William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 149 of 693

On The Uselessness Of Lie Detector (And Medical) Screenings, And The Ames Spy Case

This post is one that has been restored after the hacking. All original comments were lost.

Have you seen the television series The Assets? Dramatization of the Sandy Grimes-Jeanne Vertefeuille book Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed. Highly recommended.

In the movie, we twice see Ames hooked to a “polygraph”, which is to say “lie detector”, a device which (as we’ll see) should always be written in scare quotes. Ames is pictured as being nervous, fretting he wouldn’t pass because, of course, he was a spy for the Soviet Union, that happy place where Equality by law reigned supreme. Skip it.

The set designers did a good job reproducing the equipment of the time: it looked a lot like they showed. I know this because I was in the service in those years in a super-secret field (cryptography) which required that I, too, be hooked up and tested.

Television being television, shortcuts are taken, but the mood isn’t too far off. The examiner comes into the room and the attempted intimidation begins. An Expert Is Here! He fastens tight things around your chest, arms, hands. You are told to sit perfectly still—movement will disrupt the test! You, the test subject, feel (a) like an idiot, and (b) guilty.

The examiner doesn’t jump right into are-you-a-spy questions. No. He instead wants to prove to you the machine works, so that you don’t dare conceal a lie. I recall once the man asked me to pick a number between (I think) one and ten. He asked me which. Six. He says, “I’m going to ask you if your number was one, two, and so forth. Each time you must say no, even when I reach your number.”

“…Is your number five?” No. “Is your number six?” No. Etc.

At the conclusion of this scientific demonstration, the examiner shows you some squiggles on a piece of paper. “See here? That’s when you said no to six. These lines indicate you’re lying.” If you have any brains, you know it’s at this point you’re supposed to marvel at both the examiner’s and the machine’s perspicacity. “Wow. That’s cool.”

And then it’s off to the spy questions, the wording of which is well realized in the movie. You can’t help, helpless as you are, staring at a blank wall (the examiner never lets you see him during the test), trying not to breathe “abnormally”, to feel that, hey, maybe I am a spy.

I wasn’t.

When the test is over, it isn’t. Invariably, there is a long pause. And then a sigh from the examiner. “Sergeant Briggs…we have a little problem with one of the questions. Can you help me with that?” Which question he doesn’t say. But, and this is true, at this point many crack and begin to confess. Whereas any with an IQ greater than the median knows to say, “Golly. I don’t know.”

If you do that, the game for the examiner is up. He’s forced to pick one of the questions and ask something specific. “It was when I asked about selling information. There was a slight indication.” And you say, “Wow. Really? I have no idea.” Back and forth a couple of times like that, with you playing the happy, cooperative, friendly fool, and you’re done.

Just like Aldrich Ames. Who always passed his tests. Ted Koppel asked Ames about this, and Ames scoffed (properly, in my view) calling them “sorcery.” I’m unable to discover the second half of the video in which Ames makes this statement, but here is a letter he wrote on the same subject.

The polygraph is asserted to have been a useful tool in counterintelligence investigations. This is a nice example of retreating into secret knowledge: we know it works, but it’s too secret to explain. To my own knowledge and experience over a thirty year career this statement is a false one. The use of the polygraph (which is inevitably to say, its misuse) has done little more than create confusion, ambiguity and mistakes. I’d love to lay out this case for you, but unfortunately I cannot — it’s a secret too.

Most people in the intelligence and CI business are well aware of the theoretical and practical failings of the polygraph, but are equally alert to its value in institutional, bureaucratic terms and treasure its use accordingly. This same logic applies to its use in screening potential and current employees, whether of the CIA, NSA, DOE or even of private organizations.

Deciding whether to trust or credit a person is always an uncertain task, and in a variety of situations a bad, lazy or just unlucky decision about a person can result not only in serious problems for the organization and its purposes, but in career-damaging blame for the unfortunate decision-maker. Here, the polygraph is a scientific godsend: the bureaucrat accounting for a bad decision, or sometimes for a missed opportunity (the latter is much less often questioned in a bureaucracy) can point to what is considered an unassailably objective, though occasionally and unavoidably fallible, polygraph judgment. All that was at fault was some practical application of a “scientific” technique, like those frozen O-rings, or the sandstorms between the Gulf and Desert One in 1980.

I’ve seen these bureaucratically-driven flights from accountability operating for years, much to the cost of our intelligence and counterintelligence effectiveness. The US is, so far as I know, the only nation which places such extensive reliance on the polygraph. (The FBI, to its credit in a self-serving sort of way, also rejects the routine use of the polygraph on its own people.) It has gotten us into a lot of trouble.

