William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Beware, Bloggers, The Government Is Coming. Update

Google CEO Larry Page holds up the Net Neutrality pact.

Google CEO Larry Page holds up the Net Neutrality pact.

We’ve all heard—this information is still allowed to be transmitted—that the government will soon take over the Internet under the couldn’t-they-come-up-with-something-not-so-Orwellian-sounding Net Neutrality scheme. By “neutrality” they mean a kind of enforced-by-arms demilitarized zone. No competition by carriers will be allowed that isn’t government designed, monitored, and approved.

That’s only the surface. Buried within NN will be new powers allowing the government to regulate content. That means sites like with “controversial” content could be in some deep kimchee.

First, it is a simple prediction that prices will rise and access and speed diminish. Not for everybody, of course. Just for those who do not make a government favorites list, which is most of us. A few select groups will discover that Internet access is a fundamental “right” and these folks will get free, but limited, service (and probably computers, too). News reports will highlight these winners.

The naifs at Google and other top providers actually gave money to Congresspeoples and the like so that these regulations would be instituted. The government is ever obliging to those with fat wallets. See, Google didn’t want its content regulated by carriers. So Google got the government to promise carriers they’d have to accept whatever content the government approved.

Google no doubt smiled, thinking their old-fashioned crony capitalistic trick worked. But you know how smart people can be really dumb? Here’s another case. Because Google also opened the door—which many in government were already pushing at—to the government regulating all content. Including content delivered by Google.

Idiots.

Say, remember how quickly Google caved to China when that government said “You may not do this”? And how quickly Google caved in Europe when those governments said “You may not do this”? And how… Sure you do. Prediction two: The same thing will happen here.

Enter Uncle Fred, who explains better the same thoughts had by Yours Truly:

First, “hate speech” will be banned. The government will tell us whom we can hate and whom we cannot. “Hatred” will be vaguely defined so that one will never be sure when one is engaging in it and, since it will be prosecutable, one will have to be very careful. Disapproval of favored groups, or of their behavior, will be defined as hatred. National security will be invoked, silencing whistle-blowers or, eventually, anything that might make the public uneasy with Washington’s wars.

The next step probably will be to block links to foreign sites deemed to transgress…

Prediction three: a major content provider, like Google (they own blogspot, blogger) will either be sued or will see harassment by “activists” because the activists revile a blog or blogs and want them killed. Maybe Ed Feser one day describes how acting on same-sex attraction violates natural law. This will be called “hate speech.” A “victim” or “victims” will be trotted out. The litigants/activists will invoke Net Neutrality, whether or not it is relevant. The “press” will jump at yet another chance to change the world.

And Google will cave. Out the door goes Feser. And every other site that is “hate filled”, too. For, you see, Google will write a new policy to protect itself from harassment from government and busybodies. Other major content providers will follow suit. Bloggers and news site writers won’t be all kicked off immediately, only when “discovered” by the perpetually “outraged.” Kind of like how copyrighted videos on YouTube disappear only after they’re found by lawyers.

Prediction four: a major carrier, like Comcast, will either be sued or will see harassment by “activists” because they, Comcast, streamed content from some site deemed politically unacceptable. How dare they “facilitate hate”, etc. Again, Net Neutrality will be invoked. The government, as above, may never be actively involved. Comcast will block the site, re-write its policies, which others will emulate.

Self-censorship will take care of most problems, leaving the government to clear up the most “egregious” cases. The cry of “Free speech!” will be heard, of course, and so that brings up Prediction five. The government won’t outright forbid most content. Instead, it will cause sites to have a “rating” which can be used to filter. That means carriers and web hosts will have to implement software rules to handle the filters. Browsers for major software platforms—think Brendan Eich?—will quickly add code that works with the ratings. All major corporations will restrict hate-rated sites.

The same sorts of restrictions for websites will happen to other venues like Twitter. Look for ratings and more from-the-hip account cancellations.

Timing? Good question. These things always happen faster than you think. I say within five years. You?

Update It’s important you see the comments between myself and others below. They explain better than anything why my predictions hold force.


