William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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The Week In Doom: Nervous Sheep & Intolerant Irish

Return of the snakes

As of this writing, Ireland has voted 60%-ish to allow two men or two women—and only two at this point; arbitrary discrimination, no?—to pretend to be married. The final numbers come in around 11 am NYC time. See this for background.

Three things are clear: (1) The polls were about 70%, the vote tally about 60% (so far), meaning there might have been many frightened liars, which the press there called a ‘shy No’; (2) The 40% who retained their sanity will soon be forced to play along: will telling two (why two?) men they aren’t really married be labeled criminal “hate speech”?; and (3) St Patrick will be setting off for greener shores.

Richard Dawkins—yes, that Richard Dawkins—asked the best question of the day: “Majority of Irish ‘identify’ as Catholic. Yet most surely don’t support Catholic doctrine. So why ‘identify’ as RC?” We have no answer for you, Ricky, old boy.

Tim Stanley has some ideas, though: The Irish referendum on gay marriage was about more than just gay marriage. It was a politically motivated, media backed, well financed howl of rage against Catholicism.

Update Tallies as of 11:30 am ET: 62% yes, 13 out of 43 constituencies counted.

Update All in now 62% vs. 38%. This will be called “Ireland votes for same-sex gmarriage”, when in reality 38% of folks stuck to reality. Only Roscommon-South Leitrim was the no vote greater than 50%. Somebody please check this prediction: people from Roscommon-South Leitrim will be subject to any amount of abused; “backward people”, “homophobic”, etc.

Update Called it: “We are hameorragning young people from the county and I hope that doesn’t increase now because of this conservative opinion.

Nervous sheep

Sheep stay silent in war of words over whether animals can suffer verbal abuse. PETA lodged a complaint in Australia at a sheep sheering station at which a man yelled at a sheep.

“The basis for the concerns was the rights of the animals, that they might have been harassed by viewing things they shouldn’t have seen or verbal abuse by people using bad language,” he said.

“To my knowledge, there was no actual cruelty on the job.

“The allegation was that bad language was used by an employee on the property in front of the sheep, and that they could have been offended by the use of bad language.”…

Lynda Stoner, CEO at Animal Liberation NSW, agreed.

She said animals did not need to understand language in order to comprehend that a human speaker was frustrated or angry.”

After you have your chuckle, reflect. This was on ABC, Australia’s (just as leftist) version of the New York Times or CNN. Do you seriously think your (appropriate) laughter will be enough to slow this kind of mental rot?

In democracies, “truth” is decided by vote. Can that be repeated too often?

That’s offensive!

University students vote to ban Bibles from halls.

A motion passed at an Aberystwyth University Students’ Union meeting, called for an end to the tradition of having Gideon Bibles in students’ bedrooms, branding it “inappropriate in a multicultural university”.

A critic said the move “seems illiberal and intolerant.” Seems. The last sentence is a kicker: “In 2013 a company managing Huddersfield University accommodation called for Bibles to be banned arguing that it wanted its properties to be ‘ethically neutral’.”

Does it do any good to say there is no such thing as “ethically neutral”?

The answer is: no.

Nipple heads

Continuing a world-wide trend, female students at University of California, San Diego doffed their shirts this week to display their breasts in protest (no pics at the link; sorry), to the delight of many male students (and probably male professors, too).

The main complaint, as far as I could make it out, is that these ladies don’t like that they aren’t men. They discovered that men have nipples and that they have nipples, and that this led to a eureka moment where one lass said, “We both have nipples. Equality!” They then pretended walking around semi-naked allowed them to keep their sexual allure.

Who said that college education was too expensive?

Nipples heads redux

‘Men’s Lingerie’ Raises Question: Is Western Civilisation Over?. The answer is, surprisingly, not yet. But close.

They speak of a line of undergarments in Europe for men who have lost their masculinity, a larger and larger market. Unbridled capitalism at work—looks like Pope Francis was right!

Responding to this (in part) was Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky: “There’s no limit to our outrage. It’s the end of Europe. It has turned wild. They don’t have men and women any more. They have ‘it’.” God bless Russia.

