William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 2 of 665

On The Rise Of The “Nones”


National Geographic had a desultory article on the “nones”1, which is what post-Christian pagans and atheists are being called. Title: “The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion.

Has nuggets like this: “A lack of religious affiliation has profound effects on how people think about death, how they teach their kids, and even how they vote.”

Who knew?

There’s also mistakes like this:

There have long been predictions that religion would fade from relevancy as the world modernizes, but all the recent surveys are finding that it’s happening startlingly fast. France will have a majority secular population soon. So will the Netherlands and New Zealand. The United Kingdom and Australia will soon lose Christian majorities. Religion is rapidly becoming less important than it’s ever been, even to people who live in countries where faith has affected everything from rulers to borders to architecture.

Darn right, architecture. Buildings are uglier than ever. They’re also winning more awards. Coincidence?

Anyway, religion hasn’t faded. In the West, Christianity has faded, but not religion. Every yoga-mat-carrying, climate-change-concern-chanting, science-solves-all-problem-believing person is religious, just not necessarily Christian. It’s not only the I’m-not-religious-I’m-spiritual; many men find in themselves worthy objects of devotion.

At least National Geographic realized that some areas of the world are becoming more Christian, like Africa and post-openly-Communist utopias, and more are becoming Islamic, like Europe. In fact, Islam was the only religion not to lose more than an insignificant fraction in any country, which is what the picture above shows.

What gets me are sentences like this: “And even in the secularizing West, the rash of ‘religious freedom bills’—which essentially decriminalize discrimination—are the latest front in a faith-tinged culture war in the United States that shows no signs of abetting anytime soon.”

Religions by definition must discriminate. Even the pagan, post-Christian religions which are found in the West discriminate, but in opposite directions from Christianity in matters sexual. The sentence indicates we’re dealing with a pagan or a post-Christian who is not self-aware.

That’s the real key. “Nones” who think they’re not religious. Take this: “Scientific advancement isn’t just making people question God, it’s also connecting those who question.” It’s a matter of false belief, and a kind of screwy faith, that science can define right and wrong, but just try convincing a scidolator of that. Nones are so used being immersed in a Christianity—frankly, few to none of the nones understand the debt owed to Christianity—that anything outside of it (and while still “in country”) appears to them as “not religion.”

National Geographic spends far too many de rigueur paragraphs fretting about Diversity. Which I’ll ignore. Except to mention that, as always, Diversity always leads to mandatory quotas.

There are a few theories about why people become atheists in large numbers. Some demographers attribute it to financial security..

Atheism is also tied to education, measured by academic achievement…

There’s some evidence that official state religions drive people away from faith entirely…

Isn’t another way to put this that atheists are prone to group behavior? Never mind. That last line about “official state religions” is a hoot, especially considering the rise of Islam. The real problem are the statistical models lurking behind these “findings.” Because it wasn’t or can’t be measured, “researchers” miss the biggest cause, which is not and cannot be “education”, but exhaustion of many Christians who find it easier to convert to one of the modern religions. Proof?

In the U.S., many state legislators are still using a narrow interpretation of Christian morals to deny services to gay people and appropriate restrooms to people who are transgender.

But the national backlash to religious legislation has become faster and fiercer than ever before

Same fundamental error of the writer not knowing he is religious, added to obligatory State worship which says only the State can solve cultural problems with laws (this is a symptom of late-stage democracies). The author misses the point that people fall away from Christianity because believing sexual license is harmless is much easier.

And they move towards Islam because Muslims are willing say a man dressing up as a woman is a man. Muslims are willing to fight about that and other matters cultural, too. Which is what many (not all) Christian leaders won’t do.

Remember how everybody joked that they ought to ask a Muslim bakery to bake a cake for a gay “wedding”? Ha ha, we said. But did anybody try? One guy did, with hilarious results.

You won’t see Outrage Mobs running around Dearborn anytime soon, or ever, though. Everybody knows the reason why.


1I heard somebody recently call them “noons”. That is apropos of nothing.

The Deadly Sin Of Reification Strikes Again!


If you can’t see the tweet, and tweets are ephemeral, the screen shot is also given. Now I do not give a damn about the election, so please not one word about it. The point I want to make has nothing whatsoever to do with Trump, Cruz, Hillary, anybody.

This bald fellow Wilson posted the graph which you see. The legend says (in red) “Unfavorable” and (in dark grey) “Favorable”. Wilson wrote “Trump just said his unfavs have gone down. False.”