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How Good Is That Model? Scoring Rules For Forecasts: Part III

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Read Part I, Part II

Part III

This brings us to the second reason for measuring model goodness. Or rather an incorrect implementation of it. A lot of folks announce how well their model fit past data, i.e. the data used to fit the model. Indeed, classical statistical procedure, which includes hypothesis testing, is built around telling the world how well models fit data. Yet model fit is of no real interest to measure forecast goodness.

I’ll repeat that. Model fit is of no interest to measure forecast goodness.

It matters not to the world that your patented whiz-bang prize-winning model, built by the best experts government grants can buy, can be painted on to past data so closely that nothing is left to the imagination, because a model that fits well is not necessarily one that predicts well. Over-fitting leads to great fits but it causes bad predictions. Incidentally, this is yet another in a long list of reasons to distrust p-values.

You have to be careful. What we’re listening for are claims of model skill. What we sometimes get are announcements of skill that appear to be predictive skill but are model-fit skill. A model, once created (and this can be a purely statistical or purely physics model or somewhere in-between as most are) is used to make “predictions” of the data used to create the model and skill scores are calculated. But these are just another measure of model fit. They are not real predictive skill. We only care about predictions made on observations never made known (in any way) to the model developers.

There are claims that climate models have skill or that they have good proper scores. This is false in the predictive sense for forecasts out past around a year or so (climate models out a few months actually have a form of skill noted below). What is usually meant by this, when people claim good model performance, is that the model either fit old data well or that the model was able to reproduce features in old data. However much interest this has for model builders—and it does have some—it is of zero, absolutely zero interest for judging how good the model is at its job.

There are two standard simpler or naive model is meteorology and climatology: climatology (unfortunately named) and persistence. The climatology forecast is some constant, just like in the naive regression model. It’s usually the value (mean and standard deviation used to fit a normal) over some period of time, like 30 years. Obviously, a complex model that can’t beat the forecast of “It’ll be just like it was on average over the last 30 years” is of no predictive value. Persistence says the next time point will be equal to this time point (again, this time point might be fit to something like a normal, a procedure which uses more than just one time period, in order to make persistence into a probability forecast). Again, complex models which can’t beat persistence are of no predictive value.

Would you use a model which can’t beat just guessing the future will be like the past?

I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t think the sort of models on which the IPCC relies even have climatology predictive skill these last 20 or so years. None have persistence skill.

Again I ask: why use any model which can’t beat just guessing? The “model” of saying the future will be (more or less) like the past is beating the pants off of the highly sophisticated complex models. Why? I have no idea: well, some idea. But even if we’re right in that link, it doesn’t solve the model problems. Indeed, nobody really knows what’s wrong. If they did, they would fix it and the models would work. Since they don’t work, we know that nobody has identified the faults.

The third reason to check model performance is somewhat neglected. If the model over some time period has this-and-such score, it is rational to suppose, outside of evidence to the contrary, that it will continue to perform similarly in the future. This is why, unless we hear of major breakthroughs in climate science, it is rational to continue doubting GCMs.

But past performance can also be quantified. In effect, the past scores become data to a new model of future performance. We can predict skill. Not only that, but we can take measures of things that were simultaneous with the forecast-observation pairs. These become part of the model to predict skill. Then if we have a good idea of the value of these other things (say El Niño versus non-El Niño years), then we might be able to see in advance if the forecast is worth relying on.

Those are the basics of forecast verification. There is, of course, much more to it. For instance, we haven’t yet discussed calibration. Of that, more later.

Bonus Via Bishop Hill, this.


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Summary Against Modern Thought: That God Is One I

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.

Hotting up this week. A more contentious argument! St Thomas knows this and builds slowly. So shall we, by breaking up the chapter over two weeks.

Chapter 42 That God is One

[1] From what has been shown it is evident that God is one.

[2] For it is not possible that there be two highest goods, since that which is said by superabundance is found in only one being. But God, as we have shown, is the highest good. God is, therefore, one.

