William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Citizen Zings Deepak Chopra With Bolt Of Logic

From regular reader Bruce Foutch comes this video of a citizen asking “quantum healing” guru Deepak Chopra and some “Bishop” a simple question.

Deepak Chopra Flummoxed

The transcript reads:

Emcee: I want to take another question. There’s a gentlemen in the red shirt who’s had his hand up for awhile to come up to the microphone.

Citizen: My questions are for Deepak and the, uh, and the Bishop. Now you stated before that all belief is a cover-up for insecurity, right?

Chopra/Bishop: Uh huh.

Citizen: Do you believe that?

Chopra/Bishop: Yes.

Citizen: Thank you (tumultuous applause and cheering).

Chopra/Bishop: (sitting stunned, flummoxed, chagrined, dumbfounded in equal parts).

Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Our red-shirted brother held them down and gave ’em a few in the kidneys. Then just walked away, his opponents lying prone, either too frightened or stupefied to return to the battle. The camera doesn’t show it, but I’d like to believe our hero casually walked to the door, pausing only to light a cheroot in the shadows before his disappeared.

Pop, progressive, and various other failed philosophies are chock full of self-defeating statements like Chopra’s that, were they actually examined show the philosophy to be empty. My favorite is due to multiculturalism: “There is no truth.”

What’s yours?

Two Open Letters To Congress On Climate Change, And A New Third

There are two open letters shot off to Congress these last days, one from “alarmist” scientists and the other from “denialist” scientists1. Those pejoratives were not picked by me, but by each rival camp, each seeking to find the best stinger to dismiss the other with a word.

The 28 January letter was signed by, inter alia, Ben Santer, Kevin Trenberth, and Michael Mann. The 8 February letter was avowed by Richard Lindzen, Craig Idso, and Patrick Michaels and others of a similar mind. These names are familiar enough so that readers will understand me when I say that the first letter was of the form “Is too!“, the later answering “Is not!

Letter two begins, after explaining that its purpose is to rebut the authors of letter one, with

We, the undersigned, totally disagree with them and would like to take this opportunity to briefly state our side of the story.

The eighteen climate alarmists (as we refer to them, not derogatorily, but simply because they view themselves as “sounding the alarm” about so many things climatic) state that…

Sarcasm, humor, and bombast have their place in this debate, but a playground “They started it!” is not the ideal way to address Congress. And nobody is buying the demure claim that “We mean ‘alarmist’ in a good way,” especially considering that phrase is littered throughout the letter. These techniques, and the non-arresting language used throughout, make the effort too easy to dismiss. I believe an opportunity has been missed.

How much better to have begun:

New Letter

To the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate:

We believe that many of our brother and sister scientists are too certain of themselves regarding climate change. We have looked at the same data and same models that they have, but we have drawn different conclusions. We disagree about the range and extremity of changes and wonder if our colleagues have let their politics influence their science.

Our colleagues often point to their numbers and suggest that because many of them belong to various learned organizations, they therefore cannot be wrong. But we belong to the same organizations and we also have a large membership. Our colleagues are fond of announcing that they have polled themselves and that their resulting unanimity proves their case. But we have polled ourselves too, and we are unanimous in concluding a logical fallacy is not an ideal foundation for science. No scientific body has license to issue “Truths” determined by vote.

Earth’s climate has always changed; it has never been constant; thus we conclude that it always will change. It is also clear that mankind must have some effect on the climate. With these statements, we agree with our colleagues. We diverge when estimating the magnitude of effects.

There have not yet been accurate predictions of future climates to a level sufficient to convince us that our understanding of climate science is complete. Our colleagues say that no one has yet “provided an alternative scientific theory that adequately satisfies the observable evidence or conforms to our understanding of physics, chemistry, and climate dynamics.” This is false, alternate theories abound; but even if our colleagues’ claim were true, it does not follow that they have discovered the correct theory. This is their second fallacy.

Based on modeling efforts thus far, the level of certainty of what Earth’s future climate will be is low. Even assuming a constant climate, there exists great uncertainty in how the environment, our economy, human health, and national security are affected by the climate. Thus, projections of future threats to or changes in these things are doubly uncertain.

