Skip to content
June 5, 2018 | 7 Comments

Lovely Example of Statistics Gone Bad

The graph above (biggified version here) was touted by Simon Kuestenmacher (who posts many beautiful maps). He said “This plot shows the objects that were found to be ‘the most distant object’ by astronomers over time. With ever improving tools we can peak further and further into space.”

The original is from Reddit’s r/dataisbeautiful, a forum where I am happy to say many of the commenter’s noticed the graph’s many flaws.

Don’t click over and don’t read below. Take a minute to first stare at the pic and see if you can see its problems.

Don’t cheat…

Try it first…

Problem #1: The Deadly Sin of Reification! The mortal sin of statistics. The blue line did not happen. The gray envelope did not happen. What happened where those teeny tiny too small block dots, dots which fade into obscurity next to the majesty of the statistical model. Reality is lost, reality is replaced. The model becomes realer than reality.

You cannot help but be drawn to the continuous sweet blue line, with its guardian gray helpers, and think to yourself “What smooth progress!” The black dots become a distraction, an impediment, even. They soon disappear.

Problem #1 one leads to Rule #1: If you want to show what happened, show what happened. The model did not happen. Reality happened. Show reality. Don’t show the model.

It’s not that models should never be examined. Of course they should. We want good model fits over past data. But since good models fits over past data are trivial to obtain—they are even more readily available than student excuses for missing homework—showing your audience the model fit when you want to show them what happened misses the point.

Of course, it’s well to separately show model fit when you want to honestly admit to model flaws. That leads to—

Problem #2: Probability Leakage! What’s the y-axis? “Distance of furthest object (parsecs).” Now I ask you: can the distance of the furthest object in parsecs be less than 0? No, sir, it cannot. But does both the blue line and gray guardian drop well below 0? Yes, sir, they do. And does that imply the impossible happened? Yes: yes, it does.

The model has given real and substantial probability to events which could not have happened. The model is a bust, a tremendous failure. The model stinks and should be tossed.

Probability leakage is when a model gives positive probability to events we know are impossible. It is more common than you think. Much more common. Why? Because people choose the parametric over the predictive, when they should choose predictive over parametric. They show the plus-or-minus uncertainty in some who-cares model parameters and do not show, or even calculate, the uncertainty in the actual observable.

I suspect that’s the case here, too. The gray guardians are, I think, the uncertainty in the parameter of the model, perhaps some sort of smoother or spline fit. They do not show the uncertainty in the actual distance. I suspect this because the gray guardian shrinks to near nothing at the end of the graph. But, of course, there must still be some healthy uncertainty in the model distant objects astronomers will find.

Parametric uncertainty, and indeed even parameter estimation, are largely of no value to man or beast. Problem #2 leads to Rule #2: You made a model to talk about uncertainty in some observable, so talk about uncertainty in the observable and not about some unobservable non-existent parameters inside your ad hoc model. That leads to—

Problem #3: We don’t know what will happen! The whole purpose of the model should have been to quantify uncertainty in the future. By (say) the year 2020, what is the most likely distance for the furthest object? And what uncertainty is there in that guess? We have no idea from this graph.

We should, too. Because every statistical model has an implicit predictive sense. It’s just that most people are so used to handling models in their past-fit parametric sense, that they always forget the reason the created the model in the first place. And that was because they were interested in the now-forgotten observable.

Problem #3 leads to Rule #3: always show predictions for observables never seen before (in any way). If that was done here, the gray guardians would take on an entirely different role. They would be “more vertical”—up-and-down bands centered on dots in future years. There is no uncertainty in the year, only in the value of most distant object. And we’d imagine that that uncertainty would grow as the year does. We also know that the low point of this uncertainty can never fall below the already known most distant object.

Conclusion: the graph is a dismal failure. But its failures are very, very, very common. See Uncertainty: The Soul of Probability, Modeling & Statistics for more of this type of analysis, including instruction on how to do it right.

Homework Find examples of time series graphs that commit at least one of these errors. Post a link to it below so that others can see.

