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Metrics Mania and the Countless Counting Problem

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the units-of-hate-bottles-of-love dept.

Math 138

mobkarma writes "Einstein once said, 'Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.' A New York Times article suggests that unless we know how things are counted, we don't know if it's wise to count on the numbers. The problem isn't with statistical tests themselves, but with what we do before and after we run them. If a person starts drinking day in and day out after a cancer diagnosis and dies from acute cirrhosis, did he kill himself? The answers to such questions significantly affect the count."

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138 comments

Technically (3, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#32282868)

Cancer itself could be considered a form of killing yourself.

Re:Technically (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32282912)

Technically, fighting cancer could be considered a form of killing a part of yourself.

Re:Technically (1)

SomeJoel (1061138) | more than 3 years ago | (#32282914)

Cancer itself could be considered a form of killing yourself.

I believe your literal translation is misplaced. The term "killing yourself" strongly implies an explicit and voluntary act that results in your death. Merely having your body mutate without doing something to cause it (like jumping into a toxic waste dump) isn't a form of killing yourself.

Re:Technically (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283000)

Well killing another human being doesn't have to be intentional, does it? There are quite a few accidents that happen.

It's not as if someone other than your own genes determined your cancerous state, unless as you say, you were put in a situation where you were exposed to dangerous radiation levels.

But that usually isn't the case. Either way, not intentional, I was just eluding to the whole "Having your own cells mutate and attack you" is still pretty much you, killing yourself, as unintentional as it may be.

Re:Technically (2, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283640)

I was just eluding to the whole "Having your own cells mutate and attack you"

"Eluding". definition:
1. Evading or escaping from, as by daring, cleverness, or skill
2. Escaping the understanding or grasp of

"Alluding", definition:
Making an indirect reference

Yes, I'm a spelling nazi today....

Re:Technically (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32285754)

Especially since the FP was relying on being "technically" correct (which, in all fairness, is the BEST kind of correctness)...

Re:Technically (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32286190)

Killing someone = Doing something that leads to that persons death.
Murdering someone else = Killing someone intentionally.
Killing yourself = Doing something that leads to your own death.
Commit suicide = Killing yourself intentionally.

So the person drinking until his liver breaks technically killed himself.

It's all about cause and intention.

Re:Technically (1)

InfoJunkie777 (1435969) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283358)

Knowing that excessive alcohol and tobacco use greatly increases your risk of heart problems and cancer, and doing it anyway I believe IS a form of slow suicide.

Re:Technically (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286244)

I do not smoke. i do not drink.

Knowing that excessive alcohol and tobacco use greatly increases your risk of heart problems and cancer, and doing it anyway I believe IS a form of slow suicide.

No it is not. It is though a risk. It is a choice to take the risk.

Re:Technically (-1, Flamebait)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283692)

No, it couldn't. You can die of cancer without doing anything at all that's unhealthy. Breast cancer is suicide? Explain that to me, please.

You realise that the US detonated hundreds of nukes over Nevada in the 1950s? That gasoline vapors and auto exhust contain carcinogens? Sorry, but your comment is incredibly ignorant.

I believe an apology is in order to anyone who has ever lost a friend, lover, or relative to cancer. Man up and do it. NOW.

Re:Technically (4, Insightful)

ShadyG (197269) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283790)

Whoa, dude. Ease up. The OP obviously meant that cancer by its nature is your own body attacking itself, not that all cancer is the result of some intentional decision by the mind of the afflicted. My mother is at this moment probably just about one week from dying of brain cancer, and I was still able to read it for what it was and not require an apology.

Re:Technically (2, Insightful)

v01d (122215) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283798)

You realize what cancer is don't you? Your cells (part of you) grow at an uncontrolled rate. It's pretty literally your body going crazy to the point where it can kill you.

Relax, it wasn't an insult or an attack. It was a word game. Enjoy.

Re:Technically (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32284128)

It's funny that you mentioned titty cancer in your rant. Women are more sympathetic... even when they lose their boobies.

Re:Technically (1)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284866)

You can die of cancer without doing anything at all that's unhealthy. Breast cancer is suicide? Explain that to me, please.

Call me crazy, but actually, your chance of dying of cancer is probably due to doing something you *think* is healthy, but really isn't -> like eating carbohydrates.

Check out this guy's lecture on the "diseases of civilization" that would appear whenever carbohydrates got introduced into the diets of indigenous folk:

http://webcast.berkeley.edu/event_details.php?webcastid=21216 [berkeley.edu]

There's a good chance that by eating all those whole grains and cereals that have been touted as "healthy", you've been setting yourself up for cancers of all sorts.

Re:Technically (2, Funny)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286322)

I do not listen to anything that has come out of Berkley in the last 20 years.

Re:Technically (0, Offtopic)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 3 years ago | (#32287392)

Then you'll really enjoy Gary Taubes -> he was David in the Lion's den during his lecture, and was the most anti-Berkeley thing you could imagine coming out of there :)

Re:Technically (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285298)

oh grow up you pussy.

cancer is by it's very nature your own cells killing you.
no apology is in order.
Man up. NOW.

nukes? gasoline? people seem to have this belief that it's all modern things and technology which cause cancer.
Radiation from randon from granite is responsible for the vast majority of the background radiation you recieve and the vast majority of cancers are more to do with perfectly natural carcinogens in our environments.

How about this (0, Troll)

The Hatchet (1766306) | more than 3 years ago | (#32282898)

We all live our lives as we wish to live them, and realize that statistics are incredibly important to making the world a better, easier place to live in. Sure, they can be wrong sometimes, but I would imagine the general public trusts them a lot less than they should actually be trusted. I mean, global warming is like 99.99999% true, same with evolution, but we still have people who don't have a clue and doubt blatant facts because they don't understand things like the specific heat capacity of water, or that evolution isn't globs of crap off the ground suddenly turning into animals and people.