Ames said the CIA believed. Which is true. Why do they believe? Because lie detectors sometimes “work”, in the sense that some confess. But people confess to interrogators all the time, which is no proof the machine works.

There is instead ample proof that Ames was right and that lie detectors are no better than eye-of-newt witchcraft. So why are they still around?

Now most people are not spies. Something far north of 99% screened are innocent. (This should remind you of mammographies and prostrate cancer screenings.) If the examiner says everyone is not a spy, then he will be right north of 99% of the time.

The examiner may then boast to himself, to CIA, to Congress, to God Himself, that his machine has an accuracy rate higher than 99%! Sure, he missed a handful of fellows, but nobody bats 1.000. You just can’t beat 99%!

Yes, you can. This is why we need the idea of skill, which measure improvement over naive guesses like “everybody’s innocent.” I’ve written about the use of these skill scores in medicine (most women don’t have breast cancer, most men don’t have prostate cancer), but they have yet to gain any traction.

Oh, until global warming came around, meteorologists and climatologists used to judge their models with skill scores. I wonder why they stopped?

How’d We Do On Our 2014 Predictions?

Most arrows missed.

This post is one that has been restored after the hacking. All original comments were lost.

Time to tally. As has become our tradition, each New Year’s Eve we see how well we’ve done on our predictions made last New Year. Here is a direct link to the predictions we made in 2014. And here is a link to our results from the predictions we made for 2013.

And be sure to stop by tomorrow and for the next week to register your predictions for 2015.

This on-going exercise has proved that guessing the future is hard business. Without further blah-blah-blah, the results—but only for the serious prognostications and in the order they were made. The winner is announced at the bottom.


(1) “Big earthquake in California.” Blew it. Lots of small ones, but none newsworthy.

(2) “Transgenderism on the rise. There will be at least one memorable media flap where some dinosaur announces words to the effect, ‘A man who likes to wear a dress and who has had his pertinents sliced off by a med-school-diploma-wielding sadist is not a woman.'” Nailed it. But in fairness, this was low-hanging fruit.

(3) “The Democrats will retain the Senate, the Republicans the House.” Blew it. Only half right. I figured the tricks of delaying new regulations until after the election would work Democrat wonders. Nope.

(4) “China and Japan will come to blows (at least one death) over disputed territories in the Pacific and South China Seas.” Nope. But I’m making this a prediction for 2015.

(5) “No terrorist attacks anywhere near the winter Olympics in Russia.” Got it. But another easy one.

(6) “The government will get caught using information on an individual or group which it could have only come by immorally or unconstitutionally, as for instance via the NSA or TSA, but the majority of citizens won’t care. What about the children!” Nailed it. Agents of the NSA were recently revealed to be spying on their girlfriends and lovers. Results? None. The government continues to spy on its own citizens. It’s for your own good.

Pedro Erik

(1) “There will be another terorist attack in the US.” Yep. A No True Muslim attacked cops once in Queens (hatchet) and another time with a gun (Brooklyn). Lots of No True Muslim attacks throughout the world this year.

(2) “The war in Syria will bring Western countries to the battlefield.” Didn’t happen, though any amount of money and materiel undoubtedly shifted hands.

(3) “France will face a economic crisis bringing all the EU into chaos”. First part right, with the removal of the millionaire’s tax, second part wrong.

(4) “Democrats will retain the Senate”. Nope.

(5) “Catholic Church will face chaos with Pope Francis, beacuse his way of governing”. Amen to this. The Synod was a spiritual disaster.

(6) “Venezuela will face civil war”. Didn’t happen.

(7) “Fidel Castro will die”. Nope.

(8) “There will be economic crisis in China”. The opposite is true. Now the world’s leading economy.

(9) “Brazil will not win the soccer world cup.” Deutschland über alles.

(10) “Obama will be so terrible that MSNBC will call him cracker.” Cracker is the racist term blacks apply to whites, but one which whites at MSNBC pretend they never hear.

Jim Fedako

(1) “Jordan will become 2013’s Syria, followed by Saudi Arabia.” Not really.

(2) “Violence on Chechnya as the independence movement grows”. Some, but Ukraine outshone it.

(3) “Egypt will become a true military dictatorship after another mass uprising”. Didn’t happen.

(4) “Catalonia will vote for independence, touching off violence in Spain that will spill over into France”. There was a Catalan self-determination referendum, which was widely supported but non-binding. No violence.

(5) “India, Pakistan, and China will once again fight over land no one really wants”. To say that India and Pakistan will squabble is like saying it will rain in Seattle. China sat content this year.

(6) “China and US will begin a cold war of sorts over islands that Japan and China claim but no one really wants”. China and Japan, yes, to a small extent. But not US.

