# blueollie

## Class, Gaussians and Islam in the world…

Islam in the world I wrote about this earlier. Evidently many conflate criticism of Islam (and its practices) with a justification for discrimination against Muslims; those are very different things. A Pakistani woman wrote an open letter to explain why the points brought up by Bill Maher and Sam Harris are worthy ones:

And in yesterday’s issue of Pakistan Today, you’ll find her piece: “An open letter to Ben Affleck“. As a few quotes below will show, she goes after Affleck for trying, as she argues, to minimize the plight of Muslim women like her. Just a bit to give you the flavor:

Noble liberals like yourself always stand up for the misrepresented Muslims and stand against the Islamophobes, which is great but who stands in my corner and for the others who feel oppressed by the religion? Every time we raise our voices, one of us is killed or threatened. I am a blogger and illustrator, no threat to anyone, Ben, except for those afraid of words and drawings. I want the freedom to express myself without the very real fear that I might be killed for it. Is that too much to ask?

When I wrote a children’s book that carried a message of diversity and inclusivity for everyone, my life changed. My book, ‘My Chacha (uncle) is Gay’ has the innocent anti-homophobia message, ‘Love belongs to everyone’. This was not palatable to many of my Muslim brothers and sisters.

Since that project I have been declared an ‘enemy of God’ and deemed worthy of death. All because I want to help create a world where South Asian children too can have their stories told, so they too can know that love comes in all forms, and that that’s okay. My Muslim brothers and sisters were hit hard by this work because it addresses the issue of homophobia within our own community. It is not something they can pass off as ‘Western’ immorality. Just like they deny that any issues exist within the doctrine of Islam, many deny that homosexuality exists amongst good, ‘moral’ Muslims. Just like that, millions of people’s existence is denied. Please do not defend people who think this way, and let me tell you Ben, many ‘good’ Muslims do think this way.

What you did by screaming ‘racist!’ was shut down a conversation that many of us have been waiting to have. . . You became an instant hero, a defender of Islam.

Here is something to remember: the most radical right wing American Christians would be …flaming liberals if they were Muslims:

In your culture you have the luxury of calling such literalists “crazies”, like the Westboro Baptist Church, for example. In my culture, such values are upheld by more people than we realise. Many will try to deny it, but please hear me when I say that these are not fringe values. It is apparent in the lacking numbers of Muslims willing to speak out against the archaic Shariah law. The punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, etc, are tools of oppression. Why are they not addressed even by the peaceful folk who “aren’t fanatical, who just want to have some sandwiches and pray five times a day? Where are the Muslim protestors against blasphemy laws/apostasy? Where are the Muslims who take a stand against harsh interpretation of Shariah? These sandwich-eating peaceful folk do not defend those suffering in the name of Islam, Ben, and therein lies our problem.

Accuracy in media
Here is an example of Fox News reporting something that is blatantly false, but not issuing a correction. The claim was that Colorado law allowed for people to print out their own ballots; that is only true for Military personnel living overseas.

Epic Class Warfare rant
Marc Randazza is a famous First Amendment lawyer. He can’t stand some attitudes exhibited by some rich people, even though he is well off. Read his “candy woman” rant.

Ok, I have a few hang ups about Halloween Trick or Treaters but these tend to be “Larry Davidish”.

Mathematics and statistics Some statistical distributions appear over and over again. This one appears to be half Gaussian, half exponential.

October 27, 2014

## My take on Birthdays

Now, if there is some omnipotent deity that knows when you will die, this is correct. But as someone else points out: we die via a “bathtub curve” function.

That is, given our current age, say $x$, we have an “expected time left to live $l(x)$ and as we age, the quantity $x + l(x)$ increases, even though, after the risk of early death is over, $l(x)$ is a decreasing function of $x$.

Of course, $l(x)$ is changed if there is a war, famine, pestilence, etc.

September 16, 2014

## Golden Rule, Statistics, etc.

The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule states: “do onto others as you would have done onto you” or something like that.

But that sometimes fails. Here is a quick example:

When I go out and run or walk, I like to “get away from it all”; I usually go alone and just get it in. I might take in sights of various kinds. But for me, it is “just go”.

Personally, I prefer what happens on popular running paths in Chicago or Austin: no one greets you. You just go. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t interaction; on occasion I’ve gotten in an impromptu race with someone who wouldn’t let me pass. That is fine.

But in small towns, people like to greet. If someone greets me, I wave and that is about it. Those who can give a prolonged Good Moooorning! aren’t working hard enough, IMHO. Some want to stop and chat.

