Sex, Donald Trump, and Videotape

Goddammit, I don’t have the time to write this. But if I don’t stop and put the analysis floating in my head to photons, I’ll itch about it for days.

First off, I need to lay down a trigger warning for sex, Donald Trump, and videotape. Because this happened:

The dossier, which is a collection of memos written over a period of months, 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. BuzzFeed News reporters in the US and Europe have been investigating various alleged facts in the dossier but have not verified or falsified them. CNN reported Tuesday that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to President Obama and Trump.

Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.

Oy.
Second, there’s a chance these claims are false. I wouldn’t rate this scenario as likely, though…
The raw memos on which the synopsis is based were prepared by the former MI6 agent, who was posted in Russia in the 1990s and now runs a private intelligence gathering firm. His investigations related to Mr. Trump were initially funded by groups and donors supporting Republican opponents of Mr. Trump during the GOP primaries, multiple sources confirmed to CNN. Those sources also said that once Mr. Trump became the nominee, further investigation was funded by groups and donors supporting Hillary Clinton.

The documents have circulated for months and acquired a kind of legendary status among journalists, lawmakers, and intelligence officials who have seen them. Mother Jones writer David Corn referred to the documents in a late October column. BuzzFeed News reporters in the US and Europe have been investigating various alleged facts in the dossier but have not stood them up or knocked them down.


Reddit’s r/The_Donald users pointed to an anonymous 4chan post from Nov. 1, exactly one week before the election, that Redditors say proves “/pol/ really invented this rumor” involving Trump’s alleged business and personal ties to Russia. […]

[Rick] Wilson dismissed all of r/The_Donald and 4chan’s claims in a tweet on Tuesday night. “You’re wrong if you believe 1. What we had came from /pol 2. That I was Buzzfeed’s source. Try again, boys,” he wrote. “The information was out there looooong before the 4chan posts,” he replied to another user.

Reached by phone earlier in the evening, Wilson told The Daily Beast that the Russian allegations were “making the rounds before anyone talked about it publicly.” He said that they were being discussed as early as a year and a half ago.

… but stranger things have happened.
Third, what’s left out is as important as what’s left in. Trump’s called a sexual pervert, but there’s no mention of what acts he personally engaged in. Did he join in the fun? Or just sit back and watch? It’s not terribly relevant, though; fake news cuts both ways, and even the most charitable interpretation says Trump done wrong.
Fourth, there’s the question of how Trump’s followers will react. This one’s pretty easy: he’ll lose maybe five to ten approval points, but most of his fans will just brush this off as fake news. His transition may have the lowest approval rating of any in recent memory, but that’s when you average across the whole country. When you break down by party affiliation, though, Republicans rate him within a hair of George Bush Jr. A few may even like Trump more. Defiling a bed the Obamas slept on? Damn, that’s hardcore hate.
Fifth, we have Trump himself. He’s thought to be unshameable, but I don’t think that’s quite true. His vengeful nature is frequently treated as a show of dominance, but I think it’s really papering over weakness. He can’t stand to be criticized or ridiculed. So if the entirety of Twitter is mocking him, this has to be one of the worst moments of his life.

@realDonaldTrump (Donald J. Trump)

FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!
Retweets: 18,191; Likes: 50,597
7:19 PM – 10 Jan 2017

The Trump brand will take another hit, hurting him in what may be his weakest spot.

Sixth, there’s the media. The mainstream is actually in a bit of a bind; they have to maintain a PG rating to reach the masses, which means they can’t go into detail about the report, but without those details the full impact will be blunted. It’ll come across as just another contested fact, the “unverified” angle will dominate the coverage, and people will entrench instead of change their minds. Social media, however, can get as nasty as it wants. The allegations are nearly perfect for going viral, so this could ring across the internet for a very, very long time.

Seventh, and the main reason why I’m writing this, is that the President of the US is also the Commander-in-Chief of the military. They’re a rather proud and patriotic group of people, sworn to defend the US against a foreign enemy. So if any of them read this…

Speaking separately in June 2016, Source B (the former top level Russian intelligence officer) asserted that TRUMP’s unorthodox behavior in Russia over the years had provided the authorities there with enough embarrassing material on the now Republican presidential candidate to be able to blackmail him if they so wished.

… their definition of “foreign enemy” might expand a bit.

https://i2.imgflip.com/1hg3yo.jpg

Eighth, Trump isn’t President yet. He can’t be impeached. He’s already been elected by the Electoral College. I’m not an expert here, I’ll admit, but the only way I know of to prevent Trump from becoming President is if he agrees to step down first. That would be an admission of guilt on his part, and ain’t likely. This leaves the US in an odd legal limbo, where nothing can happen… until Trump takes the oath of office, after which anything can happen.

Ninth, there’s the Kremlin. There was quite a bit of debate about whether or not they were trying to get Trump into office, hurt Clinton, or just throw a monkey wrench into US politics. Eichenwald claims that they stopped promoting Trump when it looked like that “grab’em” video would sink his campaign; if that’s true, and it’s also true they have kompromat on him, it might signal they’d intentionally leak said video to throw the US into further chaos. Currently, though, the sources most likely to be pushing Russian propaganda are taking the “fake news” and “4chan did it” angles.

Tenth, we have the Republican party. Their loyalties are currently tugged a million ways to Sunday. Most of them are at least tolerant of Trump, given how quickly many of them backtracked after denouncing Trump over the aforementioned video. But most of them are also suspicious of Russia. Most have similar views as the military. Some of them have read this report. At best, they’ll have to endure this humiliation and a wave of angry voters demanding an investigation. At worst, they have the choice of tossing Trump under the bus, alienating a large group of voters, or let this scandal spread like a cancer through their party.