(7) “Russia will look externally for war, so as to justify a clamping down on internal dissent, but only after the Olympics”. Nailed it.

(8) “The NSA will state that it will continue to spy on US citizens without judicial warrant and the greater mass of the youth will not care — since they already expose everything via the internet”. The explanation may be wrong, but the thing happened, is happening, and will continue to happen.

(9) “The Republidemocrats will hold the House against the Demorepublicans”. Another Seattle rain.

(10) “Krugman will hack the Fed and add another zero to monthly QE program”. What’s a “Krugman”?

(11) “The extremely cold winter of 2014 will prove with finality that man is irrevocably warming the atmosphere”. And not only that, they’re calling 2014 the “warmest year ever.”

Rexx Vernon Shelton

(1) “Blacks mass killing of whites in South Africa”. Nope.

(2) “Jahadest increase the number of Christians they are killing world wide”. Oh my, yes. ISIS and other No True Muslims went on a rampage, slaughtering Christians by the 1,000s. See John Allen’s The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution.

(3) “Assad wins his way in Syria”. Yep.

(4) “Iran makes an A-bomb”. Not that we’ve been told. But who knows?

(5) “Inflation in the US picks up to above 5%”. Didn’t happen.

(6) “The Repubs take the Senate and increases their seats in the House with a lot of TEA Parties members”. Partly right. The Tea Party is on the outs.

(7) “And impeach Obama”. Nope.

(8) “Temperature hiatus/pause goes away with a drop in the average.” Nope. The “pause”—a word which nobody should use—is still with us.

(9) “The knockout game will grow into full fledged race riots is several large cities, but will not spread into the country.” Not quite. The race riots were to protest the cops against black criminals, not black criminals against whites.

Russ O’Risky

(1) “Israel will launch an initially successful preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but will be universally condemned by the international community, face sanctions, etc.” Didn’t happen.

(2) “Polygamy will make significant legal strides in the U.S.” Spot on. Judges are starting to look for approval from their peers, such as this one.

(3) “A cabinet level or higher member of the Obama Administration will resign in a cloud of controversy.” They come and they go.

(4) “The Yankees will return to the play-offs.” Nope. Ha ha ha ha ha!

(5) “Way more people will die as a result of AIDS in the U.S. than will be killed with guns by legal gun owners…as usual.” Yep.

(6) “China will embarrass the U.S. militarily over Taiwan.” No, thank God. Not actively. But diplomatically, yes. China put the squeeze on to limit US arms sales to the island nation.

(7) “CNN will fire Piers Morgan.” Yes, sir.

(8) “Baldness will finally be cured.” Is baldness a disease?

(9) “The Obama’s will separate.” They might have, but Michelle can never discover which golf course he is on.

(10) “Same-sex marriage will make no further gains at the state level.” The opposite it true. Judges the country over have Kennedy Syndrome.

Chuck L

(1) “Israel will launch a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.” Nope.

(2) “The stock market will crash as inflation cranks-up”. Not even close.

(3) “China will finally withdraw its backing of North Korea, possibly assisting in the deposing of Kim Jong Un.” Not really. People are content to sit and watch.

(4) “Despite the serial incompetence shown by the GOP in national elections, they will retake Senate and maintain or increase their edge in the House.” Exactly so, especially in the first part.

(5) “Despite strenuous efforts by the Administration, the Keystone Pipeline will be build.” Not yet.

(6) “Another recession will begin aided by the EPA’s draconian regulations and ObamaCare.” Again, not yet.

(7) “Germany will withdraw from the EU, tired of having to bail-out the rest of the EU constantly.” Sounding like a news “anchor” here, but, not yet.

(8) “A cold and snowy year will result in global warming hysteria finally fizzling out, only to be replaced by ‘species diversity’ and ‘ocean acidification’ with zealots making even more outrageous claims that ‘it’s worse than we thought.'” Nope. Cold is the new hot.

(9) “There will be another major Administration political scandal. The President will say he did know about it but will promise to get to the bottom of it.” Right several times. The press continues to believe whatever it hears.

(10) “NYC Mayor, avowed Socialist DeBlasio, will institute policies that will result in an exodus of the successful and well-to-do from the city, a drastic spike in crime, the collapse of the real estate market, and credit agencies will reevaluate or even downgrade NYC debt.” Not a full success, but pretty close. We haven’t had time for the downgrade. But given that crime is already up 66% since the cops acceded to the protesters’ demands that black criminals be ignored, we’re sure to see it.

Bruce Foutch

(1) “Miley Cyrus will fade to just a painful memory in 2014.” You have the painful part right.


(1) “US stocks swoon early, recover to 10% up on Dow 12% up on NASD.” Not quite sure how to read this. The market is indeed up.

