the daily stirrer

Lies, Damned Lies and ... umm... Those Other Things ... oh yeah, statistics.

by Ian R Thorpe
Were I able to muster the kind of blind faith Mr. Chivers and other "science" nerds place in statistics I would invest it in one of the traditional religions and at least be able to convince myself there is a chance of being resurrected into the life eternal. As it is, unlike Science fans who proclaim their atheism but have a zealots faith in science, I am a true sceptic...
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Lies, Damned Lies and ... umm... Those Other Things

by Ian R Thorpe

Tom Chivers has posted a blog in the Daily Telegraph website in which he expressed despair at the reluctance of the public to accept the evidence of statistical surveys when determining what to believe.

Ironically, his evidence for this comes from a statistical survey. Only 9 per cent of the sample declared themselves swayed by such data.

Were I able to muster the kind of blind faith Mr. Chivers and other "science" nerds place in statistics I would invest it in one of the traditional religions and at least be able to convince myself there is a chance of being resurrected into the life eternal. As it is, unlike Science fans who proclaim their atheism but have a zealots faith in science, I am a true sceptic. That is, I am as sceptical of those theories about the universe beginning with a Big Bang as I m about God having created it all. And while I believe data I am very sceptical of the conclusions drawn from it. Why it should perplex science worshippers and commentators with very strong liberal world views that data doesn't make everyone share their liberal.

The answer to that, I can tell you as a one time Information technology professional lies in the old adage beloved of systems analysts and programmers; "If you torture data enough it will give the answer you want."

Here (as everywhere) it pays to remember the theory of Bayesean Inference, that in any mathematical experiment conclusions will always be influenced by prior experience, current knowledge and expectations. The Rev. Bayes postulated that the probability calculus tells us that the purpose of data isn't to tell us what to believe; its purpose is to tell us how to modulate that which we already know.

Most simply put, data modifies what you already believe about a hypothesis by weighting that belief by the data's plausibility.

'Why Truth Matters' is a interesting book that offers some genuinely philosophical ideas on what a fact is, how it can be said to be true, and how 'facts' arise in the first place. And the deep problem is, that facts are ultimately relative to a worldview. If someone else doesn't use that worldview, then any 'facts' in it are of zero truth content.

The whole point of sales marketing and politics is to persuade people to a worldview in which the salient issues are the ones the people doing the leading want you to embrace.

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP dealt very niftily with an ambush lain by lefties who wanted to accuse his party of homophobia (he had already beaten off accusations of racism) when on taking a question from the audience on a television debate as to where he, and UKIP stood on gay marriage. Farage replied 'I actually don't care very much, UKIP doesn't care, and most of the people who support UKIP don't actually care, beyond not wanting to ram one view of a relationship down everybody's throat.'

We are bombarded almost daily with statistics from public opinion polls conducted among very small samples of the public about how an overwhelming majority of the general public as a whole are wildly enthusiastic about legalising same sex marriage. Go into any pub in Britain but outside the more fashionable suburbs of London and people think there are far more important problems facing the world than the whines of the gay rights lobby.

The world is not divided into those who support same sex marriage or are against it, it is in fact divided into those who think its an important issue, and those who could not give a flying fuck where bearded queens stick their pricks if they would just bugger off and get on with it, and stop wasting the time of governments that have more important business to attend to and demanding that everybody should 'care' about the sex lives of irrelevant minorities.

Do 99.99% of scientists believe in climate change, i.e. that the climate has and does change? Of course. the historical evidence of climate change is everywhere.

That is where those with an agenda stop.

The science worshippers do not ask the really relevant questions. Like do you think that world is still in a warming phase, a neutral phase or a cooling phase? The evidence is its somewhere between neutral and slight cooling. So you might get a fairly even mix of answers.

Or do you think that the main cause of late 20th century warming was in fact CO2 in the atmosphere? Here I would expect that you would get a 60/40 split in opinion.

