Below is a personal quotation collection consisting of quotations and verbatim exchanges, famous only among our friends, that were pithy or otherwise memorable enough to be written down in the hope of not forgetting them. A more standard compendium of truly famous quotations about uncertainty can be found here.  Both of these pages are parts of a series of sites related to uncertainty.

The[se] kids today with their face tattoos and their murder apps.

    −UiscePreston, on news of the 45-year sentence given to Chance Seneca who used Grindr in kidnapping and attempted murder 

26 January 2023

This is just the latest, and hes just trying to create a sense of crisis and drama around the company, I guess, so people will be talking about him.  He likes attention.  I dont know if you noticed.

    −Kara Swisher, asked to comment on PBS News Hour about self-proclaimed free speech absolutist Elon Musk's suspending the Twitter accounts of journalists who had reported about him and Twitter

15 December 2022

They just cannot put themselves in other peoples shoes. I don't mean they wont; I mean it seems like they cant. Like you tell them, You know, things are pretty bad for blank right now, and theyre just like ‘Well, Im not blank and you want to go with the obvious follow-up ‘No, I know, but like what if you were though? How would you feel then? And, dude, asking these people that question is like asking a Labradoodle to solve for X.  Like, they lack the foundational building blocks to even begin to understand what youre trying to say to them.

    −Trae Crowder, On the absence of empathy

14 December 2022

I’m sure I’m not au courant on the buzzwords in engineering, but I presume that ‘durability’ still mostly means strength against impacts.  The subject of durable development of engineered systems  seems to concentrate on longer lifetimes, sustainable and clean growth and net zero.  But I think that it is the topic of resilience, not so much sustainability, that may fit the interests of the country right now.  Does durability include resilience?   Or is resilience already passé in these quarters?  I know some people argue that resilience is a part of sustainability, but it seems to me there’s often a tension or trade-off between sustainability and resilience, because our horizons are always shorter than they need to be.  That tension is not explored at all, as if you can have that powerful, low-profile, strong, lightweight, heavily armoured, fast, manoeuvrable, cheap tank whose components are manufactured in every congressional district.  There are choices that need to be made.

Maybe it’s just the past two years that leaves me with the diffuse feeling that society is held together by duct tape and hope, at the mercy of pandemics, invasion, unstable leadership in government and business.  As some have put it, resilience is the new sustainability.  Ecology and scholars like Jared Diamond have some things to say to engineers about resilience.  How can we ensure that the designed structures and processes continue to at least partially function even when impaired, rather than forming traps for the users?  How can the internet and communication networks still work when the electrical grid is down?  How can roads be useful with no gas?  How can you get there, even when you can’t get there from here?

2 December 2022

Russia is now finding out why the US doesnt have free healthcare.

    −The Infographics Show, in Why Russia Can't Stop US Weapons, where the dark humor is embedded in content about the presumptive advantage of weapons provided by allies to Ukraine over the weapons of their Russian invaders described in comments as “fascinating”,awesome and sometimes hilarious”,  “well done, and very entertaining!”, “gold”, so beautifully done that could be easily confused with poetry”, but also “asinine propaganda”, “misinformation”, “glorification of the military industrial complex”, a “Raytheon infomercial”, or most generously “not 100% accurate”

~30 October 2022

Hawkman [played by Aldis Hodge]The kind of justice you dish out can darken your soul.
Adrianna Tomaz [played by Sarah Shahi]Its his darkness that lets him do what heroes like you cannot.

    −Adam Sztykiel, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani in their Dwayne Johnson vehicle Black Adam that self-consciously celebrates unlimited extrajudicial executions with a smarmy relish and open self-satisfaction not seen since the worst days of Dick Cheney’s torture programs

United States film release 21 October 2022

Perhaps Nostradamus is an unreliable guide to the future.

    −Stuart Jeffries, feature writer for The Guardian in a belated review of the 2006 book Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies for the Future by Mario Reading

10 October 2022

“The news from Brazil, Hungary, the UK, and now Italy has been frightful, and it may be still more so after the next election cycles in France and Spain.  Even the Netherlands and Sweden have far-right bubblings.  These are not the usual suspects. And, in the US, there is really no place that is safe from the slow-motion civil war, is there?  Michiganwhich used to seem very much not a part of the rebellious and illiberal Southis just one slipped election (or successful gubernatorial kidnapping and on-line execution) away from the crazies controlling everything.  It really seems that every 50 to 100 years, the native fascistic predilections of humans will, unchecked, come to a festering head until they are burnt away by military conflagration of an intensity that unravels society.  Or am I being a Debbie Downer?

25 September 2022

Tesco is closed today?!  Tesco has been the one constant that I have known in England.

19 September 2022

“More cheese,  more satisfaction.”

    −Krasymyr Tretiak

11 September 2022

Not enough PDRs, please add more.

    −Callum Moseley, perhaps with some snark, on the occasion of his Professional Development Review one month before his contract ends

8 September 2022

Probability can handle both data and belief, but actually it conflates them.  The difference is essential when assessing models.

    −Enrique Miralles-Dolz

31 August 2022

You can always outwork talent.

    −Brandon Blackwell, on University Challenge at 60 about his stunning turn on the BBC Two quiz show being the product of effort rather than innate cleverness

broadcast 29 August 2022

I have an interest in cognitive science, known in philosophy as epistemology. How do we think, and why do we believe what we believe? These are interesting topics right now because of all the weirdness going on around the world.

