William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 5 of 671

A New Kind Of University: An Open Discussion


We agree that the university system is “broken.” The reasons why are obvious: ideology and money have so corroded the foundations that a collapse is imminent. These facts naturally lead to one question (phrased two ways).

What is the purpose of a university? Why have one at all?

(That it is broken I take as obvious. Here is one documentary. I know nothing about the organization behind it.)

For most it is to “get a degree”, which is to say, to be awarded a document with as much intellectual validity as that issued to the Scarecrow, who, it will be remembered, after he became credentialed began spouting mathematical nonsense—with the utmost confidence in himself.

What the “degree” is in matters almost not at all, except to a remnant. And it’s that remnant which will become of eventual interest to us. The “degree”, however, is necessary because most employers, forbidden to engage in systematic intelligence or aptitude testing, require the “degree” as an increasingly weak measure of potential. Worst of all is that most holders of “degrees” are just like Scarecrow and assume their diplomas guarantee their opinions.

It’s true that by the time children ascent to university they have been stewing in ideology spooned out by “educators” too in love with theory and so emerge from high school largely untutored. (Side note: it is interesting that many “researchers” in education write that their findings are “novel”.) That a large fraction of students entering university unable to read or calculate and who are misinformed and uninformed about much accounts in part for the decline in the value of a university education.

Now if the purpose of a university is to provide jobs training, then it’s going about it badly. A child wanting to be an accountant would learn what he needed were he to attend a, say, six- or twelve-month daily (a full eight hours) program. Further, this young man would escape the ideological hemlock he would be forced to imbibe at regular university. He would live more soberly as well, as class begins tomorrow morning, every morning, at nine sharp.

He would be younger, too, than a university graduate, and be far, far less in debt, if he is in debt at all, because his teachers would not require (I use that word purposely) vast salaries, and the place at which this training would take place could be in the basement of some accounting firm, or wherever.

The criticism is that he would be less “rounded”, but this is clearly false. He merely would have not had to have undergone training in material that was not suitable to him, or that was best avoided, or that he was unable to complete. He would instead know what he has to know, and be certified as actually knowing, what it is an accountant needs to know. He would be a proficient accountant, which was his desire.

If this is true for accountants, it is true for “business” as well, and “business” now comprises an enormous proportion of “degrees”. And if it’s true for “business”, it’s also true for “communications”, and if true for “communications”, it is true for “comedy writing”, etc. (These are all actual “degrees”. Have fun looking others up yourself.)

The vast bulk of students, therefore, would be better off were they to attend jobs-training classes, as plumbers and electricians now do.

I know what you’re thinking but don’t want to say. Plumbing and electricity are low fields of endeavor, whereas a university “business” graduate from a named school has embarked on a sort of high adventure. Well, this is true, in the sense that snobbery plays an outsized—no: fundamental—role in the university scheme. This is largely why parents want their child to attend a “good” school, because, used as they are to a culture saturated in advertising, a “brand” name “degree” is seen of significant value. And it is, too, as most employers buy the same line of reasoning.

So far we have jobs and branding as purposes. These are the largest. Following closely in importance is “research.” Many people who want to engage in basic mathematical and physical subjects would be better served, in just the same way as jobs candidates, to engage in direct training in the fields in which they have an interest. This is already done, too, in what we call “graduate school”. There, the pretension of being “well grounded” is abandoned and students get right to it, apprenticing themselves to a master (if we’re still allowed to use this word).

“Research” is also broken, though. Scientists are too enamored of money and politics. It’s doubtful even a handful of scientists remember what it was like before the tsunami of government funding (which began mid-Twentieth Century) washed away the vestiges of the old ways of learning. To them, it is inconceivable their work could take place without government oversight, influence, direction, restrictions, and bureaucracy that accompanies the money.

The solution is to cut the money off, or most of it. That won’t happen, of course—the Deans and Deanlettes wouldn’t stand for it; neither would the half dozen offices of Diversity & Grievance which rely on grant indirects—so any solution to fix research will have to happen outside the university system.