So, what would I like to be “done onto me”???? I want to be left alone. But around here, most don’t want that.

Statistics
In football, most of the time (with the exception of a North Dakota State here or there), FCS teams lose to FBS teams, and non-BCS teams lose to BCS teams. The main reason is that the bigger time programs, well, recruit better players. Now they don’t get them all; on occasion a gem gets passed over only to eventually end up on an NFL team. It does happen. But, statistically speaking, the better players end up in the “power programs”, and the win-loss records demonstrate this. Statistically speaking, the scouts usually get it right, though there are always exceptions.

The same holds true in academics. For example, here and there you might see a person with a 24 ACT do well in mathematics or engineering. But the vast majority of the time, they do not. In the long run, the tests do a decent job of predicting, though they do miss a few people.

August 31, 2014

## Bias of many types…and a walk

Today’s workout: end of “leisure” workout. I did my 8.1 cornstalk course in 2 hours (some rain…I didn’t get that wet) and then 2 more miles on the treadmill: 12:00/11:20 to get 23:20. I wanted to do at least a little faster than marathon pace.

RIP: BKS Lyengar, famous yogi and author of Light on Yoga.

Here he is in 1977 when he was in his late 50’s. What flexibility, strength, and body control!

Bias
Survivorship bias: this is the annoying tendency to see, say, a dozen successful companies, see what they have in common, and then conclude that what they have in common is what made them successful. Nope; you have to see how many companies did those same things and WERE NOT successful, among other things. From the article:

This is what Pomona College economist Gary Smith calls the “survivor bias,” which he highlights as one of many statistically related cognitive biases in his deeply insightful book Standard Deviations (Overlook, 2014). Smith illustrates the effect with a playing card hand of three of clubs, eight of clubs, eight of diamonds, queen of hearts and ace of spades. The odds of that particular configuration are about three million to one, but Smith says, “After I look at the cards, the probability of having these five cards is 1, not 1 in 3 million.” [...]

Smith found a similar problem with the 1982 book In Search of Excellence (more than three million copies sold), in which Tom Peters and Robert Waterman identified eight common attributes of 43 “excellent” companies. Since then, Smith points out, of the 35 companies with publicly traded stocks, 20 have done worse than the market average.

Depression I talked about depression in an earlier post. Here is some of what science knows about it right now:

Racism

See the subtle racism here? The idea is that this black Attorney General who has spoken out about race relations is somehow too “emotionally invested” or biased to be even handed. Why would a black Attorney General be any less evenhanded than a white one? And shouldn’t we be far more concerned with an Attorney General who did NOT see race relations as a problem?

Here: Kansas City police officer posts a snarky post about Michael Brown’s character (the dead teenager in Ferguson) and shows a photo of a young black man with a gun and money in his mouth. But this black man is some guy in Oregon…not Michael Brown. It is amusing that police officers everywhere are telling us to not to rush to judgement but… :-)

I suppose that given that we have 300+ million people in this country and a lot of police officers, a few are bound to be crackpots.

Racism in sports
Sadly, some African American athletes have racist stuff directed at them. Here is an example (Eddie Chambers, an elite boxer)

August 20, 2014

## Politics: emotional issues robs us of abstract reasoning ability…

Good Vox article here. Moral (for me): mathematical and statistical reasoning really disciplines our thinking, BUT does not convince non-technical people.

This is one reason discussing issues with people outside of math, science and engineering departments is so difficult for me.

July 29, 2014

## Early 538 Senate forecast and some dissent on the concept

Sadly, I have to agree with Nate Silver’s Senate election forecast: the Democrats are slight underdogs to keep the Senate at 50-50. We have too many seats in red states up for election.

Timothy Egan joins the chorus of those dismayed by Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight. I sorry, but I have to agree: so far it looks like something between a disappointment and a disaster.

But I’d argue that many of the critics are getting the problem wrong. It’s not the reliance on data; numbers can be good, and can even be revelatory. But data never tell a story on their own. They need to be viewed through the lens of some kind of model, and it’s very important to do your best to get a good model. And that usually means turning to experts in whatever field you’re addressing.

Yes: knowing how to crunch data does NOT replace knowing a field. Of course, this next Krugman comment is epic:

Unfortunately, Silver seems to have taken the wrong lesson from his election-forecasting success. In that case, he pitted his statistical approach against campaign-narrative pundits, who turned out to know approximately nothing. What he seems to have concluded is that there are no experts anywhere, that a smart data analyst can and should ignore all that.