So, what does all this add up to? Here’s what I figure: the next ten days are going to be some of the messiest politics we’ve seen in the US. There are going to be a lot of heated meetings behind closed doors, trying to figure out what do on or before Inauguration Day. Trump is going to stick with denials, and wait until he is sworn in; after which, a swift purge of the Republican party is his probable first move given his current actions. The Kremlin will probably continue saying there is no kompromat. The Democrats aren’t going to change course.

The real wild cards here are the military and the Republican party. The military seems to think Trump is unfit for command, overall, but also supported him over Clinton. It’s not clear how they’ll take this leak. Will the Republicans, afraid the military would take matters into their own hands or this scandal will drag them down, invoke Amendment 25 and put Pence in charge? Will they blow the report off, and join Trump in dismissing the findings of the USIC, risking even more leaks from disgruntled spooks? These two players are the ones who’ll determine how this scandal plays out.

Watch them carefully.

main = print(“Hello World”)

I’ve been wanting to blog here for years, but I always wound up being crushed by schoolwork or distracted by personal life. Eventually I got sick of perpetually putting it off, and forced myself to apply. I’d figure out a way to make it work.

And, as you can see, I’m now blogging here!

And up to my eyeballs in schoolwork.

And with more demands on my free time than ever before.

But! I have a plan.

See, the nice thing about being a slightly-paranoid Computer Scientist is that you tend to keep a low profile. My previous blogging isn’t well known, and the rest of my back catalog ranges from “seen by five people” to “never been shared publicly.” I can easily pad this space with old material until I can come up for air. This is especially perfect, because while my contemporary writing is all about the replication crisis and angrily shouting at fools, my older work was more about atheist apologetics. I have a decently-sized book that I gave up on writing, all about the subject, and it led me to a set of arguments that I haven’t seen anyone else develop. That is book-worthy, but there’s no harm in workshopping it until I can properly put fingers to keyboard.

In the meantime, I should also get cracking at a comment policy. Years of lurking in comment threads have left me with… opinions on the matter. That’s for a future post, though.

I suppose some of you are wondering about the name. Funny, despite the whole “wanting to blog” thing I’ve never been able to decide on a proper blog name. I’ve held on to a catchy subtitle for years (“/dev/random, unless I make a hash of it”), but a title? No clue, no idea, nothing ever came to mind. Forced to come up with one at long last, I did what came naturally.

> while :; do echo `egrep 'te$' /usr/share/dict/words | perl -e 'rand($.)<1 and ($line=$_)while<>;print$line'` \
     `perl -e 'rand($.)<1 and ($line=$_)while<>;print$line' /usr/share/dict/words` ; done | less

xanthosiderite koa
Brooklynite lull
adeste reclamatory
bipunctate abevacuation
disrelate seewee
Epirote Cobden
hemisaprophyte parcel-guilty
camote danda
catastate Westphalian
ingurgitate ephelis
sommite soilures
inseminate rabies
pianoforte stabbed
preconstitute tanistry
Bonaparte intermodification
decapitate philohellenian
Marette Sharona
swinecote prefictional
miaskite Egbert
subprofessorate eosphorite
protectorate soogan
portmanmote morosities
indicolite saiyids
Marguerite hoidening
repromulgate pandemoniacal
barytocelestite alloxy
umbraculate Post-devonian
desecate white-rumped
landgate twice-canvassed
killinite pyrogallate
cycadophyte Englishable
lautarite buffoons
bipunctate tar
merocerite pencels
echelette Borak
odorate overcultivated
Parbate Perrins
amphodelite lethalize
hesperidate Lemosi
zonociliate implosively
Jacquette reimbushment
tricussate Reisinger
alunite high-hatty
archeocyte unimpatiently
montroydite roband
orcanette panstereorama
julienite unorchestrated
fulminurate pro-Sweden
Bathinette Piraeus
cassate unfeigning
lowigite dolos
lyddite intersomnial
delate hepatised
alienigenate perscribe
emporte zoroastra
hemimorphite off-put
hypoantimonate ambrosia
nonconfederate hotfoot
exonerate nonfuturition
reprobate spreadsheet

The algorithm hath spoken!

Ignorance and Social Justice

“Why are you a feminist?”

Because it lets me sleep at night. Think about it: let’s say it’s true that over half the human population is burdened with a systematic disadvantage compared to the rest. Having learned of that, can you honestly shrug your shoulders and ignore the problem? I certainly can’t, so I’ll do what little I can to correct this injustice.

You may not agree, which is fine. But the corrolary of this view is that you cannot be opposed to feminism without also misunderstanding it. This sets up a prediction we can test: people who oppose feminism and other forms of social justice must be ignorant of it, must invoke straw-people, and must be resistant to learning or understanding it, if my stance has some truth to it.

The evidence suggests it has more than a little.

For instance, after offering to debate Martin Hughes, TJ Kirk cowardly backed out. Stephanie Zvan has an excellent blog post up pointing out that this is a common theme: people opposed to social justice aren’t keen on actually debating the subject.

That’s the real function of “You don’t want to debate” in this context. It isn’t to get you to debate. It’s there to say there’s something wrong with you. That’s why the offer disappears once you drag the argument into the reality of terms and conditions and making sure no one profits from the debate. It wasn’t real to begin with.

To do well in a debate, you really have to know the other side in depth. If you do that homework, though, you might learn the other side’s arguments are correct. So if you are hoping to sleep well at night, you don’t debates. I popped into the comment section to point out an exception to this:

Some of the hardcore haters would disagree, and say they’re perfectly fine with a debate. They have a very peculiar definition of “debate” in mind, though, where both sides shout slogans into the night without critically appraising their merits. It’s an extension of what I’ve called the “treadmill of lies:” By endlessly cycling from myth to lie, they avoid having to consider any one in detail and thus can convince themselves they’re just a bunch of skeptical satirists.