June 4, 2018 | 10 Comments

Why Younger Evangelicals Waver in Support for Israel

Update It appears some think I believe unquestioning support of Israel is a good thing, or that I agree with evangelical interpretations of prophecy. If so, I wrote badly. This is false.

The title is a slight modification to the Ian Lovett-WSJ story with subtitle “Generational split reflects concern over Palestinians, spurring outreach by some churches and groups.

Lovett’s piece opens with a quote from a young evangelical who says he was taught from birth that “Christians are supposed to back Israel on everything.”

Alas, this young man found both that he could no longer do so given Israel’s latest treatment of Palestinians, and that he was not alone in his disappointment with the Mideast’s great limited democracy.

Lovett says “A generational divide is opening up among evangelical Christians in the U.S. over an issue that had long been an article of faith: unwavering support for the state of Israel.” But he also rightly points out that this “shift is part of a wider split within the evangelical movement, as younger evangelicals are also more likely to support same-sex marriage, tougher environmental laws and other positions their parents spent a lifetime opposing.”

That the young are drifting left everywhere is doubtless a reason for the slide away from blind support for Israel (whose cherishment was always labeled a “right-wing” cause), and the concern over its brutalities is another. But these are not the only reason for the discrepancy between old and young.

Here Lovett missed one of the most obvious of reasons, even though he had the evidence of it right in front of him.

Gary Burge, a professor at Calvin Theological Seminary and former professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical school, said the younger generation is less likely to quote Bible passages about Jerusalem, and more concerned with ethics and treatment of the downtrodden.

Now-codgers-then-whippersnappers quoted Bible passages because they believed, usually tacitly but often enough explicitly, that their support of Israel would hurry prophecy along. The sooner Israel was “fully restored”, including the (re-)building of the Third Temple, the sooner Our Lord would return. The greater the efforts—including the dispensing of gobs and gobs of money and Congressional votes—expended on Israel’s behalf, the quicker we could get this all over with amen.

Perhaps it’s difficult to recall how influential Hal Lindsey and his brother preachers were in the 1970s, most especially among evangelicals. Lindsey’s (and ghost-writer CC Carlson’s) Late, Great Planet Earth was a monumental success and genuine cultural phenomenon, read and discussed by everybody, but you would have had better luck finding a reactionary on a college campus than an evangelical who didn’t give Linsey at least some credence. A movie of the book was made in 1976, narrated by no less than Orson Welles, prodded just long enough from his alcoholic stupor. (Watch on YouTube.) However drunk he may have been, his voice was compelling. My God, he believes this! It could be true!

The earth was going to end, and end soon, because, Lindsey promised, the Bible foretold that it would within “a generation” of Israel’s restoration. Israel, of course, became a state in 1948, seventy years ago.

Now seventy years is a tad long for a generation, especially given Lindsey’s guess in Late Great that this length of time most likely meant we would never see the 1980s. Yet the achievement of the book and film, and the lack of progress toward the real End Time, gave rise to host of imitators who in earnest tweaked the prophecies. The generation didn’t start in 1948, but at some later date; or it would start only with the Third Temple; or generation was imprecise, but here’s how this event that happened the other week meant that the countdown has finally begun; the rapture was imminent. And so on ad infinitum.

Those who were adults or coming of age in the 1970s and who identified with these prophecies found, and still find, it difficult to give up on them. It would be like giving up hope, a position with which it is easy to find great sympathy. Ceasing adoration of Israel would be admitting the failure of the would-be prophecies.

The last surge of supporting Israel-for-the-sake-of-prophecy was in the 1990s with Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkin’s Left Behind series; the lead book also being made into a movie with our age’s master emoter Nicholas Cage. The movie was left behind, but the books sold well among evangelicals, but not all that good to a general audience, who took little notice. Catholics and protesting Christians of the 1970s knew of Late Great Planet Earth, but that can’t be said of Left Behind dozen (or where there more?).

