William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 148 of 736

Laudato Si: “The Curate’s Egg.” The Not So Excellent Parts. Guest Post by Bob Kurland

Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!" "True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895.

Bishop: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg, Mr Jones”; Curate: “Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!”
“True Humility” by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895.

See the first part of this article.

Every judgment of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins. —St. Thomas Aquinas. III Quodlibet 27.

My Bias

Everyone has a political bias, on the basis of which he or she evaluates propositions. Mine is best illustrated by this story:

Wife (answering daughter’s call for a donation to her radical Community Organization)–
“No, no donation for such an organization”
“Let me ask Dad”
“When I married your father, he was a Jew, a liberal and a Democrat; he is now a Catholic, a conservative and a Republican; you’ll not get a donation from him either.”

I am wary of “I’m here from the Government and I’m here to help you.” Government bureaucracies, whatever may be their nominally altruistic purpose, suffer from the lack of competition, are beset by red tape, and are motivated primarily to increase their next appropriation. They are, in effect, dinosaurs that have not been eliminated by evolution. I’m wary of rules that might be set by international bureaucrats, who have no experience of the democratic way of life or what the free market can accomplish.

The Parts I Find Difficult To Swallow

Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid says, “the pope [sic] is not infallible when it comes to science, politics…” Accordingly, as faithful Catholics we are enjoined to consider prayerfully and carefully pronouncements of our Holy Father which are directed to political and economic policies, but we are not obliged to follow them, if they do not directly involve matters of morals or faith or if we honestly believe they will not effect a moral good.

Disentangling moral and faith issues from political and economic policies is not an easy task. I discussed this matter with our priest, and he brought up the question of abortion—certainly government policies on abortion should not violate Catholic moral precepts. Nevertheless, many eminent Catholics (for example the famed Catholic legal scholar, Douglas Kmiec, and the Jesuit Editor of America) supported pro-abortion candidates for president. Can their example be followed, so that one selects which Catholic precepts enter into one’s policy choices, presumably justifying choices by some sort of “Double Effect Doctrine“? I think not.

Well, let’s see what Pope Francis has to say about desired political and economic means, either national or supra-national, to bring about the goals of the Encyclical.

Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalance…The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming. [emphasis added] #51.

Is the emphasized statement verified or verifiable in any sense, either premise or conclusion?

The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development. #52

And which supranational agency is to decide on the amount of the debt, the amount of energy limitation and the amount of support?

The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable, otherwise the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice. #53

Is this legal framework to be an international code, superseding national laws?

The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order”. #93

What does “universal” mean? In the Acts of the Apostles, private property was subordinated to the community. In monastic orders, private property is subordinated to the monastic community.

Finally, the common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; #157

What might be “distributive justice”?

Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan #164

And who is to make that plan and enforce it?

A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries. #164

Again, what if a consensus cannot be reached?

As the bishops of Bolivia have stated, “the countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused”. #170 quoting from the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference, 2012.

Where is it proven that greenhouse gases have caused a problem?

Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed, since local authorities are not always capable of effective intervention. #173

Ipse dixit.

…because the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tends [sic] to prevail over the political. Given this situation, it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions. [emphasis added] #175

And again, ipse dixit.

At the same time, on the national and local levels, much still needs to be done, such as promoting ways of conserving energy… [and] removing from the market products which are less energy efficient or more polluting #180

Such as replacing incandescent light bulbs by fluorescent, which are hard on the eyes and hazardous when broken?

In the face of possible risks to the environment which may affect the common good now and in the future, decisions must be made “based on a comparison of the risks and benefits foreseen for the various possible alternatives”.#184 quoting from Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Who is to establish these risks and benefits–the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the UN or…?

The Rio Declaration of 1992 states that “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures” which prevent environmental degradation…Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective and conclusive demonstrations will have to be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it. #186

The bold-face statement is that which I find most disturbing.

There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus. Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. #188

In the face of all else that is said in the Encyclical, this statement seems to be no more than a token, an ambiguous admission that some parts of the Encyclical may be based on false scientific premises.

Here too, it should always be kept in mind that “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces”. Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market. #190 Quote from Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Does this not show a bias against capitalism and the free market?

For new models of progress to arise, there is a need to change “models of global development”;this will entail a responsible reflection on “the meaning of the economy and its goals with an eye to correcting its malfunctions and misapplications”. #194 quotes from Message for 2010 World Day of Peace.