We finally arrive at the last component, and the most important. Training to become an interesting person. This is desired, as I said above, only by a remnant. It can only be accomplished by a few, because it requires the most from a person. Just as all men cannot be the center on a professional basketball team, not all handle the rigorous effort this component requires. It would be well, of course, and preferred, if the folks who went into the sciences first had this training, but it clearly isn’t required for all.

The fiction is that everybody who now attends university gets this last component. Students attend to acquire a “general education” and to become “well rounded”, as said. But, with decreasing exceptions, this is a farce. (I won’t bother trying to prove this here.)

Solution? Parents won’t give up on branding, and employers won’t relinquish desire for “degrees”. To become a scientist, it is required to first submit to four years of standard university. The remnant still want to become interesting, and are interested “in the best that has been thought and said”, as racist and sexist and X-aphobic as that is, but they have very few choices, and anyway most are torn between education and employment.

The money is now controlled by the government. The Feds took over student loans with Obamacare (remember that?). The screechers who are responsible for the most poisonous ideology (they are usually in “Studies” departments and the humanities) won’t stand for any cuts in funding. Can you imagine any university eliminating its offices of Diversity? No, sir, you cannot. You can only imagine the doomed attempts.

The solution, I think, is that there is no solution. Even small, faithful (to Truth) colleges, which are aware of the depths to which we have sunk, often offer “Business” degrees, because without them they would have a difficult time attracting paying students. (Economics as it was classically thought of is not what I mean; and anyway, Economics cannot, and should not, stand on its own.)

Well, that’s the situation. I have my own ideas, not to fix what exists, but to separate from it. What would you do?

Update I very stupidly left off Entertainment, perhaps the main purpose of our largest schools. Go team. Entertain us!

Reality Made Illegal: Man Ordered To Treat Daughter As Boy


As predicted by Yours Truly, another aspect of Reality has been made illegal. Mentally recall your favorite Orwell quote as you read this headline: “Court orders dad to start treating his 11-year-old daughter as a boy“.

Now this is in Canada, and Canada, perhaps because of a perpetual deficit of sunshine, leads the west in the flight from Reality. But, no. That theory won’t do. Because whatever happens first in Canada happens eventually in these once United States, where there is plenteous sunshine.

I’ll let you sort out the why, dear reader. Let’s here concentrate on the what.

Faced with two estranged parents in utter disagreement about their daughter’s wish to be a boy, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge has appointed the child a legal guardian to protect her interests.

The father not only wants his daughter to cease taking hormone blockers but also to cease all contact with transgender activists or transgender-friendly therapists…

In his ruling, Mr. Justice Ronald Skolrood declared that, “This case is really about J.K. and his role in determining his own future. In my view, these issues cannot be properly considered without J.K.’s direct participation.”

Her father, referred to as N.K., has persisted in referring to his daughter by her female name at birth, or P.K., in court documents, despite an earlier court order that he refer to her with male pronouns, name, and initials.

Let’s interrupt. An earlier court order that the father refer to his daughter as a boy. Reality is that the girl is a girl. The father recognizes Reality and wishes to heed to its strictures. The judge (or perhaps another), evidently long lost to the world of sanity, orders the father to eschew Reality.

Thus, as claimed, Reality has been made illegal.

Consequence? Ensconced systematized inescapable madness.

Their daughter’s wish to be a boy. Used to be that when a sane and sober adult heard a child’s or childish wish he’d say, “You can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which gets filled first.” No longer. Now we are ordered to live in Fairy Land where a wish is legally declared to have been fulfilled by the act of wishing. Now it’s woe betide the man who would say that four is the answer to two plus two.

Hormone blockers. Somewhere from deep in the pit a condemned man cocks his hand to his ear and listens with what pleasure he is allowed to the new tortures we’re inventing for our young. He takes satisfaction because there is nothing the damned enjoy as much hearing of souls blacker than theirs.