    −Paul Tonner, as told to Emine Saner, The Guardian

24 August 2022

Ive never understood why thats not new is an insult. 2+2=4 is the oldest take in the world. But some of us are not trying to be fresh, were trying to be right.

    −Coleman Hughes [@coldxman]

20 August 2022

Its no wonder these things are called confusion matrices.

    −Alex Wimbush

19 August 2022

[C]hoosing one’s measure of information is literally equivalent to choosing one’s loss function in a statistical decision problem, and thus is significant, consequential, and can not be swept under the carpet.

    −Robert C. Williamson and Zac Cranko, in their manuscript Information processing equalities and the information–risk bridge

July 26, 2022

You wanna make an omelet, you gotta kill some people.

    −Lloyd Hansen [played by Chris Evans], The Gray Man, screenplay by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

theatrical release 22 July 2022

“The Axiom of Choice is obviously pro-abortion”

    −LezNerd , in response to MathGeekRobs posting Im a mathematician. Can someone explain to me woke math? Apparently I didnt get the memo.” which was in reaction to the kerfuffle in Florida in which the state Department of Education is continuing to give publishers the opportunity to remediate all deficienciesregarding what the department and the governor call woke math such as an example using polynomials to model data originally reported by Project Implicit which uses self-testing to assess unconscious associations underpinning stereotyping that included the totally unsurprising but apparently disturbing observation that racial prejudice seems to vary by age and political affiliation

 15 July 2022

When I was working on the Bristol Bay Watershed assessment (Pebble Mine), the State of Alaska insisted on a 1-in-a-million probability of tailings dam failure, but they could not and would not say whether that was per year, per life of the mine, or what. It just sounded good to them.

    −Glenn Suter

4 July 2022

Jim Acosta: Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, all gave assurances.... These were nominees to the Supreme Court giving the country assurances that they were not going to overturn this precedent, and yet they did anyway. ... What about the fact that we have people who were putting themselves forward for a spot on the high court of this country who were essentially misleading the country about what their true intentions might be if Rowe v. Wade were to come to their desk?

Jeffrey Toobin: ...And as for the justices themselves, you know, they were playing a game to get on the Supreme Court. All three of them are lawyers. So if you parse their words carefully, the way that lawyers know how to speak, they did not explicitly promise to uphold Rowe v. Wade. They left the impression that they would uphold Rowe v. Wade.

25 June 2022

The speakers can be interesting, or enraging, which is better. Another useful teaching tool is the pratfall.  One time in a workshop, Stan Kaplan put Bayes rule up on the board and started to explain it, but suddenly said, ‘Oh, wait, that’s not right’.  After an awkward pause he confessed he was confused and was literally scratching his head.  He struggled for a spell and asked himself dumb questions out loud.  He spent several painful minutes doubting himself in front of his audience.  Watching him, we were kind of engrossed in whether he might completely melt down.  It turned out that he had written it correctly, but had just gotten off on the wrong foot.  But, by struggling through it, he had dragged the entire audience with him to confident understanding.  I never found out whether it was genuine confusion, or just a really clever teaching technique.”

20 June 2022

Ive come to the conclusion that Walley has no right to say anything about coherence.

    −Alex  Wimbush, on reading about statistical notions of coherence in Peter Walleys text Statistical Reasoning with Imprecise Probabilities

10 June 2022

They clearly knew what they were doing with that title

    −Gordo Insufrible, referring to the video “Two Candles, One Cake” posted by Numberphile

10 May 2022

[Y]ou were annoyed that [the problem of Bertrand’s paradox] wasn’t well defined. And I think mathematicians do have that sense of annoyance. You want things to be neat, but probability questions are often more philosophical.”

    −Ben Sparks, “Two Candles, One Cake” posted by Numberphile

10 May 2022

The lesser of two evils is LESS EVIL. If you cared at all about any of the things you claim to care about, youd vote to keep as much of it as you can rather than throwing it all away in a childish fit.

    −Rrhain on Disqus at JoeMyGod, speaking truth to disempowerment about the long-predicted dire consequences of voter apathy and protest voting which have resulted in the current US Supreme Court which is drafting the ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, the coup de grace in a run that has already included gutting the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County v. Holder), unleashing dark money in elections by overturning century-old spending restrictions (Citizens United), excusing unfair treatment as religious expression (Hobby Lobby), and suppressing meaningful punitive damages (Exxon Shipping)

, and may someday review restoring government-led prayer in public schools or abrogating Miranda rights, marriage equality, privacy (Lawrence), contraceptive access (Griswold), or interracial marriage  (Loving)3 May 2022

When people feel even a little bit of intimidation...thats what makes people go silent. And when critics go silent, the group gets stupid.

    −Jonathan Haidt discussing his article in The Atlantic about the effect of social media which is “very good at tearing things down” in creating what he calls structural stupidity in government, institutions and society in ‘Uniquely Stupid:’ Dissecting the Past Decade of American Life on Amanpour and Company

18 April 2022

From here on, Im just assuming everything I read on line or in emails is just a leftover April Fools joke.

3 April 2022

There is nothing epistemic about a confidence interval, although there could be if, say, the likelihood were imprecise.

    −Matthias Troffaes

29 March 2022

If that were a theorem, I would believe it.

    −Matthias Troffaes

29 March 2022

Engineers DisEase is a condition, common among English-speaking engineers, that compels the sufferer to capitalize words referring to schools of thought, disciplines, methods, techniques, new ideas, old ideas, ideas, time periods, apparatuses, or other notions or thingamajigs that are neither proper nouns nor expressions that conventional orthography capitalizes.  The DisEase is characteristically inconsistently expressed across any document greater than five words in length.