Sure, the numbers can sometimes be wrong, but they are not wrong 75% of the time. Not even 50% or 25%, but less. And yes, sometimes we are further off, but it is rare. Should we really ignore important numbers because their is a small chance they are wrong? I am not saying anyone should change everything about their lives due to a single number, but common, this is a bit crazy. I am not trying to be debatative here, just saying hey, it is what it is.

Re:How about this (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32282940)

I'm only 47% sure that your post is a joke...

Re:How about this (1)

digitalnoise615 (1145903) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283042)

We all live our lives as we wish to live them, and realize that statistics are incredibly important to making the world a better, easier place to live in. Sure, they can be wrong sometimes, but I would imagine the general public trusts them a lot less than they should actually be trusted. I mean, global warming is like 99.99999% true, same with evolution, but we still have people who don't have a clue and doubt blatant facts because they don't understand things like the specific heat capacity of water, or that evolution isn't globs of crap off the ground suddenly turning into animals and people.

Sure, the numbers can sometimes be wrong, but they are not wrong 75% of the time. Not even 50% or 25%, but less. And yes, sometimes we are further off, but it is rare. Should we really ignore important numbers because their is a small chance they are wrong? I am not saying anyone should change everything about their lives due to a single number, but common, this is a bit crazy. I am not trying to be debatative here, just saying hey, it is what it is.

A wise man once said that 99% of Statistics are made up on the spot...

Re:How about this (1)

toastar (573882) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283234)

A wise man once said that 99% of Statistics are made up on the spot...

Hrmm. I always thought it was 87%

Re:How about this (1)

digitalnoise615 (1145903) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284946)

A wise man once said that 99% of Statistics are made up on the spot...

Hrmm. I always thought it was 87%

Well another one said it was 54.9834%, but they all claim to be experts, so who really knows?

Re:How about this (4, Insightful)

TheCarp (96830) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283072)

I don't disagree, but, it cuts both ways. I think the article has a point... the numbers only have meaning in context.

If I tell you "X people die every year from being shot, in their home, with their own gun", that tells you something. It evokes images of burglars or irresponsible people playing. It SOUNDS like a statement about how safe or dangerous it is to have a gun in your own house.

However, if my number "X" includes suicides, well, then how much of a statement about the relative danger of owning a gun am I making? How about if I can find no link between owning a gun and committing suicide?

Clearly the statement is correct, "shot, in their home, with their own gun" but, even so, its misleading if you then use the numbers wrong.

Take texting while driving. The claim is 900 deaths a year. How do they come at that number? Even better, how big is that number? 900 sounds like a lot.. However... its less than the estimated number of serial murder victims in the US. Overall driving deaths are more like 40,000 a year. Context is everything. If I said "about 1 driving death in 40 is related to txting while driving" thats suddenly a lot smaller, yet, represents the same data.

frankly, I tend to think a LOT of statistics are meaningless. NY state enacted a law against handhed phone use while driving. It resulted in a 70% decrease in OBSERVED use. There was no decrease at all in accident rate.

What this tells me is, someone really believed that this was going to make a difference, came up with numbers and statistics and, in reality, the one little item that he picked out had about as much bearing on accident rates as the price of butter in bangladesh does.

Much of the time statistics are used to just bullshit and make it look like we aren't playing blindfolded darts when we make public policy.

-Steve

Re:How about this (3, Funny)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283214)

had about as much bearing on accident rates as the price of butter in Bangladesh does.

Thanks, now I have to check the price of butter in Bangladesh to see whether it's safe to drive home, you insensitive clod!

Re:How about this (1)

EvanED (569694) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283236)

Take texting while driving. The claim is 900 deaths a year. How do they come at that number? Even better, how big is that number? 900 sounds like a lot.. However... its less than the estimated number of serial murder victims in the US. Overall driving deaths are more like 40,000 a year. Context is everything. If I said "about 1 driving death in 40 is related to txting while driving" thats suddenly a lot smaller, yet, represents the same data.

Just to play devil's advocate, "1 in 40" sounds like a lot bigger number than "900" to my ears without knowing how many total driving deaths there are. There's a whole crapload of things that can go wrong when driving, and having one thing be a substantial contributor to the fatality rate like that strikes me as pretty significant.

Re:How about this (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32283388)

I'd wager that the 1 in 40 people who've died from texting while driving came out of a sample of 1 in 40 drivers who don't put enough importance into paying attention to the road. So, take away texting drivers, and you'll still have 1 in 40 people dying because they were adjusting their radio one station at a time without looking up, or rolling up the rear-passenger window by hand because they don't have power windows.

I don't think texting while driving has increased accidents, I just think it's made it easier to point out who the stupid drivers are.

Re:How about this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32284482)

And if it doesn't kill them, it provides solid evidence that they weren't paying attention at the time of the accident. "You mean you sent 3 texts in the 10 minutes before the accident? Then the fine is bigger, and you get jail time, too"

Re:How about this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32284518)

So really, we should be encouraging texting while driving so we have more evidence to punish bad drivers.

Re:How about this (2, Interesting)

Itninja (937614) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284686)

I don't know. Decade when I started driving, if I was behind someone drifting in and out of their lane, driving 15 MPH below the speed limit for no reason, etc...it was a 2:30AM and they were drunk. Rarely if ever happened during the day (and that was 500 of freeway commute time every month). Now I see this constantly; like every other day at least. Some knob almost causing an accident while texting or dialing with one hand.

