful, but not for the conviction of our opponents, because the very insufficiency of these arguments would rather confirm them in their error, if they thought that we assented to the truth of faith on account of such weak reasonings.iii

(3) …we shall first of all endeavour to declare that truth which is the object of faith’s confession and of reason’s researches, by adducing arguments both demonstrative and probable, some of which we have gathered from the writings of the philosophers and of holy men, so as thereby to confirm the truth and convince our opponents…

(4) Seeing then that we intend by the way of reason to pursue those things about God which human reason is able to investigate, the first object that offers itself to our consideration consists in those things which pertain to God in Himself…Of those things which we need to consider about God in Himself, we must give the first place (this being the necessary foundation of the whole of this work), to the question of demonstrating that there is a God: for unless this be established, all questions about divine things are out of court.iv

Chapter 10: Of the opinion of those who aver that it cannot be demonstrated that there is a God, since this is self-evident

(1) POSSIBLY it will seem to some that it is useless to endeavour to show that there is a God: they say that it is self-evident that God is, so that it is impossible to think the contrary, and thus it cannot be demonstrated that there is a Godv

(2) Those things are said to be self-evident which are known as soon as the terms are known: thus as soon as it is known what is a whole, and what is a part, it is known that the whole is greater than its part…

Chapter 11: Refutation of the foregoing opinion and solution of the aforesaid arguments

(5)…For just as it is self-evident to us that a whole is greater than its part, so is it most evident to those who see the very essence of God that God exists, since His essence is His existence. But because we are unable to see His essence, we come to know His existence not in Himself but in His effectsvi

Chapter 12: Of the opinion of those who say that the existence of God cannot be proved, and that it is held by faith alone

(1) THE position that we have taken is also assailed by the opinion of certain others, whereby the efforts of those who endeavour to prove that there is a God would again be rendered futile. For they say that it is impossible by means of the reason to discover that God exists, and that this knowledge is acquired solely by means of faith and revelationvii

(5) [Another potential counterargument.] If the principles of demonstration become known to us originally through the senses, as is proved in the Posterior Analytics,[3] those things which transcend all sense and sensible objects are seemingly indemonstrable. Now such is the existence of God. Therefore [opponents say] it cannot be demonstrated…

(9) It is also evident from the fact that, although God transcends all sensibles and senses, His effects from which we take the proof that God exists, are sensible objects. Hence our knowledge, even of things which transcend the senses, originates from the senses.viii


iWe made this point before, but you watching a man crush an aluminum can would not allow you to infer his complete strength, neither would following him solve “2 + 7” allow you to plumb his intellectual depths. Neither can we look out into the world and learn all about God. However, that you see a man crush a man indicates that there is a man crushing the can, and that you see a man solve an equation proves there is an existing intellect.

iiAs promised, nothing but logical proof for our fundamental claims. No revelations drawn upon. All unbelievers can play. But if somebody makes a claim against Scripture, Aquinas is ready to defend.

iiiWe wouldn’t want our adversaries thinking we believe in flying spaghetti monsters simply because we wanted to believe. Indeed, the pasta sauce will soon be on the other foot. Opponents are going to have to work very hard indeed to counter the arguments which are coming. Be warned that they stood for roughly two-and-a-half millennia. Your task won’t be easy; in fact, it will be impossible.

ivWe are all in agreement here, I hope and pray.

vWhat follows here and in Chapter 11 is St Anselm’s so-called ontological argument and a refutation of the same and two other similar arguments. That God is self-evident and not in need of proof is not a problem for moderns in the least. Consequently, as interesting as Thomas’s arguments are on this matter, we pass on quickly.

viWe cannot know God as He is in himself. Most of us can barely remember what we had for lunch last Tuesday, let alone grasp the Infinite. Aquinas is not trying to slip in an Intelligent Design (as moderns know the term) argument. And he was most certainly not a Creationist in any sense beyond believing that God was—and is, even at this moment—the cause of the universe (for the universe had to and must currently have a cause, as we’ll see).