We must first improve our understanding of climate change before we can confidently say what will happen in other areas. Our colleagues are satisfied by “the seriousness of the charges” and say doing something is better than doing nothing. We are not convinced and would remind our colleagues that examples of unanticipated consequences of precipitous actions has a long and depressing history.

It is also strange to us that our colleagues have discovered that only bad things will happen if the planet warms. No inconvenience is so small that it will not develop into a positive menace once climate change truly begins. Every species of animal is threatened with extinction and hardship, except pests, which are projected to thrive. Warmer climes are predicted to exacerbate every malady and will palliate none. All this might be so, but it is extraordinarily unlikely.

Our colleagues finally devolve into name calling, which is, as you know, always a sign of a lack of surety. They claim that “deniers”, defined as those who disagree with them, should not be listened to because these deniers deny their theories. That many of our colleagues have convinced themselves of the unassailability of their position based on an argument as blatantly fallacious as this one causes us to view the remainder of their claims with healthy suspicion.

Lastly, our colleagues call for Congressional hearings on the state of climatology. We welcome this idea and look forward to participating.


William M. Briggs

Anybody else? (Scientists I mean.)


1Joe D’Aleo sent me a copy of the “denialist” letter a day before it went public. I took this to be an indirect invitation to sign it, but I hadn’t the time to even read it before it was sent. But this matters not: I would not have signed.

In Their Own Words: Obama On Health, Holder On Race

Pay for your own damn health care

In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, President O’bama said

What I hear you saying is that the notion that us saying to people that don’t have health insurance, don’t make me pay for your health insurance, if you get sick, you have a responsibility to make sure you have coverage. There’s nothing socialist about that. That’s saying to Americans, we’re going each of us be responsible for our own health care.

The sentiments behind these words are not consonant. If each citizen is responsible for his own health care, then each citizen should pay should he become ill or not pay if he remains healthy. He may also choose to contact a bookie and bet he will become ill, taking whatever odds he and the bookie negotiate. If he remains healthy, he loses the bet; but if he sickens, he wins and the bookie pays. If he chooses not to place a bet yet he subsequently sickens, then the resulting health care bill is his burden, not mine, not yours, and not Mr Obama’s. This system is simple and can be called the personal responsibility scenario.

The other scenario is Obama care, or health care socialism. Here, some citizens are forced to pay, regardless of desire or need, into a bureaucracy tasked to dole a fraction of these taxes back out for government-approved “health care” procedures. Many citizens pay nothing. All citizens receive the same level of minimum care. Richer citizens can, by paying still more, operate additionally under the personal responsibility scenario—unless, as often happens, the government decides this is not “fair” and bans departures from its mandated system. Both citizens and health-care providers become subservient to an unelected, self-satisfied bureaucracy.

It is clear to anyone with a rudimentary mathematical ability that proper “insurance” can only be found in the personal responsibility scenario. To call the mandatory payments under Obama care “insurance” is a deliberate obfuscation; it is newspeak: any enforced payment is a tax and nothing else. This is true even if you don’t want it to be.

A cowardly attorney on race

Attorney General Eric Holder called the American people “essentially a nation of cowards” because they would not “openly” discuss the issue of race. Evidently his definition of “openly” departs from its usual sense. Its context suggests Holder had in mind an antonym of “openly”, but that he had become confused by the time the words reached his lips, a not unusual symptom of politicians and lawyers.

But never mind. It is another, non-cowardly statement on race that is of interest today:

“The facts are clear,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “Intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 15 to 45.”

Yet we also learn that

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Justice Department’s own Bureau of Justice Statistics, the leading causes of death for African-American women between the ages 15-45 are cancer, heart disease, unintentional injuries such as car accidents, and HIV disease. Homicide comes in fifth — and includes murders by strangers. In 2006 (the latest year for which full statistics are available), several hundred African-American women died from intimate partner homicide…but far fewer than the approximately 6,800 women who died of the other leading causes.

Our task is to identify how Holder came to say what he did given these statistics. There are only two clauses in Holder’s statement which can produce confusion, “the facts are clear” and “the leading cause.”

Now, “the facts are clear” is so often a prefix to political statements that it is the equivalent to a clearing of the throat. And when we line up cases of “the facts are clear” with the actual facts, we find no correlation. Thus, though the phrase has a definite, literal English meaning, it is instead an idiom whose meaning is roughly, “I’m beginning to talk.” Holder, therefore, made no mistake in using it.

