William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 150 of 744

Probability & Statistics Cannot Prove Cause

From Roy Spencer; see link below.

From Roy Spencer; see link below.


I was at the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness conference in Ontario (LA) California and gave my paper The Crisis Of Evidence: Why Probability And Statistics Cannot Discover Cause, which we also discussed here. It went well; actually, better than I had hoped.

I didn’t have my computer with me. Bliss. But I am now rather behind.

Anyway, our friend Roy Spencer once did an analysis which showed (something like) the number of annual UFO reports correlated with the global average temperature anomaly. Passed all the statistical tests he could think of. Wee p-values etc. Conclusion? UFOs cause global warming—and didn’t Michael Crichton say the same thing?

Now we all laugh at this example. Why? There is nothing wrong with it. Spencer followed all the classical rules. It must be the case that we are forced to say, at least, UFOs are “linked to” global warming. If we cannot admit that, then we must toss out the classical statistics.

And that’s what we should do. Out the door it goes. Never use hypothesis tests or Bayes factors again. They can say nothing about cause. That’s nothing as in no thing.

We laugh at Roy’s example (one of thousands) because we know that UFOs can’t possibly cause changes in temperature. And because we know what can’t be the cause, any statistical procedure that says UFOs are a cause must be the logical equivalent of a congressman making a promise.

Of course, no scientist would ever run the tests “proving” UFOs cause global warming. Because scientists are, and should be, interested in cause and not wee p-values or big Bayes factors. Indeed, any professional (sober) statistician the scientist consulted would also refuse to do a test. Why? Because he would also know UFOs can’t be a cause.

But if you asked a statistician to provide a justification for his move consonant with statistical philosophy, she would not be able to give it. She’ll mumble something about “correlation isn’t causation”, but that is nothing more than a restatement of the problem. Why isn’t correlation causation.

“Well, correlation isn’t causation,” she’ll say, “because something else because the proposed mechanism might be the true cause.”

Okay, but since all we have are p-values or Bayes factors or the like, and these are often or always used to claim cause, how do we know in this case UFOs aren’t a cause?

“That’s because any good statistician looks outside the data as well as the uses the analysis.”

But if you’re looking outside the data, which is surely a good thing to do, why use the analysis at all? In this case, it can only lie to you.

“That’s because sometimes the proposed mechanism is a cause. And in those cases we want to use a statistical test.”

Hold on. In the cases we know the proposed mechanism is a cause, then also we don’t need to use statistical tests to tell us so, because, of course, we already know the mechanism is a cause.

“No, because it still might be the case that the results are due to chance. Hypothesis tests and Bayes factors can tell us that.”

Wait, wait, wait. We have descended into madness. Chance isn’t a force. It isn’t physical. It is a matter of epistemology and not ontology. It is a measure of our ignorance and not cause. Nothing in the world can be “due to”, i.e. cause by, chance. Saying the results are “due to” chance is to say either something wildly false or misleading, or it merely admits we don’t know what caused our observations. But then if that’s true, it must be that when we say the results are not “due to” chance, we are saying we have proved, or proved with some high probability, what the cause of the observations was. And that we have already seen is false.

So why do we use statistics in any but two senses? (1) Reporting: just saying what happened with no overlaying of any model or test, or (2) Predicting: saying what the chances are for new observations given we assume we have knowledge of the cause.

“You know, you’re right. I shall no longer teach p-values to my students.”


I had nice conversation with George Gilder about the usefulness of falsifiability. Regular readers will know I think it has only limited abilities. Probability models are often not falsifiable, for instance.

Gilder uses it in an economic sense. Very briefly, if wealth is essentially (used in the “mostly” or “more or less” sense) knowledge, to increase knowledge is to increase wealth. Now if we do not allow businesses to “falsify”, i.e. to fail, and we insist on propping them up, we force ourselves to remain ignorant of the (free market) solutions that could have fixed it. In other words, we force stagnation.

That appears to me to be absolutely true.


I am late, writing this on the fly, so only a note about Edward Calabrese who spoke on hormesis. Look it up. We’ll talk more about that later.

Summary Against Modern Thought: Can God Know The Future?

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

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Does God know everything that will happen? If so, how?