(2) “Not that I care but the Redskins win 5.” Nope: 4.

(3) “Obama does something stupid, loses the Senate, then argues for reinstating the filibuster (as he is about to be impeached).” First part yes, second part not yet.


(1) “England will leave the EU when it is ordered by the EU to alter their roads to drive on the right hand side.” England drives on the wrong side?

(2)” AGW fundamentalists will propose a new method of calculating average temperatures to replace the current method of the midpoint between daily maximum and minimum extremes.” This is almost right. The new way of calculating is what allows the politicians to claim 2014 the hottest year ever.

(3) “Same sex divorce court cases with children from surrogate births will show up flaws in same sex marriage legislation.” Indeed. But nobody cares.

Bob Mrotek

(1) “Russia will side with China against Japanese interests.” Sort of. They are having joint naval exercises.

(2) “It will become more and more obvious that North Korea will be coddled by China to help intimidate Japan”. Again, sort of. But the reasons for their support remain murky.

(3) “Iran will continue with its nuclear program and playing rope-a-dope with the West. Israel will become very jittery but will not take peremptory action. Netanyahu will be curtailed by a populace that does not want to be the aggressor. There will be much internal dissent in Israel. The Palestinians are waiting for their time but it won’t be in 2014.” Nailed this one, top to bottom.

(4) “The rest of the Middle East will continue to boil but at a lower level as the people begin to realize that that they must unite against the enemy whom they will begin to realize more and more are the original colonial powers of Europe.” This one isn’t specific enough—and it sounds like a Seattle-rain prediction.

(5) “There will be much turmoil in Europe as people start to rebel against wage stagnation, especially in Germany.” Indeed there was. But the demonstrations were not publicly stated to be over wages, but over national identity.

(6) “There will be another big scandal in the Catholic Church as Pope Francis uncovers a rats nest of corruption and intrigue. Regular Catholic laity will back the Pope in a big way. Many bishops and cardinals will take the opposite side and it will be a political battle that make the U.S. Congress look like amateurs. The Pope will win.” To a small extent, this one is true. But we can’t say that, beyond the Synod, there were “big”, i.e. long-lasting, scandals.

(7) “The U.S. influence in the World affairs will diminish remarkably as the Democrats and the Republicans continue to duke it out and demonstrate that America is very divided”. Yep.

(8) “Africa will be the place for some really surprising positive economic and political developments despite racial and tribal turmoil.” Botswana is doing great.

(9) “Mexico and Brazil will continue making steady economic and social progress.” Not quite, especially not Mexico.

(10) “The Chicago Cubs will win both the pennant and the World Series.” Dude. You guys never give up!


(1) “More than 50% of all 2014 predictions will fail.” Amen, brother.

Daniel Drumea

(1) “At least one country or state will launch or adopt Bitcoin or similar as legal tender.” Not even close.


(1) “Republicans will take both House and Senate. Inevitable.” Must have been.

(2) “Israel will bomb Iran.” They didn’t.

(3) “China will suffer economic downturn.” Another inverted prediction.

(4) “Turkey will suffer great economic and domestic turmoil.” I’d say this is a fail: there was some, but not great, turmoil.

(5) “Assad as a winner in the Middle East.” Yep.

(6) “China again—to mask economic crash [leads to] war.” Nope.

(7) “We will be hit by more undenying counter-evidence against AGW. Sun will be quiet. Temperatures will drop. Crack in ideology of AGW will develop for the masses.” It’s true that more and more people are caring less and less about global warming.

(8) “Militant Islam will make Africa burn.” It did in Nigeria. Boko Haram, anybody?


(1) “Syrian war will end with Assad tossed aside while regime remaining intact”. Nope.

(2) “There will be no terrorist attack by Al-Queda on US soil.” True, but other attacks did occur.

(3) “2014 GDP will be highest in a decade” Final numbers aren’t in, but it’s looking good.

(4) “Montreal Canadians will win the Stanley cup”. Los Angeles Kings.

Joseph Hertzlinger

(1) “If de Blasio is anything like Obama, he’ll replace stop-and-frisk with drone strikes.” He removed stop-and-frisk and replaced it with nada.

Milton Hathaway

(1) “A US constitutional convention will be formally scheduled, initiated by the states through a ‘strange bedfellows’ coalition of Tea Party activists and Obama third-termers.” Alas, no.

(2) “MegaMinus (translation?), the Chinese-designed magnesium-backed digital currency, will achieve critical mass and become the defacto standard, overtaking all other digital currencies combined before the end of the year.” No, but they’re already dumping American securities.

(3) “A ‘nuclear incident’ will occur in Iran in late summer or early fall.” Didn’t happen.

