Gimmie that Old-Time Breeding

Full disclosure: I think Evolutionary Psychology is a pseudo-science. This isn’t because the field endorses a flawed methodology (relative to the norm in other sciences), nor because they come to conclusions I’m uncomfortable with. No, the entire field is based on flawed or even false assumptions; it doesn’t matter how good your construction techniques are, if your foundation is a banana cream pie your building won’t be sturdy.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe EvoPsych researchers are correct when they say every other branch of social science is founded on falsehoods. So let’s give one of their papers a fair shake.

Ellis, Lee, et al. “The Future of Secularism: a Biologically Informed Theory Supplemented with Cross-Cultural Evidence.” Evolutionary Psychological Science: 1-19. [Read more…]

Everything Is Significant!

Back in 1939, Joseph Berkson made a bold statement.

I believe that an observant statistician who has had any considerable experience with applying the chi-square test repeatedly will agree with my statement that, as a matter of observation, when the numbers in the data are quite large, the P’s tend to come out small. Having observed this, and on reflection, I make the following dogmatic statement, referring for illustration to the normal curve: “If the normal curve is fitted to a body of data representing any real observations whatever of quantities in the physical world, then if the number of observations is extremely large—for instance, on an order of 200,000—the chi-square P will be small beyond any usual limit of significance.”

This dogmatic statement is made on the basis of an extrapolation of the observation referred to and can also be defended as a prediction from a priori considerations. For we may assume that it is practically certain that any series of real observations does not actually follow a normal curve with absolute exactitude in all respects, and no matter how small the discrepancy between the normal curve and the true curve of observations, the chi-square P will be small if the sample has a sufficiently large number of observations in it.

Berkson, Joseph. “Some Difficulties of Interpretation Encountered in the Application of the Chi-Square Test.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 33, no. 203 (1938): 526–536.
His prediction would be vindicated two decades later.

[Read more…]

Stop Assessing Science

I completely agree with PZ, in part because I’ve heard the same tune before.

The results indicate that the investigators contributing to Volume 61 of the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology had, on the average, a relatively (or even absolutely) poor chance of rejecting their major null hypotheses, unless the effect they sought was large. This surprising (and discouraging) finding needs some further consideration to be seen in full perspective.

First, it may be noted that with few exceptions, the 70 studies did have significant results. This may then suggest that perhaps the definitions of size of effect were too severe, or perhaps, accepting the definitions, one might seek to conclude that the investigators were operating under circumstances wherein the effects were actually large, hence their success. Perhaps, then, research in the abnormal-social area is not as “weak” as the above results suggest. But this argument rests on the implicit assumption that the research which is published is representative of the research undertaken in this area. It seems obvious that investigators are less likely to submit for publication unsuccessful than successful research, to say nothing of a similar editorial bias in accepting research for publication.

Statistical power is defined as the odds of failing to reject a false null hypothesis. The larger the study size, the greater the statistical power. Thus if your study has a poor chance of answering the question it is tasked with, it is too small.

Suppose we hold fixed the theoretically calculable incidence of Type I errors. … Holding this 5% significance level fixed (which, as a form of scientific strategy, means leaning over backward not to conclude that a relationship exists when there isn’t one, or when there is a relationship in the wrong direction), we can decrease the probability of Type II errors by improving our experiment in certain respects. There are three general ways in which the frequency of Type II errors can be decreased (for fixed Type I error-rate), namely, (a) by improving the logical structure of the experiment, (b) by improving experimental techniques such as the control of extraneous variables which contribute to intragroup variation (and hence appear in the denominator of the significance test), and (c) by increasing the size of the sample. … We select a logical design and choose a sample size such that it can be said in advance that if one is interested in a true difference provided it is at least of a specified magnitude (i.e., if it is smaller than this we are content to miss the opportunity of finding it), the probability is high (say, 80%) that we will successfully refute the null hypothesis.

