We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Friday, February 14. 2014
P values, the 'gold standard' of statistical validity, are not as reliable as many scientists assume.
At Maggie's we are all perennial skeptics, and we think that the average business "murder board" is far more rigorous and critical than any academic peer review. There is more at stake.
Saturday, February 1. 2014
This author explains why the problem isn't the government, but the entrepreneurs looking for money. I'd say she's incorrect. People are frequently distracted by shiny objects. Government offers of cash are usually rule-bound and inflexible. meaning we alter our decisions to get 'free stuff'. If you told me that you'd pay 1/2 of the price of a car, but I had to buy a $70,000 Tesla (costing me $35,000) as opposed to a $25,000 Mini which I have the cash for, chances are I'm going to scrounge for the extra $10,000 even though I could use that $10,000 to repay a loan or take a vacation. We always tend to try and 'trade up' in the world, and if the incentive seems too good to be true, we'll usually take it. Unfortunately, Sky Masterson's wisdom regarding an offer which is too good to be true:
Yes, the entrepreneurs should be more thoughtful and careful. It says much about their ability to run a business if they deviate from their business plan for less than optimal reasons. But what does it say about the government that is encouraging them to deviate from the business plan? Sky Masterson likely recognized the government as the biggest con running.
Saturday, November 16. 2013
That's why wise people are always skeptics about "studies." Ten years ago, transfats were to save us from butter. Now, vice versa. Ten years ago, broccoli was good. Now, it's said to be carcinogenic. Ten years ago, the experts told us to avoid fats. Now they tell us they made a mistake; bacon is back and carbs are the bad thing (I think this seems correct from what little I know about insulin and carb metabolism). I take to heart little of what I read, but I read it anyway. Reading is recreational, often entertaining, and beats hard work.
Were I to live with no TV, no internet, and no newspaper, I think I would be a wiser man to simply focus on my daily experiences.
Friday, November 15. 2013
Here's an online course: How to Think: An Introduction to Logic
Speaking of logic, here's a comment on the fallacy of the precautionary principle from one of this morning's links:
A little risk is good, isn't it? It adds zest to life, the hot sauce. I would never go outdoors without my tin foil hat, however. Never know who might be listening in to my brain waves. Beware of the Thought Police.
Friday, November 8. 2013
Keep the article handy for the times you screw something up and decide to finesse the problem in a sneaky way. You will screw up, because we all do.
Thursday, October 31. 2013
It would term this fallacious effort as a sub-category of the "baffle them with bullshit" informal fallacies. Via Wiki:
Friday, October 25. 2013
I use adverbs mainly because my verb vocab is weak. Colorful verbs elude me. This short post is about "statistically significant," which does not mean "significant."
Saturday, September 7. 2013
Apparently, it doesn't take much schooling to become a CEO, just the ability to shake hands, tell anecdotes, and generally be personable.
Sunday, September 1. 2013
The recent train wreck in Connecticut brings to mind the classic 1999 book, Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. This book spurred the development of the field of accident research, but it is somewhat dated now. Accidents are inevitable, and at some point efforts to prevent dangers creates new forms of danger.
A more recent book on the topic is Inviting Disaster: Lessons From the Edge of Technology.
There is no safety in life.
Saturday, August 24. 2013
This is part of why my high-meat, zero carb weight loss program (fixed) works: all calories are not handled the same way (and bacon and eggs are a good, healthy diet breakfast). More here:
Miley Cyrus Gluten Free Diet is a Hoax, and 3 Other Weight Loss Scams
Like I said, if you want to lose weight, cut out the carbs and eat meat. Calory-counting does not work because it's the insulin that stores the carbs.
Thursday, August 8. 2013
I recently stumbled on this story. It's very old, and it seems to be well known in Math and Engineering circles. I shared it with my team to give them some idea how to work together and be open to unusual and creative ideas.
Long ago, there was a wealthy man who had 3 sons. Among his most prized posessions were 17 camels. The man was renowned as being very shrewd. In his will, he determined that his oldest son should get 1/2 of his estate(whatever he owned at the time of death), while his second born son should inherit 1/3 of his estate. His youngest son, being the yougest should inherit 1/9 of his estate.
After the father died, the three brothers were quite happy to inherit that wealth. They loved and respected their father very much so they were quite eager to satisfy the will of their father exactly. However, they did not like the idea of killing some of the camels in order to honor the last will of their father:
1/2 of 17 camels makes 8 and 1/2 of a camel figured the oldest brother, 1/3 of 17 camels makes 5 and 2/3 of a camel calculated the second brother, 1/9 of 17 camels makes only 1 and 8/9 camels thought the youngest brother.
Continue reading "3 Sons and a Camel"
Friday, August 2. 2013
I particularly liked the Ascension Island story. Many eco-terrorists focus on the 'damage' humans do to their environment, and claim human intervention is always and everywhere dangerous and deadly.
