I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

— John F. Kennedy, White House Dinner for Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere

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Who is my neighbor?

A certain man had moved to the city because he needed a better job to provide for his family. He was poor, had no car and no health insurance. But he was a good man, a Christian man, with faith that God would provide for him and protect his family.

One morning he set out on foot for a job interview. What he didn’t know is that he was walking through the worst part of town, the center of crime, drugs, prostitution. A gang of thieves fell upon him. They attacked him. They beat him, kicked him, broke his bones, robbed him. They took everything he had, little though it was, they even took his clothes, and left him naked, lying in the gutter. As they left, one of the thieves took out a gun and shot him.

Soon, a Baptist minister and his wife drove down the street and saw the man. The minister thought about helping, but he was afraid, he knew how dangerous the neighborhood was. So he said, “He should have known better than to walk through this part of town.” His wife said, “He got what he deserved. Maybe they’ll clean up this trash and improve the city!”

Across the street, an old woman and her adult daughter saw the man through their window. They had lived all their lives in this terrible place. The daughter said, “Mama, we’ve got to help that poor man, he could die!” But her mother was afraid. She said, “He’s dead already. We can’t get involved, it’s just too dangerous.”

Then a man came around the corner. He was a Moslem. A genuine Moslem. At sunset he would get on his knees and face Mecca. He quoted the Quran. He quoted Mohammed. He prayed to Allah.

The Moslem went over to the man bleeding in the street, to try to help. He tore his own clothes to make bandages, trying to stop the bleeding. He took out his cell-phone and called an ambulance. He stayed with the man, and said he wouldn’t leave him.

The ambulance arrived, but found the man had no health insurance card. The driver said they couldn’t do much for him at the hospital unless someone would pay for his care. The Moslem told him, “I will go with you, and take care of this man.”

At the hospital, the Moslem spoke with a lady who admitted patients. “Without payment,” she said, “they’ll patch him up and put him back on the street. It doesn’t look good for him.”

“I will pay for his care,” said the Moslem. Give me the forms, I will sign them.”

“Why would you do that?” asked the lady. “It’s very expensive. Why would you pay so much for a man you don’t even know?”

The Moslem replied, “Allah put this man in my path. He did that for a reason.”

Who is my neighbor?

Courage in Congress

It’s hard to believe. But it can happen.

And it did happen. Not from Lamar Smith, who is on a rabid witch-hunt against scientists from NOAA. The courage came from another Texan, congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who has stood up to Lamar Smith and his smear tactics.

You really ought to read the letter she wrote. And we should all thank her.

October a Scorcher

A few days ago I learned that JMA (the Japan Meteorological Agency) had released their global temperature data for October, according to which this year’s October beat the pants off any preceding:


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Lamar Smith denies denial

He says he’s not a climate denier, just a “semi-skeptic.” I say he’s not a skeptic at all, just a denier.

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International Security

Worth watching, here and on Climate Denial Crock of the Week:

What’s next?

Flippant Accusations

It seems to have begun with a story in the Boston Globe mentioning that the New England Patriots won the coin toss at the start of their football game, 19 out of the last 25 times. The story just pointed out that the Pats had been lucky in the coin-toss department, and discussed their strategy when they do so.

But CBS Sports decided to call it an “impossible clip.” The insinuation of cheating was evident. It didn’t take long for NESN and to jump on the accusation bandwagon. Hell, the innuendo has even spread to the Charlotte Observer.

These stories only prove two things. 1: Prejudice — meaning “pre-judice,” i.e. judge first, investigate later; 2: When it comest to statistics, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The “impossible rate” idea is based on the fact that if you flip a fair coin 25 times, your chance of getting 19 or more “heads” (or tails if that’s what you like to call) is 0.00731665. It’s a straightforward application of the binomial distribution, something those with a little knowledge can do. Since that’s about one chance in 137, let’s start spreading rumors with made-up names like “flip-gate” and “coin-gate” — they must be cheating, right?

Wrong. As someone who has a lot of knowledge about statistics, I can tell you there are a bunch of problems with this “analysis.”

Let’s start with the fact that 1 out of 137 is a far cry — a very, very, very far cry — from “next to impossible.” Some journalist making that kind of exaggeration isn’t a far cry either — it’s par for the course.

Let’s mention that there are 32 teams in the NFL. If one of them flips a coin 26 times, the chance of 19 or more “heads” (or tails if that’s what you prefer) is about 1 out of 137. If all 32 of them flip a coin 26 times each, what are the odds that at least one team will get 19 or more? A helluva lot greater than 1 out of 137.

The biggest problem of all is: cherry picking. I have no blame to lay, or fault to find, with Jim McBride at the Boston Globe, he was just pointing out a streak of good luck. But the other idiots ran with it, without even thinking about something that’s kinda obvious to those of us who know a lot about statistics. Namely, this: that when someone says “19 out of the last 25” it’s overwhelmingly likely that the 26th was not.

Chances are, McBride picked 25 because that was a run of good luck. But if the Patriots had also won the 26th, he’d have talked about 20 out of 26, not 19 out of 25. He picked 25 because it was the run of good luck. Statistically, when you choose your sample because of the result it gives, it’s called “cherry-picking.” The salient point is that it throws off the statistics.

That’s an issue I’ve discussed often, in relation to climate data. Climate deniers do it all the time, for the purpose of giving the wrong impression. Because it does.

I doubt the Boston Globe article was trying to give the wrong impression. Nor did they; the Patriots have indeed had a run of good luck. But those others ignored the hard part of statistics, probably because they don’t really know what they’re doing. They saw a chance to impugn the New England Patriots, and they jumped on it.

Back in 2011, the New York Times mentioned in an article that 11 games into the season, the Cleveland Browns had lost all 11 coin flips. They also pointed out that the probability of that is a mere 1 out of 2048. But to their credit, they did not have the temerity to accuse the rest of the NFL of some giant conspiracy against them. Hey — maybe they even have some people working for them who do know more about statistics than a little.