William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Old Lodge Skins’ Prayer Of Thanksgiving

The real Little Big Man.

The real Little Big Man.

In what is now a tradition, here is the death prayer from Old Lodge Skins, which comes at the close of Little Big Man by Thomas Berger (who died in 2014).

Then he commenced to pray to the Everywhere Spirit in the same stentorian voice, never sniveling but bold and free.

“Thank you for making me a Human Being! Thank you for helping me become a warrior! Thank you for all my victories and for all my defeats. Thank you for my vision, and for the blindness in which I saw further.

“I have killed many men and loved many women and eaten much meat. I have also been hungry, and I thank you for that and for the added sweetness that food has when you receive it after such a time.

“You make all things and direct them in their ways, O Grandfather, and now you have decided that the Human Beings will soon have to walk a new road. Thank you for letting us win once before that happened. Even if my people must eventually pass from the face of the earth, they will live on in whatever men are fierce and strong. So that when women see a man who is proud and brave and vengeful, even if he has a white face, they will cry: ‘That is a Human Being!’…”

I stood there in awe and Old Lodge Skins started to sing, and when the cloud arrived overhead, the rain started to patter across his uplifted face, mixing with the tears of joy there.

It might have been ten minutes or an hour, and when it stopped and the sun’s setting rays cut through, he give his final thanks and last request.

“Take care of my son here,” he says, “and see that he does not go crazy.”

He laid down then on the damp rocks and died right away. I descended to the treeline, fetched back some poles, and built him a scaffold. Wrapped him in the red blanket and laid him thereon. Then after a while I started down the mountain in the fading light.

Incidentally, eschew the movie of the same name, which shares only the title and the names of a few characters from the book, a book which is the moral and historical opposite of the politically correct film. It is a book which contains no anachronisms, itself a matter of great celebration.

Also highly recommended (as historical orientation) is the classic The Fighting Cheyennes by George Bird Grinnell, who was born in 1849 and who wrote the book in 1915 (it’s still in print). It is a non-patronizing, non-romantic look at the battles the Cheyenne fought, in, as much as was possible, their own words.

Berger wrote Little Big Man at a time (1964) when white boys still wanted to run off and be Indians. Nearly twenty years later, the TV show Grizzly Adams fulfilled the same escapist function. What little boys want to be now they had best keep quiet about or out come the pills (or awards).

Old Lodge Skins was Little Big Man’s adoptive grandfather. The scene takes place shortly after the Battle of Little Big Horn which the Cheyenne called the Battle at the Greasy Grass.

There is much in this prayer that still works. Men, remember to offer it or one like it as thanksgiving today.

In Which I’m Interviewed About Trump’s Victory & Free Speech


An “aspiring freelance journalist”, one Spencer Folkins, “decided to conduct a series of interviews with authors on what his victory means to them and writing as a whole.” Here are the questions and my answers.

1) Over 450 other authors signed a petition launched by authors Mark Slouka and Andrew Altschul back in May opposing Trumps candidacy. What were your thoughts once you became of this petition?

Never heard of it or them. (But then, I’m unknown, too.)

2) Do you feel it was appropriate for writers to get involved in politics in this way? Why or why not?

In a Democracy (we used to be a Republic), everything turns or is political. Democracy is politics—by definition. Writers are no different than other citizens. They’re forced to have an opinion, informed or not.

3) Trump’s track record with media over the course of his campaign was anything but pretty. Do you think the media was fair in their portrayal of him? Why or why not?

Fair? Certainly not. The media did its best to torpedo him and to downplay the horrors of Hillary. Many in the media openly admitted as such (you ought to get these quotes to do a complete job). Trump supporters were routinely painted as ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, ‘angry whites’, etc., etc. It’s no wonder the stuffed-diaper crowd hyperventilated after the election and ran to safe spaces to have cry-ins. They believed the media. They thought Trump was ‘literally’ (so much for English education) Hitler, because that’s the image that was painted of the man.

That the media was itself torpedoed is the best thing about the election. The media had grown far too powerful. Take that the Raddatz chicky at the debate, to name but one of a legion of incidents. (Obama was at her wedding?) After all, in a Democracy, he who controls the information controls much, nearly all. Heretofore, being a reporter meant never having to say you were sorry. It was nothing but a pleasure to watch their comeuppance.

4) How do you think this predominantly negative media attention affected voters?

It touched them deeply. Propaganda works. That’s why there’s so much of it. For example: There were citizens who answered when asked about the Project Veritas exposé, “Those videos were faked”, which is, of course, absurd, until you recall that’s what the media told them to say. These people never bothered to watch the videos themselves. And the same is true in many, many other examples. Most people believe what they’re told, not having the time, inclination, or capacity to investigate for themselves. That’s why having a media aligned towards a common goal, such as installing Hillary, can be particularly dangerous.

5) What was your response when you learned Trump had won the election?


