Category Archives: Bad Probability

Astrology and the Olympics

An alert reader sent me link to a stupid
article published by Reuters about the Olympics and Astrology.

It’s a classic kind of crackpot silliness, which I’ve described
in numerous articles before. It’s yet another example of pareidolia – that is, seeing patterns where there aren’t any.

When we look at large quantities of data, there are bound
to be things that look like patterns. In fact, it would be
surprising if there weren’t apparent parents for us to find. That’s
just the nature of large quantities of data.

In this case, it’s an astrologer claiming to have found
astrological correlations in who wins olympic competitions:

Something fishy is happening at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Put it all down to the stars.

Forget training, dedication and determination. An athlete’s star sign could be the secret to Olympic gold.

After comparing the birthdates of every Olympic winner since the modern Games began in 1896, British statistician Kenneth Mitchell discovered gold medals really are written in the stars.

He found athletes born in certain months were more likely to thrive in particular events.

Mitchell dubbed the phenomenon “The Pisces Effect” (pisces is Latin for fish) after finding that athletes born under the sign received around 30 percent more medals than any other star sign in events like swimming and water polo.

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Nonsense Pretending: Probability as a Disguise

Once again, you, my readers, have come through with some really high-grade crackpottery. This one was actually sent to me by its author, but I didn’t really look at it until several readers sent me the same link because they thought it was my kind of material. With your recommendations, I took a look, and was rewarded. In a moment of hubris, the author titled it A Possible Proof of God’s Existence from Multiverse Assumptions.

This article is basically a version of the classic big-numbers probabilistic argument for God. What makes this different is that it doesn’t line up a bunch of fake numbers and saying “Presto! Look at that great big probability: that means that it’s impossible for the universe/life/everything to exist without God!”. Instead, it takes a more scientific looking approach. It dresses the probability argument up using lots of terms and ideas from modern physics, and presents it as “If we knew the values of these variables, we could compute the probability” – with a clear bias towards the idea that the unvalued variables must have values that produced the desired result of this being a created universe.

Aside from being an indirect version of the big-numbers argument, this is also a nice example of what I call obfuscatory mathematics. See, you want to make some argument. You’re dead sure that it’s right. But it doesn’t sound convincing. So you dress it up. Don’t just assume your axioms – make up explanations for them in terms of math, so that it sounds all formal and mathy. Then your crappy assumptions will look convincing!

With that said, on to his argument!

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More Bad Bayesians: No ETs!

Remember when I talked about the problems with Bayesian probability? As you’ll probably recall, one of the things that drives me crazy about Bayesianism is that you get a constant stream of crackpots abusing it. Since the basic assumption of Bayesian probability is that you can always use it, you’ll constantly get people abusing it.

Christopher Mims, who was one of the people running ScienceBlogs when I first signed on, sent me a classic example. A professor has published a paper in a journal called “Astrobiology”, arguing that there’s an exceedingly low probability of intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe.

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The Faith Equation: Part Two of the Review

The bulk of this part of the review is looking at the total train-wreck that is chapter 4, which contains Bittinger’s version of dreadful probabilistic arguments for
why Christianity must be true. But before I do that, I need to take care of one loose
end from part 1. I should have included chapter three in part one of the review, since it’s really just a continuation of the paradox rubbish, but I didn’t.

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