When this actually happens during a debate, we call it a “Gish Gallop.” This technique is a big problem with traditional, in-person debates, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that TJ Kirk was pushing for this format instead of a more leisurely exchange of blog posts. He knew he had nothing but slogans against Hughes’ arguments, and he knew those wouldn’t convince anyone but those already convinced. Unless there was some sort of reward involved, like cash or a raised profile, there was no point in “debating” Hughes.

I go into a little more detail on the treadmill here. But as luck would have it, this data point was followed by yet another. Possibly in response to the controversy kicked off by Kirk, a number of atheist YouTubers joined with him to fire back a challenge: “QUESTIONS WHITE MEN HAVE FOR SJWs!

Others in the atheo/skeptic community have been responding back, in between bouts of muffled laughter and obvious eyerolls. I’ll add my two cents at some point, but for now I’d like to point out a common theme in the questions.

3. Do you want women to be equal or do you want women to be a protected class? You can’t have both.

Protected class: “A group of people with a common characteristic who are legally protected from employment discrimination on the basis of that characteristic. Protected classes are created by both federal and state law. … Federal protected classes include: Race. Color. Religion or creed. National origin or ancestry. Sex.

4. What are you afraid will happen when you leave your “safe space”?

A Safe Space is a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age, or physical or mental ability.

5. How can you possibly justify the idea that it’s somehow racist to disagree with black lives matter?

When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.  We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.

6. Are you aware the present is not the past? Are you familiar with the concept of linear time? Because you seem incredibly comfortable traveling back through time by talking about how bad things were for women, or black people, or whomever. And then by using some form of SJW magic, you then claim or imply that those problems in the past exist today. Are you aware that this trick that you’re doing is not working? Why do you think that would work?

Results: In the United States, an estimated 19.3% of women and 1.7% of men have been raped during their lifetimes; an estimated 1.6% of women reported that they were raped in the 12 months preceding the survey. The case count for men reporting rape in the preceding 12 months was too small to produce a statistically reliable prevalence estimate. An estimated 43.9% of women and 23.4% of men experienced other forms of sexual violence during their lifetimes, including being made to penetrate, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences. The percentages of women and men who experienced these other forms of sexual violence victimization in the 12 months preceding the survey were an estimated 5.5% and 5.1%, respectively.

8. Did you know there are 13% more women in college right now than men? So if the whole goal of feminism is “equality,” shouldn’t we have some men-only scholarships in order to equal everything out?

The strength of this unconscious bias is quite astonishing – even for a relatively objective measure such as promptness, students rated a “female” professor 3.55 out of 5 and a “male” professor 4.35, despite the fact that they handed work back at the same time.

The implications are serious. In the competitive world of academia, student evaluations are often used as a tool in the process of hiring and promotion. That the evaluations may be biased against female professors is particularly problematic in light of existing gender imbalance, particularly at the highest echelons of academia. According to the American Association of University Professors, in 2012, 62% of men in academia in the US were tenured compared to only 44% of women, while women were far more likely to be in non-tenure track positions than men (32% of women in academia compared to just 19% of men).

When there are answers to the questions those YouTubers fired off, it only takes a few minutes of Googling to get an answer. Want scientific studies? They’ve been done by the hundreds, on nearly all the topics pushed by “social justice warriors.” Decades of research have been done, untold thousands of words have been spilled, and yet these people opposed to social justice are completely ignorant of it all. Had they put in the time to educate themselves, like some others have, they’d become social justice warriors too.

But as Zvan would have predicted, some of those questions aren’t actually questions.

7. Why do you think that you can spend your entire life in a state of perpetual emotional immaturity? Do you actually imagine that you’ll be able to stretch out your adolescence for your entire existence?

10. What do you hope to gain by bringing back racial segregation?

12. Why do you think every cis white male is born racist?

14. Would you rather be right, or popular? It seems like your primary objective is to score social points and get public validation.

These questions were never meant to be answered, they’re just empty talking points that form the treadmill’s belt. They’re meant to protect you from educating yourself, from breaking the wall of ignorance.

Because you might not sleep well, once you find out what’s on the other side.

Destruction of Justice

I’ve written about the “rape kit backlog” before; as a quirk summary, police departments are letting rape kits languish for decades, despite how easy they are to process and how effective they are at securing convictions.

Testing by Cleveland-area prosecutors linked more than 200 alleged serial rapists to 600 assaults. Statewide, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s effort to collect and test sexual assault kits has resulted in at least 2,285 CODIS hits so far.

In Houston, analysis of about 6,600 untested rape kits resulted in about 850 matches, 29 prosecutions and six convictions.

And, since the Colorado Bureau of Investigation began requiring police statewide to submit sexual assault kits for testing last year, more than 150 matches have been found.

But back then, I never thought of the dark side of the rape test backlog.

As scrutiny of disregarded rape kits mounted, a portrait of a more difficult to tally sort emerged – rape kits police destroyed. As with the rape kit backlog, there is no national tally of the kits police destroyed. But increasingly, local media have published reports of police destroying rape kits in states as disparate as Utah, Kentucky and Colorado. […]

In 2013, in Aurora, Colorado, police department workers derailed a prosecution when they destroyed a rape kit from a 2009 assault. The error was discovered when a detective got a hit on an offender DNA profile, went to pick up the rape kit and was told it no longer existed. Shortly thereafter, police stopped all evidence destruction while they investigated, and found workers destroyed evidence in 48 rape cases between 2011 and 2013.

In Salt Lake City, 222 of the 942 kits collected between 2004 and 2014 were destroyed. Of those, just 59 were tested and went to court.

In Hamilton County, Tennessee, sheriff’s employees destroyed rape kits with marijuana and cocaine from drug busts, angering the local prosecutor who said he wasn’t consulted.