28 March 2022

Will Smith and Trump are the same guy.

    −Howard Stern, a shock jock now become a voice of conscience commenting on Smiths public and penalty-free crime, which is both sad and funny (but not funny ha ha

28 March 2022

[Bowen Yang]: Steam rising from the asphalt after a sunshower! Just percolating, up and up and up and up and upward! Faster! Walking down the street, feeling invincible, like your whole life is ahead of you. Youre on your way to your high school graduation, and you havent made real mistakes in life! The sonic groundswell building until suddenly...
[Chris Redd]: Is it over?
[Bowen Yang]: Its just beginning!

    −Saturday Night Live homage to the Ohio State University Marching Band’s Dont Stop Belevin [sic], arranged by John Brennan as an instrumental rendition of the 1981 Journey song Dont Stop Believin’”, composed by Steve Perry, Jonathan Cain, and Neal Schon

19 March 2022

В отличие от Российского Союза ректоров, Британские ученые считают, что вопросы этики и морали важна. Так думают и некоторые российские ученые. [1,2,3]

4 March 2022

“[Yuval Noah] Harari is correct that humans dominate the planet because we cooperate. Cooperation is our primary adaptation. But he is wrong that the reason we can is ‘imagination’ (7:00). He is confusing how the world looks with why it works. The reason we cooperate so well is that we have reduced the cost of compelling others to cooperate, by remotely punishing (sensu Bingham and Souza) cheaters who don't cooperate. Without this compulsion, non-cooperating free riders would otherwise win the evolutionary game because they reap the social benefits without any costs to themselves from believing the story or toeing the line to uphold it. Yes, biological adaptations such as language, religiosity, and story telling in general, [but also] cheater detection and the knowledge illusion (sensu Sloman and Fernbach) are enhancements that can make cooperation more efficient, but these are adjunct to the peculiarly human solution of remote threat that allows cooperation in the first place, even though mutualisms are usually evolutionarily unstable. Harari goes onto to understate the commonness of imagination, i.e., conditional thinking (Edgington), which is necessary for behaviors such as hunting, avoiding predators, and planning that are exhibited ubiquitously by other animals.

26 February 2022

A thing is either accurate or its not. There are no degrees of accuracy. You taught me that.

    −Roxanne [Haley Bennett], misunderstanding any notion of validation and surely misquoting Cyrano de Bergerac, in the film Cyrano by screenwriter Erica Schmidt, based on her 2018 stage musical of the same name, based on the 1897 Edmond Rostand play Cyrano de Bergerac []

film released 25 February 2022 

Its like a pendulum shifting from feckless to reckless.

    −Garry Kasparov, discussing the responses by previous American leaders, i.e., Obama and Trump, to Putins aggression, on the PBS program Amanpour and Company

24 February 2022

“Um, punishing the innocent is societys primary mode of disaster management.”

20 February 2022

09:00:00 Professor :  “Write a silent MATLAB function m-file with the prescribed calling syntax and naming convention that takes range and elevation radar data for a falling body and computes the two roots of the quadratic regression analysis.
09:27:21 Professor :  Can anyone think of a non-military application of this lab on radar tracking of a projectile?
09:33:07 Professor :  Ah, wait, I would be the equations of motion needed to predict the behaviour of the moon for the plot of the action film Moonfall, currently in cinemas.  Possibly Donald Sutherlands greatest role.
09:34:04 Student :  professor, for our class test in two weeks, can we do it online?

11 February 2022

Generations of programmers have been misled by C and C++. Many have fallen into the black hole of its cult with trite platitudes like ‘under the hood programming’, which means no more than driving along with the hood open, trying to fix the engine, but unable to see the road. Cult followers urge end-users to trust the programmer, which is stupid and naive, but appeals to the programmers ego. And programmers are supposed to have freedom, although no one ever says freedom from what.  Its certainly not freedom from the flaws and traps of C++.

    −Ian Joyner, in As a coding language, C++ appeals to the ego, not the intellect on, speaking truth to the priesthood who have surmounted the unnecessary and arcane barriers of entry to a circle of special knowledge and who, predictably, delusionally insist that using C and C++ is about performance

1 February 2022

NASA Deputy Director and former astronaut Jocinda Jo Fowler [Halle Berry]: Theres blood on your hands.

NASA scientist Holdenfield [Donald Sutherland]: Yes, well, anyone who follows orders has blood on their hands, dont they. [possibly misheard]

    −Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, and Spenser Cohen writing dialog for Moonfall, a film depicting a world where mobile phones, electricity and—most importantly—product placement continue to work despite the moon coming so close to the earth that the moon pokes into the earth’s atmosphere and people standing on the earth are pulled into the moons gravitational well, a movie which was ruined by the miscasting of Charlie Plummer as the disgraced-astronaut-who-saves-both-the-earth-and-the-moons errant son and car driver in the obligatory chase scene that happens as the earths oxygen but not air pressure is sucked away from the planet (even though he was truly wonderful in the 2020 film Spontaneous described by Wikipedia as a romantic black-comedy horror film in which he played the boy who meets girl and then explodes)

released 31 January 2022

James Holden [Steven Strait]:  I hope I did the right thing.

Naomi Nagata [Dominique Tipper]:  You did.  You followed your conscience in the hope that others would follow theirs.  You didnt do it for a reward or a pat on the head.  The universe never tells us if we did right or wrong.  Its more important to try to help people than to know that you did.  More important that someones life gets better than for you to feel good about yourself.  You never know the effect you might have on someone, not really.  Maybe one core thing you said haunts them forever.  Maybe one moment of kindness gives them comfort or courage.  Maybe you said the one thing they needed to hear.  It doesnt matter if you ever know.  You just have to try.