Transgender activists or transgender-friendly therapists. Thrown into the clutches of a army of Unrealists who do not have the girl’s best interest at heart. Instead activists care most about themselves and what they desire. The girl becomes a tool to them, which is despicable.

I recall similar case where the deaf parents of a normal child sought to make the child deaf by purposely injuring it under the bizarre belief that their (the parents) affliction was not a disability. The Reality that the parents were not able as others was too much to bear, too painful to acknowledge, and so they too fly what was true to what was wished.

In just the same way, it is a good and safe prediction that homosexual couples who adopt will seek to make the children under their care sexually abnormal, too.

But the far more important issue to be resolved by the courts is [the father] N.K.’s request for a court order to ensure his daughter gets unbiased counselling that will address her gender dysphoria with classic cognitive (talk) therapy aimed at identifying the underlying psychological roots of her condition.

But in the meantime, the judge ordered, P.K. will continue to get the hormone blockers.

Gender dysphoria. Giving a name and classification to the girl’s—we pray temporary, but unlikely since she is being forcibly drugged by the State—insanity makes it realer than if we simply called her insane. Saying a person is insane is judgmental, as too is Reality.

Reality is a harsh pitiless unforgiving judge. It’s no wonder some flee from it. I only wish we wouldn’t be forced to go with them.

(There’s that “wish” word again.)

Summary Against Modern Thought: Some Things Exist Necessarily

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.

This is enormously long, and I was tempted to cut some of the less important material, but decided to keep it all because the progression would be damaged too much by its removal. The main point of this, roughly, is that, given the “system” set up by God, some things must exist necessarily. Physicists are well advised to read this, for it proves an understanding of being and necessity is fundamentally important for their field. Stick to the end with paragraph 15, too, for wisdom about final causes.

Chapter 30 How there can be absolute necessity in created things HOW THERE CAN BE ABSOLUTE NECESSITY IN CREATED THINGS (alternate translation)

1 Now though all things depend on God’s will as their first cause, which is not necessitated in operating except by the supposition of His purpose, nevertheless absolute necessity is not therefore excluded from things, so that we be obliged to assert that all things are contingent:–which some one might think to be the case, for the reason that they have arisen from their cause, not of absolute necessity: since in things a contingent effect is wont to be one that does not necessarily result from a cause. Because there are some created things which it is simply and absolutely necessary must be.

2 For it is simply and absolutely necessary that those things be in which there is no possibility of not being. Now some things are so brought by God into being, that there is in their nature a potentiality to non-being. This happens through their matter being in potentiality to another form. Wherefore those things, wherein either there is no matter, or, if there is, it has not the possibility of receiving another form, have not a potentiality to non-being. Hence it is simply and absolutely necessary for them to be.

3 If, however, it be said that things which are from nothing, so far as they are concerned, tend to nothing, and that in consequence there is in all creatures a potentiality to nonbeing:–it is clear that this does not follow. For created things are said to tend to nothing in the same sense as they are from nothing: and this is not otherwise than according to the power of the agent. Wherefore in created things there is not a potentiality to non-being: but there is in the Creator the power to give them being or to cease pouring forth being into them: since He works in producing things, not by a necessity of His nature, but by His will, as we have proved.

4 Again. Since created things come into being through the divine will, it follows that they are such as God willed them to be. Now the fact that God is said to have brought things into being by His will, and not of necessity, does not exclude His having willed certain things to be which are of necessity, and others which are contingently, so that there may be an ordinate diversity in things. Nothing, therefore, prevents certain things produced by the divine will being necessary.

5 Further. It belongs to God’s perfection that He bestowed His likeness on created things, except as regards those things with which created being is incompatible: since it belongs to a perfect agent to produce its like as far as possible. Now to be simply necessary is not incompatible with the notion of created being: for nothing prevents a thing being necessary which nevertheless has a cause of its necessity, for instance, the conclusions of demonstrations. Therefore nothing prevents a certain thing being so produced by God, that nevertheless it is simply necessary for it to be: in fact, this is a proof of the divine perfection.