Re:How about this (0, Offtopic)

Miamicanes (730264) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285278)

If you really want to blame anyone, blame the handset manufacturers determined to ram button-free plastic slabs down everyone's throats. It's one thing to hold a phone in one hand and navigate its keypad with your thumb by touch, maybe stealing a quick glance at the display for a fraction of a second once or twice in a minute. It's another matter entirely to try interacting with a tiny button-free plastic brick that somehow manages to ignore your intentional gestures, yet instantly reacts to even the tiniest accidental contact... usually, in ways that are even harder to abort once triggered(*). The real hazards aren't the people with their thumb over the keypad ready to press '1' for English, and '4' to delete the message... it's the people forced to take BOTH HANDS off the wheel and devote their full visual attention to the picture of a keypad so they can interact with their phone in even the most trivial way.

(*)You know... it's 3am, somehow someone's number gets activated in the phone app, and you accidentally touch the 'send' key. At that point, you can hit 'end' like a madman, hold it down, or do just about anything short of yanking out the battery, and it won't matter... the call will go through 2-3 seconds later, and they'll be mad at you for waking them up. It's not that the call physically can't be aborted... it's that the UI designers never bothered to accommodate the use case of an accidental call-initiation, so once you trigger the call, the UI just goes into a busy-wait until the attempt either succeeds or fails. I know, because 10 years ago, you COULD hit 'end' immediately after hitting 'send', and it worked. This specific problem emerged with the first PalmOS phones, became enormously worse under Windows Mobile, and has stayed equally bad under both Android and iPhone. It's a problem that's almost uniquely endemic to phones with "Glass UIs" that exists even on phones with hardkeys for send/end, and just gets even worse on phones with virtual send/end keys. OK, it might just be a "Sprint" thing, but I've heard enough complaints from others to believe it's really just a fundamental flaw in the way modern phone user interfaces are designed to work.

Re:How about this (4, Insightful)

Suffering Bastard (194752) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283632)

frankly, I tend to think a LOT of statistics are meaningless. NY state enacted a law against handhed phone use while driving. It resulted in a 70% decrease in OBSERVED use. There was no decrease at all in accident rate.

Ah, the irony of using a statistic to prove that statistics are meaningless.

Re:How about this (2, Interesting)

FoolishOwl (1698506) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284148)

However, if my number "X" includes suicides, well, then how much of a statement about the relative danger of owning a gun am I making? How about if I can find no link between owning a gun and committing suicide?

Clearly the statement is correct, "shot, in their home, with their own gun" but, even so, its misleading if you then use the numbers wrong.

I don't think I disagree with your overall point, but I do have a quibble with this. I think there's reason to believe that owning a gun makes it more likely that you will commit suicide. Suicidal thoughts are not unusual, and suicide attempts usually fail. Becoming suicidal is often in part a response to a sudden crisis. People usually don't plan to lose their jobs, or get dumped by their romantic partners, or so on, but sooner or later, something as upsetting as those things happens to anyone. If you're horribly upset, and decide to drive out to the bridge to jump off it, you've got more time to change your mind, then if you decide to shoot yourself with the pistol in the safe in the living room.

Re:How about this (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286678)

Most failed suicide attempts are less suicide attempts and more cries for help. Real suicide attempts are fairly deadly. Someone who dose not want to die but dose need help and attention will not use a gun even if it is handy.

Re:How about this (1)

winwar (114053) | more than 3 years ago | (#32287006)

I will resist the urge to mod you down for failing to actually READ what the poster wrote and respond instead.

You are disputing a point that the poster DID NOT MAKE. He did not say their was no connection between owning a gun and suicides. Only that if you cannot find a link between owning a gun and commiting suicide then including suicide deaths by guns in a statistic saying owning a gun makes it likelier for you to die is not useful.

"Becoming suicidal is often in part a response to a sudden crisis"

No it is not. Someone who is suicidal might commit suicide in response to a sudden crisis. Big difference.

Re:How about this (1)

RenderSeven (938535) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284350)

The claim is 900 deaths a year. How do they come at that number?

I remember reading that. It was from an online poll, starting with "Are you currently driving?" followed by 40 more questions. If you answered 'yes' to #1 and didnt complete #40, it assumed you were killed while texting. Hey I was convinced enough to give up by question 5!

Re:How about this (1)

The Hatchet (1766306) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285420)

You have a point about statistics, but I still think there is some importance to them. Take your example, for example, how many close calls have texting drivers caused? how many people have had to swerve out of the way? These kinds of questions can't be easily answered, but are still important. The studies done of texting while driving in driving simulators have shown that it makes a slight increase in accidents, but a dramatic decrease in driving performance. If everyone texted while they drove, there would be nobody left to swerve out of the way, and a lot more accidents would be reported.

Lets think also about pregnancy rates and sexual education. If we ignore the statistics that say there is less teenage pregnancy with good sex ed, then there will be more teen pregnancy, no two ways about it. When we decide no statistics are important because a news company like FOX decides to tell its already apathetic, fact ignoring populace to ignore the few facts that they still follow, what the hell happens then?

Facts are important, and we should all be taught how to properly interpret them. Like how correlation doesn't imply causation, and that although typically people typically die after 8 months of a certain cancer, that not everyone does, and there are many factors that change their own chances. If we don't know how to interpret the facts, then we fail in our own lives, and as a society. If someone like FOX takes this, and uses it, what the fuck is to stop some of those morons from trying to ignore statistics and make our children's lives worse, our lives worse, and all that bullshit, because they feel that they can state facts don't matter and aren't true? What the hell will happen then? another factor accelerating the decline of reason in America.

Re:How about this (1)

moeinvt (851793) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286258)

Thanks for raising the issue about guns, statistics, and perceptions.

True Statistic: A gun in the home is more likely to be used to KILL someone residing in the home than it is to KILL a criminal intruder.

This is a perfect example of how someone takes a fact, and twists it into a misperception. In this case, the idea that a gun in the home is more of a danger to the occupants than it is worth as a weapon of self defense. The folks who formulated and propagated this statistic typically don't mention the fact that the deaths include accidents, suicides and justifiable homicides (e.g. someone killing an abusive partner/spouse).