If low statistical power was just due to a few bad apples, it would be rare. Instead, as the first quote implies, it’s quite common. That study found that for studies with small effect sizes, where Cohen’s d was roughly 0.25, their average statistical power was an abysmal 18%. For medium-effect sizes, where d is roughly 0.5, that number is still less than half. Since those two ranges cover the majority of social science effect sizes, that means the typical study has very low power and thus a small sample size. Instead, the problem of low power must be systemic to how science is carried out.

In this fashion a zealous and clever investigator can slowly wend his way through a tenuous nomological network, performing a long series of related experiments which appear to the uncritical reader as a fine example of “an integrated research program,” without ever once refuting or corroborating so much as a single strand of the network. Some of the more horrible examples of this process would require the combined analytic and reconstructive efforts of Carnap, Hempel, and Popper to unscramble the logical relationships of theories and hypotheses to evidence. Meanwhile our eager-beaver researcher, undismayed by logic-of-science considerations and relying blissfully on the “exactitude” of modern statistical hypothesis-testing, has produced a long publication list and been promoted to a full professorship. In terms of his contribution to the enduring body of psychological knowledge, he has done hardly anything. His true position is that of a potent-but-sterile intellectual rake, who leaves in his merry path a long train of ravished maidens but no viable scientific offspring.

I know, it’s a bit confusing that I haven’t clarified who I’m quoting. That first paragraph comes from this study:

Cohen, Jacob. “The Statistical Power of Abnormal-Social Psychological Research: A Review.” The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 65, no. 3 (1962): 145.

While the second and third are from this:

Meehl, Paul E. “Theory-Testing in Psychology and Physics: A Methodological Paradox.” Philosophy of Science 34, no. 2 (1967): 103–115.

That’s right, scientists have been complaining about small sample sizes for over 50 years. Fanelli et. al. [2017] might provide greater detail and evidence than previous authors did, but the basic conclusion has remained the same. Nor are these two studies lone wolves in the darkness; I wrote about a meta-analysis of 16 different power-level studies between Cohen’s and now, all of which agree with Cohen’s.

If your assessments have been consistently telling you the same thing for decades, maybe it’s time to stop assessing. Maybe it’s time to start acting on those assessments, instead. PZ is already doing that, thankfully…

More data! This is also helpful information for my undergraduate labs, since I’m currently in the process of cracking the whip over my genetics students and telling them to count more flies. Only a thousand? Count more. MORE!

… but this is a chronic, systemic issue within science. We need more.

Double-Dipping Datasets

I wrote this comment down on a mental Post-It note:

nathanieltagg @10:
… So, here’s the big one: WHY is it wrong to use the same dataset to look for different ideas? (Maybe it’s OK if you don’t throw out many null results along the way?)

It followed this post by Myers.

He described it as a failed study with null results. There’s nothing wrong with that; it happens. What I would think would be appropriate next would be to step back, redesign the experiment to correct flaws (if you thought it had some; if it didn’t, you simply have a negative result and that’s what you ought to report), and repeat the experiment (again, if you thought there was something to your hypothesis).

That’s not what he did.

He gave his student the same old data from the same set of observations and asked her to rework the analyses to get a statistically significant result of some sort. This is deplorable. It is unacceptable. It means this visiting student was not doing something I would call research — she was assigned the job of p-hacking.

And both the comment and the post have been clawing away at me for a few weeks, when I’ve been unable to answer. So let’s fix that: is it always bad to re-analyze a dataset? If not, then when and how?

[Read more…]

Zvan on the Gendered Pay Gap

I have a really nice document about the gendered pay gap buried on a hard drive. To write it, I spent a good few months reading policy documents and research study after research study after research study after research stu– well, you get the point. My favorite of the bunch is this one. The gender breakdown of an industry tends to vary with time, so Emily Murphy and Daniel Oesch looked into whether or not that effected pay.