Is Wilson right? Of course not.

But why might Wilson have thought he was? Because of The Deadly Sin Of Reification, which has claimed another victim.

Look at the data! The “unfavs” had indeed gone down, just like (presumably) Trump claimed. They were up one survey period before, and they went down in the last one. Up, then down. Therefore down. What could be clearer than that?

I also do not give a fig about the survey results. All surveys are “scientific”, anyway, despite the claims you have heard. It does not matter to us, here at least, where the numbers came from, how they were measured, or their uncertainty, which must be at least non-zero and is probably healthy, nor do I care what the terms mean (just what is “unfavorable”?). To us, as to Wilson, the data is the data.

See that red line (and grey line)? You’re not alone. That’s all, or mostly all, people do see. The data disappears in the presence of this mesmerizing fiction. The model becomes more important than reality. Reality is tossed overboard and the line cherished. The data are boring, dry observations. The model is scientific! The Sin is gnosticism, where “what is really going on” is the true reality, not reality itself.

Wilson was so enraptured by the line that he failed to see what was before him.

“But Briggs, there’s a trend in the data. That’s what Wilson meant.”

No, it isn’t. Mistaking the “trend” for what actually happened is the Deadly Sin. This Sin is ubiquitous. It’s so common that it’s positively rare to see a graph (or its interpretation) that doesn’t fall prey to it. Look at any of your favorite global warming sites for examples (skeptic or lunatic); almost anywhere there is a “time series” you will see the Sin. Graphs without the Sin are as common as reactionaries in History Departments.

I joined Statistics / To see the Sights / And what did I see? / I saw the Sin.

We have talked about trends until my knuckles bled. There is no trend in the data; there is never a trend in any data. Something, actually, many, many, countlessly many things, caused each survey point to take the value it did. The cause is in the people answering the question. Events which were noticed by the people and which led them to give the answers they did are in the world, and in other people.

But there is no trend “in” the data. The data are just measurements. What we’re really interested in, in this or any time series graph, is what caused the measurements. In sociological graphs, everybody will pretend they know (of course, it is not impossible that some soul might know) what caused the measurements. In physical graphs, usually many physical forces will cause the measurements; and with physics, we sometimes have a reasonable chance to discover these causes.

Probability & Statistics is useful for only one thing: to quantify the uncertainty in propositions we cannot induce or deduce. “The value of Trump’s unfavorable in the next survey will be 60%” and the like can be given a probability conditional on certain evidence and assumptions (the probability will change with different evidence or different assumptions). That’s it. In cases like this, that model (red line) might, or might not, be useful.

Probability cannot tell us what caused the measurements. This is why the red line is useless, and even harmful, absent predictions. This is why hypothesis testing (using p-values or Bayes factors) should never be used, because they fool you into thinking you’ve understood cause. But if we knew the causes, we don’t need probability!

I have tried explaining the Deadly Sin of Reification many times. The more formal math or statistics education a person has, or the more they’ve seen modern graphs, the more difficult it is for them to comprehend the Sin. I get nothing but blank stares, usually. Professors are especially suspicious. They’re hesitant to dismiss the data, but they’re sure their models mean something.

Let’s Polka! Or How Polka Can Save The World — WMBriggs Podcast

The Polka Police say, “Let’s Polka!” And there’s no better way to polka than with the Schmenges, a.k.a. The Happy Wanderers, who are a must for any polka lover. That’s really Eugene Levy playing the according, though John Candy fakes (excellently) the clarinet. We’re listening to the whole piece…

Cabbage Rolls & Coffee

My first ever meal out, when I was still fresh, was cabbage rolls sans coffee at the Sanders on Michigan Avenue, right off Telegraph in Dearborn, which was still there, at least ten years ago. I’m scared to go back and see if it’s disappeared.

Polka isn’t, like most dance music, the sort of music you sit and listen to. There are exceptions, some of which we’ll meet here. There’s scarcely any intellectual component, yet it’s fun and perfectly harmless. A huge selling polka album was entitled Music for Happy People. And unlike most modern dance music, polka is always melodious and joyful.

Machine-generated music

There’s hours of that sort of thing, which sounds like a robot factory gone sour.

Unlike other people’s, or folks, or volks music, polka has a lot to say about food. It is the music to drink beer to. And, judging by the number of tunes devoted to the subject, the music to eat sausage to.