(4) “Miley Cyrus will get pregnant.” I have no idea and refuse to look.

Sylvain Allard

(1) “The democrat will keep the Senate and gain the house.” A little wishcasting, eh Sylvain?

(2) “After a rocky start Obamacare will gain in popularity by June. And just like the climate alarmist were proven wrong the obamacare alarmist will be proven wrong.” Nope. And just wait until the employer mandates hit.

(3) “A long term prediction. The US will face another civil war within the next 60 years.” It’s more likely the US will invade Canada.


(1) “E. Snowden will suffer greatly for his crimes (beyond his self-exile) (even if granted ‘protection’).” Hmm. Doesn’t seem to be so.

(2) “The NSA will not suffer at all for theirs.” Indeed, they prospered.


(1) “I predict a federal court case involving polygamy of one sort or another.” District court only (so far as I could discover).

Charles Boncelet

(1) “2014 will be officially regarded as the ‘Year of the Death of the Adverb’. The use of ‘ly’ words has been on the decline for years, but 2014 politicians, educators, and ‘experts’ will officially endorse ‘ly-less’ English in schools and standardized tests.” No, but we’re losing irregular verbs at a rapid pace.

(2) “Since we insist on repeating every dumb idea from the 1970’s, disco will make a comeback.” Disco would be better than the vile noise that wins awards today (and I don’t like disco).

Nate West

(1) “A new low in ‘reality’ television will be set (or are we at the bottom yet)?” Probably not.

(2) “Another study will be released, showing how the brains of the unenlightened are much less evolved than the brains of progressives.” We get one of these a week. Here’s a partial list.

(3) “At least five more municipal bankruptcies.” Yes. This site lists 8 in 2014, including the town of my birth.

(4) “The Federal Reserve finally decides to ‘taper’. Just Kidding. Printing to infinity.” Another Seattle-rain.

(5) “As the Euro crisis continues, independence movements in Europe gain strength—Scotland votes to leave the UK, other movements may force a vote—Catalan, Venice. Belgium finally splits in half.” It was close, but none happened.

(6) “Turkey sees a resurgence of secularism as the depth of corruption of the Erdogan is brought to light. The AK party collapses (for the time being).” The opposite is true.


(1) “Pope Francis will retire, saying ‘What is wrong with you people?'” Close.


(1) “Bitcoin will collapse, either through the natural doom of all pyramid schemes, or (more hilariously) due to some kind of technical vulnerability being exploited by hackers. Nerds will lose billions. Many will nevertheless hop onto the bandwagon of the next sham internet currency to come along.” Seems to be still plugging along. But perhaps its lost its sexiness.

(2) “Obamacare will be rendered toothless due to a repeal of the individual and employer mandates.” The opposite is true. Mr Obama instead decided to ignore Congress.

(3) “Bing will begin to get more search traffic than Google.” What’s a “Bing”?

(4) “Hillary Clinton will announce the start of her Presidential campaign before 2015 dawns.” Still no announcement, though you still have 15 hours.

(5) “Kathleen Sebelius will resign and/or be killed by a falling house.” She did, and good riddance.

(6) “The US military will fire all its Catholic chaplains and replace them with a mix of non-denominational and new-age ministers.” Not quite, but something close. Many faithful chaplains are being squished.

(7) “Long hillbilly beards will become increasingly prevalent among 20-somethings due to some TV show they say everybody’s watching.” I’m guessing you were joking when you made this forecast, but it turned out true.

(8) “Kim Jong Un will get the wind taken out of his sails, somehow.” He is coasting over smooth waters.

Nick B. Steves

(1) “Bitcoin will end the year above $6000/BTC as reported by Mt. Gox.” Somebody is going to have to help me here, but it looks like a no (though I admit I could be misreading this evidence).


(1) “I predict that Briggs will own up to his selective reasoning.” That’s the only way to reason, selectively.

Gavin Keeler

(1) “A cyber attack will cause nation wide chaos in a major nation (maybe America).” Yes. Poor Sony.

(2) “China moves to invade Taiwan for natural resources.” Didn’t happen. The only real resource Taiwan has that China does not, is sea space. The war is also spiritual. The Chinese don’t like recalcitrance.

(3) “Another intelligence leak for America.” Continuously.

(4) “Russia and China will continue to push for regulations on cyber intelligence gathering (NSA) and will make headway at the UN.” In the press, this was so.

(5) “New steps towards moving the world reserve currency to Asia will happen. USD will drop in value and America’s import based economy will continue to tumble due to decreased purchasing power.” Dollar is up at the moment, but on the other hand, people are moving away from it.

