Tuesday 18 September 2012

Some litmus test questions


Most evil: Fascism or Communism?

Mormonism: good or bad thing?

"Archbishop Rowan Williams is well-intentioned, but..." True or False?


James Joyce or JRR Tolkien?

T.S. Eliot or Robert Frost?

Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss?


The Bonferroni correction: experimental rigour or scientific illiteracy?

The null hypothesis is just common sense? Yes? No? (delete as appropriate)

Statistical significance has something to do with truth. True or False? 



Kevin Nowell said...

1. Communism

2. Mormonism is a bad thing because it is a heresy from the truth of orthodox Christianity. It is less bad than other Christian heresies but cannot be counted as a good thing.

3. Archbishop Rowan Williams is well-intenioned, but he is not in communion with the holy mother Catholic Church.

4. JRR Tolkien

5. Robert Frost

6. I have no opinion.

7. I had no idea what this was until I just looked it up and it seems to be very unprecise and lazy math.

8. It is unclear what you are asking here. Are you asking what if some specific null hypothesis is common sense or is the whole idea of a null hypothesis common sense? If the latter then I would say yes, the idea of a null hypthesis makes perfect sense.

9. Statistical significance has something to do with ascertaining what is truth when it cannot be understood more definitely.

Bruce Charlton said...

@KN - I'm sorry, you haven't passed.

Samson J. said...

If it's any consolation, Kevin, my answers were identical to yours. :)

Alat said...

Communism, good, false, Tolkien, Frost, Strauss, no idea, yes, false

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alat - deserves a pass, I would say...

I wonder whether 'pass' corresponds to the 'litmus' turning red (acidic) or blue (alkaline)?

Bruce Charlton said...

@BTW - the time is up, please stop writing now, hand in your papers at the door.

Samson J. said...

Well - answers? I'm on the edge of my seat, you know!

Reg Perrin said...

1. Most evil: Fascism or Communism?

Fascism in principle, but Communism murdered more innocent people.

2. Mormonism: good or bad thing?

Bad thing. Joe Smith was a fraud and his successors are pinstriped business CEOs. Not what I'd call men of God.

3. "Archbishop Rowan Williams is well-intentioned, but..." True or False?

True. I'm a great fan of Dr Williams.

4. James Joyce or JRR Tolkien?


5. T.S. Eliot or Robert Frost?


6. Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss?

Strauss, but then I've always had a taste for the gaudy.

7. The Bonferroni correction: experimental rigour or scientific illiteracy?

I don't know what this is, sorry.

8. The null hypothesis is just common sense? Yes? No? (delete as appropriate)

Ditto. I was a humanities graduate.

9. Statistical significance has something to do with truth. True or False?

I guess it must do.

What do I win?

Bruce Charlton said...

@RP - Sorry, the exam finished an hour ago. But you failed, anyway...

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ. If you have to ask, then I'm afraid I can't tell you.

Nathan said...

1. Communism

2. I find Mormon teachings/theology harmful, but they have some good practices and rituals.

3. I know nothing about ARW.

4. Tolkien

5. Robert Frost

6. Neither.

7. It seems like it is either scientific illiteracy or simply unscientific.

8. The null hypothesis is common sense (by definition), but that does not make it right.

9. Statistical significance only has something to do with truth 80% of the time. (Har har har...)

Jonathan C said...

1-3: By their fruits ye shall know them.

7-9: It is clear (e.g. from the quantized self movement) that many interventions affect only a small part of the population, but can have strong and crucial effects for those who are affected. This seems to me the most obvious counterexample to the usual uses of statistical significance and the null hypothesis (and perhaps the Bonferroni correction too, based on my quick skimming of the Wikipedia page). But I would be interested in hearing other counterexamples and arguments. (Of course, none of this mechanical number-crunching is a replacement for actual science.)

The question that throws me is Mahler vs. Strauss. I guess I rank them equally. Neither of them sound modernist to my ears.

dearieme said...

When I was doing my PhD my supervisor urged me to think about taking up Bayesian Statistics. So I ploughed through a fair bit of a book on the subject. Interesting, but when I looked at the number of experiments I still had to do .....

Years later I taught some introductory conventional stats, of the conventional, frequentist kind. I can't say that I especially warmed to the approach, once I'd got the premises clear in my mind, but you need to teach it to your students because it is what they will meet in life. If I made the premises clear, though, they might, I thought, come to share my reservations.