Fervor waned. The upcoming generation naturally looked with less interest to Israel as being any kind of hope for Christians. Not needing to be reflexive apologists, the young are becoming freer to consider politics in the (now) usual way. They’re also learning the love had by evangelicals for Israel is not reciprocated. This naturally leads to indifference.

June 3, 2018 | No comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Human Happiness Does Not Come In Honor Or Glory

Previous post.

Strange are the things men seek out.

That Human Felicity Does Not Consist In Honor

1 It is also clear from the foregoing that the highest good for man, that is felicity, does not lie in honors.

2 Indeed, the ultimate end of man, and his felicity, is his most perfect operation, as is evident in what has preceded. Now, a man’s honor is not identified with his operation, but with something done by another person who shows respect for him. Therefore, the felicity of man should not be identified with honors.

3 Again, that which is good and desirable on account of something else is not the ultimate end. But honor is of this sort. A person is not rightly honored unless it be because of some other good that is present in him. And this is why men seek to be honored, desiring, as it were, to have a witness to some good feature present in them. Hence, men take greater joy in being honored by important and wise people. So, man’s felicity is not to be identified with honors.

4 Besides, the attainment of felicity is accomplished through virtue. Now, virtuous operations are voluntary; otherwise, they would not merit praise. So, felicity ought to be some good which man may attain by his own will. But the gaining of honor is not within the power of any man; rather, it is in the power of the one who gives the honor. Therefore, human felicity is not to be identified with honors.

Notes Repeat it with me: the gaining of honor is not within the power of any man; rather, it is in the power of the one who gives the honor.

5 Moreover, to be worthy of honor can only be an attribute of good men. But it is possible for even evil men to be honored. So, it is better to become worthy of honor than to be honored. Therefore, honor is not the highest good for man.

6 Furthermore, the highest good is the perfect good. But the perfect good is completely exclusive of evil. Now, that in which there can be no evil cannot itself be evil. Therefore, that which is in possession of the highest good cannot be evil. But it is possible for a bad man to attain honor. So, honor is not the highest good for man.

That Human Felicity Does Not Consist In Glory

1 From this it is also apparent that the highest good for man does not consist in glory, which means a widely recognized reputation.

2 Now, according to Tully, glory is “widespread repute accompanied by praise of a person.” And according to Ambrose, it is “an illustrious reputation accompanied by praise.” Now, men desire to become known in connection with some sort of praise and renown, for the purpose of being honored by those who know them. So, glory is sought for the sake of honor. Hence, if honor is not the highest good, much less is glory.

Notes “All glory is fleeting”.

3 Again, praiseworthy goods are those whereby a person is shown to be well ordered to his end. Now, he who is well ordered to his end has not yet achieved the ultimate end. So, praise is not given to him who has already attained the ultimate end, but honor, as the Philosopher says in Ethics I [12: 1101b 24]. Therefore, glory cannot be the highest good, because it consists principally in praise.

4 Besides, to know is more noble than to be known; only the more noble things know, but the lowest things are known. So, the highest good for man cannot be glory, for it consists in the fact that a person is well known.

Notes All scholars who toil in obscurity should recall this.

5 Moreover, a person desires to be known only for good things; where bad things are concerned, he seeks concealment. So, to be known is a good and desirable thing, because of the good things that are known about a person. And so, these good things are better than being widely known. Therefore, glory is not the highest good, for it consists in a person being widely known.

6 Furthermore, the highest good should be perfect, for it should satisfy the appetite. Now, the knowledge associated with fame, in which human glory consists, is imperfect, for it is possessed of the greatest uncertainty and error. Therefore, such glory cannot be the highest good.

Notes There is good reason we have the phrase “the curse of fame.”

7 Again, the highest good for man should be what is most enduring among human affairs, for an endless duration of the good is naturally desired. Now, glory, in the sense of fame, is the least permanent of things; in fact, nothing is more variable than opinion and human praise. Therefore, such glory is not the highest good for man.