Chapter 65 That God Knows Future Contingent Singulars (alternate translation)

[1] FROM the foregoing it is already somewhat evident that from eternity God has had unerring knowledge of singular contingencies, and that nevertheless they cease not to be contingent.[1]

[2] For contingency is not incompatible with certainty of knowledge except in so far as it is future, and not as it is present. Because a contingency, while future, may not be; so that the knowledge of one who thinks it will be, may be wrong, and it will be wrong if what he thinks will be, will not be. From the moment however that it is, for the time being it cannot not-be: although it may not be in the future, but this affects the contingency, not as present but as future. Hence sense loses nothing of its certainty when it sees that a man is running, although this statement is contingent.

Accordingly all knowledge that bears on a contingency as present, can be certain. Now the vision of the divine intellect from eternity sees each thing that happens in time as though it were present, as we have shown above.[2] Therefore it follows that nothing prevents God having unerring knowledge of contingencies from eternity.

Notes I might have abridged this paragraph but left it to show how careful Thomas was. All the rigor of any modern mathematical theorem. Like I’ve said before, I also enjoy the way our saint eases us into problems.

[3] Again. The contingent differs from the necessary according as each is in its cause: for the contingent is in its cause in such a way that it may not result, or may result therefrom: whereas the necessary cannot but result from its cause. But according as each of them is in itself, they differ not as to being, on which the true is founded: because there is not in the contingent, considered as it is in itself, being and not-being, but only being, although it is possible for the contingent not to be in the future. Now the divine intellect knows things from eternity, not only as to the being which they have in their causes, but also as to the being which they have in themselves.[3] Therefore nothing prevents it having eternal and unerring knowledge of contingencies.

Notes Don’t forget that eternal does not mean “starting at some point in the dim and forgotten past and looking forward into the misty future” but instead as “outside of time.” The analogy, imperfect as all analogies are, is looking down from on high onto the timeline of history.

[4] Moreover. Even as the effect follows certainly from a necessary cause, so does it from a complete contingent cause unless it be hindered. Now, since God knows all things, as was proved above,[4] He knows not only the causes of contingencies, but also that which may possibly hinder them. Therefore He knows certainly whether contingencies be or not.

[5] Again. An effect does not happen to exceed its cause; but sometimes it falls short of it. Hence, since in us knowledge is caused from things, it happens at times that we know necessary things, by way not of necessity but of probability. Now, just as with us things are the cause of knowledge, so the divine knowledge is the cause of the things known.[5] Nothing therefore prevents things whereof God has necessary knowledge being contingent in themselves.

Notes Oho! A shout-out to probabilists and statisticians from the man himself. Not only that, he ties, as we should but don’t, probability to knowledge of causes. That point is subtle, so I’ll leave off here. But stick around. Next week I’ll have a paper on this topic.

[6] Further. An effect cannot be necessary if its cause be contingent, for it would follow that an effect exists after its cause has been removed. Now the ultimate effect has both a proximate and a remote cause. Hence if the proximate cause be contingent, its effect must needs be contingent, even though the remote cause be necessary: thus plants do not necessarily bear fruit–although the motion of the sun is necessary–on account of the contingent intermediate causes. But God’s knowledge, although it is the cause of the things it knows, is nevertheless their remote cause. Wherefore the contingency of the things it knows does not militate with its necessity: since it happens that the intermediate causes are contingent.

Notes Never forget we already know God is the first necessary cause of all.

[7] Again. God’s knowledge would not be true and perfect, if things happened not in the same way as God knows them to happen. Now God, since He is cognizant of all being, whereof He is the source, knows each effect not only in itself, but also in its relation to every one of its causes. But the relation of contingencies to their proximate causes, is, that they result from them contingently. Therefore God knows that certain things happen and that they happen contingently. Wherefore the certainty and truth of the divine knowledge do not take away the contingency of things.

Notes This immediately follows. The big step comes next.

[8] It is therefore clear from what has been said how we are to refute the objection[6] gainsaying God’s knowledge of contingencies. For change in that which is subsequent does not argue changeableness in that which precedes: since it happens that contingent ultimate effects result from necessary first causes. Now the things known to God do not precede His knowledge, as is the case with us, but are subsequent thereto. Therefore it does not follow that, if what is known to God be changeable, His knowledge can err or in any way be changeable. It will therefore be a fallacy of consequence if, because our knowledge of changeable things is changeable, we think that this happens in all knowledge…

Notes And here we see that Pinnock (see last week) and others cannot be right that God can be “surprised” by future events. The future is not “open” in this sense. It is an understandable error to fall into, however. We’re dealing with infinities such as God’s omniscience and omnipotence, which St Thomas was careful in the beginning to say that we could never know. We’re always coming at God on the edges, so to speak. We can never grasp what it’s like out at infinity.