Who Stole the Kiska?

What goes on sausage? Besides mustard, I mean. Right: sauerkraut. Just a taste of this next one:

Sauerkraut Polka

Meals are not made of sausages alone. There are also dampfnudelen. We’ll eat the whole thing here.

Dampfnudel Polka

Everybody knows In Heaven There Is No Beer, which we heard a few seconds of, but perhaps you weren’t aware that the best rendition is by Da Yoopers. Da UP is north of the Mackinaw Bridge, eh, and people who live above it are Yoopers. I was one myself, having lived in the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie). Eh.

Plenty of cold and clouds in the UP, which might explain this classic from Da Yoopers, The Second Week In Deer Camp.

The Second Week In Deer Camp

Skipped right past the adorable little German girl yodeling. Saying “German girl” conjures in your mind an image which is now politically correct. As is yodeling. Who remembers this from a couple of years back? “Austria: Judge Rules That Yodeling Offends Muslims.

Austrian man fined after his yodeling offends his Muslim neighbor.

It seems as though in Austria, the popular yodel is an insult to Muslims.

An Austrian court has recently fined a citizen for yodeling while mowing his lawn, according to a report in The Kronen Zeitung newspaper.

The citizen, 63-year-old Helmut G., was told by the court that his yodeling offended his next-door Muslim neighbors, who accused him of trying to mock and imitate the call of the Muezzin…

Unfortunately for Helmut G., his neighbors were in the middle of a prayer when he started to yodel. The Kronen Zeitung reported that he was fined 800 Euros after judges ruled that he could have tried to offend his neighbors and ridicule their belief.

In honor of that judgment, here is an honorary Austrian man yodeling. Don’t try this at home.

Bert’s Yodel

Yodeling isn’t confined to the hinterlands of Bavaria and suchlike places. A goodly number of Germans settled in the hill country of Texas; places like New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. This accounts for the glory that was Don Walser, yodeler extraordinaire, who reigned in Austin and died in 2010.

Rolling Stone From Texas

Is yodeling political, then? The answer must be yes. Go back in time seventy-some years and we find this: “Fair Enough” by Westbrook Pegler, from the Evening Independent, 15 April 1938. Story opens:

Der Fuehrer Is Queerly Indifferent About Those Germans Who Are Suppressed by Mussolini

No sensible person would doubt the sincerity of [democratically elected] Chancellor Hitler, but there is something strange about his indifference to the plight of the 250,000 conquered Austrian Tyrol, where Mussolini more than a decade ago forbade the native yodel as a subversive expression. The unhappy German yodelers were terribly distressed by this cruel and unusual edict, and some them daringly continued to yodel in cellars at night in very subdued undertones, but the nervous strain was almost unbearable, nevertheless. A Tyrolean forbidden to use his natural means of expression is like a dog forbidden to bark. Tyroleans tried yodeling to themselves, yodeling in their sleeves and yodeling in their pillows at night, but Mussolini’s police seemed to be everywhere, and the captive minority were cruelly harassed.

Naturally, we have no choice but to hear from the Mitchell Trio (circa 1964). This one is for all you reactionaries listening.

I Was Not a Nazi Polka

So polka is politics. Well, everything is in a democracy. Don’t take my word for it. Polka saves lives. From the film It’s Happiness: A Polka Documentary. Polka saves the world!

It’s Happiness clips.

This security guard, who has been for many years watching over the annual Polka Festival in Bird Island, Minnesota agrees.

Security guard speaks.

Perhaps we are too serious. Not everybody likes the accordion, you know. The benighted are ever among us.

Hot Shots clip

The accordion is the window to the Russian soul! On the other hand, you can’t be serious enough!

Naked Gun clip

Did somebody say Al Yakonvic? Dr Demento surely did.

Demento documentary

Everybody knows Now-Not-So-Weird Al. But you’ve probably never heard this rare concert footage from, I think, 1984. Here is a snippet.

Weird Al

That’s it! We never had enough time. I couldn’t cover The Man Who Would Be Polka King, a film about Polka superstar, and associate of Donald Trump, Jan Lewan. Jack Black is rumored to play him in an upcoming movie. And don’t forget Polka Kings, the “reality” series about the Chardon Polka band, a group whose biggest success was to invent a polka for a mixed martial arts fighter to walk into the ring with.

We started with the Schmenges, we must close with the Schmenges. Ladies and gentleman and yaks,
The Last Polka.