    −The Expanse, season 6, episode 6, Babylon's Ashes, Naren Shankar, Juliana Damewood, and Glenton Richards (screenwriters), based on the novels by James S.A. Corey [joint pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck]

released 14 January 2022

“...[P]leas for civility are a fraud. Their goal is to blunt and enfeeble criticism and distract from its truthfulness. Typically, they’re the work of hypocrites. It may be not a little ghoulish to celebrate or exult in the deaths of vaccine opponents. And it may be proper to express sympathy and solicitude to those they leave behind. But mockery is not necessarily the wrong reaction to those who publicly mocked anti-COVID measures and encouraged others to follow suit, before they perished of the disease the dangers of which they belittled. Nor is it wrong to deny them our sympathy and solicitude, or to make sure it’s known when their deaths are marked that they had stood fast against measures that might have protected themselves and others from the fate they succumbed to. There may be no other way to make sure that the lessons of these teachable moments are heard.” [links omitted]

    −Michael Hiltzik on and the HermanCainAward subreddit after the death of a politician who opposed vaccine mandates in “Mocking anti-vaxxers’ COVID deaths is ghoulish, yes—but may be necessary

10 January 2022

“This shocking insight—optimal statistical procedures may behave disastrously even under ‘tiny deviations’ from the ideal model—demonstrates that imprecision in the underlying model may matter substantially....The centrepiece of Bayesian inference is the prior distribution. Apart from very large sample sizes, where the posterior is de facto determined by the sample, the prior naturally has a strong influence on the posterior and on all conclusions drawn from it. In the rare situations where very strong prior knowledge is available, it can be used actively, but most often the strong dependence on the prior has been intensively debated and criticized. Working with sets  of prior probabilities (or interval-valued priors) opens new avenues here. This set can naturally be chosen to reflect the quality/determinacy of prior knowledge: strong prior knowledge leads to ‘small’ sets; weak prior knowledge to ‘large’ sets.”

    −Thomas Augustin, “Statistics with imprecise probabilities—a short survey”, in Uncertainty in Engineering

book published 2022

Thinking about the identification blocks that people put under their email signatures.  They've grown recently to include pronoun preferences and often a witticism or favorite quote.  They seem a bit self-promotional.  Do I really want a self-blurb?  If I need one, what should be in it?

Maybe my pronoun statement is clear:  "all pronouns are cool".  A nice bubbe on a plane once said to me "Sorry, ma'am" after she hit me in the head with her carry-on bag.  Although I was sporting a full beard at the time, I didn't take offence.  Why would I?  (She later called me bubala, so I think we were tight.)  But what's so bad about being mistaken for a female?  My gay friends refer to me as 'she' and 'her' pretty regularly.  I accept that warmly.  As a survivor of an all-male college, I am here to tell you that the toxicity in toxic masculinity is at base just old-fashioned misogyny.  I am happy with whatever pronouns you'd like to use for me.  Not trying to be provocative here; I genuinely don't have preferences on this. I can't control how people talk about me.  To be honest, I'm just happy they're still talking.  I'm just as happy to know other people's pronoun preferences, although I hope to be mostly referring to them by their names.  Okay, pronoun statement done and dusted.

What about self-description?  Well, on formal stuff or when I'm introducing myself in work or professional emails, I'll use my job title and affiliation.  But that'll only work when I'm employed.  What happens if I retire?  In the old, old days, people would just give their city name, as if everyone in Philadelphia would know who Ben Franklin is, so just ask anyone from Philadephia.  That seems less helpful in our modern times, in which we are constantly moving about, and we're trying to be citizens of the planet.  Maybe I could steal the joke that Kathy Griffin said about Madonna:  "Raised in Indiana, moved to New York, is British."  This is perhaps the modern, snarky version of that old idea about locale as identity.

Now what about the memorable favorite quote?  Whew, that's hard.  I recently found "Garden of Your Mind" which is profound and pure and beautiful.  I thought he said "There’s so much in this world we can learn, no matter how young or how old we are" but the closest actual quote I can find is "There are so many things to learn about in this world and so many people who can help us learn."  Never watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (we couldn't get PBS when I was young), but he is my hero now to be sure.  But I think the quote might need to be switchable.  Sometimes something from Anton LaVey might be more on point than Mr. Rogers.  Or Christopher Hitchens, or John Waters, or my young hero David Hogg, or archy.

Do I have to do an epitaph too?  Is that due already too?  I guess I want a six-word one, maybe "born confused, explored uncertainty, died surprised".  But I reserve the right to change this, especially the surprised part.  Of course, there's a lot of room for beauty and depth in this brevity.  And room for levity and denial as well, e.g., Not Quite contributor Matt's “Full life; impossible to summarize in…” which echoes Neil Patrick Harris' first tweet "My first tweet, peeps.  I apologize in advance for my slow learning curve.  Nice to (sort of) meet you.  It's amazing how quickly 140 charac" which was really funny before Twitter changed the message length limit.