(6) “The suicide rate in the Western world and Japan will continue to climb due to lack of job opportunities and purpose in life.” Seems to be so.


(1) “A black market in incandescent bulbs will rival that of alcohol prohibition.” Turns out people are hoarding and smuggling these things.

(2) “GE will discover that the profit margin in CF-B is not what they thought it would be and they declare bankruptcy.” If only.

(3) “Briggs will be caught tapping his toe to a Beatles’ song while wearing stone washed jeans and a tank top.” Didn’t happen. Never will.

(4) “Turkey will be the next middle eastern country to descend into chaos.” Not quite chaos; let’s call it “unrest.”

(5) “A chair of Bayesian statistics will be created for Briggs at an ivy league university, but he will forget his old friends and cease blogging.” Alas, didn’t happen. Briggs is still positionless.

Mike Pauwels

(1) “In at least one preliminary quarterly report the economy will suffer a negative GDP growth. The government will go to extraordinary lengths to revise the data in the final report.” Who knows what finagling occurs behind the scenes, but the GDP is up.

(2) “A new alarm will be raised about the potential of a Yellowstone Super Volcano. USA Today will have a front page map showing the possible zones of destruction.” They did not.

(3) “The Election will result in a 50-50 split Senate, and Joe Biden will find he can reap priceless press coverage because of his tie breaking vote. At least one important one will go against Obama.” Thank goodness, no.

(4) “A late season blizzard will be evidence to climate scientists that Global Warming is accelerating even faster than they had imagined. Predicted consequences will be more devastating and the need for immediate action will be more urgent.” Yes, but another Seattle-rain.

(5)”Obama’s approval rating will rise to just under 45% then slide below 40% and stay there.” It’s 45% at last count.


(1) “There will be an announcement that Pope Francis will visit the United States. This prediction has the virtue of being highly possible in the future, I think.” Nailed it. Philadelphia in the summer.

(2) “The debt to GDP ratio will CONTINUE to decline slowly.” The opposite is true.


(1) “‘Amazing’ will be the new ‘awesome'”. I, like, looked this up, and, like, like I don’t know. Like.

(2) “After blatant military aggression by China in the Pacific in which US forces are either humiliated or conspicuously absent, US shoppers in large numbers will start asking for non-Chinese products in stores.” Nope.

(3) “Iran will conduct a nuclear test shot in North Korea, but Miley Cyrus will be bigger news.” They didn’t, she is.

(4) “Rodman’s basketball exhibition will not happen.” It did, though.

(5) “USA will continue its slide towards a totalitarian police state. NSA will get a Get Out of Jail Free card. Bullying and harassment at US border crossings will worsen. Intrusive, bullying security theatre at airports and other transportation points will worsen markedly.” Yes. NSA is free to do what it likes. Border crossings are still a crime but not punishable, etc.

(6) “USA’s slide towards financial catastrophe will continue with drastic increases in national debt and crazy spending on entitlements, plus more federal attempts at wealth transfer and quack ‘climate’ control regulations.” Yes, but Seattle-rain.

(7) “Republicrats will ensure that Congress is more of a disgusting social tumor than part of the government balance of powers. There will be no effective control of Obama’s spending or blockage of his socialist and statist adventures.” Amazing prediction: Congress is full retreat.

(8) “Obamacare will not be repealed.” It wasn’t.

(9) “Real unemployment and poverty will be bad and worsen, but the official figures will be false.” Hmm. How are we to know they’re false?

(10) “Earnest news articles and editorials in major US media will unintentionally plagiarize official propaganda portrayed in Orwell’s ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’.” Yes, but it’s for your own good.

(11) “There will be lots of entertaining and educational articles posted on this blog — thanks, Matt — and also quite a few on scholastic philosophy and dead horses of philosophical logic. Hey, it’s Matt’s blog. He can do with it as he likes.” A man’s blog is his castle.

jon shively

(1) “The Affordable Care Act will be implemented despite the fact that is not more affordable for the majority of families despite many promises made by HHS”. My rates jumped dramatically (maybe because I haven’t been to the doctor in years).

(2) “There will be massive protests by people insured under the old insurance plans which will produce no action by congress”. No. People groused but accepted their pain.

(3) “Massive quantities of money will be given to insurance companies to keep them from going bankrupt before the election in November.” Some got paid off, yes.

(4) “No one will figure how to extricate the nation from the damage to the economy being produced by the ACA.” Yes, no one will.

(5) “There will be no increase in global warming in 2014, but only in spending to promote a carbon tax.” Yes: the EPA went hog wild this year, regulating left and right. And it continued to deny outsiders a look at the evidence they used to create their regulations. This is called “Science.”