[3] Again, it has been shown that God is absolutely perfect, lacking no perfection. If, then, there are many gods, there must be many such perfect beings. But this is impossible. For, if none of these perfect beings lacks some perfection, and does not have any admixture of imperfection, which is demanded for an absolutely perfect being, nothing will be given in which to distinguish the perfect beings from one another. It is impossible, therefore, that there be many gods.

Notes Argument [3] is delightful. And it shows, albeit indirectly, that all those religious systems peopled with multitudes of gods must (as they of course do) acknowledge their gods fall short of perfection, and that even this demi-dieties must look to something higher than themselves. And this higher thing can only be God.

[4] Again, that which is accomplished adequately through one supposition is better done through one than through many. But the order of things is the best it can be, since the power of the first cause does not fail the potency in things for perfection. Now, all things are sufficiently fulfilled by a reduction to one first principle. There is, therefore, no need to posit many principles.

Notes I’ve lost the link to an article which shows that Ockham is not the originator of his razor. If I rediscover it, I’ll put it here.

[5] Moreover, it is impossible that there be one continuous and regular motion from many movers. For, if they move together, none of them is a perfect mover, but all together rather take the place of one perfect mover. This is not befitting in the first mover, for the perfect is prior to the imperfect. If, however, they do not move together, each of them at times moves and at times does not. It follows from this that motion is neither continuous nor regular. For a motion that is continuous and one is from one mover. Furthermore, a mover that is not always moving is found to move irregularly, as is evident among lesser movers among whom a violent motion is stronger in the beginning and weaker at the end, whereas a natural motion proceeds conversely. But, as the philosophers have proved, the first motion is one and continuous. Therefore, its first mover must be one.

[6] Furthermore, a corporeal substance is ordered to a spiritual substance as to its good. For there is in the spiritual substance a fuller goodness to which the corporeal substance seeks to liken itself, since whatever exists desires the best so far as this is possible. But all the motions of the corporeal creature are seen to be reduced to one first motion, beyond which there is no other first motion that is not in some way reduced to it. Therefore, outside the spiritual substance that is the end of the first motion, there is none that is not reduced to it. But this is what we understand by the name of God. Hence, there is only one God.

Notes Once more, I beg you will review Chapter 13. Motion means change, and the start of every here-and-now change must have an impetus. This is God. Thomas emphasizes that they’re cannot be two or more first causes. Since there can only be one, it must be God, who is one.

[7] Among all the things that are ordered to one another, furthermore, their order to one another is for the sake of their order to something one; just as the order of the parts of an army among themselves is for the sake of the order of the whole army to its general. For that some diverse things should be united by some relationship cannot come about from their own natures as diverse things, since on this basis they would rather be distinguished from one another. Nor can this unity come from diverse ordering causes, because they could not possibly intend one order in so far as among themselves they are diverse. Thus, either the order of many to one another is accidental, or we must reduce it to some one first ordering cause that orders all other things to the end it intends. Now, we find that all the parts of this world are ordered to one another according as some things help some other things. Thus, lower bodies are moved by higher bodies, and these by incorporeal substances, as appears from what was said above. Nor is this something accidental, since it takes place always or for the most part. Therefore, this whole world has only one ordering cause and governor. But there is no other world beyond this one. Hence, there is only one governor for all things, whom we call God.

Notes Take time to digest this. It doesn’t quite stand on its own but is a sort of corollary to the prime mover argument (Chapter 13 again). It still holds if we are part of a “multiverse” or whatever. Something has to be at the base of all. That is, if there is an ordering, there must be a hierarchy which is objective. That hierarchy must have an end and (to make it short) this is God.

[8] Then, too, if there are two beings of which both are necessary beings, they must agree in the notion of the necessity of being. Hence, they must be distinguished by something added either to one of them only, or to both. This means that one or both of them must be composite. Now, as we have shown, no composite being is through itself a necessary being. It is impossible therefore that there be many beings of which each is a necessary being. Hence, neither can there be many gods.

Notes Simple! But what about this whole Trinity (get it? get it?) thing? We come to it, but a way down the road.


