Keenan’s $100-Grand Climate Challenge & Randomness

I stole this picture from Anthony, who swiped it from Wiki.
I stole this picture from Anthony, who swiped it from Wiki.

Lots of people are asking me about Douglas Keenan’s challenge to identify which time series meets a certain criterion. If our betters are as good as they say at identifying signals in temperature time series, challenges Keenan, they ought to be able to tell signal from noise.

There have been many claims of observational evidence for global-warming alarmism. I have argued that all such claims rely on invalid statistical analyses. Some people, though, have asserted that the analyses are valid. Those people assert, in particular, that they can determine, via statistical analysis, whether global temperatures are increasing more than would be reasonably expected by random natural variation. Those people do not present any counter to my argument, but they make their assertions anyway.

In response to that, I am sponsoring a contest: the prize is $100?000. In essence, the prize will be awared to anyone who can demonstrate, via statistical analysis, that the increase in global temperatures is probably not due to random natural variation.

Keenan asked me for comments on his column before he released it, and I’m sure he won’t mind me telling you what I told him:

I think the offer will be ignored, but it’s a good tactic. You know James Randi? Before he lost his mind he offered a million bucks (or whatever) for whoever could demonstrate psychic abilities under controlled conditions. Some no-names took the challenge and lost, but the big boys sniffed that it was beneath them.

The real reason for their refusal is obvious, as it will be for your challenge. But it will be great fun doing it! It will highlight the main point you made at the end: these people have no idea what they’re doing.

Incidentally, my prediction has already come to pass. Yesterday, a major figure in the doom camp sniffed that Keenan’s challenge had nothing to do with climate. (I was in an email chain where I learned of this.)

You have to honor a man who is willing to put up a choking wad of his own simolians to back a boast. Spread the word and help Keenan get some well-deserved publicity. (I’d do something similar, but all I could offer is an old lottery ticket that I’m fairly sure is out of the money but which I haven’t yet checked.)

Now randomness. Some folks over at Anthony Watts’s place were discussing the challenge and, with the prime exception of one MattS (intelligent fellow), were misunderstanding randomness. We’ve talked about it many, many, many times, but here it is once again, with respect to Keenan’s challenge.

I have no idea—I didn’t ask, and Keenan didn’t explain, plus I don’t want to know—how each of the series in his file were generated, but generated they were. Caused to be is another phrase for generated. Some mechanism caused each value. A popular mechanism is called a “pseudo-random number generator”, in which pseudo-random means known. Random, of course, means unknown, and nothing else. There is no such thing as real, objective, or physical randomness.

So this known-number generator (if it was used) made numbers according to a known formula, where the numbers are as determined as death and taxes. One number follows another with perfect predictability—if one knows the algorithm, of course.

It appears Keenan used three different algorithms, one which added positive numbers according to some similarly determinative scheme to a base scheme, one which added negative numbers to a base scheme, and a base scheme. The base scheme is the known-number generator.

Of course, I’m guessing. I don’t know. But this procedure is certainly common enough under the term simulation. Problem is, too many people (not Keenan) think simulations are semi-magical, claiming they have to be fed with “random numbers.” That makes no sense, because random means unknown, and you can’t feed an algorithm with unknown numbers. More detail is here.

Anyway, this is all beside the point. Keenan asks which of the three types of generated data each series is. Now we’re into the realm of modeling. Modeling? The process of collecting premises which come as close as possible to identifying the causes of the data and which describe our uncertainty in observables.

Now…but, no. That’s all I’ll say. I’ve already given information sufficient to deduce the methods Keenan used, accepting only that he used one of the known generators. Sufficient in theory. Practically? God bless.

I stop because I don’t want the fun to end and because it is besides Keenan’s main point, which is the methods climate scientists use (and everybody is a climate scientist these days) are crap. Amen to that with bells on. Follow the “many, many, many” link above for why.

Nothing From Nothing & Infinity

I don’t think that people have any idea quite how large infinity is. Good reason for this. Infinity is big. It’s bigger than big. It’s hugeous (yes, hugeous: right out of O’Brian, that word). No: correction: it huger than hugeous. It’s beyond anything you can possibly think of. Here’s some notation invented by Knuth to help us understand what we cannot understand:

10 ↑ 10 = 1010 = ten billion.

But then:

10 ↑↑ 10 = 10 to the 10 to the 10 to the 10…ten times.