It reborn

Transgender ‘Baptism’ Ceremony Is Now a Thing, According to the Church of England.

The Church of England is set to debate plans for a ceremony akin to a baptism for people who have recently undergone gender reassignment surgery…

The motion reads: “That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, call on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.”

Does it do any good to say there is no such thing as “gender reassignment surgery” or “gender transitions”? Same answer as above. But this language does prove what I said yesterday: lunatics think abnormal (in the biological sense, of course) sexual preference turns you into non-human creatures. Why else would you need to be re-re-born?

This hasn’t been made canonical Anglican law yet. But would any of you bet against it?

Told ya so

Proving that what is demanded is complete and total submission comes this sad story: Canadian jeweler threatened for opposing gay marriage — after providing service to gay weddings.

A lesbian couple came into the jeweler’s shop looking for custom-made rings for their wedding. No problem, he told them. Later the couple recommended him to some friends, who dropped by — and noticed a sign on the wall that read, “The sanctity of marriage is under attack. Let’s keep marriage between a man and a woman.” The lesbian couple then decided they wanted a refund on their rings, the media picked up the story, and now the jeweler’s being threatened for his thoughtcrime. Of such things are the mileposts on the road to perfect tolerance made.

The man eventually refunded the money, but this—surprise—was not satisfactory nor sufficient.

Jardon said he’s getting a big backlash from social media.

“I had to shut down the Facebook page because of so many hate emails and phone calls and just, really nasty stuff,” he said.

Now everything I know about Canadian law I learned from the McKenzie Brothers, so I have no good guess what will happen. But isn’t it the case that you are allowed to offend no one but traditional Christians?

Gay-conversion Therapy Bans And The Origin Of Homosexual


When “gay” or “homosexual” meant somebody who predominately engaged in same-sex activities, the words had some use, but with an inherent and real danger that people, via this language, would come to assume that “gay person” or “homosexual person” was a real, distinct creature, something different than a “heterosexual person”, almost another species, which is impossible. People are now quite surprised when they learn, for instance, “homosexual” is a neologism only a century or so old. The OED reports 1892 for the first inclination, 1912 for the first creature. But why this innovation? Good question, that. Before answering, a short journey.

People now identify themselves, not as man or woman, the only biological possibilities (barring gross malfunction), these forming the (part of the) essence of human being, but as “gay” or “bisexual” or “hetero”, or one of a dozen, and growing, list of designators, and all “born that way”. (Don’t forget Yours Truly is created with inventing woofies, an untoward bit of satire that will probably turn around and bite him in the ass.) That this is proved false, not just by appeal to biology, which is sufficient, but by observing identical twins report same-sex attraction rates similar to non-twins, is everywhere ignored. If “orientation” were genetic, or people were “born that way”, both twins would report the same attractions; they do not, therefore, etc.

This proves the adage that when we lose our grip on language we lose the ability to think. Propaganda works. Consequences?

It is often observed, and therefore true, that some individuals engage in same-sex activities in their lives, usually in their youth or in prison or on a lonely mountain, only to turn later to wholly opposite-sex activities. People—many people—report, that is, being “gay” then not being “gay”. “Conversions”—itself the wrong word since it assumes “orientation” is a nature—happen. (Enter the distressing No True Gay-person fallacy: skip it.) The evidence for the fluidity in sexual behavior is overwhelming, and, anyway, used to be, for all of human history, common knowledge.

Before that common knowledge began to be banned, that is, in part because of the corruption of language. We have reached the point where to assert what is true is called “hate” or “hate speech”. Truth-sayers are routinely chased from society, hounded by spittle-flecked, shrieking mobs who belch, “Hater!” Hilarious, in its way. Words matter.

People have now become so frightened of being screeched at, that we have reached the point where this headline is not surprising: “Gay-conversion therapy ban to be introduced in House“.

The push to end so-called “conversion therapy” against homosexuality is expected to gear up Tuesday with the introduction of a House bill to ban the therapy nationally.