Notes The key passages thus far (from 1) “there are some created things which it is simply and absolutely necessary must be” and (from 5) “nothing prevents a thing being necessary which nevertheless has a cause of its necessity”. And the example to the latter is lovely, “the conclusions of demonstrations”, which has in itself the proof of itself. Sweet.

6 Moreover. The further distant a thing is from that which is being of itself, namely God, the nearer is it to non-being. Wherefore the nearer a thing is to God, the further is it removed from non-being. Now things that already are, are near to non-being through having a potentiality to non-being. Consequently, those things which are nearest to God, and for that reason most remote from nonbeing, must be such that there is no potentiality to nonbeing in them, so that the order in things be complete: and the like are necessary absolutely. Therefore some created things have being necessarily.

7 Accordingly it must be observed that if the universe of created beings be considered as coming from their first principle, we find that they depend on the will, not on a necessity of their principle, except on a necessity of supposition, as already stated. If, however, they be considered in relation to their proximate principles, they are found to have absolute necessity. For nothing prevents certain principles being produced, not of necessity, and yet, these being supposed, such and such an effect follows of necessity: thus the death of this animal has absolute necessity from the very fact that it is composed of contraries, although it was not absolutely necessary for it to be composed of contraries. In like manner that such and such natures were produced by God, was voluntary: and yet, once they are so constituted, something results or happens that has absolute necessity.

8 In created things, however, necessity is to be taken in various ways in relation to various causes. For since a thing cannot be without its essential principles which are matter and form, that which belongs to a thing by reason of its essential principles must needs have absolute necessity in all things.

Notes Pay attention to this one (8).

9 Now from these principles, in so far as they are principles of being, a threefold absolute necessity is found in things.

First in relation to the being of the thing of which they are the principles. And since matter, as regards what it is, is being in potentiality; and since what can be, can also not be; in relation to their matter certain things are necessarily corruptible; for instance, an animal, through being composed of contraries, and fire, through its matter being susceptive of contraries. But form, as regards what it is, is act, and by it things exist actually. Wherefore from it there results necessity in some things.

This happens either because those things are forms without matter,–and thus there is no potentiality to non-being in them, but by their forms they are always in the act of being, as in the case of separate substances–or because their forms are so perfect as to equal the whole potentiality of their matter, wherefore there remains no potentiality to another form, nor, in consequence, to non-being, as in the case of heavenly bodies.

But in those things wherein the form does not fulfil the whole potentiality of matter, there still remains a potentiality to another form. Wherefore in them there is not necessity of being, but the act of being is, in them, the result of form overcoming matter, as in the case of the elements and things composed of them. Because the form of an element does not reach matter in its whole potentiality: for matter does not receive the form of one element, except by being subjected to the one of two contraries. While the form of a mixed body reaches matter as disposed by a determinate mode of mixture. Now there must be one same subject of contraries, and of all intermediaries resulting from the mixture of the extremes. Wherefore it is evident that all things which either have contraries, or are composed of contraries, are corruptible. And things which are not so, are everlasting: unless they be corrupted accidentally, as forms which are not subsistent, and have being through being in matter.

10 In another way there is absolute necessity in things from their essential principles, by relation to the parts of their matter or form, if it happens that in certain things these principles are not simple. For since the proper matter of man is a mixed body, with a certain temperament and endowed with organs, it is absolutely necessary that a man should have in himself each of the elements, humours, and principal organs. Likewise if man is a rational mortal animal, and this is the nature or form of a man, it is necessary for him to be both animal and rational.

Notes You have to be what you are, or you aren’t what you claim to be. (Humorous; vaguely.)

11 Thirdly, there is absolute necessity in things through the relations of their essential principles to the properties consequent upon their matter or form: thus it is necessary that a saw be hard, since it is of iron, and that a man be capable of learning.