In Kentucky, the state auditor discovered some police departments routinely destroyed rape kits after a year, even though the state had no statute of limitations for rape. The perpetrators could have been prosecuted as long as they were alive.

There was so little value placed on those kits, despite their track record of landing convictions, that the experts responsible for handling them saw no problem in their casual destruction. Criminals are allowed to walk freely, because the police bought into common myths about sexual assault.

It’s one more slice of rape culture.

A Slice of Rape Culture

There’s only so much you can cover in an hour. Early drafts of my lecture on sexual assault included a rant on rape kit testing, and it’s not hard to see why.

… police departments have been found to destroy records and ignore or mishandle evidence, which leads not only to undercounting but dismissal of cases. Many of the jurisdictions showing consistent undercounting are also, unsurprisingly, those with rape kit backlogs (there are more than 400,000 untested kits in the United States). Many cities and states don’t even keep accurate track of the number of rape exams or of kits languishing, expired or in storerooms—but when they do, the numbers improve. The arrest rate for sex assault in New York City went from 40 percent to 70 percent after the city successfully processed an estimated 17,000 kits in the early 2000s. However, it is only in the past year, after embarrassing and critical news coverage, that most departments have begun to process backlogs. After being publicly shamed for having abandoned more than 11,000 rape kits, the Michigan State Police began testing them, identifying 100 serial rapists as a result.

There’s some follow-up on that last item.

In Michigan, the Detroit kits make up the majority of those awaiting testing. To date, the largest backlog by far remains in Wayne County, where 10,000 of the 11,341 kits found in 2009 have been tested or are in the process of being tested. As of July 10, Detroit’s kit-testing initiative identified 2,478 suspects — including 456 serial rapists identified as of June 30 — and 20 convictions have been secured.

While it’s great to see justice served, take a step back and think about this. This one county managed to process 10,000 rape kits within a year or two; that means they’re quick to process. Those kits identified serial criminals and even in that short span generated 20 convictions; that means they are invaluable tools of law enforcement, an easy way to score convictions, keep the streets safe, and generate some good publicity.

But not only was this goldmine left to rot and grow since the 1980’s, it was discovered in 2009; in other words, even when they were aware of these kits and knew how valuable they were, they waited five years until they were embarrassed into action by the press.

This is one aspect of rape culture: the systematic devaluation of sexual assault victims, to the point that we blind ourselves to widespread injustice.

“This is not just an issue impacting Detroit or Wayne County,” [Shanon Banner, Michigan State Police manager of public affairs] said. “Everyone should care.”

[HJH 2015-07-19] USA Today was one of the first to break this story, and they have a follow-up too.

Testing by Cleveland-area prosecutors linked more than 200 alleged serial rapists to 600 assaults. Statewide, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s effort to collect and test sexual assault kits has resulted in at least 2,285 CODIS hits so far.

In Houston, analysis of about 6,600 untested rape kits resulted in about 850 matches, 29 prosecutions and six convictions.

And, since the Colorado Bureau of Investigation began requiring police statewide to submit sexual assault kits for testing last year, more than 150 matches have been found.

Despite those successes, many police agencies haven’t changed their policies.

In New York state, law enforcement agencies outside of New York City are under no legal requirement to test rape evidence. No state law exists requiring agencies to track how many untested kits are stored in their evidence rooms.

New York is one of 44 states with no law stipulating when police should test rape kits and 34 states that haven’t conducted a statewide inventory. […]

Interviews with law enforcement officials, and a review of police records obtained by USA TODAY, reveal sexual-assault-kit testing is often arbitrary and inconsistent among law enforcement agencies — and even within agencies.

In Jackson, Tenn., for example, notations in evidence records show contradictory reasons as to why rape kits were not tested. In some cases, the Jackson Police Department did not test evidence because the suspect’s identity was already known, records show. In 13 other cases since 1998, records show police decided not to test kits because there was “no suspect” or “no known suspect,” even though testing the kits could help identify a suspect. […]

Some government officials and researchers have faulted police for a predisposition to doubt survivors’ stories.

“The fact is that often rape kits are unsubmitted for testing because of a blame-the-victim mentality or because investigators mistrust the survivor’s story,” Illinois Attorney General Madigan told a U.S. Senate subcommittee at a hearing in May. “This outdated way of thinking must change.”

After more than 10,000 untested sexual assault kits were discovered in Detroit in 2008, a landmark study funded by the Justice Department faulted police for “negative, victim‐blaming beliefs.”

“Rape survivors were often assumed to be prostitutes and therefore what had happened to them was considered to be their own fault,” researchers from Michigan State University wrote in their analysis of Detroit’s rape investigations.

Welcome to rape culture.

A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case: Part Three

[complications arise, as does simplicity]

In the last installment, we calculated the odds of nesting or attempted nesting at site 84744 M.S. to be 92%, based on Hugh’s claim. We also found that daufnie_odie’s claim made us 11% confident in nesting.

Hugh, though, was talking about a different point in time. Our original question only asked if the nesting site had seen a nest or attempted nest, without any other clear bounds. It’s similar to asking “will I ever see heads while flipping this coin;” the more distinct observations we have, the greater the chance of at least one head (or nesting attempt) appearing.

The obvious way to combine these two claims is to consider all the possibilities. If we have two independent events, A and B, then the odds of at least one happening is the sum of the first happening but the second not, the second happening but not the first, and both happening. That isn’t too annoying to add up when we have just two events, but if we use this technique for N events we’ll have to consider 2^N – 1 possibilities. Ouch.

Notice, though, that we’re calculating the probability of every possible observation combination, excluding one: that no events occurred. However, by definition the sum of all probabilities must be one. So if we calculate the odds of that single combination and subtract it from one, we know the sum of the odds for every other combination. We can accomplish 2^N – 1 calculations for the cost of one!