This made me laugh. Sure, I see the pundits as being mostly, well…entertainers. But I am not sure that Mr. Silver is competing with experts but rather trying to trying to introduce some data into journalism.

I don’t think that his target audience is the readers of Scientific American.

March 23, 2014

## Five Thirty Eight Starts up again….the discussion

I admit that while I haven’t read every new 538 article, I’ve enjoyed most of what I’ve read.

What I see here isn’t really new, but it is well put together. For example: this article correctly asserts that the increase in storm/disaster damage really isn’t due to global warming (at least there is no evidence for it) but rather because there is more there to damage in the first place.

I honestly think that articles that talk about the “subject being debated” have some value; it is nice to know what the argument is about. So far, I’ve liked what I’ve seen.

FiveThirtyEight is a data journalism organization. Let me explain what we mean by that, and why we think the intersection of data and journalism is so important.

If you’re a casual reader of FiveThirtyEight, you may associate us with election forecasting, and in particular with the 2012 presidential election, when our election model “called” 50 out of 50 states right.

Certainly we had a good night. But this was and remains a tremendously overrated accomplishment. Other forecasters, using broadly similar methods, performed just as well or nearly as well, correctly predicting the outcome in 48 or 49 or 50 states. It wasn’t all that hard to figure out that President Obama, ahead in the overwhelming majority of nonpartisan polls in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Iowa and Wisconsin, was the favorite to win them, and was therefore the favorite to win the Electoral College.

Instead, our forecasts stood out in comparison to others in the mainstream media. Commentators as prestigious as George F. Will and Michael Barone predicted not just a Mitt Romney win, but a Romney sweep in most or all of the swing states. Meanwhile, some news reporters defaulted to characterizing the races as “toss-ups” when the evidence suggested otherwise.1

So, why the need for data journalism? One important point:

Students who enter college with the intent to major in journalism or communications have above-average test scores in reading and writing, but below-average scores in mathematics. Furthermore, young people with strong math skills will normally have more alternatives to journalism when they embark upon their careers and may enter other fields.4

This is problematic. The news media, as much as it’s been maligned, still plays a central a role in disseminating knowledge. More than 80 percent of American adults spend at least some time with the news each day. (By comparison, about 25 percent of Americans of all ages are enrolled in educational programs.)

Meanwhile, almost everything from our sporting events to our love lives now leaves behind a data trail. Much of this data is available freely or cheaply. There is no lack of interest in exploring and exploiting it: Google searches for terms like “big data” and “data analytics” have grown at exponential rates, almost as quickly as the quantity of data itself has grown.

But this new website is now without critics.

feel bad about picking on a young staffer, but I think this piece on corporate cash hoards — which is the site’s inaugural economic analysis — is a good example. The post tells us that the much-cited \$2 trillion corporate cash hoard has been revised down by half a trillion dollars. That’s kind of interesting, I guess, although it’s striking that the post offers neither a link to the data nor a summary table of pre- and post-revision numbers; I’m supposed to know my way around these numbers, and I can’t figure out exactly which series they’re referring to. (Use FRED!)

More to the point, however, what does this downward revision tell us? We’re told that the “whole narrative” is gone; which narrative? Is the notion that profits are high, but investment remains low, no longer borne out by the data? (I’m pretty sure it’s still true.) What is the model that has been refuted?

“Neener neener, people have been citing a number that was wrong” is just not helpful. Tell me something meaningful! Tell me why the data matter!

Krugman goes further in another blog post:

Now, about FiveThirtyEight: I hope that Nate Silver understands what it actually means to be a fox. The fox, according to Archilocus, knows many things. But he does know these things — he doesn’t approach each topic as a blank slate, or imagine that there are general-purpose data-analysis tools that absolve him from any need to understand the particular subject he’s tackling. Even the most basic question — where are the data I need? — often takes a fair bit of expertise; I know my way around macro data and some (but not all) trade data, but I turn to real experts for guidance on health data, labor market data, and more.

What would be really bad is if this turns into a Freakonomics-type exercise, all contrarianism without any appreciation for the importance of actual expertise. And Michael Mann reminds me that Nate’s book already had some disturbing tendencies in that direction.

Yes: there is no substitute for knowing what you are talking about….and the problem with the “opinion pundits” is that frequently: they don’t know what they are talking about.

March 19, 2014

## On Being a New Republican: day one.

Well, Bruce Raunner won the GOP Republican primary by 3 points over Dillard. Now the real race begins in earnest.