Therefore, “problems”—or, as the Church calls them, mysteries—like the compatibility of free will with an all-powerful all-knowing God cannot be solved by us in any complete sense. The best we can do is create analogical arguments, or even, in some cases, formal technical proofs of associated ideas, but a full understanding must elude us. The best books on this subject are by William Lane Craig: The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge & Human Freedom, and The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingents from Aristotle to Suarez, and a few others. The first is a semi-popular treatment, and the second an expert treatise. When I get around to it, I’ll review the first.


[1] Cf. ch. lxiv.
[2] Ch. lxvi.
[3] Ch. lxvi.
[4] Ch. l.
[5] Cf. ch. lxv.
[6] Cf. ch. lxiii.: The third . . . p. 133.

This Week In Doom: Utopia Or Death (Baseball’s and Yours)


I For One Welcome Our New Robot Masters

Computerized Umpire Calls Shots At San Rafael Pacifics Baseball Game

The San Rafael Pacifics are no strangers to promotions, but a computerized umpire being showcased Tuesday could offer a glimpse into the future of baseball.

The Pacifics hosted the first professional game played with a computer calling balls and strikes.

Home plate umpire Dean Poteet didn’t move much during the game. He called fair and foul balls, but not balls or strikes.

“They told me to stick my thumb in my belt loop so that I didn’t call strikes,” Poteet said.

The robotic umpire is designed to determine each player’s strike zone, and make the call.

Former Oakland A’s player Eric Byrnes announced the robotic umpire’s calls.

“This is something down the road that will change the game of baseball forever,” Byrnes said.

Brynes is right. It’s only progressives who think “change” is always good. Computerized umpires were the natural “progression” from instant replay review. The itch to make things perfect can never be scratched. Nothing is ever enough.

Look: we don’t even have to play the games. Why should we? Players make mistakes! Don’t you know how important these games are? Money is involved. Why don’t we quantitatively assess players’ abilities, and then design an algorithm which matches teams and shows us which side would have won? We could play entire seasons in seconds! Think of the tremendous savings! After all, who doesn’t want to get it right?

Dead Languages

Bias-Free Language Guide claims the word ‘American’ is ‘problematic’

“American,” “illegal alien,” “foreigners,” “mothering,” and “fathering” are just a handful of words deemed “problematic” by the University of New Hampshire’s Bias-Free Language Guide.

According to the university’s website, the guide “is meant to invite inclusive excellence in [the] campus community.”

Terms also considered problematic include: “elders,” “senior citizen,” “overweight,” “speech impediment,” “dumb,” “sexual preference,” “manpower,” “freshmen,” “mailman,” and “chairman,” in addition to many others.

The guide defines words such as “homosexual” as “problematic,” offering “Same Gender Loving” as a more inclusive substitute. Similarly, a lack of gender-neutral bathrooms is, according to the university, “ciscentrism.”

The university defines “ciscentrism” as “[a] pervasive and institutionalized system that places transgender people in the ‘other’ category and treats their needs and identities as less important than those of cisgender people.”

Words exist to express bias. If we remove the ability of words to do this, we lose the ability to think. It is a bias to call the tart pulpy red-skinned fruit that drops from a tree an apple and not a Buick. It is a bias to call a man without legs disabled; it is nonsense of the first order to call him differently abled because, obviously, he is not “abled.” It would be better to call him handicapped, or even crippled, for that is the best expression of the truth.

That we now see truth as “hurtful” is an symptom of our insanity. To think that some people, like those who created the asinine guide, make a living promulgating such preposterousities (if they can make up words, so can I) to a cowering populace. Maybe we ought to create our own guide and market it to supine college administrators.

Science is one of the causalities. The guide says, “Problematic/Outdated: Biological/Genetic/Natal/ ‘normal’ sex”. Recommendation? “Preferred: Assigned Sex”. How long before some lunatic, say a man pretending to be a woman, sues a gynecologist for refusing to treat him? I’d put my money on the lunatic. He might wind up with Anthony Kennedy as a judge.

Given that our government is staffed by folks who have been thoroughly propagandized, how long is it before these kinds of non-words are made official? Don’t laugh. Some enterprising Democrats have already introduced a bill to eliminate “husband” and “wife” from the language. And it’s already happened in other countries.

All this is the quite natural consequence of supposing the “truth” is what we decide.

Survey Says

Poll Commissioned by Planned Parenthood Says Planned Parenthood Is Popular. (Somebody sent this to me, but I cannot rediscover who. My apologies—and thanks.)