The bill comes a few weeks before a consumer fraud lawsuit described as a “David and Goliath” battle over the therapy begins in New Jersey, and in the wake of a request for a federal probe into whether the therapy’s marketing and practices are “deceptive” and “dangerous.”

Opponents of sexual orientation change efforts, such as Reps. Ted W. Lieu and Jackie Speier, both California Democrats, say being homosexual is not a disorder or illness, and efforts to change one’s sexual orientation are wrong and harmful.

See? It’s right there: “being homosexual”, as if this state represented a race or subspecies of humanity. So common is this locution that it’s almost impossible to see the truth behind it. And notice—particularly notice—that the discussion of whether same-sex acts are moral is missing in action. That is the only question of interest. It is. Just think: if all persons who claimed to be “gay” were celibate (and believed to be) then nobody would care one whit about what people called themselves or their reported unacted-upon desires.

What has happened with the corruption of language is that the morality debate has been bypassed: tacitly, folks believe that if people are “born that way”, then they have “no choice” but to engage in same-sex acts. Since that is an obvious fallacy, it is never stated. (If you don’t see the fallacy, apply the same argument to murderous psychopaths, woofies, etc.) People want same-sex acts to be moral, but don’t want to or don’t know how to say so, and so engage in this end-around. (Perhaps that accounts for why people wildly over-estimate the percent of people who engage in same-sex acts.)

It’s worth quoting another paragraph:

“I am ecstatic that the leader of the free world has called for an end to gay ‘conversion’ therapy. And I commend President Obama for recognizing ‘reparative’ therapy for the crappery that it is,” Mr. Lieu told a reporter for Frontiers Media on Monday.

Crappery. Get that man a pitchfork.

As said, “conversion” is the wrong word, and so is “reparative therapy”. They, too, are a diversion of the real argument. “Converters”, if you like, believe same-sex acts are immoral; “banners” believe they are not. It is Victorian-puritan squeamishness, I think, that accounts for the polarization and the creation of “homosexuals.” People who desired to engage in same-sex acts were forced into the word, so to speak, not so much by biology, but by rationally concluding they could get what they wanted were they to assume an identity. And don’t forget there are cultures (still!) where there are no such thing as “homosexuals”—mainly in Africa and remote South America where the squeamishness was never present.

Anyway, once these bans become common, how long before it is ruled illegal for a man to claim he is a “former gay” or to tell children they have a “choice”? Well, these are just the kind of things you can expect in a democracy. “Truth” is decided by vote.

Extra. A small article on the types of therapies: Show Us the Facts on Homosexual Therapy

Update This article has been reprinted at The Stream.

Ireland’s Same-Sex Gmarriage Vote: Or, The Snakes Return?

From the Irish Times, accessed late 20 May 2015.

From the Irish Times, accessed late 20 May 2015.

Update See Saturday’s post for results.

Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has “no wish to stuff [his] religious views down other people’s throats”—is that done with a shillelagh?—and so he won’t tell or even suggest or even hint to the Irish which way to vote on tomorrow’s referendum on same-sex “marriage” (hereafter gmarriage).

He did let it slip that he himself will vote no because, said his Excellency, he has “strong views” about the matter. Strength is a relative measure. Martin’s strong view: “decisions should not be taken lightly and that people should be informed of what is involved.”

Perhaps this is the place to recall that the Catholic Church has no choice but to call only marriage marriage, which is why it cannot support gmarriage. This position is inflexible for the Church and for its followers.

Unlike strength, inflexible isn’t relative: it is absolute. So how to read this incongruous report by the leftist Washington Post: “Priests are bucking Catholic Church leadership to support same-sex marriage in Ireland“?

For the Rev. Pádraig1 Standún, a Catholic priest in western Ireland, voting “yes” is a matter of what’s right. To another Irish priest, the Rev. Iggy O’Donovan, it’s about creating an inclusive state.

To the Rev. Martin Dolan, Ireland’s upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage is deeply personal.