Putting this into practice with our numbers above, we calculate the odds of Hugh being wrong about the nest and the odds of daufnie_odie being wrong, then multiply and subtract that from one, and get 93%. A marginal improvement.

But hold on here; why did I multiply those two together? Let’s pull up a diagram:

Dividing the universe by the accounts of Hugh and daufnie_odieOur goal is to figure out A / (A + B + C + D). We can use a bit of algebra to rewrite that as

image

Oh, there’s our multiplication right there! In English, all we have to do is multiply the odds of daufnie_odie being wrong, by the odds of Hugh being wrong when we assume daufne_odie is wrong.

One problem: we don’t know the odds of the latter, just the odds of Hugh being wrong overall. If those two were dependent events, this could be a big problem, but thankfully they’re independent for our purposes; if we’re calculating the odds of no nest or attempt, we don’t care if two or more people are talking about the same event, we just need them to be wrong about whatever they’re talking about. That means that the vertical partition is exactly as it looks in the diagram, a straight cut across the entire probability space. In math terms, the ratio of A to B is the same as that of C to D, which leads to

image

So as long as we can be confident daufnie_odie’s claim is independent of Hugh’s, we can treat (A + B) / (A + B + C + D) as A / (A + B) and just multiply.

But when we take a closer look at daufnie_odie’s post, we realize we’re missing some key facts. They spoke up after reading another post by Pollock Myerson, wondering if the person who contacted them was the same as the one who contacted Myerson. Hopping over to Myerson’s post, we learn that he was introduced to someone claiming to have spotted a nest by Caroline Puppy, and that later on a third person contacted Myerson to validate the original tale. Again no names are mentioned, but Myerson, Puppy, and the third person make it clear that they know this nest claimant.

Scrolling back, we see someone named Bryant Tompsin claiming to know a witness to an attempted nest. This doesn’t look like the same person that contacted Puppy. There’s also a comment by someone who goes by “maryann”, who claims to have spotted at least an attempted nest; whether this is the same person that Tompsin, Puppy or daufnie_odie referred to isn’t clear, but it’s probably not Hugh under a different name.

Scrolling forward, we also find a few posts where Pauline Gray claims to have seen a Sexualis Asoltenti attempt to nest, but leaves out what nesting site she saw it at. Puppy reappears, claiming that she was told by someone named Dijai Gruthi that there was an attempted nesting at 84744 M.S., a fact she later confirmed with someone else who witnessed the same nesting. By comparing photos and accounts, it becomes probable that Pauline Gray was talking about 84744 M.S., that she saw it at the same time as Gruthi, and that Puppy’s other person is Gray. In the meanwhile, Tompsin reappears and also claims to have heard of the same attempted nesting from Gruthi.

As all that’s sinking in, we flip open the local birding magazine and find still more. Pauline Gray admits she really was talking about 84744 M.S. and that Gruthi was present for the attempted nest; the unnamed person of Myerson outs themselves as Ali Smyth, a local birder; and a well-respected person named Jim Grandie suggests he saw a nest or attempt at one but waved it off as horseplay, something birds do when drunk. Biff Jag confirms he was around shortly after Smyth’s nesting observation, and someone with the handle “skippingthem” mentions they know someone who was also a witness. daufnie_odie posts again, and confirms that the nesting Ali Smyth saw was not the one they were aware of. Finally, we can infer some information from the state of the nesting site; if it remains constant, that would suggest a nesting or attempt was unlikely, and if it shifted over time then it likely was nested in at some point. Myerson had a look at the long-term state of 84744 M.S., and indeed found evidence of shifting.

Working through all these combinations would be a nightmare. Fortunately, we don’t have to. As we only care if at least one nest or attempted nest happened, we can instead calculate the odds of no nesting occurring and then subtract that from one. This is a much simpler task, which we’ll accomplish in the next installment

[HJH 2015-07-19: adding some missing links]

A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case: Part Two

[the fundamentals of the birds and the bees]

Forget all that talk of sexual assault from last time. Instead, pretend I’m an ornithologist.

Wandering past nesting site 84744 M.S. one day, I wonder if a Sexualis Asoltenti has ever flown in and either nested or attempted to nest there. From various studies, I know the odds of that happening are between six and thirteen percent, making it unlikely. Still, I’m just one person; what have other birdwatchers seen? When I get home, I pull up the favourite web forum for local birders and have a look.

I immediately spot a post by Douglas Hugh, who claims to have seen a nesting Sexualis Asoltenti there. What does that do to the odds? Let’s diagram it out.

The entire universe of possible outcomes.This rectangle represents every possible situation: that no nest exists, that it was made of discarded twine, that Wile E. Coyote instead threw an Acme Portable Hole in there, and so on. We can slice that space by partitioning it into two, one side containing all possibilities where the nest was built or attempted, the other containing the inverse.
Partitioning the probabilities into [I should mention these areas aren’t to scale. I’m just focusing on topology here.]

As this rectangle represents every possibility, it also contains scenarios that include Hugh claiming a nest, as well as Hugh not making any such claim. We can further partition the space.

All possibilities partitioned both by whether or not a nest/attempt was made, and whether or not Hugh claims to have seen a nest.[I should also mention that these boundaries aren’t necessarily accurate. Topology, remember. Also, I wrote this a good three weeks before I saw Jamie’s similar post about Bayes’ Theorem over at SkepChick. Scout’s honour!]

Those previous studies I mentioned represent the area of (A + C) divided by the area of (A + B + C + D).

While we may not know the status of the nest, we do know whether or not Hugh made the claim. Areas C and D are contrary to reality, thus should be dropped from this analysis. The odds of a nest or attempted nest is now the area of A divided by the area of (A + B); in English, that’s the number of instances where Hugh claims a nest, and there is one, as compared to the number of instances where he falsely claims there’s a nest there plus the number of true claims.