In other words, a pretty big number. There are 10 exponents here; the last two we know are equal to ten billion, and using the seventh is 1010 billion, and the sixth 10 to the 1010 billionth power, and so on. Hugeous. But that hugeosity pales, absolutely shrivels, next to this:

10 ↑↑↑ 10,

which takes as exponent the hugeous number we just worked out. And you can keep doing this, producing unimaginably big numbers along the way, such as

10 ↑↑↑↑ 10,
10 ↑↑↑↑↑ 10, and so on.

How long can you keep that up? Well, forever. And it turns out that the wee number 10 ↑↑↑↑↑ 10 still hasn’t even come close to infinity. It’s just as far, relatively speaking, from its goal as 10. (Big number fans will enjoy reading about Graham’s number, which uses the Knuth notation.) Strain your brain with this, gentleman and ladies (and you, too, JH). Ponder just how far away infinity is and how, because of its distance, we can never really know what it’s like out there.

So much is preliminary. Now the big question: has the universe eternally existed? By universe I mean all material reality that exists. Eternally means forever, which in turn means an infinitely long time. We have seen that infinitely long is a mighty concept, implying a slice of time so large that we can’t picture or comprehend it. Still, we might be able to deduce consequences of this strange supposition.

If the universe is eternal, then anything that was possible has already happened. How many times? An infinite number of times. Now if—a big if—we are entirely material creatures, that means there already were infinite duplicates of you reading these same words in the same place wearing the same clothes, even. Why? Because we are made only of material things that came together in a certain way, proceeded by other events that also came together in certain ways. This means there were even times when everything was the same except that you forgot to put on your underwear. How embarrassing. Doubly, so, really, because it’s going to happen again. And again. And again…Say, maybe those reincarnation fellows are on to something. As Woody Allen said, we’re going to have to relive the Ice Capades. Of course, it isn’t you each time, but material copies.

Well, that repetition trick only works if we are entirely material creatures, which we are not. For one, our intellects cannot be material, which is why there is only one you, so something more is at work.

But forget about us poor, bare, forked animals for a moment, and figure this. Conditional on some evidence, some physicists say the universe will end in an inescapable heat death, a place where entropy has maxed out and where nothing really happens and from which there is no escape. If that’s true, and the universe is eternal, this heat death should have already happened, and thus we shouldn’t be here. And not only that, suppose there are other possible ways for material existence to stop, cease, or otherwise obliterate itself. Suppose, early on during the initial moments of the big bang, the forces acting on the nascent universe were such that inflation, or whatever, reversed itself and the universe fell back into its singularity. Let your imagination fly, here, but restrain it by what we know of physics, or in those cases where we don’t know, which are many, of what is plausible given what you already know.

(Confused? Don’t be: the only point is to generate a scenario wherein material reality destroys itself. Incidentally, multiverses, or whatever, are no way out of this, because when I use the word universe, I mean all of reality, including those bits, multiverse fans say, that are closed off to our knowledge. The problems and screwiness of infinity and multiverses are also fun to think about—another time.)

If the universe is eternal, then these cataclysms should have already happened, too. They didn’t, so the obvious conclusion is the universe is finite. Meaning it started at a definite point in time, much like many think the Big Bang did. And the only way this could have happened is if material reality popped into existence out of nothing. But nothing, which is the complete utter absence of anything and everything, including whatever you can think of or name, has no causative powers.

One of our foremost metaphysicians, Billy Preston, said it best: You gotta have something if you want to be… “To be” means to exist, and the only way there is to make some thing be is through something actual. If you want a pancake to be, you have to start with actual flour, and the same is true if you want to create a universe from which flour can arise. Since material reality could not have created itself, and nothing sure couldn’t have—nothing is the ultimate slacker—you gotta have something else.

Best answer for this something else is: pure unchanging omnipotent actuality itself. Which is to say, God.

To be continued…

It Is Irrational to Believe in Science

These guys must be out of their minds.
These guys must be out of their minds.

This article only begins the subject; it does not end it. Atheists, beware the So’s-Your-Old-Man Fallacy.

Belief in the absence of evidence is irrational. There is no evidence for believing in science; yet many do believe in science. Therefore, belief in science is irrational and many people ought to find new hobbies.

The form of this argument is valid. The adornment to it with the true observation that many do believe in science, and the appendage of the moral judgement that it is better not to be irrational if one can help it are unnecessary to the central point and can be removed, though they do no harm. The argument passes the test for logical correctness: people should not have a slavish devotion to science. Is the argument sound? That depends on the premises.

Let’s agree, as atheists would, that the first premise is true: belief without evidence is irrational. There are niceties here, but let them pass for the moment. The conclusion surely follows from the two premises: it is irrational to believe in science given that belief in the absence of evidence is irrational and that there is no evidence for believing in science. So we only have to examine the minor premise: is it true? Yes, absolutely: but it depends on what we mean by evidence and science. (All arguments are conditional on the definitions of the terms they use, so it is no surprise that this should be so here.)