“I’m gay myself,” he announced to his Dublin congregation in January. It was a surprise ending to Dolan’s homily, in which he urged his congregation to vote “yes” in the referendum. But his parishioners took it in stride — they gave him a standing ovation, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

The Belfast Telegraph reported that Dolan’s parishioners were “proud” Dolan was sexually attracted to males. Curious, that. One supposes (Northern) Ireland has had little else to cheer about.

Anyway, the Post says, “Rev. Tony Flannery, founder of the reform-minded Irish Association of Catholic Priests, estimated that 25 percent of the country’s clergy would vote ‘yes.'” By “reform” the Post means “dismantling”.

Perhaps Flannery exaggerates, wishcasts, that is. Even Yours Truly has been prone to this malady (and more often than he would like!). Given his ardent desires, Flannery might have estimated priestly support too high. But consider: the support should, in theory, be zero percent. Theory says no priest could be that duplicitous, that unfaithful, that heretical. Yet something in the wind tells us that Flannery is right and the theory wrong. Flannery might have even underestimated the turnout of the turncoats.

Imagine exit polls: “Did you vote in favor of gmarriage, father?” Those that did might even admit it, given their bishop’s strong views.

Step into the surreal. The Irish Times has a Q&A for “confused” readers. “Q. Will a Yes vote redefine marriage?” No, says the paper. If this is so—if marriage won’t be refined—then why have a vote? Next question, answers the paper.

“Q. Would priests be forced to perform same-sex marriages?” No, they guess. But they’re not quite sure, mentioning the relevant law might need “copperfastening”, i.e. strengthening. Right, your Excellency?

Q. (mine) Would citizens who do not want to pretend that two men who are pretending to be married have to pretend too or else face civil and criminal penalties? Yes, say I. They will.

Would it, at this late date, do any good to repeat that marriage is not a contract between two (why two?) people, but an understanding between a man and woman—one fleshand society? Probably not, but nothing ventured, etc.

Look: society must change if marriage does. Strike that: marriage won’t change: it can’t. But that-which-is-called-marriage can be expanded. And society’s rules must adapt to accommodate this “expansion.” This is why those who refuse to pretend must and will be coerced.

There cannot and will not be any compromise. How do I know? The same was true when that-which-is-called-marriage was expanded to include “re-marriages” after divorce. Is it even conceivable (or even legal) to now tell a man who is in his second (or third) go ’round that he is not married to the women with whom he lives despite whatever government paperwork he has? It sounds unbearably cruel.

And look what divorce has wrought.

Perhaps the good news is that the Church has been allowed by Leviathan to maintain its teaching that “re-marriage” is impermissible. Maybe the State will look the other way on gmarriage, too.

Of course, many in the Church are weakening on divorce as well as gmarriage. Wait and see what happens in Rome in October.

Meanwhile, the only organization in Ireland that is opposing gmarriage is the Church—those of her members who remember the promises they made, that is.

Polls have the referendum passing by about 70%. And while people don’t like to tell random callers they are against “progress”—the Psychological Society of Ireland said ‘No’ voters will cause psychological harm—so this number is therefore probably high, it would be a miracle if were so far off that the referendum failed.

Your guess of the final tally?

Update Another Bishop forgets his duty: ‘I Would Hate For People To Vote No For Bigoted Reasons.’

“I don’t doubt that there are many people who are practicing churchgoers of whatever church background who will in conscience vote yes and that’s entirely up to them. I’m not going to say they’re wrong,” McKeown said.

Polls just closed (5 PM NYC time). Word is record-level turnout.


1Pronounced, if you can believe it, as porh-rig.

Are Wars And Violence Decreasing? Taleb’s New Paper Reviewed


The vale of tears

I’ve been asked by several people to comment on Pasquale Cirillo and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s paper (thankfully, not peer-reviewed, unless you count this) “On the tail risk of violent conflict and its underestimation“. That paper was written partly in response to Steven Pinker’s contention that people (us, we) have been growing less violent thanks (mainly) to progressivism and democracy (a redundancy).