As luck would have it, we already have a number to substitute in. Prior research puts the odds of a false nesting claim for Sexualis Asoltenti at between 2-8%; this means that the odds of A / (A + B) are about 92-98%. I’ll take the more conservative value, and say 8% of claims are mistaken, fabricated, or something else. Easy enough.

After figuring all that out, I spot a post from someone named “daufnie_odie.” They claim to have heard a birder mention they’d spotted a nest at 84744 M.S.. No name is given, but the context makes it fairly clear they know this person.

We got lucky last time, because that 8% was for cases where someone claimed they saw a nest or attempted nest, which was exactly the scenario we had. No such luck here, plus there’s a layer of indirection we need to account for. Here’s a first attempt at that:

All probabilities, partitioned by whether there was an attempted/actual nest AND daufnie_odie was approached, vs. daufnie_odie making a claim.On our diagram, the odds of “someone genuinely spots a nest or attempt and mentions it to daufnie_odie” corresponds to the areas where daufnie_odie was approached, A and C, divided by all areas, which is (A + C) / (all). As this box represents all possibilities, and has a total area of one, the odds of the negation of the prior claim (specifically, that there was no nesting, or a false claim, or the news never reaching daufnie_odie), is (1 – (A + C) / (all)) or (B + D) / (all).

Even if that original person saw a nest, though, it’s possible they’d never mention it. We know the first probability, so I’ll put the second at… oh… one third, then multiply the two values together to reach the chance of both events happening.

[Why multiplication? I’ll explicitly cover that in part 3, but if you pay real close attention you’ll get a preview below.]

At this point, I bet a number of you are about to quit in disgust. I just pulled that number out of thin air, and doesn’t that taint the whole enterprise?

If that probability is wildly different from reality, it might. Or, it might not. As I pointed out earlier, if we’re testing the bias of a coin and take a few bad tosses, that could throw off the measurement… but only if we only do a dozen throws. If we do a thousand, it’ll have no significant effect on our final results. Likewise, a bad guess among several good ones will be neutralized, and a lot of fuzzy measurements can combine to create a precise one.

Most importantly, we live in an era of cheap computing. I can run a large number of simulations and check how the parameters change over a wide range of values, giving myself a solid idea of how stable the results are. A little fuzziness is no problem, and who knows? My ad-hoc guess could be bang on the money. This is also handy for anyone who disagrees with my numbers; just plug in your own instead and rerun the analysis.

But back to that. We now need to figure out the odds of daufnie_odie publicly stating their claim, assuming they actually were approached. Maybe they’d forget, or be embarrassed by the situation, but that’s highly unlikely (92%-98% of such claims are legitimate, remember), and this person has some protection by being pseudo-anonymous. I’ll make this probability fairly high, say 95% or so. This corresponds to A / (A + C) in the diagram.

There’s also the possibility that daufnie_odie is making the entire thing up. The pseudo-anonymous argument cuts both ways, also arguing that a false claim is more likely. Nonetheless, an anonymous person that’s careless could be tracked down and held accountable for their words. Given all that, let’s put this probability at an even 50/50. Note that this corresponds to B / (B + D).

Now we can calculate A / (A + B). Multiplying the odds of nesting and this person approaching daufnie_odie, with the odds of daufnie_odie sharing the claim with us, nets us A; multiplying the odds of no nesting or daufnie_odie being approached, with the odds of daufnie_odie making the whole thing up, arrives at B. Put A in the denominator, and the sum of (A + B) in the numerator.

The full math behind daufnie_odie's case. Trust me, it's a bit ugly looking.That’s a pain to write out, though. Let’s clean things up with some substitution; we’ll call the claim “there was a nest or attempted nest and daufnie_odie was approached by a witness” by the letter “H”, and daufnie_odie’s stating that happened will become “E”. To denote the opposite of a claim, like “daufnie_odie did not state he knew of nesting,” we’ll put a little mark in front of it; in this case, that’d look like “¬E”. To refer specifically to the probability of X happening, we’ll say “P(X)”, and if we talk about the odds of X happening given Y did happen, we’ll write “P(X | Y)”. With these simplifications, the math translates into

Bayes' Theorem, in binary mode.Whoops, we’ve accidentally derived a simplified version of Bayes’ Theorem. Ah well, either way we’ve calculated an 11% chance that there was a nest or attempted nest, given daufnie_odie’s post (though as you’ll see later, that number’s a bit naive). As we’re partitioning the probability space, that implies an 89% chance there was no nest or attempt at one.

How do we combine these two accounts together? That’s for part 3

[HJH 2015-06-09: Minor edits for clarity.]
[HJH 2015-06-19: Emphasized daufnie_odie’s probability would change later.]
[HJH 2015-07-19: Adding a missing link.]

A Statistical Analysis of a Sexual Assault Case: Part One

[statistics for the people, and of the people]

I just can’t seem to escape sexual assault. For the span of six months I analysed the Stollznow/Radford case, then finished an examination of Carol Tavris’ talk at TAM2014, so the topic never wandered far from my mind. I’ve bounced my thoughts off other people, sometimes finding support, other times running into confusion or rejection. It’s the latter case that most fascinates me, so I hope you don’t mind if I write my way through the confusion.

The most persistent objection I’ve received goes something like this: I cannot take population statistics and apply them to a specific person. That’s over-generalizing, and I cannot possibly get to a firm conclusion by doing it.

It makes sense on some level. Human beings are wildly different, and can be extremely unpredictable because of that. The field of psychology is scattered with the remains of attempts to bring order to the chaos. However, I’ve had to struggle greatly to reach even that poor level of intellectual empathy, as the argument runs contrary to our every moment of existence. This may be a classic example of talking to fish about water; our unrelenting leaps from the population to the individual seem rare and strange when consciously considered, because these leaps are almost never conscious.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a familiar example.