The Bias of the Pope

The quotes and other parts of the Encyclical not quoted show a bias against capitalism and a bias for international government control. This bias for state control is, in my opinion, naive. It ignores the fact that the worst pollution and scarring of the earth has occurred in governments which are most authoritarian–the USSR and Russia, China, Zimbabwe—rather than in the free, capitalist nations. Whether Pope Francis’s apparent bias for state and international control is part of the general culture of the South American hierarchy and the Argentinean Jesuit Order, or engendered by Pope Francis’s Argentinean background, is a question I’m not equipped to answer, but it’s clear that it is there. Pope Francis also seems disposed to accept as fact the false assertions of radical environmental organizations.

Editor’s note: Don’t forget to visit Reflections of a Catholic Scientist.

The Gmarriage Dialogue


Jeremy David! How are you? You have to congratulate me!

David Jeremy, well I’ll be. I haven’t seen you in ages. Congratulations! What am I congratulating you for?

Jeremy I got married!

David That is worthy of celebration. Fantastic news! Who’s the lucky lady?

Jeremy La— No, oh no. Oh, I thought you knew! No, it’s not a lady. It’s my husband. Jim! He’s a designer.

David Ah. You’re right. I didn’t know.

Jeremy Yes! It was…but what’s wrong? Are you okay?

David No, I’m fine. I was worrying about you.

Jeremy Me? Whatever for?

David I can’t congratulate you, Jeremy.

Jeremy Why ever not? You’re not…oh. I remember. But I didn’t think you took religion that seriously. I’m worried about you, David. Surely you wouldn’t want to deny me my happiness?

David I’m not denying you anything. Except my assent. Be happy if you like, but I can’t agree with you.

Jeremy But it’s my right to be married! You have to agree with that.

David I don’t. Nobody has the right to go against human nature. You can rebel against that nature, all right—until the inevitable consequences stop you. But I can’t say what is wrong is right just to make you happy.

Jeremy But it’s the law!

David The law doesn’t say I have to assent to your behavior.

Jeremy It does. You have to! The government says I’m married, and you have to say it, too.

David Well, you’ll know more about the law than I, but if the law says that I have to say black is white, then, as the saying goes, the law is an ass. I refuse.

Jeremy David, we used to be friends. I can’t believe you’re taking this position. People will say you are a bigot.

David Mindless name calling? I can handle it; I don’t wound easily. Listen, Jeremy, I’m not withdrawing my friendship. I’m sorry to hear that you think you have to. Plus I don’t think you understand how deep the mistake you’re making is. Wait…just listen. I’m not talking about your love for another human being. I’m talking about pretending to be what you are not—but more about you’re asking me to pretend, too. It is against human nature for any but a man and a woman to be married.

Jeremy Come on. People used to say that it was against human nature for a black man to marry a white woman.

David So? Is your argument that because some people made a mistake about what human nature was that there is no human nature? Or if there is a human nature, how can you say you’re supposed marriage accords with that nature?

Jeremy That’s not the point. Jim and I are in love. It’s love between two people that makes a marriage.

David Why two people?

Jeremy It’s always been two people, David. You know that.

David It’s always been between a man and a woman, Jeremy. You know that. Besides, love is not what makes a marriage. If it were, then you could fall in love with a one-year old and marry him. Or could plight your troth to your dog, since I have heard you say many times that you love it.

Jeremy Now you’re being ridiculous. A child or a dog can’t give consent to a marriage. Marriage must have consent.

David How do you know?

Jeremy How do I know what?

David How do you know a child cannot give consent? I ask in earnestness.

Jeremy Everybody knows—

David —No, stop right there. No hiding in empty phrases like “Everybody knows.” Tell me how you know that a child cannot give consent.

Jeremy It’s obvious.

David You mean it’s obvious that it’s in the nature of human children that they cannot understand the consequences of their decisions? Or you agree that a child cannot itself produce children, and that the nature of marriage is reproduction? Either way, you agree with me that human nature exists.

Jeremy I suppose so. It does. But that doesn’t mean you’re right.

David Since you agree there is such a thing as human nature, we now have to figure out what that nature is. You have a brother, I remember. Robert, right? Okay, you love your brother, and I presume he loves you, and since he’s older than you, he can certainly give consent and understand that consent. So why should you not, by your definition, be able to marry your brother?