(1) “Obama will become a recluse, after repeated failures in his foreign policy and Obamacare. He will hide out in the White House or wherever Michelle isn’t. Joe Biden will become the face of the administration.” Not even close!

(2) “The Keystone Pipeline will be approved.” Nope.

(3) “The ‘Atlas Shrugged’ behaviour of the Republicans will continue in the hopes that the Democrats will implode.” Yes.

(4) “A major injury or death in football will result in endless congressional hearings and media debates on whether or not football is un-American.” This one is pretty close. We haven’t quite reached standard-media-circus levels, but soon, soon.

(5) “Language will become rather useless as people continue to call ‘cold’ ‘warming’, ‘lies’ ‘truth’, etc. The call for not bullying while bullying, the referring to success as evil and bad, while calling failure success, will result in more violence and more accidents, etc. due to failures trying to drive busses and build high-rises.” Yes, but another Seattle-rain.

Bill S

(1) “Wall Street. S&P 500 will close within 5% of 12/31/13.” No: it’s way up.

(2) “Sports. Broncos will win Super Bowl and end 2014 in playoffs.” Nope, though the Broncos at least made it there.

(3) “World. China will start to implode due to rapid rise of cancer deaths. Indicator will be that 10% of production moves out of China.” Not even close.

(4) “Politics. Little d democrats will vote to keep as is for house and senate. Little r republicans will not use the opportunity to retake the Senate.” Didn’t happen.

(5) “AGW. Climate activists will thrash (as in a hard drive thrashing). This one does not count for much but there is such a thing as completeness.” It is complete, yes.

(6) “Religion. Another tough year for believers in a God. MSM will dominate the message.” As they always do.

(7) “Wars. Nothing worth mentioning. MSM will play up hotspots but nobody will get stupid. This includes Iran, Iraq, Israel, Turkey, North Korea, Argentina, and everybody else I forgot.” Pretty much got it.

The Grand Winner Announced!

An easy pick this year. Bob Mrotek. Had the highest hit rate and nailed most of his predictions. Perhaps these weren’t the stretchy-est guesses, but they were still bankable.

The rest of us need to do much better. Luckily, we have, starting tomorrow, an opportunity to do so.

Congratulations, Bob! And thanks to all for playing.

Pope Francis And Out-Of-Control Deadly Eschatological Global Warming

This post is one that has been restored after the hacking. All original comments were lost.

The press, fond as they are of reporting wild speculation as actual news, has been speculating and reporting-as-news that our Holy Father is going to release an encyclical—a “rare” document carrying the force of “the highest levels of a pope’s authority”—which will tell the world that global warming will doom us all unless we cede the authority of all things to world government.

The uber-left Guardian speculates “Pope Francis’s edict on climate change will anger deniers and US churches“. Edict? As in legally binding command? Denier? As is one who still holds to the scientific precept that consistently bad and busted forecasts imply a bad and busted theory?

Since the pope has not yet released his encyclical, if indeed he is writing one, I can’t find myself being angry. And if he does write one, I don’t think I’ll feel anything besides mild bemusement. Popes do curious things and who am I to judge? So the Guardian got that one wrong. Of course, that’s just speculation on my part about my part, so be sure to check back if and when the pope makes his move and I’ll give you the inside scoop about my inner turmoil, if any.

Why chatter on about my emotions? Good question, that. Why does the Guardian center its efforts on the emotional state of its enemies? Could it be—we’re speculating here—that all this climate frou-frou is not, as we have been told, a mere (and dull) branch of scientific investigation, but is instead an enormous political lever wielded by leftist politicians in an effort to be granted more power?

Only the Lord knows the answer to that difficult question. But I’ll tell you this. Whenever I’ve met an activist, concerned citizen, politizen, or any other person suffering angst over the world’s impending heat-doom, I ask them a few questions. Like, “What is the omega equation? Can you describe CAPE? Would you please tell me everything you know about radiative transfer?” This will shock you, but none know the answers.

Now isn’t that odd? This is supposed to the end-of-the-world, ooggly-boogly, what-about-the-children stuff, the science of which is settled. Facts so sure that only deniers would deny them. You would have guessed, therefore, that those most vigorously wringing their hands would have boned up on the subject which is so dear to them. Best anybody can do, though, is to point to something some scientist said, a statement about which they are in no position to judge. To these folks science just is another branch of politics, subject to majority-rules vote.


I’m only speculating, but the Guardian has surely condemned “the Vatican” before, using terms like “medieval”, “patriarchal”, “controlling” and so forth, none of which (strangely) they mean as compliments. Nothing the writers there (and at Think Progress, etc.) would like better than to see this ancient institution busted up or forced to bow to modern fetishes. (True-as-vote yet again.) So what are we to make of the strange glee of the perpetually “outraged” reporter who wrote that the pope’s yet-to-be-written encyclical “will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners”?