I also happen to agree with the story about trade. It's surprising to me, after all these years and so many mercantilist failures, that mercantilism is still preached.
Saturday, July 20. 2013
Wednesday, July 3. 2013
As they say in The Program, "Feelings aren't facts."
Monday, April 15. 2013
Fascinating essay: The Signal and the Silence - When is prediction useful—and when is it dangerous?
Saturday, February 23. 2013
Tuesday, February 19. 2013
The only way to test a theory is to make predictions. It is not science to make a prediction (eg "There will be no more snow" or "Arctic ice will disappear") and then to pull an excuse out of your behind when the prediction turns out to be wrong.
You cannot say "We're still right, even if our predictions were wrong because we failed to consider so-and-so."
The warmist claims attempt to set themselves up to be unfalsifiable. Snow or no snow, floods or drought, all explainable on an ex post facto basis. That's the problem.
As for a little warming, that would be just fine and preferable to the next ice age.
Thursday, January 31. 2013
In a marathon session yesterday, politicians allowed people from Newtown and various other lobbying organizations to state their views about guns. Several of the more emotionally compelling statements made the press and have been forced on an unsuspecting public, as a means to push harsher gun control laws. One statement in particular struck me as I watched the news this morning. Susie Ehrens, whose daughter survived the attack, made the following plea:
It is heartfelt sentiment with a strong statement. I have no doubt many people, many parents in particular, were moved closer to supporting gun control as a result. Certainly, it is a statement which hit me hard - do I really love guns more than I love children? So much so that I'm willing to let children die just because I support the freedom to bear arms?
Of course not. After thinking about this statement, I believed a response was needed. Mainly because it is factually inaccurate, at least in terms of how it describes me, and it is logically flawed, in general.
Continue reading "Guns and Emotions"
Sunday, January 13. 2013
I've discussed the Gambler's Fallacy in the past (eg if you flip nine heads in a row, what are the odds the next toss will be a tail?). The inverse is another matter. Wiki gives this example:
The point is that unlikely things happen all the time. Here, it's discussed in terms of the recent discovery of the largest structure in the universe.
Saturday, October 13. 2012
Wednesday, October 3. 2012
The author points out that we all know that "correlation does not indicate causation", but there is an equally important error often drawn from data: The confusion of statistical significance with real world meaning.
Thursday, March 15. 2012
More on Deceptive Climate Alarmism on the Ides of March: Orson Welles, Graphs, plus just relax about the weather - and Go Huskies!
"If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story."
And on where you start it. We may not be professional scientists here on the Farm, but we've all read the classic How to Lie with Statistics, and I assume we've all studed at least basic calculus.
(And we all also know that computer modeling depends on the parameters you chose, or adjust ex post facto: "With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk." - John Von Neuman. In science, if data fails to fit models, they adjust the models to fit the data, and keep their jobs and federal grants. In finance, you get fired or lose your bonus.)
Sticking with Orson Welles for today, my point is elementary math: If you select your end point (and your starting point), you can extrapolate out any line from any piece of any graph or curve you want. That's termed "cherry picking." That's why they say that, if you extrapolate the curve of the log graph of the population of Houston from 1950 to 1980, Houston would shortly contain the entire population of the USA.
Climate alarmists are famous for extrapolating from small, selected pieces of data - and also for continual realignment of modeling parameters (which is not science, it's computer gaming).
Let's accept that post-glacial global warming has been going on, with dramatic bumps up and down but generally beneficially for humans (not for Wooly Mammoths), for 10,000 years, with the resulting 120-150 meters of ocean rise. (There are many Neolithic villages underwater in the English Channel and the North Sea, many Indian villages underwater 50-60 miles out from the coast of Virginia, etc.) This will continue until the climate tide changes back to the next glaciation in the next few centuries or millennia. Given recent predictions, we are warned to expect at least several decades of global cooling around now. Will it be the Big One? A warning to go long Key Largo real estate?
Here's an amusing alarmist example which is being fed to our benighted, innocent kiddies: Warming Doubles Extreme Coastal Flood Risk Across U.S. They begin:
As if it all began in 1880. It's probably closer to 6 inches in the past 200 years, but let that pass. The real question is why they picked 1880 instead of saying "Rising seas since 1800 increase the risk of damaging storm surges"? The line would be less scarey. Or better yet, why not say "Rising seas since 15,000 BC increase the risk of damaging storm surges"? Look at this graph. Why not draw your average beginning at 1800?
Aha. they picked a low point and a high point on the curvacious historical graph, and are extrapolating from that teensy piece of it to instill terror. If you picked 1800 as your starting point, your line would look different.