Or finally do you think, given the fact that China is opening a new coal fired power station every week, that it's worth western governments bankrupting their nations trying to set a moral example to countries whose interests would be well served by western nations causing their own national economies to collapse, rather than protecting western citizens from the possible effects of a slightly warmer climate?

To that question the rational answer its overwhelmingly 'no'.

But those answers are never put before the public because the right questions are skillfully evaded. To present a picture of 99% of scientists believing in climate change and that man has an affect on climate,. and therefore we must have windmills, smart grids and die of fuel poverty only the data which supports those conclusions may be presented. And the global view lefties get really pissed of when forced to accept that Joe and Jane Public are savvy enough to see through the statistical deceptions.

Perhaps the real political question should be: Are you of the opinion that a guaranteed lower standard of living is preferable to a 5% chance that you may suffer some effects (possibly adverse, possibly beneficial) from climate change in 50 years time that your sacrifice will be powerless to affect anyway?

Statistics are not facts, and facts are not necessarily truth. A statistic is something measured, something counted, enumerated. What the numbers may mean is a matter of subjective interpretation. For example in Manchester, England, raid falls on 205 days a year on average and about 70 inches of rainfall. The truth of that to someone who lives in West Texas is Manchester has terrible weather. In Cherrapunji, India, there are over 330 days on which rain falls and the total annual downpour is almost 500 inches on average with the record standing at over 900 inches. To people in Cherrapunji, Manchester has an almost arid climate.

Of deeper importance than the raw numbers is why one seeks to make said measurement. The reason is embedded in a theory or world-view of the person making the measurement. To them the measurement has utility: it potentially leads to "knowledge" (a relative concept) informative to decisions.

Statistics (the discipline) may be thought of as an extension of two-truth-value (binary) formal logic into multi-value logic with degrees of certainty between zero (equivalent to definitely false) and one (equivalent to definitely true). The "degrees" of truth and falsehood referred to here are merely transmitted from starting assumptions and have no independent meaning.

Statistics is a powerful tool for reasoning, in the context of uncertainty for plotting trends and for forecasting the possible outcomes of sporting events. It's frequent misuse or abuse as a means of presenting subjective interpretations of data as "facts" does not invalidate that. A prime example is the "Smoking causes lung cancer meme." About twelve and a half percent of smokers develop lung cancer therefore statistics show that smoking does not "cause" lung cancer in the way that ingesting cyanide causes death. On the basis of a single statistic we can say that smoking may be a contributory factor in many cases of lung cancer. But cancer is scary and so invoking it's name has an emotional effect. Put together all the health problems that smoking can be linked to and you have a strong statistical case against smoking but no single indisputable fact to provide a case for banning smoking.

It is not "unscientific" to be sceptical about statistics, is is very scientific and extremely sensible.


The Demise Of Nate Silver's Infallibility And Data-Driven Journalism
In 2012 some little statistics nerd named Nate Silver was elevated to the pantheon of Technological Gods, when he correctly predicted, having modelled the outcome of the vote on his meta - analysis of opinion polls, that Barack Obama would win a second term as US President. That was the election in which Obama's opponent Mitt Romney famously threw the fat lady off the stage long before she had even done her warm up scales

Anarchy and Statism: When We Know The Price Of Big Government Is Our Liberty Why Are So Many Prepared To Pay It. Having crossed swords with militant atheists anf fundamentalist science worshippers many times and been gobsmacked by their inability to consider that any opinion other than their own might derserve a hearing, I thought it was time to start demolishing this new quasi - religious faith that spawns so many zealots.

Scientific Dictatorship: The Total Surveillance Society Is Coming Soon.

Why Do Those On The Political Left Assume They Have A Monopoly On Goodness And Truth
Political philosophy: As politics and society become more binary and polarise so that according to a self sppoined elite there are only two possible points of view on any issue, public debate is stifled and the polarised left and right end up attacking the other's right to free speech. It has nothing to do with liberal democracy

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