Jeremy Don’t be absurd!

David Is that your answer?

Jeremy Nobody wants to marry his brother, David. This conversation is stupid.

David No, it’s revealing. You don’t want to marry your brother. Fine. But what if two adult, consent-wielding, loving brothers somewhere else wanted to marry? What’s to stop them? After all, there is no incest involved. Two brothers won’t produce any children.

Jeremy I refuse to answer such a stupid question.

David A retreat into petulance is not an answer. What you refuse to say, and what is anyway obvious, is that it is completely contrary to human nature for two brothers to be married. Although by your definition of what a marriage is, it is just as valid as your marriage is. Consider also that a father can marry his adult son under your definition. And that is not the end of bizarre examples.

That you cannot discover a reason why a marriage of two brothers is no marriage at all is because you know the answer leads you down a path you’d rather not take. Any consideration of human nature must inevitably lead to the conclusion that only a man and woman does a marriage make, and that the nature of marriage is oriented towards procreation and the rearing of children.

Before you reply with the obvious, that not all couples produce or rear children, consider that it is in the nature of a car to drive people about. Now some cars are broken, but a malfunctioning car does not obviate the nature of cars, and neither does an infertile or familyless couple obviate the nature of marriage.

Jeremy All this talk of human nature is nonsense. The government says two adults—of whatever gender—can be married. That makes me married.

David The government decides what is right and wrong? And who can be married and who not?

Jeremy It has to.

David So because the government now says that two men may be married, that definition is true?

Jeremy Of course.

David Then that means it was also true that when the government said, as it did before two weeks ago, that only a man and woman made a marriage, that that definition was true, and therefore that two-man marriage was false. Isn’t that right?

Jeremy No, you’re twisting things around.

David I’m not. If government decides what is true, then whatever position the government takes is true. At one time the government held to man-woman marriage, and so man-man marriage must have been false. Now it holds to man-man marriage, and so it is true. What if next year the government says that father-adult-son marriage is the law? Would that make it true? Aren’t you concerned that ceding the authority to define truth to government must lead to madness?

Jeremy Frankly, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m married and you have to accept it.

David No, you’re not. And, no, I don’t.

Jeremy Your what’s wrong with this country, David. And to think we used to be friends! If I had any idea what a closet bigot you were, I never would have had anything to do with you. I’m going to make sure that people like you can’t spread your hateful lies. People like you shouldn’t be able to force your prejudiced opinions on the rest of us.

David If only you could hear yourself. I’ll pray for you, Jeremy.

The Gaia Hypothesis Is Either Trivial And Useless Or False And Ridiculous

Guess which is Schellnhuber.

Guess which is Schellnhuber.

Hans Schellnhuber is an adviser to the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In the peer-reviewed Nature paper “Climbing the co-evolution ladder” (431, 913 (21 October 2004)) he and two co-authors wrote:

Stanislav Lem’s science-fiction masterpiece, Solaris, tells the gripping — and scary — story of a super-intelligent super-organism that has transmuted into a vast ocean covering most of the surface of a distant planet. Thus information-processing (that is, active) life and force-driven (that is, passive) environment have finally merged into a single entity.

Earth, these authors tell us, has not “yet” reached this “this vanishing point of evolutionary history. But modern civilization already perturbs — if not dominates — various large-scale processes and components of the planet.” Dominates. They speak of a global “metabolism” of carbon and other elements, and of a global “anatomy” that is “largely a product of relentless socio-economic action.” Largely.

The remainder of the brief article sketches steps in the evolutionary history of organisms, with open hints that man tends toward or actually is an aberration. The authors point out the trivial truth that all animals evolve inside a system in which other animals live and which is geologically arranged in particular ways.

They end with these words, “Pursing this concept of entwined evolution may reveal where we are ultimately heading — towards Solaris, or something even scarier.”

It is clear from the context, and from this plain statement, that the authors believe the earth—or rather, Earth—may become, or perhaps already is, a self-aware, rational creature. Solaris, incidentally, is summarized on Wikipedia:

Solaris chronicles the ultimate futility of attempted communications with the extraterrestrial life on a far-distant planet. Solaris is almost completely covered with an ocean that is revealed to be a single, planet-encompassing organism, with whom Terran scientists are attempting communication. What appear to be waves on its surface are later revealed to be the equivalents of muscle contractions…

The ocean’s intelligence expresses physical phenomena in ways difficult for the protagonists to explain using conventional scientific method, deeply upsetting the scientists. The alien mind of Solaris is so greatly different from the human mind of (objective) consciousness that attempts at inter-species communications are a dismal failure.