12 But necessity of the agent may regard either the action itself, or the consequent effect. The former kind of necessity is like the necessity of an accident which it owes to the essential principles. For just as other accidents result from the necessity of essential principles, so does action from the necessity of the form whereby the agent actually is: since it acts so far as it is actual.

Yet this happens differently in the action which remains in the agent, such as to understand and to will, and in the action which passes into something else, such as to heat. For in the former kind of action, the form by which the agent becomes actual causes necessity in the action itself, since for its being nothing extrinsic is required as term of the action. Because when the sense is made actual by the sensible species, it is necessary for it to perceive, and in like manner, when the intellect is made actual by the intelligible species. But in the second kind of action, necessity of action results from the form, as regards the power to act: for if fire is hot, it is necessary that it have the power to heat, although it is not necessary that it heat, since it may be hindered by something extrinsic. Nor does it affect the point at issue, whether by its form one agent be sufficient alone for the action, or whether it be necessary to have an assemblage of many agents in order to do the one action; for instance many men to row a boat: since all are as one agent, who is made actual by their being united together in one action.

13 The necessity which results from an efficient or moving cause in the effect or thing moved, depends not only on the agent, but also on a condition of the thing moved and of the recipient of the agent’s action, which recipient either is nowise in potentiality to receive the effect of such an action,–as wool to be made into a saw,–or else its potentiality is hindered by contrary agents, or by contrary dispositions inherent to the movable, or by contrary forms, offering an obstacle that is stronger than the power of the agent in acting; thus iron is not melted by a feeble heat.

14 Hence, in order that the effect follow, it is necessary that there be in the patient potentiality to receive, and in the agent conquest of the patient, so that it be able to transform it to a contrary disposition. And if the effect, resulting in the patient through its conquest by the agent, be contrary to the natural disposition of the patient, there will be necessity of violence, as when a stone is thrown upwards.

But if it be not contrary to the natural disposition of the subject, there will be necessity not of violence, but of the natural order, as in the movement of the heavens, which results from an extrinsic active principle, and nevertheless is not contrary to the natural disposition of the movable subject, wherefore it is not a violent but a natural movement. It is the same in the alteration of lower bodies by the heavenly bodies: for there is a natural inclination in the lower bodies to receive the influence of the higher bodies. It is also thus in the generation of the elements: since the form to be introduced by generation is not contrary to primary matter, which is the subject of generation, although it is contrary to the form to be cast aside, because matter under a contrary form is not the subject of generation.

Accordingly it is clear from what we have said that the necessity resulting from an efficient cause depends, in some things, on the disposition of the agent alone, but in others on the disposition of both agent and patient. If then this disposition, by reason of which the effect follows of necessity, be absolutely necessary in both agent and patient, there will be absolute necessity in the efficient cause: as in those things which act necessarily and always. On the other hand, if it be not absolutely necessary but may be removed, no necessity will result from the efficient cause except on the supposition that both have the disposition required for action: as, for instance, in those things which are sometimes hindered in their operation either through defective power, or through the violence of a contrary: wherefore they do not act always and necessarily, but in the majority of cases.

15 From a final cause there results necessity in things in two ways. In one way, forasmuch as it is first in the intention of the agent. In this respect necessity results from the end in the same way as from the agent: since the agent acts in so far as it intends the end, both in natural and in voluntary actions. For in natural things, the intention of the end belongs to the agent according to the latter’s form, whereby the end is becoming to it: wherefore the natural thing must needs tend to the end according to the virtue of its form: thus a heavy body tends towards the centre according to the measure of its gravity. And in voluntary matters, the will inclines to act for the sake of an end forasmuch as it intends that end: although it is not always inclined to do this or that, which are on account of the end, as much as it desires the end, when the end can be obtained not by this or that alone, but in several ways.

16 In another way necessity results from the end according as this is posterior in being. This is not absolute but conditional necessity: thus we say that it will be necessary for a saw to be made of iron, if it is to do the work of a saw.