What's even more annoying is that you will continuously hear this statement regurgitated by the anti-gun crowd in such a way that it is no longer even TRUE. e.g. "A gun in the home is more likely to be used on a family member than it is to be used in self defense."

The statement conjures up the exact same imagery but with an incorrect factual basis. The former (true) statistic was careful to talk about cases where an intruding criminal is actually KILLED by the resident. It therefore ignores the most typical scenario of defensive firearms use in which the weapon is never fired. Missed shots and woundings also don't figure into the former (factual) statement.

Re:How about this (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286414)

Much of the time statistics are used to just bullshit and make it look like we aren't playing blindfolded darts when we make public policy.

And that explains not reading the bill among other things. Oh wait, they are in it for Good Government.

Re:How about this (1)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283578)

What about cases where the numbers are right, but they could easily support a wrong conclusion?
      For an example, take the current oil spill. If you look at it statistically, the BP estimate they stubbornly cling to is 5,000 barrels a day, and some other mainstream estimates range between 55,000 and 75,000 BPD. You could use some pretty sophisticated analytic math to decide if BP's estimates were more on the fringe than the criers of doom on the opposite fringe claiming it's a million barrels a day+, or not.
      Statistics might leave us endlessly arguing about whether BP could somehow be honestly mistaken, just as the million barrels people could be. The arguments BP will offer when this becomes a court matter will doubtless rely on using statistics heavily to 'prove' they were just mistaken, not dishonest. It will be statistics they use to support the claim that extrapolation from a 2,000 foot depth range to over 5,000 feet down was a legitimate environmental analytic technique and not a wild ass guess, and they will be trying hard to keep any jury from understanding the differences between interpolation and extrapolation.
      At this point, we have a smoking gun, in the form of powerpoint slides analysing how deep water oil spills could spread far under the surface while appearing minimal from above, a powerpoint presentation that BP executives were privy to as early as 2000-2001. BP is flat out lying, its actions arguably violate RICO, in at least a few individual's cases they rise at least to 11 counts of conspiracy after the fact to conceal criminally neglegent homicide, and the company executives and major stockholders all deserve to be under a blanket investigation with an eye towards singling out those persons deserving the most rigorous criminal prosecution. It's statistics that BP will use to try to hide that fact, and others.

Re:How about this (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283704)

I mean, global warming is like 99.99999% true, same with evolution, but we still have people who don't have a clue and doubt blatant facts because they don't understand things like the specific heat capacity of water, or that evolution isn't globs of crap off the ground suddenly turning into animals and people.

No, sir, "global warming" (and I assume you mean AGW) is either true or it isn't. There is no 50% or 80% with facts. The same for evolution (and I assume by that you mean "origin of life"). Either global warming is happening or it isn't. Either evolution is how life began or it isn't.

Now, you can say that global warming, as a whole, is caused 50% by AGW and 50% by natural causes, but that's not the same as saying global warming is 50% true. The only time percentages come into play is when defining how much you believe either theory is a fact, but that does not change for an instant whether it is truly a fact or not.

Sure, the numbers can sometimes be wrong, but they are not wrong 75% of the time. Not even 50% or 25%, but less.

That is also not true. It is easy for "the numbers" to be wrong 100% of the time. For example, if you mount your weather instruments in a black box with no vents, or near a blacktop parking lot, or close to a building's AC vents (the latter two are documented errors in NOAA installations) your measured temperatures are guaranteed to be wrong nearly 100% of the time, and you can't tell for sure when they are right, so you can trust them 0% of the time.

Several years ago, remote sensing scientists realized the equations they were using to correct satellite temperature readings were wrong. That means yes, indeed, up to the point they changed the equations, the numbers were wrong 100% of the time. Not the raw numbers, but the results of converting those units into temps. Close, maybe, but when we're talking tenths of a degree changes meaning AGW is or isn't true, still wrong.

Re:How about this (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284440)

The only time percentages come into play is when defining how much you believe either theory is a fact, but that does not change for an instant whether it is truly a fact or not.

Tell that to Schrödinger's cat. :-)

Re:How about this (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286058)

Tell that to Schrödinger's cat. :-)

I can't. His wave function ran away when I opened up the box. I've left out some potential wells as a trap, but I've caught nothing but a few stray electrons.

Re:How about this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32285312)

Evolution is about, as Darwin put it, the origin of species, or the diversity of life on this planet. It's not about the origin of life itself. Evolutionary theory implies one (or more) source organisms that got the whole thing going, but it does not itself explain the origin of these first organisms.

Cant trust counters with agendas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32284004)

Often people gather statistics in a deliberately-biased way, to intentionally make the numbers be wrong, so they can 'prove' a point (which may be false) that benefits them in some way.

People will shine a positive light on their own products or services, and will shine a negative light on anything that competes with or otherwise threatens them. Such people will deliberately mis-count, or misrepresent the properly counted numbers, in order to get their way.

So I don't think that the numbers are right as often as you think they are.

Re:How about this (0, Troll)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284900)

global warming is like 99.99999% true, same with evolution,

Evolution is a falsifiable hypothesis (find a rabbit fossil in the cambrian period, for example). The theory of catastrophic AGW is a tautology -> more snow means global warming. less snow means global warming. This is not a falsifiable hypothesis.

Conflating the theory of evolution with AGW is a disservice to the understanding of science -> they aren't even in the same ballpark.

Re:How about this (1)

The Hatchet (1766306) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285256)

Global warming is not a tautology. It is simple really. Calculate global heat content. Is it higher than last year? Is it getting steadily higher over the past few decades? If yes, then yes. If no, then no. But yes. Anyone who has a clue as to the density of water compared to air, and who has a clue about the heat capacity per mass of air compared to per mass of water, will understand the oceans hold more than 100x the heat of the air, and if they are getting 1 degree warmer, that is more significant than a 15 degree increase in air temp. Global warming is true beyond reasonable doubt for anyone that has a damn clue about the nature of reality. I have never seen a global warming denier fight the argument about warmer oceans.