Science, everybody agrees, uses math: 1 + 1 = 2, and all that. Only there is no evidence that 1 + 1 = 2 or for any mathematical statement. Science, since it relies on mathematics, is therefore irrational. The belief that 1 + 1 = 2 starts with the belief, in the absence of evidence, that 0 is a natural number. It proceeds to the belief that for every natural number x, x = x; and from there to the belief that for all natural numbers x and y, if x = y, then y = x; and from there to the idea that for all natural numbers x, y and z, if x = y and y = z, then x = z; and from there to belief that the successor of every natural number is itself a natural number. None of these beliefs have evidence to support them. This list is only an introductory set which, taken with their unstated cousins, eventually lead us to the proposition 1 + 1 = 2. But there is much more to it: We also have to admit the belief that our process of reasoning from these axioms—for that is what these beliefs are called—to the proposition, and this belief in our powers is also sans evidence. What do I mean by this?

This article started with a logical argument in a familiar form. There is no evidence here that our powers of recognizing this form and applying it have been done correctly. We just have to believe that we’re doing it right, or we have to believe the form itself always leads to validity, but even that belief is unfounded. The same powers of reasoning in which we place our trust are also in use as you read these words, of course, so we’d better hope they work here, too.

I’ve been dancing around the word evidence. Time to make it concrete. Now in real life if you take one banana, you notice that because you have one banana, you conclude you really do indeed have one banana. If you had two, you’d reason you have two. And so on. From that humble observation, and many similar ones, arises the belief that for every natural number x, x = x. This is impossible to check for all numbers. You must take it on faith. Or if you don’t like putting it that way, you must believe based on the evidence of your bananas and the reasoning provided to you by induction. The induction moves from the specific instances of bananas and other objects to the general idea that numbers (and not necessarily objects) have certain properties. There is empirical observation, sense data, to start the idea going, but it is induction that carries us to the goal; there is no complete empirical observation that will ever prove our belief. And this applies to all the axioms of mathematics and logic.

Incidentally, although we use objects to form our ideas of numbers, that numbers are not objects should be obvious because objects do not always behave like numbers. Adding one electron with one positron does not result in two objects but in a burst of light, just as one man uniting in holy matrimony with one woman does not produce two persons but one flesh. Nevertheless, and no matter what, 1 + 1 = 2.

Since mathematics and logic and the other powers of our reasoning are based on induction, which provide statements of universal generality that can never be checked and will therefore never have complete empirical evidence for their belief, our belief in science, which uses all these things, is irrational. Unless we’re willing to say evidence is not merely empirical, error-free observation, and that instead evidence is partly measurement and partly the sorts of thing that takes place in our intellects. via induction. Now this is not to say how these inductions swim into our view, and it says nothing about the nature and types of the different kinds of induction (there are at least five). That topic is huge and beyond this short article. The only point relevant here is that empiricism as a basis for science, must be wrong—though, again, we have to be careful to define empiricism.

One definition is that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience. This isn’t incompatible with the canvas I painted above if we’re liberal about the word derived, so that it includes induction. But strict empiricists are dogmatic and say only observation (or measurement) counts. That view is clearly false, unless we’re willing to toss out all mathematics and logic.

I haven’t said much about science itself. And won’t—not here. But induction comes to play even here. Gravitational attraction is determined, we say, by these certain equations to any reasonable degree of measurement fineness. Very well. We try out these determinative equations and find they work here, and that they work there. But do they work over there? I mean, way, way over there in outer-outer space, in the areas hidden from us by (say) dark matter? We can take no measurements, directly or indirectly, yet we suppose, since there is no reason to think otherwise, that gravity is the same everywhere. It’s not necessarily the same everywhen, as aficionados of inflation theory will tell you. We believe, with no direct empirical evidence, that things work the same everywhere. There are plenty of indirect measurements; namely, that gravity works in all the spots we’ve so far examined. However, just like with the math example, we can’t check everywhere.