Notes Whew! It’s this last paragraph which wraps it all up and is one of the more important ones, especially for science. Here then is the chapter is brief: Saws are contingent, meaning they do not have to be, but the form of a saw is not contingent, and if a saw is to exist, it must necessarily have certain properties.

Do People Really Believe In Chance & The Deadly Sin of Reification?



From our very own JMJ, who asked this in response to an announcement of my new book (read this first):

Briggs, how many people how you encountered who need these clarifications? I mean, just how many people misunderstand this stuff? You taught this stuff, so I guess you’ve seen how a lot of people see this. Is this a real intellectual problem out there among math students? Or are you seeing something that’s not there?

For instance, when most people say that something happened by chance, do you think they’re trying to say that they believe that a thing called chance actually made it happen? When someone says they see a trend in the numbers, do you think they’re trying to impart a belief that somehow the numbers themselves are creating a trend?


Excellent questions, all. Everybody who uses a hypothesis test, whether by p-values or Bayes factors, needs these clarifications, misunderstands the purpose of standard tests, and these misunderstandings are a real intellectual problem. They’re not a math problems—everybody’s math is accurate—but philosophical problems.

And some people, not all, really do believe that chance is causative. More people, not all, really do believe numbers, i.e. models, are creating trends. The remaining people who do not really believe, but use the old methods, fail to recognize that the methods they use logically imply chance is a cause and that the numbers/models are a cause. So in that sense, everybody gets it wrong.

Speaking only of observable models, what we want is this: Pr(Y | X, old data, assumptions). This is the probability of some observable Y given premises X (this may be multifaceted), old observations (which we might not have), and other assumptions (this usually includes includes ad hoc statements like “I will use a normal”).

I say: to communicate models use Pr(Y | X, old data, assumptions)!

Not too exciting an answer, right? I don’t think it is, either. But, except for a trivial minority, it isn’t what anybody does.

Instead, people will calculate a p-value, which takes the assumptions, which include ad hoc statements about unobservable parameters to models, and functions of the old data, and then calculates the probability these functions would exceed some value if the “experiment” which produced the old data would be infinitely repeated and assuming that parameters are equal to some value.

If the p-value is less than the magic number, people think that one of the Xs they picked was the cause of the data. Maybe not the cause of all the data, but of a “significant” portion of it. If the p-value is greater than the magic number, they say X was not a cause but “chance” or “randomness” was.

Some might not think they are saying these things, but they are in fact saying them by implication. To prove that is not difficult, but it takes more than 800 words, so I’ll leave it for the book. I have a hint in these two papers “The Crisis Of Evidence: Why Probability And Statistics Cannot Discover Cause“, and “The Third Way Of Probability & Statistics: Beyond Testing and Estimation To Importance, Relevance, and Skill“.

It’s not better using Bayes factors, because these are also statements about (functions of) the parameters, though with only some of them at fixed values. The same fallacy about cause is there. The same forgetfulness about Pr(Y | X, old data, assumptions)—which is all anybody ever wants to know, but which the classical methods ignore (except in rare cases)—is also there. This is why there are no “good” uses of p-values or Bayes factors. If you want the probability, go to the probability and skip the substitutes!

The Deadly Sin of Reification includes any kind of smoothing, or estimation of parameters, where the probability model is taken for reality. Since probability is not a cause, and neither it chance or randomness, the plotting of probability models over real data often (always?) leads people to think “what really happened” was the model and not the data. What really happened, or what’s really going on, are the data. If we knew the cause or causes of the data, then we don’t need the probability models. Why would we?

Vast over-certainty is produced here. Again, I prove it in the book. But here are some hints in old posts (one, two, three).

Understanding cause is our fundamental goal in science. With probability, we don’t need cause but can do predictions, which is the fundamental goal in engineering. So I don’t advocate dumping probability; I do say which should use it properly.

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