William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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How The 95% IPCC Certainty Falls To The Ground

All it takes is one!

All it takes is one!

Busy times at the Briggs ranch. The Evidence series will continue next week. For now, some IPCC fun.

The Consensus says its 95% sure that the man has caused the climate to change and that the climate has change. I disagree. I’m 100% sure.

Since I am a certified scientist, credentialed out the ying-yang (ying-yang pictures available upon request), having published works reviewed by my peers, what I believe is therefore capital-S Science. Following the zeitgeist, to speak against me is necessarily anti-science. So let’s have no arguments.

The “climate” is the aggregation, or “averaging” of moment-by-moment weather over “long” periods of time. Weather, to speak loosely, is everything in and around the air. That includes you, my dears. You move the air, you breathe it in and out, you heat it and add moisture and strange gases to it. You become part of the weather. It is therefore impossible for you not to modify the weather.

And therefore the climate, too. Thus it is 100% indisputably certain that man influences the climate. That’s part one.

Part two everybody already believes: the climate has changed. Indeed, as near as can be told, it’s never stayed still since oceans first formed. It is therefore rational to believe that it will continue its dance until those same oceans dry up.

Sure enough, the AP says of the 95% confidence that scientists, me included, are “as sure about climate change as they are about the age of the universe.” So what’s all the heat about?

Lookie (looky?) here. If we are 95% sure that man has influenced the climate and that the climate has changed, it means nothing by itself. It can’t be, for instance, The Consensus is worried about a slight increase in the average temperature. If that were so, we wouldn’t see so many old people flee the Great White North and flock to Florida each winter. The rapid and enormous change of heat would kill them en masse if just-plain temperature increases were a problem.

We need to separate talk about climate change from what weather does to things, because what weather does is the only thing that can be of any interest to us non-Consensuses members.

Here’s where it gets tricky. The Consensus is confident, like me, that man causes climate change and that the climate has changed. But how much the climate has changed due to man is not known with 95% certainty. If confidence were that high, then Consensus forecasts of temperatures, which consistently bomb (they run hot), would have been much better. Whatever the confidence is about the exact amount of change (past and future) due to man, therefore must be much less than 95%.

Now suppose, as some scientist has claimed, a nasty weed will thrive in a climate which isn’t here yet but is predicted to come. This means the scientist says he knows what will be the agglomeration of temperatures over a growing season, the precipitation, humidity, and sunlight, their effects on soil conditions, etc. Since forecasts are poor, he cannot be 100% sure of these, and he must be less certain still about the effects of these variables on the growing of the weed.

Keep the different elements in mind: there are claims of knowledge about future weather and the future behavior of some organism considered in isolation assuming the future weather is perfectly certain. The level of certainty we have in both simultaneously must necessarily be less than we have in either.

We’re not done. Follow me closely here: the scientist must also make claims of knowledge about the consequences of the weed flourishing. After all, a weed growing isn’t of interest per se. It’s how that weed effects us that matters.

This entails knowledge about how the weed will cope, not in isolation, but as part of its environment. That means knowing what the weed’s enemies (caterpillars, say) will do in the changed climate, and what strategies man will adopt to adapt to the weed increasing.

There is a chain of dependence: knowing the climate, then knowing the future weather, then knowing what the weed will do, then knowing what other organisms will do, then knowing how we would cope, adapt, change our behavior.

No matter how certain we are about the climate changing we must necessarily be far less certain about what its effects will be. This is a logical truth. Here’s another: the matter is so complex that nobody knows precisely how certain because accurately quantifying the various uncertainties in this chain is impossible (though it is possible to do it inaccurately, and many do).

Thus the answer to the implied question of the IPCC report on 95% certainty is “So what?”

Incidentally, isn’t it curious that if the organism sticks, pricks, poisons, pesters, wreaks havoc, or carries diseases, scientists claim it will thrive in the coming climate. But if it’s gentle, delicious, cute, cuddly, or photogenic, the animal will whither in that same climate. What a coincidence!


Armed EPA Ignores Subpoena, Conducts Secret Science, More!

EPA confirms Stephen Segal will train its officers how to kill, as in this clip from On Deadly Ground.

EPA confirms Stephen Segal will train its officers how to kill, as in this clip from “On Deadly Ground.”

Call the EPA’s rule-making Nancy-Pelosi science: you must first pass the regulations before you find out the evidence for them.

No: That’s not quite right. Because even after its regulations are implemented, EPA won’t tell you why. They say you just have to trust them. They won’t even tell Congress why. Even when Congress asks nicely over a period of years. Even after a fed up Congress subpoenas them.

Yes: Did you not know? The EPA currently stands in violation of a court order to turn over evidence the EPA claims proves, for certain sure, that its latest batch of regulations are justified. When asked to comply with the law, this branch of the most transparent administration ever said—wait for it—“No.”

Meanwhile, armed EPA “agents”—hold on. Armed did I say? Armed, yes, and with automatic weapons. Full body armor, too. Helmets, crotch protectors and all. Look how fearsome! Grrr.