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This Partly Explains Why Education Is Such A Mess

An educator facilitating the actualization of inherent learnabilities.

A trained educator facilitating the actualization of inherent learnabilities.

I am away from the computer today.

Alternate title, A Few Moments With The Teacher’s College (Columbia) Record. Many educators are told what to think at this institution before they are released into the wild, so it is of some importance. Jim Fedako first raised our awareness–and what could be more important than that!—of this site. Here are some of the featured articles.

This magazine may be the best argument for homeschooling you will ever discover. Here are a few articles culled from recent entries.

Article 1 Teaching as Jesus Making: The Hidden Curriculum of Christ in Schooling.

Background/Context: The ideas of teaching as salvation and teacher-as-martyr are not new concepts. Prior research, however, has largely failed to explore the historical and cultural religious roots that continue to inform the ways in which teachers are constructed. That is, though prior work has engaged with thinking about religion and thinking about teachers as saviors, little work has been done to uncover the hidden curriculum of teaching that positions teachers as versions of Christ in the public school classroom…

Findings/Results: We illustrate that although we think of teaching as a secular activity and assume that religion has been expunged from public, including teacher, education, the sediments of religion remain present in how the teacher learns to imagine, construct, and enact his or her work as teacher as savior and martyr.

Shorter summary: “I’m not too fond of religion, but I am a god to my students.”

Article 2 The “Two-Way Street” of Having an Impact: A Democratic School’s Attempt to Build a Broad Counterhegemonic Alternative

Background/Context: Critical education studies tries to make sense of the relationship between education and differential power in an unequal society and to what degree schools impact the social order. A premise in this field is that a fundamental aim of critical education is exposing unequal social, cultural, and economic power relations and engaging in social action that transcends the setting of the classroom and school. Counterhegemonic schools are thus generally characterized by an aspiration to be meaningful beyond the school community and a commitment to social transformation…

Conclusions: Many obstacles stand between a counterhegemonic school and being socially meaningful, including sociohistorical and political factors. No less important, however, are the broader structural aspects to creating a space in which transformative schools can succeed. Although bottom-up attempts may push hegemonic forms to incorporate certain aspects of their vision, they cannot have meaningful and widespread impact if unaccompanied by broad support and action at the policy level and if they do not become organic parts of a larger transformative agenda.

Shorter summary: “Not all schools and not all kids are the same.”

Article 3 Dialogue Across Differences of Position, Perspective, and Identity: Reflective Practice in/on a Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnership Program

Background: Inspired by various conceptualizations of both cultural diversity and cross-role partnership, this discussion challenges the assumption that holds sway in many people’s minds: Differences primarily divide us. The context for this argument is a program that pairs undergraduate students and faculty members in semester-long partnerships to explore and revise pedagogical practices…[Emphasis added]

Research Design: Through systematically documented reflective practice, I draw on audiorecorded conversations, mid- and end-of-semester feedback, and follow-up interviews with student and faculty participants in the program, as well as on my own reflective notes and less formal communication with participants, to identify the ways in which these faculty and students conceptualize differences as resources for learning…

Conclusions/Recommendations: Higher education needs to create more opportunities for students and faculty to engage in dialogue across various kinds of difference…

Shorter summary: “I like when students and teachers talk.”

Article 4 Postmodern Test Theory

…Conclusions/Recommendations: The model-based reasoning that characterizes test theory is useful not because it measures extant traits defined and evidenced in the same way for all students, but because it helps us organize our thinking, marshal and interpret evidence, and communicate our inferences and their grounding to others. A skeptical attitude about models in assessment makes our uses of them more flexible, more powerful, and, ultimately, more effective at meeting and fulfilling the aims of education than they would be if we believed that they accurately captured the totality of the phenomenon. Our understandings of students’ learning and programs’ effects are enriched by multiple perspectives and diverse sources of evidence, some new or previously neglected but others with familiar (albeit reconceived) forms.

Shorter summary: “Tests tell us which kids are doing well and which poor, but I don’t like this.”


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