Excuse me, I’m taking a nap

Bill O’Reilly and Noam Chomsky

Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google, has an article about the two cultures of statistical learning, frequentist vs probabalist, and Noam Chomsky, the celebrated linguist. Much to my delight in seeming paradoxes, Norvig managed to compare to Bill O’Reilly to Chomsky: 

In January of 2011, television personality Bill O’Reilly weighed in on more than one culture war with his statement “tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that,” which he proposed as an argument for the existence of God. O’Reilly was ridiculed by his detractors for not knowing that tides can be readily explained by a system of partial differential equations describing the gravitational interaction of sun, earth, and moon (a fact that was first worked out by Laplace in 1776 and has been considerably refined since; when asked by Napoleon why the creator did not enter into his calculations, Laplace said “I had no need of that hypothesis.”). (O’Reilly also seems not to know about Deimos and Phobos (two of my favorite moons in the entire solar system, along with Europa, Io, and Titan), nor that Mars and Venus orbit the sun, nor that the reason Venus has no moons is because it is so close to the sun that there is scant room for a stable lunar orbit.) But O’Reilly realizes that it doesn’t matter what his detractors think of his astronomical ignorance, because his supporters think he has gotten exactly to the key issue: why? He doesn’t care how the tides work, tell him why they work. Why is the moon at the right distance to provide a gentle tide, and exert a stabilizing effect on earth’s axis of rotation, thus protecting life here? Why does gravity work the way it does? Why does anything at all exist rather than not exist? O’Reilly is correct that these questions can only be addressed by mythmaking, religion or philosophy, not by science. 

Chomsky has a philosophy based on the idea that we should focus on the deep whys and that mere explanations of reality don’t matter. In this, Chomsky is in complete agreement with O’Reilly. (I recognize that the previous sentence would have an extremely low probability in a probabilistic model trained on a newspaper or TV corpus.) Chomsky believes a theory of language should be simple and understandable, like a linear regression model where we know the underlying process is a straight line, and all we have to do is estimate the slope and intercept.

Read the full article here. For a very brief description of frequentists and bayesian statistics, click here.  See the google self-driving car in action for real world bayesian statistics.

How Devilish is the Data?

Without the quotidian task of calculus and statistics, I find myself wondering “What now?” these days. More stats, of course! I spent the day studying the decline effect. If you’re in the sciences, it’s worth your time to read Jonah Lehrer’s original article in the New Yorker, as well as his follow up article. The radiolab piece is also worth a listen. If you really want to go deeper, this blog post and its comments will give you plenty of search terms to go on.

In a couple of weeks, I’m headed down South to the land of pines for 6 weeks of biostatistics. Yay.

Statistics Is Ballistic, Homeboyz

Statistics is apparently a top subject for parody rap.

“It’s gonna be great when we play with Cox models all night long…”

Not rap, but even better…Britney. “Oops, I picked the wrong test…”

There are too many stats class video to count. This was the best:

Null Hypothesis: This guy is Dr. Dre
Alternative Hypothesis: This guy ain’t no Dr. Dre
P-value: 0.0000000000000001
Reject the null.


Charity and a friend are thinking applying for the Amazing Race show on CBS.  I’ve appointed myself as team manager.  My first job is understanding the rules and requirements.  

To be eligible: 

All applicants must be in good physical and mental health and must be aware that, and sign releases attesting that, the activities in the Program may involve risks and hazards, and that participating in the Program may expose applicant and other participants to, among other things, the risk of death, serious injury, illness and property damage caused by the risks associated with their participation in the Program, including, without limitation, the following: latent or apparent defects or conditions in any equipment used in the Program; the use or operation by applicant or others of said equipment; acts of other people including, without limitation, acts of the Producers or other participants; accommodations; weather or other natural conditions; the nature of travel including, without limitation, latent defects and human error; applicant’s physical condition; applicant’s own acts or omissions; sleep deprivation; first-aid, medical or emergency treatment or other services rendered to applicant or others; exposure to illness; consumption of food or drink; acts of God (e.g. earthquakes and floods) [depending on who you ask all of the above may be acts of God]; laws or local ordinances; war or riots; terrorism; strikes; and/or no reason at all (emphasis mine).

Doesn’t the last clause trump them all?

God’s death was the big bang

God’s death was the big bang,

Stars the embers of the pyre.

Life has been mourning ever since.

Rumi’s caravan spread across eons of time, 

Picking up shreds of evidence of God’s existence.

I listened in a room full of believers, ones who

Tell us to revel in life.

I want to tell them they are wrong, wrong,

Wrong. The more we look, the smaller 

We get. And we should be like this

And cheer? If I’m nothing but fading warmth

In dying ash, I at least want the strength

To touch the next star and whisper something beautiful.

Regression Analysis by Dog