Samson J. said...

Well, shoot, I guess I'm outta the club. Have to start my own, I guess!

Wm Jas said...

1. Communism.

2. It depends on what you're comparing it to. Of course it's better to know the truth than to believe lies, but Mormonism is a relatively benign lie. I certainly don't regret my Mormon upbringing one bit.

3. I know too little about the Archbishop to judge his intentions, but if he's like most humans I feel pretty confident in guessing that (a) he intends to do what he thinks is right and (b) most of it isn't, really.

4. Tolkien. Joyce reminds me of Ivan Karamazov, telling a deep and disturbing story and then following it up with, "Oh, why must you take it so seriously? Can't you see I don't give a damn about anything!"

5. Frost. Eliot wrote some very good poems, but his supposed "masterpiece" is not one of them. (Tolkien and Joyce are also both decent poets, incidentally. Or maybe I'm just not too picky.)

6. I'm afraid I'm musically illiterate.

7. And apparently scientifically illiterate as well. (Or am I just experimentally rigorous? Anyway, no idea what the Bonferroni correction is.)

8. The question is poorly worded. Do you mean, (a) The idea of having a null hypothesis is a commonsense idea, or (b) For any given question, whatever people believe by common sense should be considered the null hypothesis? Based on your comments elsewhere, I'm guessing you mean (b). For example, most people naturally believe in life after death; therefore, life after death is the null hypothesis, and the burden of proof lies with disbelievers. I suppose I agree with that.

9. Well, obviously everything has something to do with truth! Such is the nature of the beast. If you mean that statistical significance is the only way to know that something is likely to be true, then of course it's false.

Puddleg said...

1) communisn; (nazism is not true fascism)
2) Mormonism is no worse than other religions, better than most. a Good thing.
3) We are all well intentioned, but... True
4) Joyce
5) Eliot
6) Mahler
7) it's not rigour. I can't tell whether its illiteracy tho.
8) yes, but what is common sense?
9) statistical significance is a measure of uncertainty

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks to all those who answered, I learned from them.

Here's what I intended to convey.

1. Get things in perspective

2. Time to pick sides. The sides are ever-more clearly demarcated - mainstream Christians need to be able to answer yes here: they need to find a way.

3. When it comes to public discourse language should be clear and concise. What public figures do is what matters: in particular how they handle tough decisions.

4. Too obvious.

5. Actually, it's Strauss.

6. Category error/ an answer orthogonal to the question.

7. Not common sense. To *assume* no difference between, say, men and women, is to assume what is known to be false. In most research, most of the time, assumptions can be made to withstand all evidence (evidence is critiqued, assumptions are not). In practice, a wrong assumption/ hypothesis will predetermine the outcome.

9. Not. It is what it is, truth is something altogether different. Overall, we'd have been better off (science would have been better off) without this stuff: real scientists don't need it; psuedo-scientists are ruled by it.

dearieme said...

"Actually, it's Strauss."

Aye, but the Blue Danube fella.

Bruce Charlton said...

Him too...

JRRT Reader said...


Bad thing-many people are unaware of the weirdness of Mormon theology and that sect's origin from Puritanism.

Williams comes off as wishy-washy-but at least some of his stands are so problematic that I'm inclined to say false.

No question here that it's Tolkien, (but I did admire Joyce from a a stylistic in my youth).

Frost-I like both, but I prefer my verse to be in meter, and Frost relies more on his own gifts and ideas, whereas Eliot depends more on allusions to other writers, artists, etc.

Strauss by a slight margin. I'm frankly not enough of a music lover to have a very informed opinion on this point.

Mathematics, including statistic, and the natural sciences are probably my most glaring lacunae, so I will have to abstain from the final three.

JRRT Reader said...

Also, Dr. Charlton, you appear to have forgotten to explain the Frost vs Eliot distinction!

Bruce Charlton said...

@JRRTR - re: 2. But surely that 'weirdness' is the *only* thing of which most people are aware? (That, or the false idea that polygamy is current in the CJCLDS).

I would say you are mostly and importantly wrong about Puritanism as an origin, although that was an element of it: there was a very strong Hebraic/ ancient Jewish aspect, as brought out by Harold Bloom in American Religion.