We met Pinker’s book before (link) so I won’t spend any time with it, except to say that I didn’t buy his argument.

So then. What is violence? Used to be, in days of yore, people fought constantly—men, anyway, or mainly men—and with fewer deaths than our sophisticated weaponry today provides. For proof, read any ethnology, or for a decent summary Constant Battles: Why We Fight by Steve LeBlanc. Men have always conked each other upside the head. LeBlanc gives too much weight to environmental causes for wars, when status and sex are are as influential.

But that’s neither here nor anywhere: fact is, men are violent. Wars for honor are still fought, though in the West we don’t call them “wars”—but we do call them battles. Mexican drug gangs are slicing and dicing each other. Citizens here are often unhappy. ISIS is chewing up the Mideast. Truly progressive governments are discovering they could do without certain citizens (for just one example). And this unpleasantness is only a small sample in a small piece of time.

Body counts are hard to come by. Do we include old-fashioned crime? Or only bloodlettings from officially declared wars? Seems to me any natural reading of violence would include those acts which purposely end somebody’s life. That would include abortion—the violent killing of a life—euthanasia and executions. Yet those killings make some squeamish, so as a favor to delicate readers I’ll skip over them.

Don’t skip by too lightly, though. If we’re going to quantify violence—which Pinker, Cirillo and Taleb all do—we need to have a rigorous definition of what counts. Another point: including only deaths is difficult. For instance, emergency medicine (battlefield and civilian) has improved dramatically these past decades. Many who would have died now live. Point is: much depends on what we’re quantifying.

Enter Cirillo and Taleb

Cirillo and Taleb looked for historian-defined “wars” and “conflicts” and not what we today call crime. These wars were classed as “events”, except when they lasted more than 25 years when the single event was cut up into multiple “events.” This makes the data more amenable to their model, but at the cost of changing reality. There are difficulties in counting the dead in named wars. Why not a year-by-year tally of violently killed regardless under what flag? Focusing on concrete historian-generated boundaries makes for better stories, but it hinders counting. And there is other fuzziness:

Further, in the absence of a clearly defined protocol in historical studies, it has been hard to disentangle direct death from wars and those from less direct effects on populations (say blocades [sic], famine). For instance the First Jewish War has confused historians as an estimated 30K death came from the war, and a considerably higher (between 350K and the number 1M according to Josephus) from the famine or civilian casualties.

Excellent points. Famine does not kill as many (I did not say none) today after a war because food production and distribution are more robust. The authors also say, “We can assume that there are numerous wars that are not part of our sample, even if we doubt that such events are in the ‘tails’ of the distribution, given that large conflicts are more likely to be reported by historians.” More likely does not imply certainly. And they say, “events are more likely to be recorded in modern times than in the past”

Measurement error, as admitted by the authors, and is by now obvious, is a tremendous and incurable problem. What that means is that any formal model of violence is going to be too sure of itself and in a way that we can’t quantify. This is not surprising: not all uncertainty is quantifiable.

Lastly, the authors “rescaled” the event death tolls by world population estimates (more unaccounted for uncertainty). This makes some sense, but it has its limits. When Cain whacked Abel, he reduced the world’s population by a quarter, but today when Boko Haram rapes a woman to death the effect on the tax rolls is minuscule. The figure above “Rescaled death toll of armed conflict and regimes over time” in their final dataset.

An Lushan? Led a revolt against the Tang dynasty and was so nasty his own son had to take him out. Is Zhang Xianzhong isn’t on the list? His motto was “Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill. Kill.” Reports are that he enthusiastically implemented it. And where’s Mao, Stalin? Caused the death of tens of millions. Here’s a problem: it isn’t “war” or “conflict” if you kill your own subjects. More uncertainty.

Are killings unusual?

Anyway, let’s assume the picture is in the ballpark (the rescaling technique suffers in smaller populations, as with Cain and Abel) but that it represents an error-prone way of counting violence (older events are more likely to have been missed). Including our knowledge of recent history, then ask yourself: is violence going down?