P1. That object looks like a chair.
P2. Based on prior experience, objects that look like chairs can support my weight.
C1. Therefore, that object can support my weight.

Yep, the Problem of Induction is a classic example of applying the general to the specific. I may have sat on hundreds of chairs in my lifetime, without incident, but that does not prove the next chair I sit on will remain firm. I can even point to instances where a chair did collapse… and yet, if there’s any hesitation when I sit down, it’s because I’m worried about whether something’s stuck to the seat. The worry of the chair collapsing never enters my mind.

Once you’ve had the water pointed out to you, it appears everywhere. Indeed, you cannot do any action without jumping from population to specific.

P1. A brick could spontaneously fly at my head.
P2. Based on prior experience, no brick has ever spontaneously flown at my head.
C1. Therefore, no brick will spontaneously fly at my head.

P1. I’m typing symbols on a page.
P2. Based on prior experience, other people have been able to decode those symbols.
C1. Therefore, other people will decode those symbols.

P1. I want to raise my arm.
P2. Based on prior experience, triggering a specific set of nerve impulses will raise my arm.
C1. Therefore, I trigger those nerve impulses and assume it’ll raise my arm.

“Action” includes the acts of science, too.

P1. I take a measurement with a specific device and a specific calibration.
P2. Based on prior experience, measurements with that device and calibration were reliable.
C1. Therefore, this measurement will be reliable.

Philosophers may view the Problem of Induction as a canyon of infinite width, but it’s a millimetre crack in our day-to-day lives. Not all instances are legitimate, though. Here’s a subtle failure:

P1. This vaccine contains mercury.
P2. Based on prior experience, mercury is a toxic substance with strong neurological effects.
C1. Therefore, this vaccine is a toxic substance with strong neurological effects.

Sure, your past experience may have included horror stories of what happens after chronic exposure to high levels of mercury… but unbeknownst to you, it also included chronic exposure to very low levels of mercury compounds, of varying toxicity, which had no effect on you or anyone else. There’s a stealth premise here: this argument asserts that dosage is irrelevant, something that’s not true but easy to overlook. It’s not hard to come up with similarly flawed examples that are either more subtle (“Therefore, I will not die today”) or less (“Therefore, all black people are dangerous thugs”).

Hmm, maybe this type of argument is unsound when applied to people? Let’s see:

P1. This is a living person.
P2. Based on prior experience, living persons have beating hearts.
C1. Therefore, this living person has a beating heart.

Was that a bit cheap? I’ll try again:

P1. This is a person living in Canada.
P2. Based on prior experience, people living in Canada speak English.
C1. Therefore, this person will speak English.

Now I’m skating onto thin ice. According to StatCan, only 85% of Canadians can speak English, so this is only correct most of the time. Let’s improve on that:

P1. This is a person living in Canada.
P2. Based on prior experience, about 85% of people living in Canada speak English.
C1. Therefore, there’s an 85% chance this person will speak English.

Much better. In fact, it’s much better than anything I’ve presented so far, as it was gathered by professionals in controlled conditions, an immense improvement over my ad-hoc, poorly-recorded personal experience. It also quantifies and puts implicit error bars around what it is arguing. Don’t see how? Consider this version instead:

P1. This is a person living in Canada.
P2. Based on prior experience, about 84.965% of people living in Canada speak English.
C1. Therefore, there’s an 84.965% chance this person will speak English.

The numeric precision sets the implicit error bounds; “about 85%” translates into “from 84.5 to 85.5%.”

Having said all that, it wouldn’t take much effort to track down a remote village in Quebec where few people could talk to me, and the places where I hang out are well above 85% English-speaking. But notice that both are a sub-population of Canada, while the above talks only of Canada as a whole. It’s a solid argument over the domain it covers, but adding more details can change that.

Ready for the next step? It’s a bit scary.

P1. This is a man.
P2. Based on prior experience, between 6 and 62% of men have raped or attempted it.
C1. Therefore, the chance of that man having raped or attempted rape is between 6 and 62%.

Hopefully you can see this is nothing but probability theory at work. The error bars are pretty huge there, but as with the language statistic we can add more details.

P1. This is a male student at a mid-sized, urban commuter university in the United States with a diverse student body.
P2. Based on prior experience, about 6% of such students have raped or attempted it.
C1. Therefore, the odds of that male student having raped or attempted rape is about 6%.

We can do much better, though, by continuing to pile on the evidence we have and watching how the probabilities shift around. Interestingly, we don’t even need to be that precise with our numbers; if there’s sufficient evidence, they’ll converge on an answer. One flip of a coin tells you almost nothing about how fair the process is, while a thousand flips taken together tells you quite a lot (and it isn’t pretty). Even if the numbers don’t come to a solid conclusion, that still might be OK; you wouldn’t do much if there was a 30% chance your ice cream cone started melting before you could lick it, but you would take immediate action if there was a 30% chance of a meteor hitting your house. Fuzzy answers can still justify action, if the consequences are harsh enough and outweigh the cost of getting it wrong.

So why not see what answers we can draw from a sexual assault case? Well, maybe because discussing sexual assault is a great way to get sued, especially when the accused in question is rumoured to be very litigious.

So instead, let’s discuss birds

[HJH 2015-07-19: Changed a link to point to the correct spot.]

When Secularism Is A Lie

In 1990, Gregg Cunningham thought the anti-choice movement was losing the battle for reproductive rights. In response, he formed the Center for Bioethical Reform, then spent years brainstorming how he could reinvent the movement. His answer: secularize it. This allowed anti-choice messaging to dodge past religious disagreement over abortion (Christian denominations are evenly divided over support for abortion) by pretending to be above it all, and get into places a religious approach was barred from entering.