But mainstream Christians must (for their own good) get over the fixation on theology. This is not the core of Mormonism, as theology may be for intellectual Roman Catholics.

How many theologians get to Heaven? Maybe half a dozen (not counting the Apostles John and Paul). Compared with how many humble and ignorant devout souls whose only theological ideas are either incoherent or plain false?

In fact, making theology the defining essence of Christianity is the strongest schism generator fo all time, and must absolutely delight Satan and his minions.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JRRTR - Oh yes, I missed Frost versus Eliot...

It is just the difference between a poet (the last great poet in English) and someone who wrote something descended-from poetry, commenting-upon poetry, but not actually poetry.

JRRT Reader said...

Stateside, some people are aware of the polygamy (including that which continues on today in the breakaway groups) and perhaps the Mormon struggle in the early days-perhaps some know that blacks were barred from certain roles in the Mormon community. However, the majority opinion probably runs something like "Mormons are "clean-living" Christians, albeit with a peculiar other volume of scripture." I doubt that many, let alone most people, are aware that Joseph Smith had other writings that are highly significant in Mormon teaching.

When I mention Puritanism, I mean not so much theology as such, but the Puritan descended culture in Smith's native "burnt-over district", which had come from the adjacent New England area. It isn't well known, I meant to say, that Mormonism was but one of many bizarre sects to arise out of the burnt-over district; it just so happens to have had the most lasting success.

Mormonism is such a "special" case that I hesitate to call it Christian, and I mean that in the kindest way possible. It is not so much a matter that it is different, but rather that it differs in such a basic way once one gets beyond the tee-totaling and such. It is not the same as, say, differences between RC and Lutheranism, or Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It might arguably be its own religion. I am not at all well-versed in theology, or overly fixated upon it, but problems do remain. It's hard to articulate my precise views, and I don't pretend to be anything like an expert on Mormon belief, but I suspect that there is a point at which we must say that this or that idea is just too wide of the mark to be acceptable. (Those familiar with Mormonism probably know the points to which I'm referring here.)

This does, to some extent, I confess, reflect my position vis-à-vis my country and its history. Certain segments of the US population, myself included, will see Mormonism as coming from the same geographical area AND same intellectual tradition that brought us Transcendentalism,radical abolitionism, the American feminist movement, etc. That said, I do see the problems with Mormonism to be *objectively* real.

I used to admire Bloom for his dogged defense of the Western Canon, but it is precisely things such as his admiration for Mormonism due to its specifically "American" character which put me off. Bloom's reading of American history and culture seems rather selective to me, thus I object to his idea of that American tradition is. While I haven't read his book on religion, knowing what I do about him already, I would speculate that he admires Mormonism in part for its Gnostic overtones. That, however, might be going off on a tangent.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JRRTR - I would suggest from what you say that you are negative to Mormonism *in theory* despite that it is 180 years old - you are allowing theoretical considerations to outweigh actual experience, no matter how much and how detailed that expereince may be - which is a Leftist thing to do.

If you are a Leftist, then that is consistent - but if you regard yourself as reactionary then it is not consistent.

Real life, real exprience must in the long term be allowed to count for more than what theories you imagine other people base their lives on.

There are vast gaps between theology and religion, vast defects in human reasoning, there are unconsidered factors which often outweigh factors under study - all these are reasons why long term experience must count.

After 180 years there are only two possibilities: Mormonism is indeed the good thing that it appears to be; or it is the most evil thing that the world has yet known.

It would have the most evil thing in the history of the world, since all other evils show themselves to be so very quickly - and only a really profound long term strategic evil could be so completely deceptive and cloak itself so effectively for so long as Mormonism would have needed to - and that would only happen if there was a really massive ultimate evil 'payoff' (it would need to be massive to compensate for having done do much good on the way).

So, it boils down to either 'a good thing' (as it seems to be) - or else the worst evil the world has yet known.

I don't find this a very difficult choice, but many mainstream Christians apparently do. Rather than admit what seems obvious -that Mormonism is good (hence either Christian, or compatible with Christianity); they go along with the only possible (albeit not plausible) alternative...

It should be a no-brainer - but the fact that it is not treated as such, is (I believe) evidence of a profound and deeply damageing error or blindness in mainstream Christianity.

