William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Stream: The Transgender Logic of Gender Fluidity Justifies Absurdities

Science attempts to discover whether this is a tall male cat.

Science attempts to discover whether this is a tall male cat.

Today’s mandatory reading is at The Stream: The Transgender Logic of Gender Fluidity Can Justify Absurdities:

Gender, say some, is separate from sex. You are a man in the sense of sex if you are a man biologically, which is to say, having the attributes, however imperfectly, which define the essence of a man. The qualification is necessary, because you are still a man in the biological sense if, for instance, you are fallen victim to some horrible industrial accident and are therefore missing certain appendages.

But you are a man in the sense of gender if you believe, or claim, you are a man. Biological men can therefore be gender-men, too, by merely recognizing their biological status is “right” or “works” for them. But biological women can also be gender-men, by claiming that their biology is in opposition to their gender. A person whose gender is in opposition to biology is called transgender

Suppose, dear reader, you claim to be seven feet tall. It’s your identity. You are a tall man trapped inside the body of a short one. How dare anybody deny your tallness.

It does no good whatsoever to insist that a physical measuring tape “says” you are (for instance) 5’10”. Your say you are 7′: not in height, but stature. Stature is not equivalent to height. Height is biological. Stature is separate and not equivalent (and fluid)…

If we admit that the physical or biological measure for height has primacy over stature, then we must insist on the biological measure of sex over gender. To maintain logical coherence, anybody who argues for the transgender position must agree with this.

The only possible rebuttal is that height and sex, and therefore stature and gender, are different. And this is true. But it is a non sequitur. The argument is not that sex and height are different, but that the only proof of transgenderhood is and can only be personal assertion, and therefore the only proof of stature is and can only be assertion. If you accept assertion as proof of transgenderhood, to say “stature is not allowed to be asserted” becomes itself mere assertion, and therefore you utter a contradiction. To limit assertion-as-proof for gender only is to draw an artificial line based on personal prejudice. It is bigotry.

In an article elsewhere I argued “I Self Identify As A Yak“. Every argument I used to justify my yakhood was parallel to the arguments men use when claiming to be women. This may seem absurd, but consider that many people do assert they are not human beings but animals of another species. Not in the biological sense, of course, but in the same sense gender is not sex and stature not height…

These parallel arguments work for anything. A biological–and–gender–human–species–male walks into the bar and says, “My maturity is 21.” Is it only out of maturophobia that that bartender refuses to serve the person, who is biologically 14, a drink? It must be if the bartender insists on physical chronology to assess maturity—which is not age!…

The government is not the only one who can creates mandates, you know. I can, too. So go to The Stream and read the whole thing.

More On The Deadly Sin Of Reification

(If you can’t see the picture embedded in the tweet, click here for the original.)

The axes are “Percent of men non-employed” by “Percent of births to unmarried women”. The green dots, as indicated by the main heading, are state-wide estimates. I know nothing about the estimates, but given what we know about measuring these kinds of things, it’s a good bet every citizen in each state was not measured, and instead some kind of survey was done.

Point one, a minor note: the dots aren’t real; there is uncertainty in them not shown. That’s one form of reification: when estimate becomes the thing estimated. This is more or less harmful depending on the nature of the measurement. We can guess, given our experience with estimates of this type, that the error is not large here; but it is just a guess on our part.

Men north of 70 and south of 20 are rarely employed. They’re presumably part of the green dots. And women north of 40 and south of 15 (or so) rarely give birth. They’re also presumably part of the green dots. We’re not sure exactly who is measured!

Point two, and the main point: there is no reason in the world for that red line. That red line is the real Deadly Sin of Reification.

The red line does not exist. It is not real. It is not part of any employed or non-employed man. It is not an attribute of any mother of a legitimate or illegitimate child. It is a fiction. It is unobservable.

Drawing the red line draws the eye to where it doesn’t belong. The red line pushes out the green dots, which themselves are already a bit of a fiction, and replaces them with a thing that is far too sure of itself, and isn’t even real.

The red line is—are you ready?—itself an estimate of a parameter of a regression model, which in this case is a model of the central parameter of a normal distribution representing uncertainty in the percent illegitimate births. So it is a parameter of a probability model, and parameters don’t exist. It is only one of three parameters in this model, at that, the other two being suppressed.

The parameter isn’t a causal agent, which is important. Some things are causing the illegitimate and legitimate births, just as some things are causing the men to be employed or the men to be unemployed. We do not see any causes in this data. Any causes we infer from the graph are already in our head, as it were, put there by our commonsense.

What the graph is asking us to believe, and which is easy to believe, is that unemployed men tend to father children without bothering to marry at greater rates than employed men. The direction of cause isn’t clear. Some men seek jobs after getting women pregnant, recognizing their responsibility. Are they listed as non-employed or employed? And so on.

Normally I advocate a predictive approach. That is to say, take the data as is, propose a (non-causal) probability model for the uncertainty, and then make predictions. So that, for instance, a male unemployment percent of 30 would predict an 80% chance (or whatever) of illegitimate birth rates anywhere from (say) 22% to 48%. We could do that here, but why would we? There is nothing left to predict! This is another reason not to include the misleading red line.