The Last Polka

Update More Polka! Blonde Bombshell and I were in residence at the Hofbrau BierHaus on 3rd Avenue tonight. There may have been singing. Another benefit of polka. The Polka Brothers were there, playing all the favorites. They’ll be at Boyne Falls this August for the annual Polish Festival. Hope to see you there!

Here Comes The Gene-Editing Research In Human Embryos


The mechanistic view of man and the universe has consequences, the most important of which is that man is seen as a machine. Well, he must be if everything is machine.

Being a machine is not special, though there are specialized machines. Machines can be built, and machines fall apart. A man is sentimental when he becomes too attached to a machine. Machines can be improved.

That machines are routinely improved accounts for the headline “Gene-Editing Research in Human Embryos Gains Momentum: Experiments are now approved in Sweden, China and the United Kingdom“.

Imagination fails the machine-men directing gene-editing research. They, being progressives as all good people are, can see only the good that comes from tinkering. That the unexpected or the deleterious can come from “improvements” is not to be thought of. Mary Shelley had it over us. So did the ancients. Hubris is a dead word.

“A team led by Yong Fan at Guangzhou Medical University in China used the gene-editing technology CRISPR–Cas9 to try to introduce a mutation that makes humans resistant to HIV infection.” Suppose this technique is perfected and HIV (in its current form) can no longer be caught. Result? Huge increase in sodomy, almost surely, along with the cultural degradation which accompanies it.

“Briggs, you’re evil. You want people to die of AIDS!”

No, my statement was true, and stating a truth is not stating a desire. Anyway, we already know how to not catch HIV. Don’t have anal intercourse and don’t use dirty needles. Abstinence, that is. Not only can you live HIV/AIDs- and drug-free, society itself benefits from the absence of the dangerous acts.

Even this will be seen as cruel, because abstinence “denies” desires, and why shouldn’t machines have what they desire? Yet an HIV-infected man sodomizing another is not such a good libertarian, no? Skip it. What else does removing the ability (yes, ability) to catch HIV do to the body? Nobody knows.

The argument that an embryo is a human being, just as a child is a human being and an adult is a human being and a corpse is not a human being, and that an embryo is not a dandelion or a diamond or a ’65 Barracuda, and is therefore, as a human being, entitled to its life, is not convincing to a mechanist. Why?

Machines can be turned into other machines by suitable attachments or rearrangements of parts. Embryos, then, are only (non-speaking) machines and the only real thing that distinguishes them from dandelions or muscle cars is the number of parts. Which is why, obviously, experimentation is needed.

You’ll have noticed that mechanists are inconsistent in their treatment of most human beings who make it past the womb, beings who are not usually considered machines. Ah, but it would be cruel to expect consistency from anybody, let alone a mechanist. Besides, the movement towards raw pragmatism is well underway.

This paragraph caught my attention:

But Lanner doesn’t expect his work, which will explore early human development, to cause such a fuss. A year of discussion about the ethics of embryo-editing research, and perhaps simply the passage of time, seems to have blunted its controversial edge—although such work remains subject to the same ethical anxieties that surround other reproductive-biology experiments. “At least in the scientific community, I sense more support for basic-research applications,” says Lanner, who gained approval for his experiments last June.

Blunting of controversy is signal curse of our time. The majority is worn down by an indefatigable enemy, mostly because the majority has by now accepted the major premise of their enemy, which is mechanism. Point is, the water-drip torture form of argumentation has worked, is working, and it is therefore rational to suppose it will continue to work.

Research involving the editing of human embryos will begin soon elsewhere in the world, if it hasn’t done so privately already.

I’d bet it has; and I’d bet it’ll continue, despite any laws passed to ban it. The USA isn’t the only country, after all, and the Chinese are mechanists from way back. Indeed, the same magazine predicts the first lab-engineered human machines will be produced in China.

In theory, genome editing could also be used to ‘fix’ the mutations responsible for heritable human diseases. If done in embryos, this could prevent such diseases from being passed on.

Genetic diseases don’t exist on their own, of course, so nobody knows what “removing” a disease from somebody’s genes will do, especially because genetic disease are not so easy to de-engineer or disentangle. We’ll discuss the nature of this kind of evidence another time.

Another point to keep in mind: how these new purposefully made-superior beings (there will be claims of engineered higher intelligence, etc. etc.) will be viewed by us normals.

None of these considerations will matter. The prize of perfection is too gleaming.

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