William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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Chapter 10 of Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics FREE for New Subscribers!


Today a deal so unbelievable that it can’t be believed!

No, wait. In fact, the deal was so unbelievable that it couldn’t be believed. This follows logically: that which is unbelievable cannot be believed. And since I was anxious that readers believe the deal, I had to soften it from unbelievable to believable-but-shocking.

Can you believe this?

All new subscribers will receive a PDF copy of Chapter 10 of Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics (all current subscribers should have already received their copy a while back; if not, email me).

I hope you were sitting down when you read that. It was a believable deal, but it was also a shocking deal. Please don’t sue me if you became so excited that you lost control of your extremities and injured yourself or others. Please don’t sue anybody. Suing people is no fun. Besides, you were warned.

Head over to the Subscription page, fill in any amount to be deducted monthly from your credit card, making sure to use your correct email, and that’s it! You can cancel any time—not that you’d want to.

Running the blog isn’t free: there are server fees, backup storage fees, code fees, equipment fees, and so on. Remember: I’m wholly independent and not tied to any regular source of funding, which includes, which mostly includes, government grants. And beside these yearly appeals, there is no advertising on the site.

Except for this. Modify that last claim with this exclusion in mind.

What’s the money for? Blog expenses, as mentioned, plus, I’m saving up for a decent camera to graduate the podcasts to videos.

Email subscriptions

Reminder. It’s not necessary, and you don’t have to donate to get them, but you can have daily posts emailed to you. Go to the very bottom of the blog, on the left side, and input your email. Easier than remembering to show up regularly.

The Ideal Christmas Gift

Get the book everybody is talking about—when they talk about this book. Yes, none other than the award-eligible Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics.

Sure, you probably have your own copy now, but it’s a good bet your mother has been living without. Or your nephew. Or that guy down the gas station who always allows you free refills on your Stupendous Size pop. Or if you happy to know anybody who in any way, even remotely, calls themselves a scientist or researcher. They’ll all need their own copies. Don’t skimp for yourself, either. Pages wear out, you know. Buy often, and buy early.

Bonus Chapter 10 Opening!

Here are the opening paragraphs of Chapter 10 (with math and references suitably adapted).

“A genuine expert can always foretell a thing that is 500 years away easier than he can a thing that’s only 500 seconds off. ——Mark Twain

An entire book could be written of various implementations of models in the predictive, observable form Pr(Y in y | X,D,M)$ (see the previous Chapter for the explanation of this form). Here I can do no more than cover those areas that seem most important to decisions common in science. I emphasize not so much particular models by specific persons, but how model results should be communicated and the errors usual in the classical methods. Universally, statistical results are presented as if they were not conditional on a model, which of course all are. Over-certainty abounds.

Regression is of paramount importance. The horrors to thought and clear reasoning committed in its name are legion, a fact which is well known, e.g. [various authors]. But it’s more than bad regression: misunderstandings of the nature of evidence are everywhere, but that this is so is increasingly gaining attention; see among many [these fellows], and in the hot field of neuroscience [like these guys]. It’s bad enough in academia, but if any reader has experienced consulting in non-academic settings, in, for instance, marketing, you will realize the problems detailed below are trivial. From my many experiences I have been able to discover that ordinary people think statistics is something akin to magic. The discussion on how statistical “control” is not control in the Section on regression should be read by everybody.

Reification is the deadly sin of modelling. The model is not the territory, though this fictional land is unfortunately where many choose to live. When the data do not match a theory, it is often the data that is blamed for marring a beautiful model. Models should never take the place of actual data, though they often do, particularly in regression and time series. Risk is nearly always exaggerated. The fallacious belief that we can quantify the unquantifiable, especially human emotions, is responsible for scientism. Hayek, in his Nobel prize speech, cautioned against assuming that the data we have, which is often times the only data we have, must therefore, because of its availability, be causal. This is a form of availability fallacy. Incidentally, Hayek also recommended (a version of) the predictive approach, especially with economic data. “Smoothed” data is often given pride of place over actual observations. Over-certainty is, as I have already claimed, at pandemic levels.

The general, overarching admonition is to escape the Cult of the Parameter. Speak of observables and not parameters. Models should be used in the predictive sense and checked against reality.

Because this Chapter describes the some of the many (infinite?) ways probabilistic thinking can go awry, it is more conversational in tone. Finally, at the end, I express some hope about the future.

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.

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