All fifty states are represented. The data is at the state level, which is the same locale predictions are valid. Now everybody knows states aren’t homogeneous, not racially, not economically, not most things. Predictions made by the green dot for Michigan for Detroit would be the same as for tiny Charlevoix, hundreds of miles north. The green dots smooth out all these differences. The red line says the differences don’t matter.

“Briggs, what’s the big deal? Everybody already knows shiftless men and loose women have more babies out of wedlock than do employed men and virtuous women. You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”

I agree. Everybody already does know what the graph purports to show. So why show the graph? The graph puts hard numbers to our already well known, and confirmed by common observation, beliefs. The numbers are too certain. They’re aren’t right. The hunger for quantification is too strong.

What the author the graph should have done is measured individual unemployed and employed men and whether these men fathered illegitimate or legitimate or no children. The author could have then told stories of these men and women and the reasons (the causes) of them making babies or not.

The predictions we could make would then be at the person-level, which then might have some utility.

Summary Against Modern Thought: Creatures Didn’t Necessarily Always Exist

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

After last week’s exhaustion, today something really simple and unobjectionable. Whatever God made did not have to have always existed. I don’t see anybody objecting to this, and accordingly only have one small note. What’s that you say? What about questions of the eternity of the universe? Well, that’s next week! Stick around.

Chapter 31 That is not necessary for creatures to have been always (alternate translation)

1 IT remains for us to prove from the foregoing that it is not necessary for created things to have been from eternity.

2 Because if it be necessary for the universe of creatures, or any particular creature whatsoever, to be, it must have this necessity either of itself or from another. But it cannot have it of itself. For it was proved above that every being must be from the first being. Now that which has being, not from itself, cannot possibly have necessity of being from itself: since what must necessarily be, cannot possibly not be; and consequently that which of itself has necessary being, has of itself the impossibility of not being; and therefore it follows that it is not a non-being; wherefore it is a being.

3 If, however, this necessity of a creature is from something else, it must be from a cause that is extrinsic; because whatever we may take that is within the creature, has being from another.

Now an extrinsic cause is either efficient or final. From the efficient cause, however, it follows that the effect is necessarily, when it is necessary for the agent to act: for it is through the agent’s action that the effect depends on the efficient cause. Accordingly if it is not necessary for the agent to act in order that the effect be produced, neither is it absolutely necessary for the effect to be.

Now God does not act of necessity in producing creatures, as we have proved above. Wherefore it is not absolutely necessary for the creature to be, as regards necessity dependent on the efficient cause.

Likewise neither is it necessary as regards the necessity that depends on the final cause. For things directed to an end do not derive necessity from the end, except in so far as without them the end either cannot be,–as preservation of life without food,–or cannot be so well,–as a journey without a horse.

Now the end of God’s will, from which things came into being, can be nothing else but His goodness, as we proved in the First Book. And this does not depend on creatures, neither as to its being,–since it is per se necessary being,–nor as to well-being,–since it is by itself good simply; all of which were proved above. Therefore it is not absolutely necessary for the creature to be: and consequently neither is it necessary to suppose that the creature has been always.

Notes Quick reminder that cause is four: formal, material, efficient, and final. A clay pot has material cause of clay, form of pot, efficient cause of the potter’s hands, and the goal of being a pot.

4 Again. That which proceeds from a will is not absolutely necessary, except perhaps when it is necessary for the will to will it. Now God, as proved above, brought things into being, not by a necessity of His nature, but by His will: nor does He necessarily will creatures to be, as we proved in the First Book. Therefore it is not absolutely necessary for the creature to be: and therefore neither is it necessary that it should have been always.

5 Moreover. It has been proved above that God does not act by an action that is outside Him, as though it went out from Him and terminated in a creature, like heating which goes out from fire and terminates in wood. But His will is His action; and things are in the way in which God wills them to be. Now it is not necessary that God will the creature always to have been; since neither is it necessary that God will a thing to be at all, as we proved in the First Book. Therefore it is not necessary that creatures should have been always.

6 Again. A thing does not proceed necessarily from a voluntary agent except by reason of something due. But God does not produce the creature by reason of any debt, if we consider the production of all creatures absolutely, as we have shown above. Therefore God does not necessarily produce the creature. Neither therefore is it necessary, because God is eternal, that He should have produced the creature from eternity.

7 Further. It has been proved that absolute necessity in created things results, not from a relation to a principle that is of itself necessary to be, namely God, but from a relation to other causes which are not of themselves necessary to be. Now the necessity resulting from a relation which is not of itself necessary to be, does not necessitate that something should have been always: for if something runs it follows that it is in motion, but it is not necessary for it to have been always in motion, because the running itself is not necessary. Therefore nothing necessitates that creatures should always have been.