In a separate peer-reviewed paper, also in Nature, “‘Earth system’ analysis and the second Copernican revolution“, Schellnhuber opens what turns out to be a paean to computer simulation with the statement “we see much that is relevant to unravelling the mysteries of the Earth’s physique, or ‘Gaia’s body'”.

He writes later on that

Ecosphere science is therefore coming of age, lending respectability to its romantic companion, Gaia theory, as pioneered by Lovelock and Margulis. This hotly debated ‘geophysiological’ approach to Earth-system analysis argues that the biosphere contributes in an almost cognizant way to self-regulating feedback mechanisms that have kept the Earth’s surface environment stable and habitable for life.

Taken to an extreme, the Gaia approach may even include the influence of biospheric activities on the Earth’s plate-tectonic processes — through modulation of thermal and viscous gradient fields across the upper geological layers…

Schellnhuber asks, “But is it really Gaia who commands the engine room of the Earth system?” He answers there is no “clear answer”. A clear answer would be, for instance, “No: don’t be absurd.” The answer which he prefers might be found in this revealing paragraph:

Although effects such as the glaciations may still be interpreted as over-reactions to small disturbances — a kind of cathartic geophysiological fever — the main events, resulting in accelerated maturation by shock treatment, indicate that Gaia faces a powerful antagonist. Rampino has proposed personifying this opposition as Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction.

Interesting how glaciations are a “a kind of cathartic geophysiological fever” and not a chill. Be sure you caught the right word. It is geophysiological, not geological.

He continues:

About four billion years into Earth’s history, a third planetary might emerged, a challenger to these two intransigent forces [Gaia and Shiva, the external shocks such as asteroids]: human civilization. Let us stay with mythological imagery and call this power Prometheus.

Enter his simulations, i.e. models, the second Copernican revolution. “These models seek to integrate the main processes and forces — Gaia, Shiva and Prometheus — through effective quantitative equations.” Curiously, about the use of these models he says “insights acquired during the present climate crisis may enable humanity to suppress future glaciation events by judicious injection of ‘designer greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere.” Global warming can be a good thing.

Now to Gaia herself, or rather to the idea or hypothesis. Lovelock, one of the originators of the idea, in a peer-reviewed Nature paper “Gaia: The living Earth” (426, 769-770 (18 December 2003); a paper in which he approvingly cites Schellnhuber) said it was his “hypothesis that living organisms regulate the atmosphere in their own interest.” He also said “the concept of a live Earth is ancient”, which is very true. Pantheists, for instance, believed it long ago. His summary of the theory:

Briefly, it states that organisms and their material environment evolve as a single coupled system, from which emerges the sustained self-regulation of climate and chemistry at a habitable state for whatever is the current biota.

Like life, Gaia is an emergent phenomenon, comprehensible intuitively, but difficult or impossible to analyse by reduction — not surprisingly it is often misunderstood…

Gaia theory does not contradict darwinism, rather it extends it to include evolutionary biology and evolutionary geology as a single science. In Gaia theory, organisms change their material environment as well as adapt to it.

It should be plain that the Gaia hypothesis is, in one sense, trivially true and doubted by no one. Obviously, all life is part of one big whole, everything influences everything else to varying degree, and man is one animal among many. If a habitat cannot sustain an organism, that organism moves on or dies. And every organism, including man, influences his environment; indeed, must. Evolution does not happen in a bottle; organisms are adapted to the environment in which they live. There are no penguins in the Sahara.

Since this is true, and trivial, it is silly to put a mythical name to it, particularly one which evokes the idea of sentience or rationality, or worse. Taking Gaia in its purely metaphorical sense adds nothing to our understanding, but it can and does detract.

But there is another sense where Gaia is just plain false. “The Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components.” Self-regulating is not true.

Now a body, your body, is self-regulating. It maintains homeostasis: your internal temperature is somewhat constant, as is your salt content, and so forth. You ingest and excrete. Further, you are not aware, for the most part, of these regulations. Your body just carries out its business. But you are aware. And your body—its parts, that is—acts for an end, which is the good of you. Your parts are not independent of you, either. You don’t seen colons walking (slithering?) down the road.