Both baseline models suggest that moving from a male to a female occupation – or staying within an occupation that feminizes – entails a sizeable wage loss. Adding controls for the workplace (M1) and general human capital (M2) makes no difference: the wage penalty associated with FEM amounts to about 15 per cent for British women, British men and Swiss women, 15 and to about 5 per cent for German women, German men and Swiss men.
If women rush to your occupation, your wages drop… even if you’re a man or a childless woman. This is tough to explain as anything but discrimination.
While I’ve been mulling over how and when to release my document, Stephanie Zvan independently came up with her own version.
Let’s start by noting that at least one person who studies the factors that account for pay gaps says that choice of careers, while a factor in unequal pay, is not the silver-bullet solution that paygap critics suggest. It isn’t even the biggest factor driving the difference between men’s and women’s wages. […]
… even though women work fewer paid hours than men, they work the same number of hours overall. The reason women more frequently require constrained work weeks and more flexibility in their schedules is that they do the bulk of the unpaid work that makes our society run, particularly caregiving, both for children and for other adults.
It may not have an excessive number of footnotes, but her version states much the same thing as mine in fewer words and clearer language. Give it a read, in honour of International Why-Isn’t-There-An-International-Men’s-Day Day.

BBC’s “Transgender Kids, Who Knows Best?” p4: Dirty Sexy Brains

This series on BBC’s “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” is co-authored by HJ Hornbeck and Siobhan O’Leary. It attempts to fact-check and explore the many claims of the documentary concerning gender variant youth. You can follow the rest of the series here:

  1. Part One: You got Autism in my Gender Dysphoria!
  2. Part Two: Say it with me now…
  3. Part Three: My old friend, eighty percent
  4. Part Four: Dirty Sexy Brains

In North America, one of our pet obsessions is dividing everything up according to sex. Gendered toys, gendered clothes, gendered bathrooms, even gendered jobs. And yet if you follow those links, you’ll find these divisions were always in flux: gender-neutral toys used to be common yet are increasingly rare; dresses were gender-neutral, and colours weren’t gendered until roughly World War I; there were no public women’s washrooms in the US until the 1880’s, because women weren’t allowed in public; and computer science flipped from being women’s work to men’s work in the span of a few decades, leading to increased salaries and prestige.

This extends all the way down to our organs.

[Read more…]

BBC’s “Transgender Kids, Who Knows Best?” p1: You got Autism in my Gender Dysphoria!

This series on BBC’s “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” is co-authored by HJ Hornbeck and Siobhan O’Leary. It attempts to fact-check and explore the many claims of the documentary concerning gender variant youth. You can follow the rest of the series here:

  1. Part One: You got Autism in my Gender Dysphoria!
  2. Part Two: Say it with me now
  3. Part Three: My old friend, eighty percent
  4. Part Four: Dirty Sexy Brains


Petitions seem as common as pennies, but this one stood out to me (emphasis in original).

The BBC is set to broadcast a documentary on BBC Two on the 12th January 2017 at 9pm called ‘Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?‘. The documentary is based on the controversial views of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, who believes that Gender Dysphoria in children should be treated as a mental health issue.

In simpler terms, Dr. Zucker thinks that being/querying being Transgender as a child is not valid, and should be classed as a mental health issue. […]

To clarify, this petition is not to stop this program for being broadcast entirely; however no transgender experts in the UK have watched over this program, which potentially may have a transphobic undertone. We simply don’t know what to expect from the program, however from his history and the synopsis available online, we can make an educated guess that it won’t be in support of Transgender Rights for Children.

That last paragraph is striking; who makes a documentary about a group of people without consulting experts, let alone gets it aired on national TV? It helps explain why a petition over something that hadn’t happened yet earned 11,000+ signatures.

Now if you’ve checked your watch, you’ve probably noticed the documentary came and went. I’ve been keeping an eye out for reviews, and they fall into two camps: enthusiastic support

So it’s a good thing BBC didn’t listen to those claiming this documentary shouldn’t have run. As it turns out, it’s an informative, sophisticated, and generally fair treatment of an incredibly complex and fraught subject.

… and enthusiastic opposition

The show seems to have been designed to cause maximum harm to #trans children and their families. I can hardly begin to tackle here the number of areas in which the show was inaccurate, misleading, demonising, damaging and plain false.

