Hurricane paper featured on AIR-Worldwide

Roger Pielke, Jr., who’s at the University of Colorado Center for Science Technology Policy Research, has written a year-end summary of the 2007 hurricane season. The summary appears in two places: AIR-Worldwide, a fairly large and subsidiary of a well known insurance and risk modeling company; and Pielke’s own Prometheus blog.

The best thing is that he reviews two of the papers that I’ve written that show (through 2006), that hurricanes (including tropical storms) have not increased in number or intensity in the North Atlantic nor worldwide. My papers are linked under my Global Warming category under various posts and can be downloaded there, but I warn you that they are fairly technical and use advanced statistical methods. They are, however, perfect reading for insomniacs.

If I get enough requests, I’ll work on putting up a simplified summary of the methods.

Now only 32.8% of people believe the polls: Did New Hampshire let us down?

Last week we looked at how the polls did in Iowa. How badly did the polls in the New Hampshire race do in yesterday’s Democrat primary? Here are the results:

Candidate Zogby WMUR Actual Error
Obama 42 39 37 +5
Edwards 17 16 17 0
Clinton 29 30 39 -10
Others 5 7 5 0
Undecided 7 8 0 +7
Huckabee 10 13 11 -1
Romney 27 26 32 -5
McCain 36 31 37 -1
Others 20 21 18 +2
Undecided 7 9 0 +7

We still tracked Zogby, but had to switch to the local CNN/WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll for the second comparison.

Last week, for Democrats, the total absolute summed error was 30 points. This week, it is only 22 points, and two candidates, Edwards and “Others”, were predicted perfectly, yet this week’s polls are widely thought to be poorer. Why is this?

The polls last week, while they did not do as well as this week’s in predicting the actual vote percentages, got the order of the top three candidates correct. For this week, the first two candidates were switched, but just barely; the margin of victory was only 2 points.

For Republicans, last week, the total error was 14 points. This week: 16 points! Both last and this week, however, the order of the top three was correctly predicted.

What matters most to people about poll accuracy is the candidate order; the actual predictions of vote percentages don’t seem too important, which is odd. Candidate order is supremely important in a two-person race, of course, where the only thing that counts is who is on top. But when there are multiple choices in a primary and multiple primaries, a good poll must also do well with the percentages—which the polls seem able to do. So don’t lose faith in the polls just yet.

All the polls were taken on the weekend before the primary, of course, and do not, and can not, account for what happens between the polls and the vote. For example, this past week saw Hillary’s breakdown, her interaction with the “Iron my shirt” guys, and Bill Clinton’s stage phone-whisper “I wuv you”, which all happened after the last poll was taken.

This only means that the plus or minus error you often hear reported (“This poll is accurate to within +/- 3 points”) is imperfect, and should in general be larger than given. These plus or minus points are actually theoretical results based on obscure math and many data assumptions, which rarely hold. So it’s far better to use an error rate based on the actual observed error of polls instead of the theoretical intervals.

The mean absolute (Zogby) poll error for the last two weeks, for both parties, was 4 points. This gives some hints that the theoretical error rates are too low and should be, say, doubled. I’ll post more on this after the next polls in Michigan and South Carolina come in.

An unfortunate loss of a good joke: leftist thinking finally overtakes math parody

There was an old, and sadly funny joke about the Evolution of Math Quizzes that went like this:


A logger cuts and sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is four-fifths of that amount. What is his profit?

1970s New-math

A logger exchanges a set (L) of lumber for a set (M) of money. The cardinality of Set M is 100. The set C of production costs contains 20 fewer points. What is the cardinality of Set P of profits?


A logger cuts and sells a truckload of lumber for $100. Her cost is $80, her profit is $20. Find and circle the number 20.


An unenlightened logger cuts down a beautiful stand of 100 trees in order to make a $20 profit. Write an essay explaining how you feel about this as a way to make money. Topic for discussion: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel?

Ha ha ha ha! Right?

Unfortunately, wrong. For here, as incidentally reported in Foreign Policy, is an actual math quiz question from a German textbook:

In 2004, a bread roll cost 40 cents. For the wheat that went into it, the farmer received less than 2 cents. What do you think about that?

This is not the first time that reality has overtaken parody (here is one small example), but the rate at which it is doing so is beginning to exceed the rate at which comedians can create new jokes. And, it should be obvious, if comedians cannot write funny satirical material quickly enough, they will be out of work and forced into collecting unemployment, further burdening the welfare system. Therefore, I propose a law banning all new social behavior that overlaps with any prior-produced satire, unless that said behavior is itself unintentionally hilarious.

One such exception is this example from today’s New York Daily News (full story here):

Life imitated the movies Tuesday when two dopes wheeled a dead man around Hell’s Kitchen in an office chair as they tried to cash his Social Security check, cops said.

The “Weekend at Bernie’s” stunt was an attempt to collect 66-year-old Virgilio Cintron’s dough less than a day after he died, police said.

James O’Hare, and his pal David Dalaia attempted to dress Cintron’s corpse in a pair of pants, a T-shirt and sneakers…and wheeled him from his W.52nd St. apartment to a check-cashing outlet around the block on Ninth Ave.

“Witnesses observed Mr. Cintron flopping from side to side and these individuals propping him up as they rolled along,” said NYPD spokesman Paul Browne.

The casual corpse on the sidewalk at 3:45p.m. drew a large crowd, including an on-duty detective who was eating lunch at a restaurant next-door…O’Hare and Dalaia were taken to the Midtown North stationhouse, where last night police were preparing to charge them with check fraud.

Update: 11 January 2007

Turns out that the Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors saw the Daily News story and called his buddy Terry Kiser, who played Bernie in the movies. Kiser says that there is a script in the works for a third installment to the series, and that he will offer bit parts to O’Hare and Dalaia, which gives me hope that the human race has not entirely lost its sense of humor.

Don Imus sidekick makes a point with a failed joke

Just heard Don Imus, who was attempting to explain why he wasn’t being sarcastic when he said “At least [George Bush] did something right” because we have not been attacked since 2001. One of his sidekicks quipped, with genuine sarcasm, that, “The Japanese haven’t attacked us since 1941, so he’s really doing something right.”

Of course, the last time the Japanese attacked us was in 1945, not 1941, but let’s not quibble about a few years. The real question is why the Japanese haven’t attacked us, or anybody else, since that time.

The answer is, it should be unnecessary to say, though I suppose it must be said, that it is because they attacked us in 1941.

This is a historical instance, one of a great multitude, of war working, of a successful democracy being installed by a Western power in another country. Don’t forget, too, that that war was not ended by “dialog” but by direct action.

It is therefore astonishing that so many now say that a “military solution in Iraq is impossible.”