And this is so of other organisms: their bodies act for their ends, which are the good of those organisms. Their parts are also their parts and not independent of them.

The earth, or rather its parts, which includes us and carrots and plastic, is not acting towards the end of the good of the earth. Earth is not an “emergent” system. It is a collection of individual lifeforms and plain stuff, like rocks, lakes, and oceans. And an atmosphere which extends into space, and becomes part of space.

The earth does not note that it is heating up and in response “self-regulate” in some fashion, say, by launching another glaciation. Its “parts” don’t act in unity toward the goal of the good of the Earth-as-life-form. Each species and each thing reacts, as it must, to its ever-changing environment, but the result is only seen as stable by happenstance. Or by—and who will admit this?—divine design.

“Self-regulating” is either wishful thinking or a clear instance of false pattern recognition. For instance, Gaia sure hates most of the plants and animals that she bore. She’s killed off most of them, and ruthlessly. None of us will be having a trilobite salad for dinner tonight. Nor will any of us become a late night snack for a saber-toothed tiger. There are no glaciers perched over Detroit today, though there will be in the future, most likely, nor is there greenery near the north pole, though there used to be.

Gaia is a useless concept. The people who employ it cannot resist the allure of stretching the metaphor past the snapping point. I’ve yet to see where the sympathetic writer doesn’t imply, perhaps indirectly, that he knows what, for instance, the ideal climate is, or the ideal ecosystem. If he thinks he does, let him say so and be done with the mumbo-jumbo. No teasing hints!

Instead, all we get are plaintive whiny warnings that Gaia is angry and will, if we continue to anger her, cause the sky to fall. We also hear absurd statements that while Gaia may be self-regulating, mankind is somehow able to separate himself from his Mother Earth and un-regulate the Earthly self. Nobody ever explains how. If we are part of nature, which we are, then we are part of it, inseparable from it. Just like radishes, aardvarks, and boulders.

Everything, as I said above, effects everything else, and this includes us. As should be obvious to any scientist or philosopher, there is no way to “minimize” man’s effect on nature. Even if we all went the way of the Dutch tomorrow, our corpses and artifacts will forever shape the future.

Now it is a whole other discussion about what our purpose is; that is, what end we are acting toward. But it cannot be that this end is Mother Gaia Earth. Also, if you think about it, this whole other discussion is the only one worth having.

Idols With Wee P Values. Statistics As Ritual

Early scientists discover the god has a wee p-value---and a ritual is born.

Early scientists discover the god has a wee p-value—and a ritual is born.

Or, rather, wee p-values are idolized. And it isn’t just me saying so. Reader Dan Hughes points us to Gerd Gigerenzer and Julian Marewski’s peer-reviewed paper “Surrogate Science: The Idol of a Universal Method for Scientific Inference” (pdf) in the Journal of Management.

The paper can be read by anybody (well, you get the idea), but here are the juicy quotes and my comments. It’s long, but boy oh boy is it fun!

Determining significance has become a surrogate for good research.

Amen! Preach it, brother. Sing it loud. Hallelujah.

One of us reviewed an article in which the number of subjects was reported as 57. The authors calculated that the 95% confidence interval was between 47.3 and 66.7 subjects. Every figure was scrutinized in the same way, resulting in three dozen statistical tests. The only numbers with no confidence intervals or p values attached were the page numbers.

That author was nuts and forgot statistics are never needed to tell us what happened. Even though, yes, this unnecessary duplication and absurd quantification are the lifeblood of frequentism.

…in physics, Newton’s theory of simple cause and effect was replaced by the probabilistic causes in statistical mechanics and, eventually, by quantum theory.

The consequence is cause has long been forgotten. Or, rather, cause is whatever the research says it is. Terrible harm has been done because of this.

To understand how deeply the inference revolution changed the social sciences, it is helpful to realize that routine statistical tests, such as calculations of p values or other inferential statistics, are not common in the natural sciences. Moreover, they have played no role in any major discoveries in the social sciences. [emphasis mine]

Nor in any other science. P-values only prove—or “prove”—(a) what is already known (proof), or (b) what is probably false (“proof”).

The Null Ritual

The null ritual is an invention of statistical textbook writers in the social sciences.

…spearheaded by humble nonstatisticians who composed statistical textbooks for education, psychology, and other fields and by the editors of journals who found in “significance” a simple, “objective” criterion for deciding whether or not to accept a manuscript.