2014 will not be kind to us:

Of course, the above is sanitized; the poorer people won’t show up either. Give the Republicans credit: they vote more often and that it a positive for them and a negative for us.

Metaphors and Mathematics

This illustrates a few mathematical concepts:

1. This is an example of a “projection map” in mathematics.

2. This shows how information is ALWAYS lost when one takes a projection. Something very similar happens when one does a statistical regression.

These different data sets have almost identical regression coefficients:

Back to politics

MUERICA!!!

March 19, 2014

## Once again, all over the place: videos, denial, mammograms

Workout notes Treadmill: 6 mile run in 1:02:50. Started off at 11:0x mpm and did 2 minutes each in the following pattern: 0-.5-1-1.5-2 then 10:42 (same pattern) then 10:31 for most of the rest: 0-.5-1-1.5-2-2-1.5-1-.5-0 then 5 minutes each at 2-1.5-1 then I finished the rest at .5, increasing the pace each minute.

Then 2 miles (16 laps of lane 3) of walking in 29:37 (14:23 for the last mile).

What I’ve noticed: while my legs aren’t classically “dead”, it is almost as if someone sucked out my quad muscles with a straw. They are, well, not doing a thing.

Posts
Physical Stuff

Since we are talking gym: this “gym stereotype” clip is funny. I am the old man in the locker room; I suppose that comes from the fact that many of us don’t look at others…so what is the fuss? It just doesn’t register any more.

Now for some physical craziness. Yes, the law-and-order person in me wondered if these people had the proper permissions to do this. But, well, the video is rather incredible. Physically, these guys are much of what I am not.

Science
Evidence based medicine and science is hard. We create models and then go with our best educated guess…and sometimes it takes years to gather data. Here is a vast study about mammograms and their effectiveness:

One of the largest and most meticulous studies of mammography ever done, involving 90,000 women and lasting a quarter-century, has added powerful new doubts about the value of the screening test for women of any age.

It found that the death rates from breast cancer and from all causes were the same in women who got mammograms and those who did not. And the screening had harms: One in five cancers found with mammography and treated was not a threat to the woman’s health and did not need treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation.

The study, published Tuesday in The British Medical Journal, is one of the few rigorous evaluations of mammograms conducted in the modern era of more effective breast cancer treatments. It randomly assigned Canadian women to have regular mammograms and breast exams by trained nurses or to have breast exams alone.

Researchers sought to determine whether there was any advantage to finding breast cancers when they were too small to feel. The answer is no, the researchers report.

Unfortunately, this study will probably be pillared by those whose lives were saved, so they think, by mammograms. Remember: this is NOT a study about regular breast exams; it is about mammograms which are supposed to catch the cancer at the early stages.

So, someone who had a genuine harmful cancer detected by a mammogram and was saved may have well be saved by a later detection via a conventional exam.

I suggest reading the whole article; much of the data that shows “x out of 1000 were saved by mammograms” came out before the newer drugs came out.

I don’t know what to think because this isn’t my field of expertise. But it is interesting, to say the least. I just hope that science and statistics determines the best policy and not emotion.

Now about statistics and onto politics: remember the morons and their “unskewed Presidential race polls”? Well, these people haven’t learned a thing; they are refusing to believe the current data about the Affordable Care Act.

I suppose that instead of breaking people down by “conservative/liberal”, we should break them down by “convinced by evidence/not convinced by evidence”.

Social Views Did you know that people who won lotteries changed their economic views in the conservative direction? Now there are some caveats in this study (e. g. people who are likely to play a lottery might have a different mentality that those who don’t; and yes, the lottery really is a tax on those who can’t do math). But Paul Krugman has a ton of fun with this finding.

February 14, 2014

## Stock market graph pattern

I saw an article which posted this graph:

Oh, the text admits that the scales aren’t the same (left versus right) though the time lines are. This is supposed to mean something?

Well, I took the liberty to look at longer trends (1922 to 1930 and then 2007 to 2014) (using this tool)

I don’t see a whole lot of similarity.

Looking at 2 years (as in the “scary graph”):

Hmmm, I suppose that this 1935 to 1937 could be made to fit too.

And one can look at the various cycles, this time scaled in percentages:

I suppose it is human to recognize patterns even where none exists.

Now, I am not a market expert; there might be other signs of a impending crash. But I kind of doubt that pattern fitting is a legitimate sign.

February 12, 2014