William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Rare Win For Forces Of Sanity: Or, PM2.5 Isn’t As Scary As We’ve Been Told


Quick note to a news story in which I have an interest.

WORLD LOGISTICS CENTER: Moreno Valley OKs megawarehouse on 3-2 vote

After three years of controversy that has divided residents, Moreno Valley officials voted Wednesday, Aug. 19 to dramatically transform the city’s east side with what would be one of the largest warehouse complexes in the country.

The council’s 3-2 vote came at the end of three marathon meetings, at which supporters and opponents debated the need for jobs versus traffic and air pollution impacts from thousands of trucks the 2,300-acre project south of the 60 between Redlands Boulevard and Gilman Springs Road will bring…

[Critics] also say that the traffic generated by the project — estimated at 68,721 vehicles a day, including 14,006 trucks — would overwhelm area roads and freeways and increase air pollution and health risks.

A final environmental impact report released in May found that the project would have significant unavoidable regional impacts on traffic, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, noise and other quality-of-life issues…

[Councilman] Price also asked planning staff to address criticism from state and regional air quality officials that the project environmental study was underestimating the health effects and misusing a single study to claim that diesel particulates don’t cause cancer.

The study to which Price refers, and which he incorrectly says is misused, was the only study I could discover that did not rely on the epidemiologist fallacy to say particular matter (PM) caused disease. The epidemiologist fallacy is when a researcher says “X causes Y” but where he never measures X and where he incorrectly ascribes a causal relation when only a statistical (wee p-value, almost always) one has been found.

The “single” study Price talked about was the (independent) Health Effects Institute’s report “Advanced Collaborative Emissions Study (ACES): Lifetime Cancer and Non-Cancer Assessment in Rats Exposed to New-Technology Diesel Exhaust”. It measured actual exposure of PM to rats using the type of diesel engines that will be used at the World Logistics Center. No wee p-values were discovered.

On the other hand, many wee p-values were found in other observational database “studies” which were the basis of the opposition to the WLC.

I met Benzeevi at the Doctors for Disaster Preparedness meeting in early August where I spoke on the massive over-certainty present in PM-causes-this-and-that studies. Jim Enstrom suggested I should submit a letter to the City Council which was debating the WLC. So I did. Jim put up the entire letter here (at his site).

About one of the studies relied upon by the government agencies, I wrote (SCAQMD = South Coast Air Quality Management District):

The epidemiologist fallacy is present in the SCAQMD-cited 2006 observational study, “Traffic, Susceptibility, and Childhood Asthma” by McConnell and others. In its abstract, this study states, “we examined the relationship of local traffic-related exposure and asthma and wheeze in southern California school children (5–7 years of age).” Yet exposure to traffic was never measured. Instead, the “exposure” children had to traffic was based on a guess (the guess itself was the result of a statistical model, and the uncertainty inherent in the model was ignored). To emphasize, where the children were during the course of this study was never measured, but only approximated. The authors conclude their “results indicate that residence near a major road is associated with asthma.” As noted, it is a statistical mistake to infer, as these authors do, that “associated with” means “caused.”

It might be that living near a roadway causes, in some children, asthma. But are poorer or more well-off children likely to live near a major roadway? Is it the roadway itself that causes the asthma (only in some cases) or it is, say, the poor health or lifestyle of the parents or some other environmental agent? Or is it that more children are being screened for asthma (because of school programs and the like) and that heretofore marginal cases, especially among the poor, went undiagnosed? All these, and many more, unanswered and unanswerable questions are why observational studies cannot be trusted as the sole basis in estimating risk. It is also why observational studies tend to exaggerate risk.

And there are other poor studies, which you can read in the full letter. Jim Enstrom also submitted a letter (here), and so did a Professor Robert F. Phalen (here; I never met him).

This is fantastic news. It shows it is possible to explain how weak is the evidence the old way of doing statistics provided. What’s really needed is a Third Way that avoids all the old mistakes. How about this?

Minds Have Become So Rotted By Global Warming They Listen To Naomi Klein

Artist's conception of Naomi Klein making her most reasoned argument.

Artist’s conception of Naomi Klein making her most reasoned argument.

Two weeks Northern Michigan vacation and I still can’t escape.

Anti-capitalist activist, Vatican invitee, non-scientist, and authoress of extremist political tracts Naomi Klein said global warming will make Australia “meaner”.

I do not joke nor jest. She said, “You see that in Australia where the treatment of migrants is a profound moral crisis. It’s clear that as sea levels rise that this mean streak and open racism is going to become more extreme — climate change is an accelerant to all those other issues.”

These are statements of such profound stupidity that I’m rather taken aback. I want to be nice, to be charitable, to find something redeeming in Klein. Brother, this is as nice as I can get. An increase in meanness. What’s next? Headlines blaring “Global Warming Causes Cooties”?

That The Guardian, the paper in which these remarks fell, took them seriously, is not surprising. That paper is willing to say anything to advance its agenda. For them, the ends justify the means—an inherently evil position.

Now we skeptics often joke about this, but apparently it’s true. A environmentalist fanatic can say whatever they want about global warming and it will be taken not only seriously by the bien pensant but as proved true just for the stating.