Thus has laziness triumphed and become ingrained in science. Gigerenzer is right: statistics is pagan ritual. And now just as effective as offering sacrifices to a volcano.

Some of the most prominent psychologists of their time vehemently objected…the founder of modern psychophysics, complained about a “meaningless ordeal of pedantic computations.” …one of the architects of mathematical psychology, spoke of a “wrongheaded view about what constituted scientific progress,”…

Not that it mattered. The Wee P-value is triumphant.

Unlike many of his followers, Savage carefully limited Bayesian decision theory to “small worlds” in which all alternatives, consequences, and probabilities are known. And he warned that it would be “utterly ridiculous” to apply Bayesian theory outside a well-defined world—for him, “to plan a picnic” was already outside because the planners cannot know all consequences in advance (Savage, 1954/1972: 16)

Amen again! Decision analysis was pushed far, far past the breaking point years ago. The EPA, and pretty much every other agency that wants to “prove” pre-decided conclusions, never remember that (unknown probability) x (unknown costs) = (who the hell knows what’s best). Instead, scientism and false quantification run amok.

A second version of Automatic Bayes can be found in the heuristics-and-biases research program—a program that is widely taught in business education courses. One of its conclusions is that the mind “is not Bayesian at all” (Kahneman & Tversky, 1972: 450). Instead, people are said to ignore base rates, which is called the base rate fallacy and attributed to cognitive limitations. According to these authors, all one has to do to find the correct answer to a textbook problem is to insert the numbers in the problem into Bayes’ rule—the content of the problem and content-related assumptions are immaterial. The consequence is a “schizophrenic” split between two standards of rationality: If experimental participants failed to use Bayes’ rule to make an inference from a sample, this was considered irrational. But when the researchers themselves made an inference about whether their participants were Bayesians, they did not use Bayes’ rule either. Instead, they went through the null ritual, relying only on the p value. In doing so, they themselves committed the base rate fallacy.


…an automatic use of Bayes’ rule is a dangerously beautiful idol. But even for a devoted Bayesian, it is not a reality: Like frequentism, Bayesianism does not exist in the singular.

This isn’t so. But Gig and pal think, what is natural, that Bayes means subjective probability. Logical probability does not suffer from singularity. And any statistical method which is part of the Cult of the Parameter must eventually fall to ritual.

We use the term surrogate science in a more general sense, indicating the attempt to infer the quality of research using a single number or benchmark. The introduction of surrogates shifts researchers’ goal away from doing innovative science and redirects their efforts toward meeting the surrogate goal.

Laziness again. It’s everywhere—and government sponsored.

SPSS and other user-friendly software packages that automatically run tests facilitate this form of scientific misconduct: A hypothesis should not be tested with the same data from which it was derived…
A similarly bad practice, common in management, education, and sociology, is to routinely fit regressions and other statistical models to data, report R2 and significance, and stop there

The first point should be shouted at every PhD defense. It is the key—really the only—difference between good and bad science. It is a point so important that you should read it twice. Don’t forgot to visit the Classic Posts page to see the common abuses about regression.

Surrogate science does not end with statistical tests. Research assessment exercises tend to create surrogates as well. Citation counts, impact factors, and h-indices are also “inferential statistics” that administrators and search committees may (ab)use to infer the quality of research. …hiring committees and advisory boards study these surrogate numbers rather than the papers written by job candidates and faculty members.

Did somebody say laziness and pseudo-quantification again? Yes: somebody did.

An even greater danger is that surrogates transform science by warping researchers’ goals. If a university demands publication of X journal articles for promotion, this number provides an incentive for researchers to dissect a coherent paper into small pieces for several journals. These pieces are aptly called just publishable units. Peter Higgs, the 2013 Nobel Prize winner in physics, once said in an interview, “Today I wouldn’t get an academic job. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think I would be regarded as productive enough” (Aitkenhead, 2013). He added that because he was not churning out papers as expected at Edinburgh University, he had become “an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises” (Aitkenhead, 2013).

Did somebody say laziness and pseudo-quantification again, even though he just said it? Yes.

Update I forgot to include the popular press article which highlighted the paper: Science is heroic, with a tragic (statistical) flaw: Mindless use of statistical testing erodes confidence in research.

Update I also forgot to give you the current status on my book, which talks about all these kinds of things and gives a solution. It’s thisclose to being done.

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