In August EPA charged screeching, with weapons barred, ready to shoot to kill, through tiny Chicken, Alaska, population 17, to look for possible violations of the Clean Water Act. The raiding party outnumbered residents of the town. Brave!

Good advice: Next time you venture into the woods to be part of nature, and you hear her call by the side of a stream—you know what I mean—make sure the spot you pick is truly isolated else beneficent government agents might put one between your eyes. Save the newts!

Oh, it’s looking like some environmentalist put in an anonymous call which claimed Chicken residents, all 17 of them, besides pissing into streams, were engaged in “human trafficking.” They weren’t. Oops!

Incidentally, 70 federal agencies are authorized to carry weapons and shoot you. No kidding: 70, and that number is growing. That survival cabin looking better all the time, eh?

What did President Obama say about gun control? Skip it!

Meanwhile, probably due to the EPA’s use of secret email accounts—remember Richard Windsor a.k.a. Lisa Jackson?—employee John C. Beale, who was often away from his desk, was able to rip off $900,000. Went undiscovered so long because, really, who would notice such a small amount? Nobody questioned Beale, who told people he was seconded to CIA. Good place to learn to shoot citizens. Hey, they probably have it coming.

And now, who can say why, we’re put in mind of Star Trekkin, a song which has Captain Kirk sing, “We come in peace. Shoot to kill, shoot to kill, shoot to kill.”

Back to the EPA lawlessly, flagrantly, wantonly ignoring the subpoena. It was the House’s Science, Space, and Technology Committee which sent it. The data in question was the “Harvard Six Cities Study (HSCS) and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS II)” which claims to support the idea that dust causes death.

This revelation is an astonishing coincidence, you will say, seeing Yours Truly just wrote a series of articles showing the evidence of this kind this is gosh-darned suspicious (this this series and all the Jerret papers in this post). It isn’t only me. Stan Young and Jesse Xia of the National Institute for Statistical Sciences say “Whoa, nelly!” too, in language most scientific.

Funny, though, that the authors on which the EPA rely only cite papers which agree with their findings, and somehow ignore, miss, overlook, turn a blind eye to all papers which disagree. Or is it just another coincidence they missed all contradictory evidence? Strange things happen!

EPA, feeling the heat and maybe even embarrassed to be bucking the court, now says it will pony up the data by the end of this month. We wonder. They’ve said things like this in the past, so don’t hold your breath.

Actually, do! I mean hold you breath, you carbon emitter you. Are you trying to kill us all?

Maybe the EPA isn’t feeling too badly after all. Their newest antic is the “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters.” This proposed batch of rules would allow the EPA to through a protective cover—get it? get it? bang! bang!—over any spot in the country which stays wet for more than a few minutes. It’s for your own good.


On The Evidence From Experiments: Part II

Is this Bob or not-Bob?

Read Part I first.

Outcome 3. This sound like good news for you, since all treatment Bobs got better and no placebo Bobs did. Congratulations! The treatment might have caused these cures.

Or again the treatment might have done nothing and the placebo (somehow) blocked the natural cure. It is after all only a guess, with no evidence, the placebo has zero effect on the Bobs. Assuming placebos have no effect, then we might be tempted to say we know with certainty the presence of the treatment was needed for a cure in people exactly like Bob.

But it’s no so, because it could be that something which was not the treatment happened only to the treatment and not placebo Bobs and this something is what caused the cure. For instance, maybe the treatment Bobs coincidentally got zapped by a cancer-curing ray which missed each placebo Bob.

Yet we can rule this out because we assumed both sets of Bobs behaved and were situated identically after receiving their meds and up to the time of measurement. This is a tricky assumption because it means the treatment can only work if it does not cause any changes in behavior, that it only works by shifting stuff inside the treatment Bobs’ bodies, stuff that does not in any way contribute to behavior. Behavior includes thinking. So we exclude cases where the treatment is itself inactive except that it causes the treatment Bobs to think they received the treatment and perhaps enhancing the placebo effect (we are told this happens with real drugs).

Another possibility: the treatment itself did not work, meaning it was not an active agent, but was instead a catalyst which either unlocked some beneficial or blocked some harmful biological process which led to a cure. A catalyst could be a change in behavior (such as removing the desire to listen to NPR thus causing a reduction in stress).

We have ruled these out for a very important reason. If there is one or more behavior difference between the groups, any one of these differences, or some of them in combination, could have been the true cause of the cure. We wouldn’t know, not with the evidence we have, whether it was the treatment or the behavior which caused the cure.

And even if the treatment worked as advertised, we can only say it did so in Bobs. What about not-Bobs? Recall what we said about the closeness of not-Bobs to Bobs: that it is always an arbitrary measure. We just don’t know whether the treatment would have any effect on not-Bobs; not with the evidence we have.

Outcome 4. Bad news for your plans of going public. Your treatment either did no good or it caused harm, or possibly blocked a natural cure. The placebo might not have done anything either, except getting out of the way of a natural cure. Or it might have caused the cure, either by chemical means or by “releasing” the placebo effect. The latter is only possible if the treatment simultaneously held back the same placebo effect. Which of these combinations actually occurred? You get it by now. We can’t know, not with the evidence we have.