viiThis has become a slur in our time. Only fools believe by faith. The intelligent know by science. Of course, this sad formula ignores that many things must be taken on faith or reason goes nowhere. We have discussed axioms as a primary instance. But never mind all that. This is our last warning, one I predict which will be forgotten in the weeks to come, that our proofs are fundamental and require the exact same amount of faith that any mathematician or physicist brings to his tasks.

viiiJust as in mathematics we know of infinity, and its various flavors and sizes, but cannot savor these flavors nor comprehend these sizes, so can we prove (and will) certain things about God’s nature. For instance, we can say He is Omnipotent, and even define the broad outlines of this quality, but moving from that to knowing just what’s on God’s mind? You can’t get there from here, not using unaided the weak powers of the human mind.

But enough! We are at this point in the position of children rankling under the forced repetition of scales, anxious to move to our first melody. It is a sweet tune, our starting one. Aristotle started humming it a long time ago and it hasn’t lost any of its vigor or shine by repetition. To continue this silly metaphor, it’s a song that once you hear it you can’t get out of your head. Nor will you want to.

[1] Ch. vii.
[3] 2 Poster. ix. i., xviii. [Aristotle]

Next Installment

I’ll Kill You Off On This Blog For $10

A generous reader gets what’s coming to him

According to the Daily Mail, “Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin offers to ‘kill off’ one of his fans for $20,000.

“George RR Martin will name a character after a male and female fan and kill them in a future A Song Of Ice And Fire novel as part of a fundraising campaign.”

The man himself says, “You can choose your character’s station in the world (lordling, knight, peasant, whore, lady, maester, septon, anything) and you will certainly meet a grisly death!”

Truly, I had no idea people were so enthusiastic about seeing themselves ushered publicly and painfully into the Great Beyond. But, hey, who am I to judge? Especially when there’s the possibility of wrapping my paws around some necessary needed lucre?

Martin’s is such a good idea I decided to adapt it at WMBriggs.com. And I’ll go one further than Martin, too.

I will write one of my award-eligible one-act Mini Plays featuring those readers who donate at least $10 American.

At the $10 level or $1/month level, you have your choice of character name and “station in the world.” I pick the way you hand in your dinner pail. But those who double the suggested amount—and here I top Martin—have the privilege of choosing the method they trip down their final staircase. (Use the comment box at the links provided to specify your names and choices.)

Think of the possibilities! Admire Utopian purges? The guillotine’s for you. Feeling nostalgic? Go for a hanging. You’re an academic? Starvation by gulag is just the ticket. Computer geek? Bashed on the head by your Twitter handle. Somewhat squeamish but still want to play? How about being at the center of a nuclear bomb? Painless, that. The sky’s the limit—including being dropped from a great height by an over-sized vulture who mistook you for a three-week-dead ferret.

Here’s the topper. If nobody donates by a week from today, 14 June 2014, I’m killing all of you off. Probably by some banality like stroke or myocardial infarction. As dull, non-noteworthy, and as undistinguished kinds of deaths that I can think of. As far as station in life, everybody is a junior bureaucrat named Jayden in a sub-sub-basement of the NSA tasked with sorting through typed transcripts of college girls’ cell phone calls (“And then I was all like, ungh. Like she didn’t, like, get it?” “Like, I was like, yeah, but, like, not that I liked it”). Nobody will even be allowed a suicide.

It will look something like this:

SCENE ONE SETTING: A bright and clement day. A line of gray lumpen non-smiling polyester-slacked people with Supercuts hairdos line up at the NSA entrance to pass through the metal detector. The line extends to the parking lot where a MAN is exiting from his faded gray 1998 Toyota Corolla.

SCOTIAN: Excuse me, miss. Is this the IRS?

SHERI: No, the NSA.

SCOTIAN: I’m from Canada and I always wanted to visit it.

SHERI: Many people do.



SHERI: Too bad he’s so far from his national health insurance.


SHERI: I feel a headache coming on—

That’s right—this is blackmail. I won’t put the pretty on it. There’s only one way to stop this excruciating drivel from being exposed to public view. Pay or suffer.