That is why I regard Mormonism as a litmus test.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JRRTR - I approve of Mormonism for the obvious reasons - superb social indices (marriage, divorce, family etc), generally very nice and helpful and hardworking people - but also I find it a very beautiful religion, there is a lucid spirituality about it, I am touched and moved by it. It both seems and feels good to me.

James Higham said...

You're asking the tough ones there, Bruce.

T.S. Eliot or Robert Frost?

Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss?

Bruce Charlton said...

@JH I am very picky about poetry - but with Frost there are at least a couple of dozen real poems; nobody else in the twentieth century can compare in terms of quantity of quality. But you must bear in mind that I would not regard Eliot, Pound, late Yeats or Auden as real poets.

Mahler is sick and poisonous, I'm afraid - I know this from experience. Strauss (aside from Salome) was healthy and wrote several passages that would rank with the greatest music ever written (eg the trio-duet end of Rosenkavalier).

Anonymous said...

I don't think the null hypothesis have been given the disrespect it deserves. It is really only a tool to help the scientist design a study. If you do not rule out the null hypothesis, i.e., prove the alternate hypothesis, you must be left with conventional wisdom. You're not supposed to change anyone's mind with a null hypothesis. More about this later.

- Olave d'Estienne

B322 said...

I remember once in graduate school we were told to evaluate a study that purported to study recidivism rates of criminals sentenced to longer and shorter stays in prison. The study came up inconclusive, i.e., they did not prove their alternate hypothesis.

The trouble was, they picked "harsh sentences, as practiced today, do not affect recidivism" as their null hypothesis! "Harsh sentences reduce recidivism" was the alternate. Several students wrote papers saying that, because the study didn't prove anything, judges and legislatures should change their policies by lightening sentences.

I argued with them that the a null hypothesis can't indicate a change. They agreed with that basic point, but said the change was the stimulus of harsher sentences affecting (reducing) recidivism. Harsher than what? Not harsher than the status quo, harsher than an imagined "baseline". I said no, the change is lightening the sentences from the status quo.

The professor said, hypothesis testing is bunk.

I don't agree. I think it is bunk in the social sciences, most of the time, but I think it is perfectly valid when there is no argument about stimulus-response. Everyone knows applying a match to a substance in a beaker is a stimulus, while refraining from doing so is the baseline. This is not the case where things like conventional wisdom and tradition are involved.

Wm Jas said...

Eliot, Pound, Auden -- okay. They were good at times (well, Pound wasn't), but what they were doing wasn't really poetry. But Yeats? Really? To me, saying Yeats wasn't a real poet is almost like saying Rembrandt wasn't a real painter.

(Well, maybe not Rembrandt. That would be Frost. Yeats is more at the Delacroix level. Eliot, Auden, and Pound are about as good/bad as Manet, Chagall, and Matisse, respectively.)

buckyinky said...

@JRRTR - I approve of Mormonism for the obvious reasons - superb social indices (marriage, divorce, family etc), generally very nice and helpful and hardworking people - but also I find it a very beautiful religion, there is a lucid spirituality about it, I am touched and moved by it. It both seems and feels good to me.

That's odd - my impression from my encounters with Mormons is that they are consistently quite cold and even noticeably lacking humanity in personality, though I suppose I could agree that those I've encountered have all been "nice."

My impression from encounters with Mormonism, both from visits to sites in Salt Lake City and elsewhere, as well as reading their literature and watching their feature-length movies, is that they appear as striving to prove something is present that they fear people will suspect is not. A great amount of energy seems to be exerted to try and convince people that they are the real deal, and it comes across to me as a lot of telling rather than showing, i.e., not convincing, but rather contrived.

Do the LDS have a great presence in the UK? Perhaps you've covered this already elsewhere. If so, my apologies.

Bruce Charlton said...

@bi - interesting. It may be so - but I would have to ask 'compared with what?' - because I have not found holiness in any marked degree anywhere, in any denomination.

Of course, there are plenty of better Christians than myself, but in real life I have not found what I perceive as holiness in my reading.

I presume this is because we are in the end times - we simply do not have the Saints, elders, startsi, spiritual Fathers and suchlike of the past.

(But my opinion is not worth much on such matters - but this was also the opinion of Fr Seraphim Rose, who died 30 years ago, since when things have surely become considerably worse.)