6) Over the course of his campaign, Donald Trump once mocked New York Times journalist Serge Kovaleski – who lives with arthrogryposis, a congenital joint condition which limits the movement of joints – and more recently threatened to sue The New York Times over a well-researched article they published regarding the sexual assault allegations against him. He also said he would not be providing media credentials for The Washington Post to attend his events after they wrote something about him that he did not like. Historically he has been hostile towards anyone who has been even slightly critical of him, even if it is only to the extent of asking him questions or accurately quoting him. As a Trump supporter and writer, how do you justify or dismiss these actions?

I don’t justify or dismiss (though anybody suing the NYT gets my support: remember how they published his partial tax returns? Would you like yours put out? How often does the NYT front-page apologize when they get it wrong? How many of Trump’s accusers turned out to be fake?). Anyway, my, and your, support and vote came to a choice, Hillary or Trump. And Trump’s infractions were minor, trivial next to Hillary’s (and Bill’s) life of crime. Inappropriately making fun of somebody is nothing next to selling the office of Secretary of State to the highest bidder. A vote is not an indicator of moral purity, but a choice, and in this case it wasn’t even close. Did we really want to see Spirit Cooking dinners in the White House? I notice, for instance, you ask no questions about Hillary’s multitudinous failings. Why is that?

7) What do you think an imminent Trump presidency means for the free press?

It will, to some small extent, put the ‘free’ back in ‘free press’. It will rein in some of the worse excesses so that, perhaps, and in some limited cases, reporters can start doing their jobs again. Could you, under Obama or an imagined Hillary, imagine the NYT going after the nonsense at the EPA? Or the Clinton Foundation? No, you cannot. Most journalists are progressives, as everybody knows, so that bias will still be inherent. It’s not as if reporters will have had a change of heart. They’ll still be progressives. But maybe they will have learned some respect.

This cheered me:

You forgot to ask about how the citizenry will react to the media’s defeat. Hard-core leftists will remain the same, and will continue trusting comedy shows and the standard press to tell them what they want to hear. The hard-core right will still distrust the media. But there’s hope the folks in the center see that the beast has been weakened. Some of these people, maybe even many, will now second guess the news. They will discover the many alternate sources for information. This is a great benefit of the election.

Of course, it won’t last. Trump is a respite, not a solution.

8) With the influence politics has on art, what do you predict the next 4 years will look like for writers and American literature with Trump as president?

Increased freedom from fretting about political correctness can only be a good, not just for writers, but for everybody. Self-censorship has only been applied by the right, not the left. The only thing that will change is that writers not attached to universities won’t have to look over their shoulders as much. Those on campus are still lost. I’d be willing to bet that we’ll see plenty of pieces, maybe even a novel or two, where the left paints itself as imaginary victims of the Trumpocalypse.

9) Young people are going to grow up listening to what Donald Trump has to say. He now has the highest platform in the country and one of the highest in the world. What should young people know about the importance of political correctness and respect in free speech?

‘What you just said wasn’t factually correct, komrade.’

‘No, but it was politically correct, komrade.’

I’m hoping it’s clear to all, not just the young, that we don’t have to bend over and take it. We can fight back, and win. If a man wants to say, ‘Marriage means one man plus one woman for life’, he can say it, and not be chased beyond the gates by baying hounds of the ‘outraged’.

The advice to the young is this: when you’re right, be not afraid; and never, ever apologize. The Truth can stand for itself and needs no apology. The media lies to you: they tell you they are winning, that they have won, that resistance is futile. Never believe it. Even if you are an Army of one, you still possess what the enemy does not. The Truth.

As the man said, never give up, never surrender!

Stream: Scientists Claim The Children Of Gay Couples Turn Out Better


Scientists Claim The Children Of Gay Couples Turn Out Better.

It was inevitable that it would be claimed children raised by adults who have or who act on same-sex attraction would be better than children raised by normal adults, or by parents.

And so it has come to pass in the peer-reviewed paper “Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity: No Differences? Meta-Analytic Comparisons of Psychological Adjustment in Children of Gay Fathers and Heterosexual Parents” by Benjamin Graham Miller, Stephanie Kors, and Jenny Macfie in the journal Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.

From the Abstract:

…The current study applied…meta-analysis to 10 studies…to evaluate child psychological adjustment by parent sexual orientation…[R]esults indicated that children of gay fathers had significantly better outcomes than did children of heterosexual parents in all 3 models of meta-analysis.

The emphasis on “better” was in the original—a word that was noticed in the popular press.

If the results are true, it is clear that if we want what is best for the nation’s children, they should be placed in the households of men who enjoy non-procreative sex-like activities. (Actual sexual intercourse can only take place between males and females.) Leaving kids to fester with their own parents dooms them to lesser outcomes.

That prescription might to your ears sound absurd, but it does follow if Miller and his co-authors are right. Are they?

The trio used a statistical technique called “meta-analysis”, which I jokingly define as a method to prove a hypothesis “statistically” true which could not be proved by actually true. Actually, it is a way to glue together results from disparate studies, so that one needn’t be troubled by the hard work of investigating the disparate studies. In other words, it is a controversial technique, often badly applied and in the service of confirmation bias. I suspect that is true here…

You know what to do to fill in the blanks.