The study of past evolution can be found false, but we know for a fact that evolution happens in many different ways even right now. We know for a fact that things are evolving right now in front of us. Evolution as we know it is a fact, picking details out of the distant past, that so far have all been found to be totally forged, or fake, and it makes logical sense. Sure it could be wrong, but the chances that are true are so small it is not even thinkable.

Both are falsifiable, but both are also true. Being a dumbass that pretends to understand thermodynamics and stating that it is by no means likely, does not make it right, and it does make you appear to be an ass.

Re:How about this (0, Troll)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286368)

It is simple really. Calculate global heat content. Is it higher than last year? Is it getting steadily higher over the past few decades? If yes, then yes. If no, then no.

Ah, were it so simple. Your observation of increasing temperatures, on any scale, be it from day to day, season to season, year to year or decade to decade, does not show that it is caused by humans.

Global warming is true beyond reasonable doubt for anyone that has a damn clue about the nature of reality.

Be more specific. We're talking about a theory of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, not any momentary global warming or cooling that happens as a matter of natural variation.

Both are falsifiable, but both are also true.

No, evolution is falsifiable. The so-called theory of catastrophic AGW is not falsifiable, and is definitely not science.

How about this -> would historic evidence of rising CO2 but lowering temperatures falsify the theory of catastrophic AGW? If not, why not?

Re:How about this (1)

The Hatchet (1766306) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286736)

Actually, I made the first post here, and I was not talking about AGW. I was talking about the fact that the earth is, indeed, getting warmer. As far as total heat content goes, that is about as fact as it gets.

Also, on your last point, if there are thousands of different conditions that determine whether or not the earth is gaining or losing heat content, and CO2 has always (before humanity) been directly paired with volcanic activities or was a minor factor compared to much bigger factors, and then its position changed due to an enormous increase, then indeed its role might be irrelevant a long time ago but not now. This is not to say its not falsifiable, it is to say that it is not the singular factor in the truth or falsity of the final statement. Now if you were to say if all other things were held constant, and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere had different effects over time, then we can deduce it is an irrelevant factor. This is, however, NOT the case. So the idea that people are causing global warming is indeed a falsifiable hypothesis. However, just claiming that one of the many factors that people have caused is irrelevant without respect to actual history and other factors, then it is not a valid criticism.

So actually, yes, it does falsify it, all other things held constant. However, in history all other things have not been constant. CO2 before human intervention was paired with reflective ash that ended up high in the atmosphere and reflected a great deal of heat that would otherwise have helped the earth warm, but the CO2 and ash condensed from the atmosphere at roughly similar times, so there was ANOTHER factor. Saying that if we only consider the factor of CO2 and ignore how the others change over time, is very similar to saying that if you run a red light, you will always cause an accident, and if it doesn't cause an accident when you do it once, it will never. However, the one you ran might have been in the middle of nowhere, and there was no danger, while the another is in a city, and running it you crash. Other factors are important, and all must be considered. Whether or not it is our fault, the earth is warming. I don't mind that much at all, as I would prefer warmer weather. I do however hate pollution, as it literally stinks, and I would very much not like it if the deep ocean currents stopped, as we would be losing a major future power source, and we would be risking very adverse future conditions, especially at the rate at which the increase is happening.

So yes, it is falsifiable, and yes, it the earth is warming, and it is very likely we have caused it. Even if we haven't, the reasons we think we caused it should be stopped anyways, so that us and our children can breath clean air and drink clean water, live in a more efficient and cheap world, doing more with less. Or maybe we should just dump shit-tons of CO2, nitrous oxides and sulfides into the atmosphere of our cities, so that our children can suffer from asthma and die, our water can taste like farts, and we can not even see the sky in our own cities. But hell, we don't want to hurt businesses that are making so much money, and filtering it out of the economy, shrinking the buying power of the average citizen as well as destroying their habitat (we all have to live somewhere). Sure it has been argued that humans are killing animals habitats, but super-corps are killing our habitats. But who gives a damn about any of that, our great grand children can worry about it, fuck the present, as long as your stock and commodity shares go up, right?

Re:How about this (1)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 3 years ago | (#32287380)

Now if you were to say if all other things were held constant, and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere had different effects over time, then we can deduce it is an irrelevant factor. This is, however, NOT the case. So the idea that people are causing global warming is indeed a falsifiable hypothesis.

I'm sorry, but you're talking out of both sides of your mouth here. On the one hand, ice core records showing CO2 decreases at the same time as temperature increases falsify the idea of CO2 driving warming..."all things held constant". But then you're assuming that during the period of the industrial revolution when humans started pumping CO2 into the air, that "all things held constant" -> which plainly isn't the case, since everything has continued to change apart from human activity (sunspots, PDO, ENSO, etc, etc).

I do however hate pollution, as it literally stinks

Calling CO2 pollution is like calling dihydrogen monoxide pollution. CO2 is plant food.

Even if we haven't, the reasons we think we caused it should be stopped anyways, so that us and our children can breath clean air and drink clean water, live in a more efficient and cheap world, doing more with less.

Fail. Cheap energy pulls people out of poverty, and gives them the technology to enjoy the clean water and air you currently enjoy. Getting rid of cheap energy by blaming an upcoming armageddon on CO2 causes real harm right now to people who are much worse off than you are.

Or maybe we should just dump shit-tons of CO2, nitrous oxides and sulfides into the atmosphere of our cities,

You're conflating real pollution with plant food. That's clearly unjustified.