31 December 2021

Just as the 1998 Bruce Willis vehicle The Siege correctly foretold that Americans would quickly descend to unthinkable brutality and state-sponsored torture in the wake of attacks on New York City, the binge-watchable TNT series The Last Ship, which must have seemed ridiculously over the top in pre-covid times, seems disturbingly prophetic now: ruthless self-interest weaponized by ignorant certainty creates in situ an up-is-down logic and perverse economy that feeds every tragedy, combined with the numbing relentlessness of the reflexive punishing of the innocent, which appears to be our primary if not only mode of disaster management. Humans are so, so good at punishing the innocent. We punish the innocent like cheetahs run and dolphins swim. Health care workers are vilified and physically attacked. Anthony Fauci, a beacon of rectitude and compassion and intelligence, regularly receives death threats. Even Bill Gates who warned about the dangers of a pandemic is now inexplicably accused of perpetrating covid. 

27 December 2021

When persuading someone to change their mind on a major topic, whats being said isnt always quite as important as how its said.  If a person feels attacked or disrespected or condescended to, theyll turn off their brain and block out the most rational, correct arguments on principle alone.  [Homo sapiens] are odd, emotional creatures, more amenable to a convincing pitch that poorly presented rightness.  

    −Charles Bramesco in a review of Don't Look Up in The Guardian that expresses a deep truth about human social psychology but fails to realize that the point of art can be other than persuasion. Screenwriter-director Adam McKay was obviously not intending to convince anyone to care about any impending catastrophe, as numerous as they are.  Art always speaks to us, but in this case the message is that Cassandra will never be believed, that science communication does not work. Our dependably poor reactions in the face of peril result from our collective and individual stupidity that everyone, including scientists, sometimes suffer, but peril is not removed or mitigated by this innocence. Sorry to say, the universe simply doesnt give a fuck that youre feeling attacked or disrespected or condescended to.

27 December 2021

Raw data doesnt mean shit.

    −Nico Li,  arguing it is data science that assigns meaning to raw data

22 December 2021

Pat:  “I thought there’d be a happy ending somehow. Isn’t that how American films work?”
Scott:  I thought it was supposed to be a dark comedy. I didnt realize itd be a documentary.
Wikipedia:  “The film received mixed reviews from critics, who...found [screenwriter]’s approach to the subject heavy-handed.”

    −Three reactions saying the same thing, each blithely missing the point of Don't Look Up that some things cannot be wished away

17 December 2021

Stability and confidence is really difficult to say, of course this is a completely subjective measure. The country is obviously going through some turbulence, but it has historically been seen as one of he most stable nations in the world, especially for things like banking.... Look, its still an advanced nation with robust laws, a good financial system, a well regarded currency, and a functioning democratic system, so it gets an 8 out of 10. Five years ago, it would have been the easiest 10 out of 10 ever.

    −Michael Burnand [Economics Explained], in How Has Brexit Been Going? discussing the state of the UK since its unforced error

December 2021

A huge asteroid is set to smash though Earths orbital path making close approach to our planet, NASA has warned.

    −Hollie Bone and Beth Cruse, “Huge 430ft asteroid set to fly through Earth’s orbit on Monday”, Bristol Live [Bristol Post], expressing a journalistic lie with the words smash and warned which are in no way justified by the subjunctiveor at least counterfactualclause the impact would produce the equivalent energy to 77 megatons of TNT...1.5 times as powerful as the Tsar Bomba, the biggest nuclear weapon ever tested because in fact the [1994 WR12] asteroid will miss the Earth by 3.8 million miles” which is  16 times the distance to the Moon

(updated 29 November) 28 November 2021

If we get another big covid wave I believe that, with the benefit of hindsight and learning from past mistakes, we can come together and handle it in a way that's even more dumb and evil than last time

    −Getting Some Rest @InternetHippo on Twitter 

26 November 2021

There can be a steep cost to us who fight these good fights, a pyrrhic investment of time and care without the slightest hope of vindication or even a changed mind to show for it.  Preserving the dignity of an on-line discussion group may not be worth the never-ending costs.  But I am as pessimistic about this as I am about most programs that depend on collegial or social goodwill.  I felt this way even before Atwater and Norquist brought poisoning the well to an art form.  I've been waiting for years for the Simplification (in the sense of A Canticle for Leibowitz).  Despite the overwhelming evidence that Wikipedia is a fantastic success in many respects, it does not seem likely to me that this can persist.  Vandalism, commercialism, warfare, propaganda and other government misuse are eternal wellsprings that cannot ever be shut off or always piped away.  Wikipedia’s coming down, just as surely as the window of antimicrobials’ efficacy is closing.  We’ll talk nostalgically about the times when we could go to the moon, when Wikipedia was reliable, when doctors could cure bacterial diseases, and when the internet hosted insightful discussion.   Well be looking back fondly on those blissful but brief blips.

24 November 2021

Conspiracy theories are everywhere and people don't understand how harmful they are.  ¶ I made the original Conspiracy Chart over a year ago. An update was long overdue. This is the 2021 version.

    −Abbie Richards, tweet unveiling

23 November 2021

“It was just so repetitive.

    −Pat Mercardante, critiquing the 2021 film Boss Level about a hero trapped in a time loop around the day of his murder

17 November 2021

“There are Twitter accounts.  There are people writing compilers.  Because, it turns out there is nothing you can do that is so unutterably stupid that people won't waste their time on it.

    −Mark Rendle, The Worst Programming Language Ever (Mark Rendle, 2014)

5 November 2021

“I remember the first time I saw a universal remote control. I thought to myself, ‘well, this changes everything.’  Ha ha.”

    −Dianna Cowern [Physics Girl], in the coda to “We can see things moving faster than light

November 2021

The Englishmen, well-known for their untruthfulness[,] gave us false assurances and enacted deceitful ordinances, which deliberately humiliated the Poles….