“The leading cause” is more problematic for our Attorney General. Each word is clear, and together their only potential ambiguity is if there are two or more causes tied for “leading” yet only one is mentioned. This is not the case here, where there is more than an order of magnitude separating the “leading” from the “least” (say) causes of death.

Thus, the only possible conclusions are that Holder lied, that he spoke in ignorance, or that he confused the word “leading” with “least.” If Holder lied, then we know our highest officer of the law is willing to lie for political gain. If he spoke in ignorance, then he is sloppy and apt to rush to judgment on matters racial. But if he confused those two words, then we are in for a lot of trouble.

Music Not So Super At Super Bowl: Faked Cheering?

Oh, say, can you see, by the field’s klieg lights, what so proudly we hailed? And proudly hailed to the world over in full Dolby surround-sound HD. What an embarrassment! Bombs bursting on stage was about the size of it.

They always say that the “Super” Bowl is the most watched television program the world over. Like many well known facts and statistics, this one is made up, purely fictional, a combination of desire and wild speculation. But it is at least true that the game is seen by many non Americans, folks who are not used to our ways and have not built up a tolerance to bad music as we have.

The joyless-tivities began with a rendition of America The Beautiful sung by some nondescript celebrity called Lea Michele whose near monotone, one-octave effort sounded like it was arranged by Elton John, or whoever it is that orchestrated every damn Broadway show since 1990. Plastic phrasing, interchangeable chords, lifeless notes, pre-packed and ready made for the microphone and cheesy amplification. One step short of muzak. The kind of signing that requires no skill, no practice. The kind that can be mastered even by celebrities.

If you want stirring, if you want home-grown gospel, if you want to talk about pure from the heart God-shedding-his-grace-on-thee, then you cannot do better than Ray Charles singing the same song. That’s the re-enlistment version, baby. Let he that hath an ear and so forth.

Now, as bad as Michele’s signing was (the best Hollywood Gossip could say was that it “avoided controversy”—high praise), it was merely an average awful banality, easily ignored as you made one last trip to the refrigerator to grab something that resembled beer. It was what came after that horrified.

The real pain began when a strangely dressed, husky voiced Christina Aguilera croaked out what she thought was our National Anthem. The word is already spreading that she made a mistake in the lyric; a typo, if you like. But typos can be forgiven. The stutters, cheats, and out-of-tune wheezing cannot be. Substituting falsetto for high notes is a trick you’d expect from a guy sitting on a dingy stage squinting at 501 Song Cheats, not from a singer heard by at least millions.

The glissando-like whoa-ah-whoa-ah-whoa-ization of every note at the end of every bar was stupid and undisciplined. It’s the kind of signing that would impress only those whose exposure to music was limited to the nursery and FM radio. What came out of her mouth was the equivalent of a black velvet painting of a needlessly angry tiger. What made it worse was that she managed to look exhausted by her efforts. It’s one thing to sing badly, but another suggest that this was the best one can do.

Yet lower depths were still to plumb. The half-time “show” by the group calling themselves Black-eyed Peas demonstrated everything that is wrong with modern music. The act was so awful that it is certain that my limited powers of description will fail to covey how nausea-inducing it was. I won’t even discuss how their costumes looked like they were thought up by a sugar-addled eight-year-old trick-or-treater. I’ll stick strictly to the music.

The most obvious problem was that their voices were processed through some electronic contraption. The singing itself was nearly, but not quite, at the level of a karaoke bar at 2 am; the computerization gave pay to the old saying “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you’ve ever heard polished (published) versions of their songs, you’ll know what magic a small army of dedicated sound engineers acting as editors can work.

And why are they so fond of their lyric “Looks like it’s gonna be a good night”? Its two-dozen repetitions were in direct contradistinction from the night viewers had.

Did you notice the biggest farce of the evening? If you paid careful attention to the audience behind the band—not the imported signers, but the actual fans in the stadium—you’ll have noticed that most of them sat rock still, evidently unimpressed by the spectacle they suffered through. Yet at the appointed ends of the band’s noise (songs), a crescendo of applause and cheering was heard.

Was this faked? Or at least augmented, the way laugh-tracks are overlaid on sitcoms shot “in front of a live studio audience”? I’d be willing to bet that it was.

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