I thought the joke went the other way? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32282904)

Q: What did the clinically depressed alcoholic man with acute cirrhosis get for Christmas?
A: Cancer

Deep down (1)

spleen_blender (949762) | more than 3 years ago | (#32282936)

We're all just afraid of uncertainty. It is the shadow from which anything potentially could arise. Our brains are just hardwired to be much more fearful than hopeful (for obvious evolutionary reasons).

Re:Deep down (1)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283850)

We're all just afraid of uncertainty. It is the shadow from which anything potentially could arise. Our brains are just hardwired to be much more fearful than hopeful (for obvious evolutionary reasons).

It really depends on the context. For some things were overly fearful and for some were overly hopeful. One of the most common errors in reasoning is to engage in wishful thinking. Some forms of wishful thinking are very blatant with people explicitly believing in something because they'd rather have it be true than not.

Exactly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32283026)

It's like the whole "critical vulnerability" count in software

Polls are the first numbers I think of (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32283046)

And having read The Opinion Makers [amazon.com] I have zero trust in them.

No More Chance (1)

Neutral_Observer (1409941) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283050)

Increasing the number of times I spank the monkey a day isn't going to increase my chances of getting a girl into my basement. But I've lost count either way.

cirrhosis (2, Insightful)

Intron (870560) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283068)

You don't die of cirrhosis by drinking heavily for a short time. You may die of alcohol poisoning.

Re:cirrhosis (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285352)

Cancer can last years, you can easily destroy your liver before then if you spend all your time drinking.

Poisoning requires a very large amount of alcohol in your blood at one time, well above the level that liver damage starts. If you maintain a constant blood-alcohol level above what your liver can handle you will be actively destroying your liver.

It's certainly possible for a depressed non-drinker to turn to drinking as a form of self-medication and destroy their liver before the cancer does. Poison levels are not required.

Goodhart's law (2, Insightful)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283122)

Sounds like a restatement of the simultaneously-discovered Goodhart's Law [lesswrong.com], Lucas critique [wikipedia.org], and Campbell's Law [wikipedia.org].

Basically, once you start measuring something as a proxy for what you really want to know, people start to take the proxy into account when making decisions, to the point where it becomes useless as a measure for whatever it was intended.

Here, people take these cancer tests as a measure of their probability of cancer. But once they start to treat them as reliable, they start doing more self-destructive things, destroying the correlation between the proxy (the cancer test) and the actual probability of cancer.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics (5, Insightful)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283464)

Many years ago, I had an in-depth discussion about gathering statistics on heart disease with a woman on the board of the American Heart Association. This was a big deal. Serious ethical issues were in play and there was a great deal of infighting going on.

I asked her how you make a definitive decision that someone has heart disease. I was trying to figure out what to measure. Her answer surprised me. She said "You wait till they die. Then you cut out their heart and have a look." She then went on to patiently explain to me that the only thing that could be measured and evaluated were "markers" of heart disease. Those markers, as revealed by various disgnostic tests, could be mighty reliable. But you never know if someone is going to die of heart disease until they...you know...actually *die*.

Thus informed, I came to realize that what we measure is almost never what we really want to know. Measuring the right stuff is simply too hard to do. No matter where you look, this is almost universally true. In my job, for example, we fix computer problems. Thus, we measure how many incidents get closed and how much time it took. If you quickly close an incident, then surely you've provided good service, right? Most slashdotters should realize that's not true. In fact, my job is actually to get other, more important workers back to work asap. The only way to measure that would be to interview my customers and their bosses. We'd have to pry for an hour into their effectiveness to find out if I properly completed a job that took me five minutes. That's too much trouble, so we look for markers. Closed incidents. Timeliness of closures.

Measures are inadequate so often that I pretty much don't trust anything that contains them. After years of training in Quality Improvement Processes, I came to realize that the amount of time needed to understand a process and perfectly spec out what needs to be measured is 452% of the expected life cycle of the project, plus or minus a 17.5% margin of error. (Aside - How much do you trust those statistics?)

Almost no one can devote the time required to do the job (no matter what "the job" is) right. We just hope people do their best and trust to good intentions.

As a computer guy who wants things to be either "yes" or "no", unambiguously, I found this state of affairs very difficult to accept. But it's just part of being human.

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283804)

Another example is the processor clock frequency. People took the frequency as indication of processor speed, and Intel reacted by making the Pentium do less per clock cycle, so they could increase the number for the same actual speed.

I also guess measuring programmer productivity in lines of code actually encourages not reusing code (after all, if you write basically the same functionality again, you get more lines of code than if you just reuse existing code).

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (1)

hlee (518174) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283924)

Indeed! Identifying what proxies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxy_%28statistics%29) to use is one of the trickier aspects in the soft sciences and statistics. If you read the Economist, you'd see proxies for just about everything (e.g. http://www.economist.com/markets/bigmac/ [economist.com]), and a lot of research is required just to show what a given proxy measures.

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#32284104)

In fact, my job is actually to get other, more important workers back to work asap.

A refreshing point of view. A surprising amount of IT weenies seem think that what they do is the most important thing in the entire company, and that the rest of the organization needs to bow down to their whims.

I remember having to explain to an IT worker that if they weren't going to change the schedule of the forced anti-virus full scan from 10:30am, I was going to delete the software since it was keeping me from doing my job. He didn't seem to understand that, no matter what he thought, having almost every machine be unusable for three hours in the middle of the work day cost a lot of productive time. His rationale was that doing it in the middle of the morning was the only way to be sure the machines were likely to be on since the machines might hibernate over night.

When 15 people started sitting in the lunch room for an hour or so, HR eventually managed to explain it to him that it wasn't really OK to cause all of the machines to lock up and become unusable in the middle of the day.