And, as we posted yesterday, if you picked 18,000 years ago, your take on the data would be quite different again. You would relax and turn on the basketball game. Go Huskies - and we may need real Huskies here soon:
Call me paranoid if you want, but my view is that there is an unspoken alliance (not a conscious conspiracy) between greedy scientists and greedy governments of all sorts to make a big deal out of a big nothing. I hope to survive the big chill to see that finally people will have admitted, as they finally admitted about the imminent Ice Age scare of the 1970s - that it is pure hype.
But, what the heck, let's step even further backwards from the frame for the really Big Picture. I'll bet teacher never told you that we remain in a cold spell, historically-speaking. Yes, indeed. Polar ice caps are not normal for planet Earth. The earth doesn't have a fever - it has a very bad cold right now:
Thursday, March 8. 2012
It depends on how you define "thinking." If "thinking" means an effort to form a logical progression of thoughts and ideas, words sure come in handy whether you intend to communicate the thoughts or not. In my experience, most people tend to avoid the effort that this requires unless they are trained to do it in some area of life such as diagnosing a car breakdown or a legal case or a medical complaint.
But if "thinking" refers to all sorts of mental activities, then of course words are not required for most of it. Impulses, gut feelings, images, daydreams, movement, musical ideas, etc. are all wordless mental activity (I exclude mathematics, which is just another language). Furthermore, unconscious mental activity, which may be the bulk of mental activity, is all or mostly wordless.
The question is raised: To what extent do our words shape our thinking? Here's an effort to study the topic: Language doesn't influence our thoughts ... except when it does.
Speaking only for myself, I find that my words and my thought stream seem to do a sort of dance together, and a fresh new word or verbal concept can add new color or shape to it all. What is most fun is when a fresh word or phrase or concept crystallizes a dimly-thought thought.
Thursday, February 16. 2012
People of all stripes will go to lengths to hold onto their preferred views of things. Re-thinking is difficult and often upsetting to one's equilibrium. But facing reality generally is more effective in life - however painful at times. Upsetting a comfortable equilibrium can also sometimes lead to better things, open up new vistas.
Dr. Sanity has a detailed essay on the topic: DOES THE LEFT UNDERSTAND PSYCHOLOGICAL DENIAL? Even if you overlook the political aspects of her essay, it's a good overview of the points at which psychological defenses and logical error frequently intersect.
Sunday, January 22. 2012
We have rreported so many scientific frauds in the past couple of weeks, I thought I would highlight some commonly-used "data-management" tricks designed to dishonestly influence people.
1. "Clustering." We have all heard about cancer clusters - Why does my town have triple the breast cancer of towns two miles away? There must be someone I can sue about this. Such claims have an emotional appeal, but they are nonsense. Random distribution is not even - it is uneven. Just try flipping a quarter, and you will get little runs of tails. Clustering is a natural effect of randomness, but trial lawyers are always busy trying to track them down: they can get rich before anyone figures out the game.
2. "Cherry-picking." Cherry-picking is a frankly dishonest form of data presentation, often used by newspapers to create alarmist stories about the economy, the environment, food safety, etc. It fools people without some decent science education. What it entails is combing through, say, 60 pieces of data, and then using the three points that support your argument, and ignoring the rest. Presenting random changes as meaningful facts is a lie. Environmentalists use this all of the time, as do other agenda-driven fact-handlers. A casual use of this fallacy is characteristic of The New York Times typical headline: Despite Good Economic Statistics, Some Are Left Behind - and then they scour NYC to find some single black mom in the Bronx who cannot support her kids - and she becomes the "story".
3. "Anectdotal evidence." The above example could also be termed "anectdotal evidence." If you look around, you can always find an exception, a story, and example - of ANYTHING. But anectdotes are compelling, and Reagan used them to the best effect. And how about those swimming Polar Bears! (I always thought they liked to swim.)
4. "Omitted evidence". You tell me how common this is! A first cousin of Cherry-picking, Omitted Evidence is also a lie. All you do is ignore the evidence and data that disagrees with your bias or your position. Simple.
5. "Confirmation bias". People tend to remember evidence which supports their opinion, belief, or bias, and to dismiss or forget evidence which does not. It's a human frailty. Humans have to struggle to be rational.
6. "Biased Data". "A poll at a local pre-school playground in Boston at 2 pm today indicated that 87% of likely voters will vote for Obama." Picking your data sources, like picking the questions you ask, can determine your results with great accuracy. As pollsters always say, "Tell me the answer you want, and I will design the question."
7. "Data mining." Data-mining is used by unscrupulous academics who need to publish. Because it is a retroactive search for non-hypothesized correlations, it does not meet criteria for the scientific method. Let's say you have 10,000 data points from a study which found no correlation for your hypothesis. Negative correlation studies are rarely published, but you spend a lot of time collecting it - so you ask your computer if it can find any other positive correlations in the data. Then you publish those, as if that was what you had studied in the first place.
Image: two good varieties of cherries for picking; Stella on the left, Lapins on the right, from Miller Nurseries
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