Anyway, it’s not only gravity, and it’s not only widely separated places in time and space. Right here on Gaia herself, we take it for granted that trees make a noise when they fall and when a government-grant wielding scientist isn’t there with his microphones to document it (indeed, under the sway of scientism, we’re unlikely to believe anything that wasn’t peer reviewed). This is a kind of faith—or another kind of induction. It is, by definition, not based on any direct observation or measurement. Though it could, if we’re careful, be based on indirect measurement. The absence, say, of the operation of the electroweak force in some remote patch of the Brazilian jungle (that’s right: jungle) might become apparent if we knew to look out for it and have deduced the consequences of its absence. But suppose instead, in the ranges of the Sahara where no man or beast roams, an extra neutrino or two appears behind some small dune, in direct opposition to every theory and explanation we have about particle physics. We take for granted that such things do not happen. Induction again. Of course, if it did happen and it was noticed and written about, the discoverer would find himself…in a heap of trouble—if the theory he contested was beloved by the powers that be. That’s only because science is run by scientists, which is to say, people, and, we say under the sway of induction, all people behave like people.

Stop Teaching Frequentism; More On That “Altruism” Study; Etc.

This is not a person.
This is not a person.

Freq Out

Reader ECM points us to “The Great Statistical Schism“, by a fellow named Brendon Brewer who “is a senior lecturer in the Department of Statistics in Auckland.”

Brewer says, as I say, sort of, that it’s time to “teach Bayes first” and not frequentism. He also says, “Frequentist confidence intervals and p-values should still be taught to some extent”, with which I also agree, up to a point. His reasoning for that opinion is good, though “so much research is based on [p-values and confidence intervals], our students need to know what they are.”

P-values and confidence intervals should be taught in the same way phlogiston or communism are taught, as failed, unfortunate ideas which caused nothing but grief.

Brewer appears to be a subjective-objective Bayesian, which is the most common type. They agree probability is subjective, but go about assigning probabilities in an objectivish way.

Of course, probability is not subjective. Given there are two persons in the room, a male and a female, and one will walk out the door, the probability is 1/2 (deduced via something called a statistical syllogism) that it’s the male. But a subjectivist can say, “The probability it’s the male is 0.13424”, or any other number that strikes his fancy.

Yes. That’s what subjectivism implies: unfounded probabilities. But this tendency is but a minor foible next to hypothesis testing, which should be purged with extreme prejudice from science forthwith.

Not Altruism

Reader Tahir Nasser (who is a public personality) writes:

Great fun reading your blog. Always enjoy it and I learn something new each time. I wrote a piece too (published on Huffington Post blogs) re.: “are religiously educated up children less altruistic” study. I thought you might be interested to take a look/read:

“Why the Latest Study Showing ‘Religious’ Children are Less Moral is Just Bad Science”.

Do let me know your thoughts, particularly regarding the characterisation of probability modelling as a method to determine “correlation”. That’s how I understand r values in the context of probability models.

In his piece, Nasser shows some of the weaknesses of the “altruism” study. But he also writes:

Firstly, the conclusion is totally unsupported by the evidence. The study shows a correlation (not causation!) of -0.173 between religiosity and altruism. Correlation is measured on a scale of -1 to +1 with 0 meaning no correlation. To draw the authors’ conclusion from this meagre result is laughable. This small correlation indicates that other unaccounted factors are at work. What could they be?

I like the spirit and agree with the conclusion, but I don’t agree with the way it was reached for a technical reason. Probability models say nothing about cause. Even if the correlation was large, which it wasn’t, we could not say “altruism” caused stickers to be stuck in envelopes.

Of course altruistic kids would, ceteris paribus, share more stickers than non-altruistic kids. Why? Because they’re altruistic! We do not need a study to show this, because it’s something that everybody, except some scientists, already knows. But would “religious” kids share more? That’s a bigger mystery, because there are no such things as “religious” kids. There are only kids who have this-and-such beliefs. And the study did not, in any way, measure the beliefs of any kids.

Instead, the researchers developed some stupid pseudo-quantification of “religiosity.” What a farce.

People Who Need People

Reader Loras Holmberg writes (ellipses original):

Appearance on Joe Pags Radio Show…you made the comment that people concerned about population growth “don’t like people”. Disagree. I want a world for future generations that has room for ample wildlife and wild lands. I am 57…have seen changes with my own eyes that bring such a future into doubt. More people generally means less of each. Don’t consider myself extreme…on global warming or climate change, I say “maybe”. Don’t know. As you mentioned, once you scratch the surface, the physics are extremely complex.

Nah, more people do not mean less wildlife. You should see the deer problem my parents have. People don’t hunt as much as they used to, since meat appears like magic wrapped in see-through packaging.

Now you say you don’t not like people, but then you imply you’d rather have less of them in preference for more poisonous snakes, leeches, and cockroaches (well, I filled in the blanks on the kinds of animals). That sounds like not liking people overly much to me.

Yes, the physics on global warming are extremely complex. This is probably why they still can’t make good forecasts, and that they can’t make good forecasts is why we should not believe threats of doom.