Everything said in Outcome 3 is the same here, but with the drugs reversed.


We’re almost in a position to figure what all this means to the proposition “My treatment cures cancer of the albondigas.” But first two terms.

A necessary truth says of a proposition that it must be true, that it could not possibly be false. In particular there is no observation which could refute a necessary truth. Truths which are necessary are true even if you don’t want them to be. Examples: it is a necessary truth that “Necessarily true propositions exist”1 and that “1 + 1 = 2″. The latter is so even if you collected two objects which, upon bringing them together, resulted in no objects (think of an electron plus positron). Mathematical propositions have nothing (directly) to say about real objects; they are entirely metaphysical.

It may not be obvious that the proposition “1 + 1 = 2″ (or any proposition) is necessarily true. In these cases, the necessary truth might be the end result of a chain of reasoning, as mathematical proofs are, which ultimately rest on indubitable axioms, which are propositions which are true but are true for no other reason than we’re aware of their truth. All the truths in math, logic, and philosophy are like this.

This last sentence is not equivalent to the one which says “All the propositions in math, etc…” because there are many false propositions in these areas. Note too that a necessary truth, as used here, does not mean a formal logical truth, though there will be overlap, because we haven’t any interest whether any particular proposition can be shoe-horned into some schema which somebody might have shown has a counter example (think grue). Each proposition/argument is and must be taken on its own account.

Next time: the second term and complications.


1Roger Scruton said something to the effect that people who state the opposite of propositions like this are inviting us not to believe what they say, and that we should take them up on it. (I have to dig this quote up.)


The Political Science Of The IPCC

Front Cover of IPCC’s Fifth Assessment.

Since the IPCC festival begins this week, I’m alternating posts like this with the series started yesterday.

In this thing called Science, just as in other human affairs, one can act in good or bad taste. You wouldn’t go to a fancy dinner party, a political fund raiser with The One for instance, and eat your salad with a soup spoon. People would titter and think you a rube. (They would still cash your check.)

Likewise, in Science, if one proposes a theory and makes predictions with it, and those predictions turn out to be a bust, you should not continue touting the theory. Do so and as you walk down the hall your colleagues would whisper “Graduate student” and giggle like cheerleaders as you pass by.

You’d only be compound the error and make a spectacle of yourself if you went on the lecture circuit (trips funded by Government) and said things like, “Other people beside me believe in my theory!” People would think you thought mere agreement trumped observation! Nothing more anti-science than that. You’d have to go into hiding.

Matters are different in Politics. Whatever you say is not expected to accord with reality, but with desire. A politician must say what he guesses his audience wishes to hear and not what he himself believes to be true. Thus a man will not write a solicitation to Leviathan admitting he has doubts about the theory because Leviathan says it will only reward those who profess ardent agreement. So the scientist writes the grant saying he believes, figuring that if he gets the money he can do good things with it. The scientist becomes the politician: his words accord with desire and not reality.

Leviathan doesn’t particularly care if the theory is true but it knows that claiming it is allows Leviathan to do the only thing it has ever wanted to do: which is grow. Thus it will wag its thick finger at the populace and say the theory implies a “significant health threat”, even though the health of the populace has been improving. Point this out and Leviathan replies, “I didn’t say now. I meant health will deteriorate in the future. Unless I may grow.”

Few question how feeding the beast will kill the theory. It doesn’t matter, because many clever people see the opportunity for what it is and seek to join forces with the beast. They figure that once they gain the money and power which this alliance entails they will do real science with it. These folks underestimate the rapacity, the unlimited appetite of Leviathan.

They also don’t recognize what this compromise does to their souls. Whereas before they would have roundly and rightly and scientifically denounced the theory—and not the man holding it—as being false because it does not accord with observations, they now seek for any scrap of evidence no matter how thin or meager which implies the theory might be true. Alternate evidence which casts grave doubts on, or even damns, the theory is ignored. These politicians with scientific credentials will say, “It is not that the theory might be false, but that it might be true which is important,” a statement nearly empty of content.

This isn’t devious behavior; indeed, it comes from kindness. It is the natural result of one friend helping another. These supporters are friends with Leviathan, which has clothed and fed him and flown them to exotic locations to speak in front of flattering crowds who write down their words. Saying that the theory which Leviathan loves might be true is the least they can do. Besides, they reason, good science is still being done. No harm has been done.

But these folks have forgotten the True Believers, the ones who are so convinced in the truth and beauty of the theory that no amount of evidence will ever convince them to abandon it. The True Believers take the lukewarm statements of the politician-scientists as wholehearted support. There are never many True Believers, but their ardency, encouraged by lack of criticism, makes up for their lack of numbers.

They go after dissent and punish it. Take the typical case of Chris de Freitas who “dared to publish a peer-reviewed article” which suggested the theory might not be true. True Believers “mounted a determined campaign to have Dr. de Freitas…fired from his university position.”

In no possible way or interpretation is this the behavior of scientists acting for truth. It is pure politics. This tells us the only possible way to kill a false theory is to wound or distract Leviathan, the beast which feeds belief. Only nobody knows how to do this.

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