Yes and No. We haven’t, as observed, had a large scale (International-Socialism, WW2, etc.) kill-off this last half century, but that in no way implies we won’t have one in the next half century, or indeed at any time. We lasted some 50 years with only (only!) small-scale slaughter, if you except abortion. But there have been plenty of similarly lengthed periods “in-between” mass killings in history. Armageddons don’t happen yearly; they are sparse, but not unusual.

And we’re done. We don’t need a model or any other form of quantification to tell us the obvious. We never need a model to tell us what we’ve seen—unless we’re using that model to tell us what happened in the presence of measurement error, like exists here. But that’s not the use to which Cirillo and Taleb put their model. They use it to tell what happened. Or, rather, not what happened, but what happened to their model.

Now in their favor, everybody does this. Nobody is content to let the data speak for itself. People will build models and say, “Here’s what happened” when what they really mean is, “Here is a replacement of reality that pleases me and has these mathematical properties.”

The only reason to build a model of violence—and it’s a darn good reason—is to predict how many dead bodies we expect to create in the future (so we know where not to be). But given all the unquantifiable uncertainties mentioned, I would have very little confidence in that model.

Causes of war

Before I discuss (briefly) Cirillo and Taleb’s model, understand this: something caused each war. There are surely similarities in causes across wars (“I want to kill,” says somebody in each), but there are always causes for each death. There is thus no “mean rate” of violence that is “natural”, a rate which propels men toward slaughter. (This summary of the paper makes this error repeatedly,) There is no such thing as a “background violence rate”: there are only causes which we may or may not fully understand. If we understood them, we’d never need statistical models.

There are mean numbers of dead bodies, of course, measured over whatever arbitrary time points we pick, but that kind of summary gains us nothing over plots like that above. That picture—how it was created, the vagaries of the data included and unseen, and the like—is the entire analysis. Cirillo and Taleb are to be congratulated for the hard work in collecting this data (they credit one Captain Mark Weisenborn). Yet putting math to the data can only produce over-certainty unless we use the math to predict what will happen. But then we have to wait and see if the model made the correct predictions (put high probability on what happened and low on what didn’t).

Obviously, we haven’t waited and so can’t say whether the model Cirillo and Taleb posit is any good. The pair present some measures of model fit, and these are of modest interest, but they are far (as in far) from proof of the model’s goodness. Don’t forget climate and sociological models also show good fit but poor predictive skill.

We must avoid the Deadly Sin of Reification. This is the false belief that, somehow, mathematics is superior to reality, that the model is good because it makes reality cleaner. Cirillo and Taleb talk about the “stochasticity of under inter-arrival times” as if wars arrive or are guided by some mathematical process. This is the sin. Wars are caused by men. Our understanding of the uncertainty of when wars start might usefully be encapsulated by a model, but that’s as far as we can go (and we haven’t yet demonstrated that that is true for Cirillo and Taleb’s model).

Wars and rumors of wars

One thing that is obvious in the plot, and from any serious reading of (non-Howard Zinn-like) history, is that large kill-offs are not especially rare. Cirillo and Taleb’s model agrees (as it must). Why are they not rare? This is key. We know wars are caused by humans, and if we accept the premise that human nature is flawed, it is rational to conclude more wars will occur and that some will cause the creation of copious coffins.

Cirillo and Taleb appear (they don’t explicitly mention it) to accept this premise. Pinker does not. That premise is the real and substantial difference between the prediction of future wars. If you believe people are perfectible through education and enlightenment, then it follows wars will decrease in number and intensity. But if you believe men will always disappoint, and given the data in plots like Cirillo and Taleb’s, then it’s only a matter of time until the next full-scale war hits.

Good thing about both of these models is that they are testable. We just have to wait and see which is true.

Update I saw in other discussions of this paper (and of my discussion) words about how times between wars are or aren’t “random.” These are all wrong-headed. Just as something caused each war, something caused each peace. Random only means unknown. Data are not random: it is only that our knowledge of their causes is incomplete. No MODELS ARE NEEDED HERE.

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