Update You have been saved! Next Saturday, I’ll give everybody the details, thanking all involved. I’ll also let you know when the mini-play will run.

I had thought you could enter details (name, life station) into the donation form, but apparently not. So if you donate, either put them in the comments or send a separate email. Thanks!

If You Disagree You Are Full Of Hate, You Bigot

You shouldn't eat salt, either.

You shouldn’t eat salt, either.

I knew she meant the cigar, but I pretended not to hear.

“What you’re doing is wrong,” she repeated.

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” I said. I was sitting on a raised planter on a street corner in San Francisco, the home of Tolerance.

“Smoking is bad for you!”

“You gotta die of something, lady. And this isn’t a bad way to go.” Cars streamed by, dumping their noxious fumes into the air. I thought of this because I was going to tell her that my cigar was comparatively harmless and that if she knew what was good for her, she would never go outside.

But she said, “Well you can choose to die of something else.”

And then I said, “But I enjoy it.” She looked startled. Some internal war played across her face. I puffed. She said, “Well.” I said, “You have a nice day.” She walked on.

I had hit upon, quite by accident, The Argument, the one method of persuasion that has no counter, that works like garlic on vampires. If you enjoy it, it must be good. Not just as in it feels good, but that it is morally good because it feels good.

The only possible rebuttal to a modern is that which you are doing does not feel good to them. This, incidentally, is what led these intrepid moralists to invent “second-” and “third-hand smoking” and to weep about how they suffer from it.

Since I am a gentleman, I was resisted telling the old lady to mind her own business. It’s not as if I were walking up to strangers and puffing into their faces, baiting them. You better say you like smoking or I’m going to call you a bigot.

The Mind-Your-Own-Business used to play strong. You did what you wanted, I did what I wanted, and with the usual provisos and within well known boundaries, as long we both kept to ourselves, we could still get along. We could even be friends.

But this idea is now dead. To modern moralists, everything is their business. And nothing makes them happier than telling people what to do.

Disagreement is not and cannot be tolerated. Disagreement makes the modern moralist feel bad about himself, and there is no worse sin than making somebody feel bad. If a person disagrees with a modern moralist, the only explanation the modern moralist can imagine is that this person is full of hate, that he is a raving bigot, or that he is insane.

For instance, Supreme (the word now has to be used ironically) Court Judge Anthony Kennedy famously wove into the fabric of American law that the only possible reason a person could have against so-called same-sex marriage was animus. What about millennia of tradition, natural law, commonsense, logic, biology, science, religion? No. It must be hate. And hate is intolerable.

Earlier this week we talked about Laverne Cox, a man pretending to be a woman, part of a growing brigade of such people. Most of us really don’t care what Cox does. All we want is to be left in peace. But there is no live and let live anymore. No leave me alone and we’ll leave you alone. No: for the modern moralist, it is all or nothing. You must not only enter into Cox’s deception, but you must approve of it.

Kevin Williamson didn’t. He wrote a syndicated column saying what we said: Cox is a man, despite his fancy dress and lipstick. Reaction was interesting.

The bulk of the moralists pretended outrage. They calumniated Williams, as was their duty, but these people would do the same were Cox to pretend he was a duck “trapped” in a man’s body, as long as that was what they thought they ought to be for. Don’t scoff. All that’s needed is some quack to invent a theory which catches the imagination and soon people will be walking around in feather suits daring you to laugh.

A few people were genuinely incensed. They believed Cox was a “woman”, and were damned if they would let anybody publicly disagree. Williams must be punished, these people said. He must be fired. Williams was “full of hate” and a “transphobe.”

Remember that Colorado bakery who refused to bake a cake for a homosexual couple? So-called same-sex marriage is illegal in Colorado, incidentally. No matter. The government said the man must still bake the cake in spite of his religious beliefs. And that he must undergo “sensitivity training”, which is the current euphemism for Reeducation Camp.

There is only one correct belief and all shall be forced under duress to state it. This is what is known as Freedom and Tolerance and Love.

Update Haters going to hate.

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