… but I have yet to see someone do an in-depth analysis of the claims made in this specific documentary. So Siobhan is doing precisely that, in a series of blog posts.
[Read more…]

Trump is in Control of the USA

[this is a slight elaboration on a comment I made elsewhere]

I don’t think I’ve said “constitutional crisis” enough. Emphasis mine:

After a weekend spent trying to get the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to comply with the New York and Massachusetts Orders staying the Presidential Executive Order banning immigration from seven countries, a group of attorneys Darius Amiri, Laura Riley, Madiha Zuberi, Nina Bonyak, in coordination with other volunteer attorneys working out of LAX, have been at the U.S. Marshal’s office at the Central District of California since 8:00 a.m. this morning.

These attorneys are demanding that the U.S. Marshal’s office comply with its statutory obligation under 28 U.S.C. 566(c) to serve civil federal orders on the CBP Port Director at Los Angeles International Airport. The Marshal’s office has so far failed to serve process and instead represents that it has been instructed by its Office of the General Counsel to await instruction from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Over the weekend, California Central District Court (CACD) Judge Dolly Gee granted a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) (which was amended and corrected this morning) and this is another of the documents that has yet to be served on the CBP.

Two hundred years of precedent have established that the courts are the final arbitrator of what’s constitutional and what is not. But as I’ve said, the Judicial branch relies on the Executive to enforce its judgments; those court injunctions against Trump’s EO don’t go into effect until they get into the hands of the people enforcing that EO, and by telling the U.S. Marshals to stand down the Executive has effectively blocked those court orders from taking effect.

The Judicial branch is no longer checking or balancing Executive power. You just lost one of your three branches, Americans.

I have been saying that #TheRegime’s big overarching play right now is de-fanging the judiciary, sidelining it, making it subservient.

Now, if objecting to this gets any traction, #TheRegime’s talking point will be that the Marshals have always been part of DOJ, under exec.

Which is *true enough* but beside the point. They are the enforcement arm of the judiciary, grouped under executive because enforcement.

The impartiality of the law enforcement bodies under DOJ (FBI, Marshal Service) is supposed to be–must be–sacrosanct. Sacred. Untouchable.

Making the judiciary’s enforcement wing under the direct command of a handpicked crony AG accomplishes makes the entire judicial branch moot

With the Marshals marching to the president’s orders, court decisions only matter when #TheRegime agrees with them.

To make matters worse, the Executive branch is starting to override the Legislative. Remember how the border patrol refused to meet with Congressional representatives? Emphasis again mine:

“Since my background is a Ph.D. in public administration, I have a good working knowledge of U.S. institutions and policymaking processes,” [Donald] Moynihan told Salon. “Members of Congress are fond of reminding executive branch officials that [the latter] are beholden to them, not just to the president.” It is Congress that supplies every federal agency with its budget, and along with that “specific directives as to [its] role.”

“It’s remarkable to me that when an actual member of Congress would turn up at your doorstep, a manager in that agency would not try to be responsive to their concerns,” Moynihan continued. “It suggests they view obeying the guidance of the president as superior to any other direction. This is troubling precisely because the founders designed a separation of powers so that no single actor (in this case the president) had sole control of administration.”

Trump is also going behind the backs of Congress, borrowing their staffers while swearing them to secrecy. This is a big deal.

This is quite simply unheard of.

To be clear, the executive works with Congress all the time to craft legislation. That’s the President working with members of Congress, though much of the actual work is delegated to staff. All normal. It’s congressional staff working for the executive without telling the members of Congress they work for which is the big deal. […]

I’m not sure this rises to the level of a formal separation of powers issue. But the idea of the White House coopting congressional staff behind the backs of members of Congress certainly runs roughshod over the overarching concept of two coequal and separate branches of government.

Until Congress steps up, or Trump backtracks and agrees to respect judicial rulings, he has [no] checks on his power. He’s become a dictator without firing a single shot.

[HJH 2017-01-31] I just spotted a relevant update from Popehat.

OKAY. Awaiting an official statement, but about that story about the USMS not serving the LA federal court order: /1

/2 Counsel has now appeared for the federal defendants: US Department of Justice, Office of Immigration Litigation – Civil Division

/3 In fact, a stipulation by the parties to move the briefing schedule now appears on the docket (but is sealed)

/4 The significance is this: by appearing, the federal defendants can’t claim lack of service of the order. This should moot service issues.