How To Be Poor — Guest Post by The Blonde Bombshell


Neal Gabler’s confession in the May Atlantic about his inability to gather $400 in an emergency is riveting reading. The article details the wreckage of one bad decision after another. The freelance existence—with brief moments of feast interspersed with long periods of famine—is not for the fainthearted. But it can be done without facing financial ruin of oneself or one’s parents.

While he brings the reader into his current situation, he doesn’t talk about his youth and childhood or his experiences as a young adult. He refrains from public consideration whether his background shaped his expectations about what money could and could not do. The reader has no choice but to imagine that his was a solidly middle-class upbringing, and that he had no knowledge of how to be poor and no experience with frugality. For the middle class, frugality is a frightful word that conjures up watered-down soup and patched clothing and certainly is something to be avoided. For the poor, frugality is a forced fact of life.

Middle-class people who have never been poor are generally very bad at having no money. This was brought to the surface in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Many middle-manager couples, earnest and hardworking, each with better-than-average earnings, often with children, faced doom when one or both of them were found without steady employment. Like Mr. Gabler, by appearances, they were doing well, but in reality they were living paycheck to paycheck because they could not restrain their desires. Nobody forced them to buy that mini-mansion, but there they were, with a mortgage and a BMW in the driveway. How does that happen without deliberate agency?

The comfortably middle class are used to shopping at particular retailers for food and clothing and vacationing at resorts where they can mingle with other members of the middle class. Their little bundles of joy, conceived with fertility treatments, cost a packet before they were born, and are hustled off to private schools and expensive extra-curricular activities.

Middle-class people are also very into “deserving” things. They can think of endless little trinkets and nights out and delicious things to eat that they should have because they “deserve” it. Poor people also work hard, but their reward scale is much more modest, say, an occasional can of cold beer.

The ability to be poor and to live within one’s means is learned by doing. If you are currently comfortable, and are facing a situation where you might not have much disposable income as you once did, here are some tips to help you familiarize you with the basic tenets of frugality:

  1. Write it down. Force yourself to record every purchase in a notebook. It is a nuisance to have to write it down, and you will find yourself not buying things because you don’t want to take the trouble to record your purchases.
  2. Pay attention to food prices. Food is for sale not only in grocery stores, but drug stores, ethnic grocers, and dollar stores. Just by paying attention, you can tell when you are getting a good deal on eggs, butter, or oatmeal (as in the real deal, not the sweetened packets). Some internet retailers offer excellent prices on flour, legumes, canned goods, and paper and household products. Pro tip: the big grocery stores are the most expensive place to buy branded herbs and spices; smaller specialty shops sometimes have private-label herbs and spices that are better priced.
  3. Ditch cable. Cable is expensive. If you need to be entertained, there are cheaper alternatives.
  4. Rethink clothing purchases. Most Americans have closets and dressers that are bulging with clothing. It is more than likely that you don’t need what you think you do. Don’t overlook second-hand stores. Shop sales, if you must.
  5. Cook. Cooking at home is cheaper than dining out. If you slavishly follow some recipes, you are going to need to talk to a loan officer. Freely switch out or omit expensive ingredients. Use dry rosemary for fresh, white vinegar for lemon juice, sunflower seed for pine nuts, and skip the parsley if it isn’t essential. For everyday cooking, improvisation is fine.
  6. Make coffee at home. There is no need to pay $5 for a cup of coffee from the high-priced coffee chain store on workdays. Let’s see, $5 a day, that’s $25 a week, which comes to $100 a month. Think of it, you could be spending $1200 a year on take-out coffee. If your co-mortgagee has the same habit, you are taking in on the chin to the tune of $2400 a year. If you must have it, make it an occasional treat, not an everyday staple. If that is not possible, wean yourself from the expensive stuff and stick to the cheaper house coffee ($40 a month/$480 a year).
  7. Take a walk, read a book, do some housework. No need to fritter away money at the bar, at the movies, or at a restaurant. Trade in the time that you use spending money for time where you spend nothing.
  8. Go to the dollar store. Many middle-class people are only vaguely aware of dollar stores, discount retailers, and flea markets. While they have heard of and possibly shopped at Walmart, they are largely ignorant of the existence of the plethora of bargain havens that the poor depend on.
  9. Don’t go on vacation. Unless you can afford it.
  10. Don;t use the credit card. Be careful with your debit card.
  11. Monitor your Amazon wishlist. If there is a book you would like to purchase, but you aren’t going to read right away, keep it on your list and order when you can get a used copy for a penny. Even by factoring in postage, you’ve saved at least three-quarters of the cover price.
  12. Teach your kids to be realistic. The kids are going to want to have things that you can’t afford, and you’re going to have to say no. You can say no and still love your kids and want what’s best for them. If they are teenagers, you can suggest that they get a job and pay for what they want themselves. Some parents scoff at the availability of such jobs, but kids can be pretty enterprising when they have to be.

While it is nice to have money, there are no guarantees that it will always be there when you need it. Be grateful and humble for what you do have, and when you can, like your grandparents admonished, save for the proverbial rainy day. One or two simple changes can help you salt away the magic $400 for the emergency fund; and a few more months of economy will bear even more rewards.

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