    −recounted in translation by Thomas Starky in the 2017 film True Heroes of Jamestown written by Eugeniusz Starky, based on the 1977 book True Heroes of Jamestown by Arthur L. Waldo and Pamiętnik handlowca purportedly [see James Pulas article in The Polish Review] written by Zbigniew Stefański in 1625 about his experiences as a Polish craftsman in the first permanent English settlement and the injustices that precipitated the first strike for civil rights in the Americas [there may not have been a Zbigniew in Jamestown but the author of this line has certainly met the English]

released in the UK on 29 October 2021

You know the old definition of an expert, doing the same wrong thing over and over again with increasing confidence.”

    −Vanessa Quick 

18 October 2021

There are more intersex people than people over 100 years old.”

18 October 2021

“As Hal Sparks always says: ‘If they tell you the percentage but not the actual numbers they’re trying to deceive you.’ So applying that to this: ‘25% of duplicates came in between Nov. 4 - Nov. 9th’ (Yup. All two out of 10 total duplicate ballots came in during that time period...ignoring that all duplicate ballots were Trump voters trying to cheat).”

    −Trevor Brown, commenting on the report from the 2021 Maricopa County presidential ballot audit 

25 September 2021

My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.

    −Amy Coney Barrett, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, cf. I am not a crook”, R. Nixon (1973)

12 September 2021

[H]istory is an edit war. Truth, factual and moral, hangs in the balance.

    −Noam Cohen, writing about Wikipedian Ksenia Coffman in One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia”, Wired

12 September 2021

Bobby [Aditya Geddada]:  Aliens like Pop-Tarts?

Jay [Lucian-River Chauhan]:  Everyone likes Pop-Tarts, Bobby.”

    −Michael Pearce and Joe Barton [writers], Encounter

film released 3 September 2021

I don't know of anyone who uses allozymes anymore.  It is kind of strange because it would just as useful as ever but I think people find it too old fashioned.  Population genomics is much more common.  But rather than using whole genomes, which would be very expensive and computationally difficult, most people are using some kind of single nucleotide polymorphism approach.  Almost all forensic analysis uses short tandem repeats that are highly polymorphic because the diversify through unequal crossover.  The standard is to use 13 loci that are scattered around the genome and are unlinked.  The probability that two individuals will share the same 13 locus genotype is about 1 in 1.5 billion.  I have heard that there is an effort to add at least two more loci but I don't know if that has been done yet.  The forensics work is pretty state of the art, especially with dealing with minute quantities of DNA, but it does have a pretty specific application.  Using SNPs people can generate hundreds if not thousands of markers and address all kinds of questions about the architecture of the genome without having to do whole genome sequencing.

    −Jerry Hilbish

2 September 2021

I think it is interesting that people, in the midst of business meetings, keep admitting that it feels like the end of the world.  It really is overwhelming. The pandemic doesnt really bother me all that much. Its climate change, politics, and man-child dudes in body armor that form the mass of my discomfort.

    −Nick Friedenberg

31 August 2021

“A more complex approach is to consider repetitions globally to try to reduce the repetitions by detecting repetitions that happen over multiple lines.”

    −Nick Gray

24 August 2021

“[Science] is a safety pin in the nipple of academia.”

    −Gary Grooberson [played by Paul Rudd], speaking truth in Ghost Busters: Afterlife, written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman

film released 23 August 2021

I told my 9yo son the “I can’t operate on him; he’s my son” riddle the other day, and it went like this:
Me: …so how is that poss—
9yo: It’s his mom.
Me: Yeah.
Me: Or his other dad, I guess.
9yo: Right.
9yo: I don’t get how it’s a riddle.

    −Sara Warf, @SaraBWarf, on Twitter

22 August 2021

“It’s almost like it wasn’t Trump that was the problem.”

    −Alex Wimbush, discussing the recent tumultuous times in the United States

20 August 2021

Word of the day:  ‘clusterfuck’.  The day sees competing headlines, including ‘school districts ignoring gubernatorial bans on mask mandates during a unprecedented but predicted surge of the Covid 19 Delta variant’ and the more tragic ‘massive emergency troop reinforcements to Kabul to protect noncombatant evacuations in the midst of long-planned general withdrawal from Afghanistan’.  The word is distinguished by Corinne Purtill in her 2018 article in Quartz at Work from related words like ‘fuckup’, ‘snafu’, and ‘shitshow’, as arising from illusion, impatience and incompetence in uninformed decision making by people in power who don’t acknowledge the realities of their environment and don’t confront what they don’t know.

20 August 2021

“There’s a risk we misadopt digitalisation simply to be buzzword-compliant.” [edited]

    −Mark Bankhead

17 August 2021

If you do say so yourself.

    −reacting to the opening narration voicing Oscar Wilde in the 1986 documentary film Oscar Wilde: Spendthrift of Genius of text selected from De Profundis, pages 33f,  which is itself extracted and bowdlerized from correspondence by Wilde during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol to Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas): The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring; I made art a philosophy and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the colors of things; there was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder...I awoke the imagination of my century so that it created myth and legend around me...I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy.

video uploaded to Youtube 30 July 2021

“Roundoff is the big problem. That is always with us, and it can be extremely difficult to deal with.  Now attempts have been made to automate error analysis.  One such attempt is interval arithmetic.  In interval arithmetic you represent every variable by an interval, an interval that contains the true value of that variable.  And then, if you combine two variables in an arithmetic operation, the result of that arithmetic operation is something that must include all the possible values that you get from these two interval variables.  Now the trouble is that this type of schemeand there are lots of variations on this schemethis kind of scheme does not work properly for lengthy programs or complicated ones.  What goes wrong?  Well, you end up with huge intervals.  The intervals do indeed include the true values that you wish you had computed.  But the trouble is the intervals include an awful lot more.  There are ways to find out about this, and it’s possible, it’s possible in some cases, to make interval arithmetic work by doing something rather subtle.  Instead, what I suggest that you do is run a program four times, each time directing the rounding errors in a different direction.  Because the IEEE standard says you can. At least in principle, you’re allowed to say I want to round everything up, or I want to round everything down.  Well, maybe I’d like to do it again rounding everything towards zero.  And the fourth way is rounding to nearest, which is the default.  Now it turns out that this very often gives an idea of how uncertain your result is because of roundoff by looking at the four different values and looking at how far apart they spread.”