/5 In fact it should bind the federal defendants to any order the court issues or has issued now that its counsel has appeared, as I read it

/6 That doesn’t answer issue of whether CPD has refused to comply so far or will continue to refuse.

/7 Also doesn’t exclude possibility that USMS dorked around for some period of time until their counsel made an appearance.

/8 But the fact that the ACLU filed a stipulation reached with the feds suggests some level of acknowledgement and cooperation.

In some ways, this is good news. The courts will not be stopped by a technicality like a lack of service, and as of now federal attorneys are respecting the Judicial branch. But if service has been granted, that means that the delays by US Marshals had the effect of deporting potential plaintiffs before they could plead their case before the courts. Any border guard that deported or refused entry to someone as per the immigration Executive Order, as of eight hours ago, is ignoring a court order. And some digging brings up this case.

Mohammad Abu Khadra, who lives in Katy[, Texas] with his brother Rami, traveled to Jordan last week to renew his visa. When he flew into Bush IAH airport Saturday, officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained him at the airport for about 48 hours. He was transferred to an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in Chicago Monday, where he remained as of Tuesday afternoon. The teen has no access to his cell phone or to a computer, his brother said.

 Mohammad is among dozens of visa holders and immigrants to be detained at U.S. airports since Trump signed an executive order Friday indefinitely barring all Syrian refugees from entering the United States and suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days. It also prohibits citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days, whether they are refugees or not. Those countries include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Mohammad’s native Jordan is not on the list, and Mohammad is not a refugee.

The Judicial branch is still out of commission.

The Three Stages of a Dictator

[this is similar to a comment I made elsewhere, but it deserves a wider audience.]

Lately, I’ve been reading some depressing things. To start, I’m seeing rumblings that Trump admin is deliberately being provocative.

With the #MuslimBan, Bannon et al chose to do something overtly unConstitutional that they knew would be a flash-point for the left.

They *rushed* this through on purpose, overriding objections and failing to coordinate with intelligence or immigration officials.

From their actions, we can infer the #MuslimBan has a purpose that suits their strategic goals and has nothing to do with national security.

A #MuslimBan is a perfect vehicle for them: it’s a flashpoint for opposition from the left and a dog whistle for support from the right.

The #MuslimBan furthers domestic division: it makes many within the U.S. see protesters as aligned with who they perceive to be “the enemy.” […]

Like other ascendant authoritarian regimes, the Trump Admin WANTS an excuse to put down dissent. And to do so violently.

But why would Trump be interested in flexing the military against the American people? It didn’t make much sense at first, until I remembered the basic arc of any dictator: 1) grab power, then 2) use that power to fill your pockets with as much cash as you dare, then 3) escape. Trump is currently testing what sort of power he has.

the administration is testing the extent to which the DHS (and other executive agencies) can act and ignore orders from the other branches of government. This is as serious as it can possibly get: all of the arguments about whether order X or Y is unconstitutional mean nothing if elements of the government are executing them and the courts are being ignored.

To ensure he keeps his power long enough to successfully smash-and-grab, he needs to remove as many check-and-balances as possible. Narrowing down the number of people he deals with is also a wise move, because it decreases the number of people able to check or balance.

There appears to be a very tight “inner circle,” containing at least Trump, Bannon, Miller, Priebus, Kushner, and possibly Flynn, which is making all of the decisions. Other departments and appointees have been deliberately hobbled, with key orders announced to them only after the fact, staff gutted, and so on. Yesterday’s reorganization of the National Security Council mirrors this: Bannon and Priebus now have permanent seats on the Principals’ Committee; the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have both been demoted to only attending meetings where they are told that their expertise is relevant; the Secretary of Energy and the US representative to the UN were kicked off the committee altogether (in defiance of the authorizing statute, incidentally).