Planned Parenthood hired a Democratic polling firm to find out if taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood is still popular, and found out that 64 percent of voters still want federal funding for the organization. Here’s the question that voters were asked:

Some Republicans in Congress say that because of the undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, there should be an immediate vote to end all government funding for Planned Parenthood, including for services Planned Parenthood provides, such as cancer screenings and family planning. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with the Republicans who say Congress should vote immediately vote to end all government funding for Planned Parenthood, including for services Planned Parenthood provides, such as cancer screenings and family planning?

Say, they forgot to ask about butchering babies and selling the pieces to the highest bidder. Could this be why nobody trusts statistics?

Incidentally, our guess that supporters of killing the lives inside mothers would either disparage the videos because of editing (even though the full unedited versions are also available) or would ignore them hoping they would go away was right on the money. John Nolte discovered that the legacy media covered the hunting of some dumb beast more in one day than in Planned Parenthood in two weeks.

Powers & Principalities

Video captures unveiling of satanic statue in Detroit

My prediction that the secret location of the unveiling (in my hometown) would be ex-mayor Coleman Young’s residence turned out to be wrong. Win some, lose some.

We All Need A Little Solace

Remnant: Archbishop Cupich Gives Up The Ghost


Today’s post is at The Remnant: Archbishop Cupich Gives Up The Ghost:

What do you think the Catholic Church, that great representation of Christ’s body on earth, in Chicagoland is up to these days?

If you guessed implementing and then bragging about implementing the EPA’s Energy Star program, you were right. Congratulations.

Chicago Archbishop Blase J. Cupich is juiced about all things global warming that are happening in and around the Catholic Church these days. Now I don’t mean to single out this man, because he is one of many with similar views, yet his Excellency has been public about his exhortations. In an op-ed to the Chicago Sun-Times he tells us how joyfully he looks forward “to benchmarking and tracking” the “energy, water, and emissions performance” of the facilities under his care.

Go there to read the rest.

My main point is this:

So, fine; whatever. Reduce emissions at all the churches, piously and repeatedly lecture us on sustainability, and redistribute the wealth in what is left of the energy industry and of the Koch brothers to the poor. Then what? Will that get more people into heaven? Or fewer?

The argument of how these things are tied together is never made, so far as I can see, by most prelates. Pope Francis has something of one in Laudato Si’, but the connections he makes are tenuous. How can switching from incandescent to mercury bulbs pull more people off the path to hell?

Now if you are a secularist, even a Catholic one, even one in holy orders, heaven and hell are right here on earth, so you can easily make the case that energy efficiency, or whatever, makes the world more divine. Even pushing for fewer people makes sense, which is why people who live in, for instance, Boulder, Colorado, try to keep outsiders out. Environmentalists want to do the same on a planetary scale.

But you happen to believe in Christ-as-God, as you should if you’re a bishop, it’s the spiritual that should come first, the salvation of your flock. Anyway, Christ should at least be somewhere in the list. I’m not saying it’s impossible that a worldwide carbon dioxide tax can’t produce more heaven-bound souls, but I’ve never heard how.

In 1968, the editors of (the now defunct) Triumph magazine wrote an article entitled, “The Autumn of the Church.” They said:

When Christians lost faith in their capacity to make history, they naturally became interested in the success formulas of those who were making history, or seemed to be. They became interested in liberalism…

For it is the peculiar evil of liberalism, among all the errors man is capable of, that it can hold out a credible promise of welcoming its enemies even while it is eating them. It can do this because its seductive willingness to put up with everyone’s beliefs conceals the implicit bargain that no one will follow his beliefs—will take them seriously.

Und zo? “[T]he American bishops now feel able to take a stand on a public issue only when they concur with the consensus of the national secular establishment.” The Church is “committed to its secular values and goals” and is an “arm” of the “political order.”

As I say in the article, “the Catholic Church in the West has voluntarily morphed into yet another hectoring humorless NGO, albeit one that vaguely, kinda-sorta, mumbles about ‘spirituality’ from time to time.”

Incidentally, I got the days confused: this should have run Thursday at my blog and the alien invasion “disproving” God’s existence Friday. But my mistake paid off, as I now can quote from a commenter at The Remnant:

Jeff Wynne
I almost never agree with Abp Cupich, but he does have a point about those coal miners tracking their carbon footprints all through the house. Yeah, for cleaner energy sources says coal miner housewives everywhere!

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