    −William Kahan, primary architect of modern floating point arithmetic, trash talking (i.e., quietly explaining the trouble with and offering a simple solution for) interval arithmetic at JuliaCon2021 

28 July 2021

“I need to say very aggressively that uncertainty is hard to communicate.  If you are trying to acknowledge uncertainty, it is still difficult.  People don’t want to hear it.  Journalists don’t want to report it. At every step in the communication process, uncertainty gets filed away. So if you want to communicate uncertainty, it’s not enough to acknowledge it.  You have to proclaim it.  You have to insist on it.”

    −Peter Sandman, “Risk = Hazard + Outrage: Three Paradigms of Risk Communication–and a Critique of COVID-19 Crisis Communication

7 July 2021

“If the essence of precaution advocacy is ‘watch out!’, the essence of outrage management is ‘calm down’.  The message is not ‘calm down’ because ‘calm down’ is not a calming message.”

    −Peter Sandman, “Risk = Hazard + Outrage: Three Paradigms of Risk Communication–and a Critique of COVID-19 Crisis Communication

7 July 2021

“Don't call our life a joke.  Jokes have meaning.  Keep up.”

    −Jake Barr [barrr_none] on Tiktok

2 July 2021

“If you have to put up a sign, you’ve pretty much already failed.”

    −Todd Lithgow, discussing the design of ordinary traffic intersections

30 June 2021

“The existence of non-probabilistic or trans-probabilistic methods such as interval analysis, DempsterShafer theory, belief theory, possibility theory—which are collected under the rubric ‘imprecise probabilities’—imply that there is a kind of uncertainty that cannot be expressed by probability alone.”  

    −Scott Ferson, totally showing off by using hyphens, m-dashes, and an n-dash in a single sentence

30 June 2021

“Historians are silly enough to believe government records, although common folk know very well they are full of mistakes.”

    −Vladik Kreinovich

21 June 2021

“This song completely changed everyone’s nationality to Icelandic.”

    −Fairuz Hussaini, discussing the inexplicable happiness in hearing Husavik written by Fat Max Gsus, Rickard Göransson, and Savan Kotecha for the Netflix film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, performed by Molly Sandén (voice,  physically played by Rachel McAdams) as Sigrit Ericksdóttir and Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong

June 2021

    −Dominic Cummings

26 May 2021

“What if we don’t even use reasons to reach conclusions?”

    −Michael Stevens (Vsauce), “The Future of Reasoning”, an exquisite introduction to the Mercier-Sperber thesis that reasoning is an adaption to build arguments that will be compelling to others 

28 April 2021

[Pete Buttigieg:  “If more guns made us safer, we’d be the safest country on earth.”]

Matheo, in Geneve, CH:  “Japan is the least safest because they don’t have any guns...tons of violence and murders and no guns to keep them safe...bodies are piling up on the streets.”

Reality.Bites:  “Well yeah, but that’s mainly Godzilla.”

21 April 2021, responding to Buttigieg's 28 June 2019 comment

“Actually, Mckenna’s suggestion of ‘unplugging it and plugging it back in’ is known as <Restart on failure> which is one of several basic strategies that NASA built into its robust guidance control and which Neil Armstrong used repeatedly during the Apollo 11 lunar descent that made him the first human on the moon. Robert Willis gave an amazing talk about this at ‘Light Years Ahead | The 1969 Apollo Guidance Computer’.  Stop gas-lighting Mckenna!”

    −Scott Ferson commenting on the Saturday Night Live sketch “Star Trek Spinoff” about a Star Trek prequel in which the Starfleet crew has some personal drama with Mckenna (played by Carey Mulligan).

18 April 2021

“My friends tell me that I’m being silly to think our technological world is in any danger from modern flat-earthers, luddites and antivivisectionists. But I teach undergraduates, and I’m here to tell you that we might have a problem.”

14 April 2021

Laura (via auto-reply email dated 7 April): “Thank you for your email. I am on leave 1st to 8th April. I will respond to your enquiry upon my return.”

Dominic: “Do we think Laura returns to work tomorrow, or does she return the day after tomorrow?”

Scott: “Ambiguity. It’s slightly better than the vagueness of ‘I’ll return later.’”

7 April 2021

“So ‘vagueness’ is essentially a category error? Okay, if vagueness arises because of a category error, what is the analogous error that creates epistemic and aleatory uncertainties? Cat is to dog as a category error is to....?”

    −Dominic Calleja, one-upping the Village Voice writer's joke about establishing the Law of the Excluded Middle with a proof that starts “Either the Law of the Excluded Middle is true or it is not true.” 