I am reminded of Trump’s continued operation of a private personal security force, and his deep rift with the intelligence community. Last Sunday, Kellyanne Conway (likely another member of the inner circle) said that “It’s really time for [Trump] to put in his own security and intelligence community,” and this seems likely to be the case.

If this really is the arc of a dictator, though, we need to see step 2 in action. Surprisingly, I thought that piece was missing. Oh sure, a major expansion of your hotel chain paired with a rate hike is a nice start, as is filing to run in the 2020 election so you can fundraise and whip your loyal base into a frenzy, or maybe taking advantage of cheap land that’s just been released. Most of those struck me as too small, or too noisy, or too limiting the escape plan. But then Yonatan Zunger, quoted in the last two paragraphs, led me to this story.

More than a month after Russia announced one of its biggest privatizations since the 1990s, selling a 19.5 percent stake in its giant oil company Rosneft, it still isn’t possible to determine from public records the full identities of those who bought it. […]

“It is the largest privatization deal, the largest sale and acquisition in the global oil and gas sector in 2016,” Putin said. It was also one of the biggest transfers of state property into private hands since the early post-Soviet years, when allies of President Boris Yeltsin took control of state firms and became billionaires overnight.

But important facts about the deal either have not been disclosed, cannot be determined solely from public records, or appear to contradict the straightforward official account of the stake being split 50/50 by Glencore and the Qataris. For one: Glencore contributed only 300 million euros of equity to the deal, less than 3 percent of the purchase price, which it said in a statement on Dec. 10 had bought it an “indirect equity interest” limited to just 0.54 percent of Rosneft. In addition, public records show the ownership structure of the stake ultimately includes a Cayman Islands company whose beneficial owners cannot be traced.

And while Italian bank Intesa SanPaolo leant the Singapore vehicle 5.2 billion euros to fund the deal, and Qatar put in 2.5 billion, the sources of funding for nearly a quarter of the purchase price have not been disclosed by any of the parties.


The Kremlin spent two years looking for someone to sell part of a company that was worth $79.8 billion back in 2006, yet is keeping silent on the details. Very strange.

But there might be an answer, and it involves golden showers.

Shortly after CNN published its report, BuzzFeed News published the full 35-page dossier reportedly presented in summary form to the incoming and outgoing presidents. BuzzFeed notes that the dossier “includes specific, unverified and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians.” It states that Russian intelligence was “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Trump for years, and that they have information that could be used to blackmail the president-elect, who will take the oath of office in less than two weeks.

Yes yes, like everyone else I read the first two pages and got a chuckle out of what Trump did to the bed the Obamas slept in. But, also like everyone else, I failed to read to page 30.

2. In terms of the substance of their discussion, SECHIN’s associate said that the Rosneft President was so keen to lift personal and corporate western sactions imposed on the company, that he offered PAGE/TRUMP’s associates the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatized) stake in Rosneft in return. PAGE had expressed interest and confirmed that were TRUMP elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted.

The timeline fits. Trump has been threatening to run for President since the 1980’s. In 2008, Trump’s son says “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” According to the dossier, the Kremlin has been trying to influence him since 2011. In 2013, Trump explored the idea of becoming President. The US imposed sanctions on Russia begin in March 2014, and are a heavy hit to their economy. In August 2014, Rosneft begins the process of selling a 19.5% stake. In June 2015, Trump rides an escalator, and with the help of some Russian trolls goes on to win the Presidency November 8th, 2016. In the meantime, he’s seen hanging out with Russian mobsters. On December 7th, a buyer for Rosneft is finalized with the deal set to close “mid-December.” On December 19th, Trump wins the Electoral College vote. Transferring that much money takes time, probably months. Trump was sworn in as President on January 20th.

If that 19.5% was worth $11 billion, the typical brokerage fee is 2%, and the dossier is on the money, Trump could earn a $220 million payday. No wonder the CIA and five other agencies are looking into monetary ties between Trump and the Kremlin. This also sets the stage for step 3, the escape.

My money is on impeachment, after a string of increasingly draconian and unpopular measures that eventually turns the Republicans against him, followed by a swift exit from the country. Time will tell, of course.