… this is very carefully targeted. When we do this on a university campus there is actually an enormous amount of preparation, and we do a great deal of follow-up. We start pro-life organizations on the campus where none had existed previously, we greatly strengthen currently existing pro-life groups by increasing the size of their membership, by donating to them all kinds of educational resources they can use, we help recruit students to volunteer at the local crisis pregnancy centers. We do a myriad of things of that sort. The same is true of churches. […]

The Genocide Awareness Project is one of a myriad of projects which we are doing, but they are all aimed at the same thing: how can we engage a reluctant culture and educate it over its own objections? It all starts with a willingness to take the heat. We lack moral authority if we are not willing to take the heat.

It signaled that lies and half-truths were perfectly acceptable, since Cunningham’s organization was secular in name only.

We are a secular organization, we’re not a Christian organization, but we are an organization comprised of Christians, and the thing that motivates us personally is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

While Cunningham is an extremist, his ideas have been very influential. The moderates in the anti-choice movement have since noted the failure of religious arguments, and have embraced trojan secularism. Emphasis mine:

the strenuous efforts of abolitionists have yielded very little in terms of measurable progress in reducing abortion, so it’s time to try a more fruitful strategy.

I have my own beliefs about the sanctity and rights of an unborn baby, but I don’t think we’ll change many minds by arguing about that. The proliferation of 3D ultrasound machines, new research about fetal awareness and pain, and the increasing viability of extremely premature babies will continue to make an impression on some people, but for those who are heavily invested in the moral neutrality of abortion on demand, and who see the concession of any status to the fetus as in direct conflict with the rights of the mother, this won’t make a lot of difference.

We need more discussion, then, of abortion as a women’s issue. Abortion damages women. It does them physical and psychological harm, which is multiplied by the fact that very few women seeking abortions give their informed consent (meaning consent even after being advised of the risks.) Those of us who take such things seriously tend to agree that it does them spiritual harm. More broadly, a culture in which abortion is seen as essentially harmless wreaks profound changes to our collective understanding of motherhood, sexuality, the obligations of mothers and fathers to each other and their children, and adulthood.

It’s been embraced so much by extremists and moderates alike, Kelly Gordon found that only 1.9% of anti-choice messages contained a religious element.[1]

The latest variation of this that I’ve heard of this comes from Crisis Pregnancy Centres. Cunningham called them “Ministries,” which is more accurate than I realized.

In a conference room at the Embassy Suites in Charleston, South Carolina, Laurie Steinfeld stood behind a podium speaking to an audience of about 50 people. Steinfeld is a counselor at a pregnancy center in Mission Hills, California, and she was leading a session at the annual Heartbeat International conference, a gathering of roughly 1,000 crisis pregnancy center staff and anti-abortion leaders from across the country. Her talk focused on how to help women seeking abortions understand Jesus’s plan for them and their babies, and she described how her center’s signage attracts women.

“Right across the street from us is Planned Parenthood,” she said. “We’re across the street and it [their sign] says ‘Pregnancy Counseling Center,’ but these girls aren’t — they just look and see ‘Pregnancy’ and think, Oh, that’s it! So some of them coming in thinking they’re going to their abortion appointments.” […]

In her workshop, “How to Reach and Inspire the Heart of a Client,” Steinfeld told her audience about her mission to convert clients: “If you hear nothing today, I want you to hear this one thing,” she said. “We might be the very first face of Christ that these girls ever see.”

When someone’s salvation is on the line, anything is justified. Exploiting the desperation of someone in order to bring them into a relationship with Christ is completely justified, so long as you don’t use the word “exploit.”

Multiple women told me it was their job to protect women from abortion as “an adult tells a child not to touch a hot stove.” Another oft-repeated catchphrase was, “Save the mother, save the baby,” shorthand for many pregnancy center workers’ belief that the most effective way to prevent abortion is to convert women. In keeping with Evangelicalism’s central tenets, many pregnancy center staff believe that those living “without Christ”— including Christians having premarital sex — must accept Christ to be born again, redeem their sins, and escape spiritual pain. Carrying a pregnancy to term “redeems” a “broken” woman, multiple staff people told me.

And here again, we find they deliberately avoid the “G” or “J” words until they’ve sealed a connection.

The website for Heartbeat International’s call center, Option Line, offers to connect women with a pregnancy center that “provides many services for free.” It encourages women who are curious about emergency contraception to call its hotline to speak to a representative about “information on all your options.” On the Option Line website, there is no mention of Christ, no religious imagery, no talk of being saved. But visit the website of Heartbeat itself and you’ll find very different language. “Heartbeat International does promote God’s Plan for our sexuality: marriage between one man and one woman, sexual intimacy, children, unconditional/unselfish love, and relationship with God must go together,” it says. […]

In her session, “Do I Really Need Two Sites?” Chenoweth explained that, yes, in fact, pregnancy centers do. She recommended that centers operate one that describes an anti-abortion mission to secure donors and another that lists medical information to attract women seeking contraception, counseling, or abortion. […]

Johnson … emphasized that waiting rooms should feel like “professional environments” instead of “grandma’s house,” and discouraged crucifixes, fake flowers, and mauve paint before showing slides of Planned Parenthood waiting rooms and encouraging staff to make their centers look just as “beautiful and up-to-date,” especially if they have a “medical model,” meaning they offer sonograms and other medical services. Johnson also said pregnancy center staff should mirror Planned Parenthood’s language.

Lies are an integral part of the anti-choice movement. Lies about what abortion does to you, and lies about what they stand for and believe in. Anyone hoping to promote secularism and humanist values should be wary of religion in secular clothing.

 

[1] Gordon, Kelly. “‘Think About the Women!’: The New Anti-Abortion Discourse in English Canada,” 2011. pg. 42.