Uncertainty Reviewed Again: It is such a good book, and I recommend it without reservation


Don Aitkin, author of Moving On: A Tale of the Millennium, also available here, and feted here, and reviewed here, has reviewed my Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics. Here is that review (also available on his site) and my comments.

Aitkin’s Review

I have written before about William Briggs, the American statistician, and have corresponded with him, too. He has now published a book called Uncertainty. The Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics (Springer, 1916). A friend lent his copy to me, and I’ve now read it twice. It is as much about philosophy as it is about probability, but then Briggs would say that ‘probability’ is at its heart a matter of philosophy. I started to read the book a third time, but I’ll soon have to give it back. Pity, because like all good and hard books, you need to re-read unless you are an expert in the field, and I am neither by training a philosopher nor a statistician.

Why is it so good? Because, for me, he picks up areas of doubt that many people will have about uncertainty and probability (there are many books on the matter), and illuminates them helpfully. Judith Curry, whose website is on my blogroll, thinks that uncertainty is at the core of the problem with the orthodox view of ‘climate change’ (the inverted commas signify that this is the UNFCCC version of the term, meaning climate change caused by human activity). As I have tried to establish in my Perspective series, around every major proposition put forward by the orthodoxy there is considerable uncertainty. The orthodox, the believers, dismiss the uncertainty. They will tell you that 97 per cent of climate scientists agree, or that there are many separate illustrations of whatever point it is, or that the learned academies all say the same thing. But the uncertainty doesn’t go away. As Briggs would say, it is inherent in the data that is brought forward in the models used, and in the construction of the models themselves. Moreover, it would always be mentioned. Always.

For Briggs, uncertainty is about truth, and it is a sign that we do not know the truth. The whole point of science is to discover the truth about something, usually the truth about the cause of something. But truth for the most part resides in our heads, other than whether particular objects exist or not. Probability is an approach to truth. Some probabilities you can ascribe numbers to, but most you can’t. Most enlightening to me was his assertion, well argued, that ‘chance’ is not a cause of anything, and we shouldn’t think it is, let alone accept that others have somehow learned its mysterious causative potency. Equally, ‘randomness’ is not a cause of anything either. It is yet another sign that we do not know the cause of something.

In the well-known coin-toss experiment, it is not ‘chance’ that determines whether the coin shows heads or tails. The outcome of each toss is in principle knowable, if we could measure all the variables, the surface the coin fell to, the air movement at the time of the toss, the particular force given by the coin-tosser, and so on. But, at least as yet, we can’t. So to say that the result is random, or ‘determined by chance’ (a phrase Briggs would detest), is simply to say that we don’t know what has caused the result — unless we have good reason to believe that the coin has been tampered with.

As Briggs moves from philosophy into probability we get to see his philosophical position in practice, and I found that process most impressive. He argues that probability has been misunderstood and consistently misused because of what he calls ‘the We-Must-Do-Something fallacy’. Decision-makers need clear results on which to make decisions, and that pushes statisticians to construct their models so that they will produce numbers, and numbers that have ‘significance’. There is a real distinction between ‘significance’ in statistics and ‘importance’ in the real world. For Briggs the only viable way to go is to construct a model with a clear predictive purpose, and then test it on new data. If the outcome accords with the model (theory, hypothesis, supposition) then the model has some skill. It does NOT mean that the model causes the outcome, let alone that variation from the predicted outcome suggests that the data aren’t quite right.

Briggs loathes ‘scientism’, which he says rests on the belief that Only that which is measurable becomes important. He also loathes the use of regression, because it assumes a straight-line relationship between the parameters of the observations. His proposal is that you locate each of the paired observations on some sort of grid, and look at what you have found. Such ‘eye-balling’ will tell you something, but applying regression is a poor idea. There will be a temptation to get rid of outliers, to introduce ‘smoothing’ techniques of one kind or another, all in the pursuit of what he calls, disparagingly a ‘wee p-value’. Even worse, having found a nice trend line that supports your view, you will forget that the implication of a trend line is that the data should continue to show that slope both before and after your starting and ending points in time.

Most of his awful examples, drawn from the literature, are from the medical and epidemiological fields, and he offers what he calls ‘the epidemiological fallacy’, which I have observed elsewhere but without knowing that title. This is where the researcher says ‘X causes Y’ but never actually measures X. Worse the researcher then uses standard statistics to impute proof of cause. To give a Briggs example, a paper exploring the formation of Republican loyalties saw 4th July celebrations as the formative cause, but in fact used precipitation data for 4th July in towns where the participants said they lived where they were young, the assumption being that where 4th July parades were (presumably) washed out no Republican loyalties were generated. All you can say is, oh dear. Yes, it was peer reviewed.

It is such a good book, and I recommend it without reservation. But it is a book to read and study. There are no silver bullets or quick fixes.

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