This isn’t science, it isn’t even religion. To say it is gross superstition is an understatement. Nothing short of crazed monomania can be the explanation. Klein is so incensed that people are largely free to make their own economic decisions, decisions she feels (not thinks) would be better made by her and her confreres, that she is willing to emit streams of preposterousities (you heard me: preposterousities), knowing the resulting puddles will be lapped up eagerly by her ideological followers.

Klein’s trick is to say something mind-numbingly stupid, perhaps even something that she herself doesn’t believe, and then wait for her friends in the media to parrot it, and in the process cover the statement with a layer of reportorial seriousness.

The sane are then forced to counter the idiocy by saying things like, “Global warming can’t cause ‘meanness’ because meanness can’t possible be related to temperatures”. But engaging in that very scientific act merely reinforces the error among the vulgar and ideologically blinded, who are like that dog in the Far Side cartoon who while listening to a stream of words from his owner only hears his name. The ignorant will only hear “global warming”, “meanness”, etc.

On the other hand, if you do what I am now doing you will be accused by the ignorant of being—wait for it—mean. And told you haven’t answered the charges.

What a circus! Science and truth have been left so far behind in the dust that I’m not even sure a majority of our populace would recognize it.

Trenberth Is Wrong About Global Warming: The PDO Is An Effect, Not A Cause

From the paper's Figure showing the PDO and odd regression.

From the paper’s Figure showing the PDO and odd regression.

Kevin “Travesty” Trenberth had a peer-reviewed article in Science entitled, “Has there been a hiatus? Internal climate variability masks climate-warming trends.

First, the word “hiatus” is wrong. Using it assumes what it seeks to prove: that the atmosphere is warming substantially because of human activity. We do not know this is true; and given model results, an area where Trenberth treds oh so lightly, it is almost surely false. The word “hiatus” implies the warming is there, but has been “masked” or “beaten down” by other causes such that the total cause is a no-warming signal in the (operationally defined) global mean surface temperature (GMST).

The real question of interest is not whether there was a “hiatus” but what are the main causes of the (value of the) GMST? Some of the causes Trenberth mentions are uncontroversial; for instance, volcanic eruptions, which block incoming solar radiation. But one cause he mentions, and which is says is responsible for the “hiatus”, is not a cause at all. This is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO).

He says, “Observations and models show that the PDO is a key player in the two recent hiatus periods”. He cliams the PDO is responsible for “interannual variability” of the atmosphere. This cannot be so. The PDO is an effect, an observation. It is not a primary cause. The PDO is not something apart from the atmosphere, independent of it and which only shows up every so often. It is a pattern formed in the atmosphere by the same (and other) causes which are responsible for the GMST value.

And the same is true, of course, for the El Nino, La Nina, AMO, and any other human-identified handy pattern. To say the PDO is a cause is like saying the “pattern” of colder temperatures we notice in December in the northern hemisphere are responsible for (a.k.a. cause) winter.

Trenberth skirts around the lack of skill exhibited by climate models and implies the models would have been right—which means he acknowledges they were wrong—had this nasty PDO not had its way with the atmosphere. Such faith. He says, “the associated changes in the atmospheric circulation are mostly not from anthropogenic climate change but rather reflect large natural variability on decadal time scales. The latter has limited predictability and may be underrepresented in many models”.

This is silly. The models claimed to be able to identify the main causes of atmospheric change. Because the predictions were so awful is proof that this claim is false. We do not know all the main causes of atmospheric change. If we did, our forecasts would have been accurate.

As I said, the main causes of the changes in the atmosphere also cause changes in the man-identified pattern we call the PDO. We also do not do a stellar job of predicting the PDO. More evidence we do not understand all the causes of the changes in the atmosphere.

Further, there is no such thing as “natural variability”. It doesn’t exist like volcanoes and even human carbon dioxide emissions do. Natural variability is a measure, the result of us holding up a sort of yardstick to the atmosphere. The yardstick exists all right, but it has no causal influence of the atmosphere itself.

For being a world-renowned expert on our climate, Trenberth certainly speaks poorly of its operation.

Small points: Trenberth ignores the satellite data temperature record and instead relies on a statistical reconstruction which does not show the uncertainty in its estimates. He smooths his “data” to show us black lines which are not the “data”, and then speaks of these lines as he speaks of “natural variability”, i.e. as if it’s something real. And then he does some odd ad hoc piece-wise linear regression the purpose of which is unclear and, as far as I can tell, is of no use whatsoever, i.e. it makes no predictions like all good statistical models should.

Stream: No, Half of British Youths Aren’t “Bisexual”


Today’s post is at the Stream: No, Half of British Youths Aren’t “Bisexual”.

A survey by YouGov in Great Britain recently announced that “1 in 2 young people say they are not 100 percent heterosexual.” This headline betrays an enormous confusion in our culture’s understanding of human nature, and the language we use to refer to ourselves.

The survey makers asked respondents “to plot themselves on a ‘sexuality scale’,” a pseudo-scientific quantification of desire invented by the disturbing and unreliable Alfred Kinsey. The results were that “23 percent of British people choose something other than 100 percent heterosexual– and the figure rises to 49 percent among 18-24 year olds.”

But there is a difference between human sexuality and human desires and behavior. As I hope to demonstrate, confusing one for the other has been, and increasingly will be, a source of much grief in our society.

Human Nature

The nature or essence of a human being is to be sexually reproductive…

Go there to read the rest.

Another in a long series of consequences of abandoning Christianity.

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