June 2, 2018 | 4 Comments

Insanity & Doom Update XXXVII

Item A surprising number of straight people are having same-sex experiences, study reveals

This is the official finding of a recently-published study, which analysed survey data from more than 24,000 undergraduate students. Research homed in on 383 men and 312 women, all of whom said that their last hook-up was with a same-sex partner. Of these respondents 12 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women identified as heterosexual.

According to the published abstract, there were a number of factors which differentiated these straight-identifying respondents from their gay, bisexual or ‘uncertain’ counterparts:

“Differences…included more conservative attitudes, less prior homosexual and more prior heterosexual sexual experience, features of the hook-ups, and sentiments about the encounter after the fact.”

Researchers then expanded by saying that some students claimed they hadn’t enjoyed their same-sex encounter, whereas others were just indulging in sexual experimentation in order to test their limits.

The only surprising thing is “surprising” in the title. This is the result of believing in “orientation”.

Item Betrayed by her own corporal: Foul-mouthed Army instructor faces court martial after his video of female recruit being reduced to tears is viewed 250,000 times

An Army instructor is facing a court martial after he filmed a female recruit and reduced her to tears in a shocking video that has been watched more than 250,000 times online.

Last night furious top brass were trying to track down the corporal, who may be booted out of the Army after using a phone to record the moment he subjected the distraught trainee to a torrent of verbal abuse during a bayonet exercise…

The instructor’s behaviour was described as ‘totally unacceptable’ by Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army.

The disturbing footage is particularly embarrassing for defence chiefs as it comes just weeks after an advertising campaign aimed at prospective female recruits which said they were welcome to get emotional or even cry…

She cries uncontrollably and is reduced to a quivering wreck, before the instructor launches another verbal attack.

She and the other ladies will be fine under combat, though. They’ll tell the enemy that if they (the enemy) don’t behave they will be sent to sensitivity training. This is how England will reconquer the world.

Item Student Presents Thesis In Underwear After Professor Questions Choice of Clothing

“Strip, everybody!” said Letitia Chai ’18, as she stepped up to give her college scholar senior thesis presentation in a conference room in the Physical Sciences Building. Immediately after, 28 of the 44 people there slowly started to remove their clothes.

Chai led the demonstration Saturday morning after a clash with a professor earlier in the week, where the professor allegedly questioned her choice of clothing for a trial run of her thesis presentation on rehabilitation for displaced people and refugees.

“The first thing that the professor said to me was ‘is that really what you would wear?'” Chai explained as she detailed what happened when she tried to begin her presentation in her Wednesday section of PMA 3815 Acting in Public: Performance in Everyday Life.

Chai, who had dressed in a blue button down and cutoff jean shorts, said she was stunned…

A male international student in the class made a comment during the discussion that the speaker has a “moral obligation” to her audience to dress conservatively during her thesis presentation, at which point Chai left the room with two students following to comfort her.

One wonders if anybody threw dollar bills at Chai’s performance. This was at Cornell, which is no surprise.

Item 39% of colleges have 0 Republican professors

The latest study of American campuses shows that nearly 40 percent of the colleges surveyed did not have even one professor on their faculty who identified as Republican — confirming that liberal indoctrination in classroom politics is no myth.

In recently released research conducted by National Association of Scholars’ (NAS) Mitchell Langbert of Brooklyn College, 8,688 fulltime professors with Ph.D.’s from a sample of 51 of the 60 top-ranked liberal arts colleges — as ranked by a 2017 U.S. News report — were surveyed, and overall results reveal that for every 10 professors who register as Democrat, there is only one registered Republican professor.

“The political registration of full-time, Ph.D.-holding professors in top-tier liberal arts colleges is overwhelmingly Democratic,” Langbert divulged in his NAS article. “Indeed, faculty political affiliations at 39 percent of the colleges in my sample are Republican free — having zero Republicans.”

You cannot infer three are no Republicans from a sample containing none, but you can infer a low fraction. Also, there are more choices than what some of us consider to be a mono party, the Republidems or Democans. Yours Truly identifies as otherwise.