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (1)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284304)

Where I work, the weekly check-it-all AV run is scheduled for Sunday nights. That takes care of all the desktops in the office. Laptops run, then, as soon as they get put on the network Monday. Generally, people don't mind, especially since our AV software runs in the background and doesn't slow anybody down enough that it's worth complaining about. Their machines are a bit sluggish on Monday morning but, then again, so are most of the workers.

The folks who find that the AV scan slows them unacceptably turn in a help desk ticket and we have a look. That's a really good indicator that their machine is in need of a bit of a tune-up or has other problems.

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (1)

J-1000 (869558) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284244)

As a computer guy who wants things to be either "yes" or "no", unambiguously, I found this state of affairs very difficult to accept. But it's just part of being human.

I wish my supervisor would accept this. But then, his supervisor would need to accept it, and on and on to the top. I feel like I spend more time at my job trying to quantify my work than actually doing it. And the resulting numbers are always meaningless.

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (1)

BenEnglishAtHome (449670) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284502)

Interesting. Before we had mandatory ticketing software, deskside IT support folks in my organization had assigned user populations. I had 350 (or so) officers to keep happy. That was my job. Screw tickets, screw counting anything. If the officers that depended on me were happy, I was happy. And so was my boss.

Then we started measuring things and the quality of my worklife took a big hit. I'll never forget a crusty old sysadmin who spoke out during a training session to an HQ analyst. Quote: "I can fix 20 problems a day. Or I can fix 10 and document them. Which do you want?" To him, me, and the other SAs in the class, the answer was obvious. Fix 20 and get 20 officers back to work, of course.

The analyst replied "As far as management is concerned, if you didn't document it, you didn't do it. Fix 10 and do the documentation."

Mind you, this wasn't for any experimental system where SA feedback was necessary to understand how to keep things running. This was for a long-established legacy system for which every possible problem and fix had long ago been documented in excruciatingly fine detail.

That particular SA retired a few months later. I can't say as I blame him.

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285224)

A lot of it has to do with the way we do business today. Everyone knows who the bad employees are, but you aren't really allowed to say anything or call them out. Even if it were socially acceptable, it is practically illegal to fire someone for incompetence, unless you can prove they are incompetent. That's where the metrics come in. Once you need to fire someone, you have numbers to back it up. It even eliminates the awkwardness of having to confront someone about their poor work ethic or the low quality of their work. The only downside is that it is easy to game the system, and you spend most of your time maintaining the system instead of working. Welcome to the 21st century.

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (1)

winwar (114053) | more than 3 years ago | (#32287130)

What you call "the way we do business today", I prefer to call "crappy management". A bit shorter and more to the point.

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (2, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284620)

When you quantify your work, don't forget to quantify the work you invest in quantifying your work.

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (1)

zmollusc (763634) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284840)

The most annoying thing about the bean-counting mentality is the creation of beans to count. For example, in the NHS it is really difficult to do stats on patient care as each case is different so the beancounting management impose additional paperwork or data entry tasks to create countable beans. Hooray! Suddenly more 'data' for layers of management to fight amongst themselves with, at only the cost of reduced patient care due to reduced medical (as opposed to clerical) time available to the medical staff. The medical staff know the beans are pointless for improving healthcare, the management only went to PHB university so don't know or care that the beans cannot help patients, beans are for counting, if enough beans become available, the bureaucracy can demand to be expanded to cope.

Employing additional nursing staff instead of beancounting staff is just a crazy pipe dream.

Re:Lies, damned lies, and statistics (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285530)

The only way to measure that would be to interview my customers and their bosses. We'd have to pry for an hour into their effectiveness to find out if I properly completed a job that took me five minutes.

It's not really as hard as that. There is an interim marker you can use that is nearly as good as anything you'll get from an interview. All you really need to know is if the customers are happy with your service. If your service eats up a lot of their time, i.e. doesn't keep them working as long as possible, they won't be happy.

There are still limits to that - it doesn't work if your IT department is servicing 3,000 users. However, if it's 300 users with a single point of contact, you'll know pretty quickly how well you are performing with just a vague "good or bad" rating. I'm in the latter situation, others in my group are in the former. They are all extremely jealous because I don't need a ticketing system to track my performance, which makes my job more enjoyable and increases my productivity, while they need a raw number which can be easily compared to the performance contract and the performance of the rest of the company.

Re:Goodhart's law (1)

QRDeNameland (873957) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284238)

Sounds like a restatement of the simultaneously-discovered Goodhart's Law [lesswrong.com], Lucas critique [wikipedia.org], and Campbell's Law [wikipedia.org].

Basically, once you start measuring something as a proxy for what you really want to know, people start to take the proxy into account when making decisions, to the point where it becomes useless as a measure for whatever it was intended.

A few years back I was working for a major corporation that was pushing Six Sigma [wikipedia.org] as the holy grail for all problems, and I was forced to attend some seminars. (Afterwards I christened the program Six Sigmoidoscopies [wikipedia.org] , which may have even underestimated the pain involved.) One of the presenters talked about the difficulty of applying hard statistical quality analysis to something as abstract as software development, but more or less proceeded to say that the solution was to find whatever metrics could be easily measured, however flawed, and use those, and then try to perfect better metrics as time progressed. My gut reaction was that what would happen in practice is that people would simply focus their work on meeting the flawed metric, then be rewarded based on the flawed metric whether or not it actually made your product any better, and then make decisions based on the metric and thus establish a culture based on that flawed metric. I left before I ever saw if any Sig Sigma initiative was implemented, successfully or not, so I never found out if my reaction was correct or not.

I was unaware until reading this post that my gut reaction had essentially been formally recognized. Good to know if I'm ever in that situation again.

Re:Goodhart's law (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284712)

Well, glad you know the term(s) for it so you can learn more about at and what to call it!