Obviously, this reporter (who also saw fit to liken Francis to Superman) is hopeful that Catholics must and will obey the Holy Father and start to believe there is no more worse problem than global warming.

Boy, is this guy in for awakening (if the pope really does release an encyclical stating global warming is the Most Important Problem Ever). Western Catholics aren’t well known for toeing the line. Many turn a cold shoulder to dogma, so it’s not likely that something as minor as an encyclical about environmental science will be compelling.

Switching gears, I was surprised-and-then-not-surprised to read “a strong majority of white evangelicals in the U.S. believe that worsening natural disasters are a sign of the apocalypse, not climate change, and other conservative evangelical sects will likely oppose Francis’ efforts.”

That makes no sense. If “white evangelicals” believe “the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of what the Bible calls ‘the end times'” you think they’d be on board with the pope’s imagined encyclical. Bring on the heat, baby, and end this thing!

But then the question itself is flawed. Natural disasters are decreasing not increasing, both in frequency and severity. The reduction in frequency is a result of the climate changing (for the better), and the lessening of severity is because of inter alia the wise use of fossil fuels and technological increase.

God bless the pope.

Monty Hall And This Video Prove Probability Is Measure Of Truth

This post is one that has been restored after the hacking. All original comments were lost.

This post is really an excuse to highlight a cute video that’s being passed around (shown above, linked here; part one is here). Describes a simple bet in which 100 people take a dollar bill and write their number on it (1-100). The bills are hidden in 100 numbered boxes in a closed room. Participants enter the room singly and can open up to 50 boxes (and must re-close them); participants may not communicate after exiting the room.

If everybody discovers their own bill, all receive $101, else all forfeit their buck. What’s the best strategy, i.e. the one that maximizes the possibility of all winning?

Before watching, can you guess the best solution? Here’s one possible way. Each person goes into the room and opens 50 boxes. Now, conditional on the premises of the rules of the game and on this simple opening algorithm, what are the chances you find your number (bill)? Obviously 50%.

That is to say, the probability of you finding your bill is deduced as 50%. So the chance that all win is 0.5 to the 100th power, a small number. This really is the probability. And the probability, like all probabilities, is a measure of information. This claim is proved easily because premised on another guessing strategy, the probability everybody guesses correctly is different, around 30%, a not-so-small number.

I’ll let you watch the video to discover the better guessing strategy. It hinges on the idea of permutations. Which is to say, there is more information lurking in the problem that you might not have suspected.

Point is this: the probability changes based on the premises. Nothing physical has changed. The dollars do not move boxes. The people remain the same. No boxes are even opened! The probability changes because the information changes. And the only way that can happen is if probability is a measure of truth, of information.

Probability can’t therefore be subjective or some relative frequency or anything else. If probability were subjective you could claim, based on the way you feel, baby, that the probability all win is 82.141%. And why not? Emotions are infinitely variable, thus so too is probability if probability is a matter of feeling. If probability were physical or some relative frequency, then the probability must remain fixed because the situation is fixed.

All that changes is the information. And when it changes, so does the probability. Thus probability must be a measure of information.

The Monty Hall problem is easier to understand than the permutation video, but it’s the same idea. Different premises, i.e. changing information, means different probabilities. (Read the linked article for a fuller description of the setup.)

Three doors, a prize behind one. You pick a door, and Monty opens one you didn’t pick. There are now two choices, the door you originally picked and another. Should you switch or stay? Premised on “there are two doors, one of which conceals the prize”, the chance really is 50% you have picked the correct door. Thus switching or staying is the same. That means people who insist on this probability are correct, as long as they also insist on just these premises.

But like the permutation problem, there is more information available. Frequently forgotten is that Monty knows where the prize is. He will not open the door which conceals the prize. And it is that information which, if conditioned on, changes the probability of winning to 2/3 if you switch. Different information, different probability. (See the article for why.)

Once again, probability is a measure of information.

Remember the interocitor example?

Given the evidence, or premises, “In this box are six green interocitors and four red ones. One interocitor will be pulled from the box” the probability of “A green interocitor will be pulled” is 6/10. Even though there are no such things as interocitors. Hence no real relative frequencies.

Subjectivity is dangerous in probability. A subjective Bayesian could, relying on the theory, say, “I ate a bad burrito. The probability of pulling a green interocitor is 97.121151%”. How could you prove him wrong?

There are no frequencies nor anything else physical. Probability can’t be relative frequencies or some real tangible, i.e. physical thing. Nor do feelings come into it. Probability isn’t subjective. The probability is strictly 6/10, deduced based on the given information.

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