Btw, I've had a flexible sigmoidoscopy, and they're not painful, they administer something IV to knock you out so it's over before you know it and you don't experience any pain, unless you count hearing yourself fart a lot afterward.

Re:Goodhart's law (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284690)

Basically, once you start measuring something as a proxy for what you really want to know, people start to take the proxy into account when making decisions, to the point where it becomes useless as a measure for whatever it was intended.

Sounds like drunk driving on so many levels. Once, it was about impairment. Then they had definitive numbers about how much alcohol was in your system, so the level of impairment was irrelevant, they just counted the count and made the count itself illegal.

Or the numbers used to justify the current levels used, where they take people that fall asleep at the wheel and crash as drinking related, when they don't correct for the number of sober people who do the same at the same times. People crash lots between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Some are drunk, some are sober. Anyone drinking had it caused by drinking, when statistics would indicate they should correct for the sleepy sober drivers. Or the fact that if you have a drunk person sleeping in the back seat of your car (and you are sober) and a sober person rear-ends you, it will be counted as "alcohol related."

But it's like child porn. If you defend reasonable search and seizure for child porn and insist that it should only cover porn made with real children, then you are somehow pro-child porn. If you are for proper statistics for measuring safety, then you are obviously encouraging drunk driving.

No counting problem that I can see (1)

Deosyne (92713) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283190)

So the problem isn't one of having too much data but rather unreliable correlation of that data to draw conclusions. What exactly is new here?

Re:No counting problem that I can see (4, Informative)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283434)

Actually the "counting" problem they mentioned is a categorization problem. Depending how you define your categories, you get different counts. But that's because those are really different categories (they are defined differently). So the question is not really one of counting, but one of the "correct" definition of the category.

Re:No counting problem that I can see (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283878)

There's another problem, and that problem is the edge cases that don't fit the statistics. Statistically speaking, smoking causes cancer and will kill you, and usually does. Despite this, there was a woman (now dead) who was, at the time, the world's oldest human. She had a cigarette every day after lunch until she died at age 112.

My own great-uncle started smoking at age 12, and stopped seventy years later when a lip cancer scared him. Ten years later HE died of old age at 92, long past the age most of us croak.

Statistically speaking, your IQ is 100. But realistically, it probably isn't (especially since you're on slashdot; it's likely higher than that).

Re:No counting problem that I can see (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#32284162)

There's another problem, and that problem is the edge cases that don't fit the statistics. Statistically speaking, smoking causes cancer and will kill you, and usually does. Despite this, there was a woman (now dead) who was, at the time, the world's oldest human. She had a cigarette every day after lunch until she died at age 112.

That reminds me to the joke where the reporter speaks with the 100 year old. The reporter asks: "What do you think why you got that old?" - "I don't drink, I don't smoke, and I don't have sex." At that moment a loud noise comes from the next room. The reporter: "What was that?" - "That's my father. He's drunken all the time."

Re:No counting problem that I can see (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#32285686)

The problem is having too much data that means too little, or not enough data that means too much.

Take the summary's example:

If a person starts drinking day in and day out after a cancer diagnosis and dies from acute cirrhosis, did he kill himself?

If your goal is to find deaths caused by Cancer, and your statistic is "Within six months 40% of people with cancer die", is it the cancer that is killing them? How many of them are dieing in automobile accidents in that period of time? How many fell off a roof? Should a guy who drinks himself to death because he has cancer count as a death caused by cancer? What about a guy who was already a heavy drinker and dying of cirrhosis, but cirrhosis killed him before cancer? How do you tell the two of those apart?

It makes a seemingly straightforward number debatable at best, and completely unreliable no matter how you look at it, unless your criteria are very narrowly defined. However, the more narrow the definition, the fewer applications the data has.

The Improving Economy (1)

BetterSense (1398915) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283586)

I have heard this issue raised regarding reports of the health of the economy. Retail sales are shown to be up, but only because stores that go out of business are dropped from the counting. If there were still there counting as big fat goose eggs the average would show that the economy is in fact contracting.

Re:The Improving Economy (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286336)

The problem is worse there, because ALL the figures that the government uses to measure the economy have been systematically tinkered with to make the current economy look better for at least decades. Which means that time series is impossible. (They keep changing the definitions of what any particular thing measures.)

Try to find out what the current money supply is, e.g. Which measure do you use, and what does it actually measure?

The current administration is always under pressure to make the economy look better. ALWAYS. And the easiest way to do so is to tinker with what's being measured without admitting that they've changed the measure.

The problem IS with statistical tests (1)

codeAlDente (1643257) | more than 3 years ago | (#32283716)

Scientists, etc. use statistical tests to get information about something they can measure, and how well that measurable quantity can be predicted from their data set. They form a hypothesis that variable X can be predicted from the data. They test their hypothesis, and calculate the probability that knowledge of the data set will lead to a correct prediction of X. If they get something like 68%, 99.9%, etc., they're happy and they write it up. Perfect, but Suppose in some parallel universe (that some string theorist might try to sell you) that similar scientists had been more diligent, and conducted statistical analyses on not just X, but on 10^10 other variables. Maybe X is global temperature or the price of oil, and the smart folks in this universe can measure a million things at a million time points that might potentially affect X. Same as in the other universe, they find that 99.9% of the variance in X can be predicted by the data set, but since they tested so many variables, they can't claim significance. By random chance, a lot of other variables did even better than X. Then what matters is whether the scientist tells you about all those other tests. That's not exactly conducive to getting published, or getting grant money, but who knows- it might be right. It's not just how things are counted, but how many different things are counted, and in what parallel universe, that really counts.

This is why we have so called 'soft' sciences (1)

genericcitizen (1480425) | more than 3 years ago | (#32286690)

...'unless we know how things are counted, we don't know if it's wise to count on the numbers'.... Which is why we still spend money on, public health research, and other so called 'soft' social sciences! GIGO...
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