6 April 2021

“Well, maybe if we didn’t live under a system that forces people to work or die, products that last forever would not be a problem for workers. We’ve got the technology to make all of our lives comfortable, but we do not use it because we want profit.” [edited]

    −Talking Vidya, commenting on the idea in Veritasium’s video “This is why we can't have nice things” that workers supported industrial conspiracies for planned obsolescence

5 April 2021

“It seems clear from the post that the word ‘ontic’ means real, physical, or actual, as opposed to epistemic (which has to do with what is merely known).  So, if you subscribed to a particular interpretation of quantum theory, you might say that the uncertainty about quantum phenonena is ontic in the sense that the indeterminism of atomic decay, for instance, has nothing to do with our not knowing or being able to predict it, but rather with an intrinsically (ontic) uncertainty that implies even Laplace’s Demon could not predict it. I have long suspected that people who use the words ‘ontic’ and ‘ontological’ are engaging in philosophical discussion which, although fun and interesting, are really only distractions for us trying to cobble together a practically useful theory of non-Laplacian uncertainty.  Does it matter whether the quantity is intrinsically ill-defined or we just don't know the definition?”

27 March 2021

“We’ve accidentally deployed an inhumane way to collaborate.”

    −Cal Newport, Georgetown computer scientist professor writing “E-mail is making us miserable” in The New Yorker describing research correlating email and its cost in mental stress, anger and burnout

26 February 2021

“There’s an element of oxymoron in trying to taxonomise ignorance.  What we don’t know we cannot categorise.  We don’t know it.”

    −Yakov Ben Haim, in a ViCE discussion of the question of whether there are multiple kinds of uncertainties

17 February 2021

“For this particular case of numerical uncertainty, my experience is that the overwhelming practice, especially in industry, is to do precisely nothing.”

    −François Hemez, in a ViCE discussion, answering how imprecision and uncertainty are handled in industry

17 February 2021

“Dark philosophy lets the truths of all narratives bloom. An arcane study of the role of narrative in the social construction of individual and collective identities has taken to the streets and turned into the everyday application of postmodern relativity. Now, the doctrine of equal rights for all storytelling rules. The corrosive consequences of this thought change are ubiquitous. ¶ Pure falsehoods have been elevated to ‘alternative facts.’ Cynical slogans, such as ‘Fair & Balanced’ for Fox News, cover hyperpartisan rants. Prejudice-reinforcing conspiracy theories can be widely distributed without shame and penalties. Political propaganda outlets are encouraged to practice RT’s black magic of ‘how any story can be another story.’ ¶ ...[F]ar from eliminating metanarratives, postmodernism has only succeeded in liberating all narratives from the restrictions of factual accuracy, scientific objectivity, social fairness, moral rectitude, and personal honesty.”

    −Wolf Schäfer, discussing the emergence and consequences of a poststructuralist view that metaphorical truth is as valid as factual truth

6 February 2021

“Mathematicians are all about generalisation, aren’t they? So why do the probabilists refuse to talk about sets of probability distributions or generalising probabilities in any way?  It’s like a mathematician who only uses equal signs and never allows greater-than or less-than.”

    −Dominik Hose

5 February 2021

All models are cartoons, with apologies to George Box. Even the elaborate and intricate models that have become popular since the widespread use of computer simulations, they are only cartoons. You cannot make the model scientific merely by making it more intricate or more complex, even when that complexity corresponds to real phenomena. Very quickly we come to a point where making a model more realistic does not actually improve the model, as we are often more uncertain about the parameters describing the complexity that is added. It is a careful application of uncertainty analysis that transforms such a cartoon into a serious scientific model.

29 January 2021

“Word to the ruling class...If you make tanking the stock market easier than owning a home, then what happens next is 100% on you.”

    −Michael Balch, commenting on the GameStop short squeeze

27 January 2021

I was born and have lived in a graced window of time in a civilization, free until this year from scary viral pandemics, when antibiotics worked and before microbial resistance, after the Vietnam draft and before the Great Recession, after the tumult and assassinations of the sixties and before luddite Trumpism, after rock and roll but before TikTok selfie dancing, after serious investment in public education precipitated by Sputnik and before utter unaffordability of college, after hunger in the West but before water shortages, after the pill and before the overturning of Rowe v. Wade, and after we went the moon but before we realized we could not go back.

18 January 2021

It has come as something of a surprise that Arnold Schwarzenegger, literally wielding his Conan sword, has been able to make me cry on this wet winter day

10 January 2021

“Guys, we are all just overreacting. This week is finally when he becomes presidential. It’ll be glorious. He’ll finally take care of everything. And then he’ll be totally ready for his second term.”

    −Ed B, on JoeMyGod commenting on reportage by Bloomberg that Trump is planning a “defiant” final week in office

10 January 2021

“Apparently a public consensus has developed that the president of the United States is psychologically unfit to hold office.  Imagine that.”

    −George Conway, on Twitter

8 January 2021

“I don’t believe anything the media tells me. I don’t believe anything academics tell me. I don’t believe much of what the President tells me. I don’t believe a word of what other politicians tell me. I don’t believe what celebrities tell me. I don’t believe what teachers tell me. I don’t believe what doctors tell me. Obviously, I don’t believe what lawyers tell me. I don’t even believe what the Pope tells me. I don’t believe what corporations tell me. I don’t believe what charities tell me. I don’t believe what any government employee tells me. I don’t believe what police officers tell me. I don’t believe what bankers tell me. I don’t believe what judges tell me, or trust their commitment to justice. I don’t have faith in juries. I don’t trust the word of generals or admirals. I don’t trust any book published after 1950.  How am I supposed to live?”

    −Milo Yiannopoulos, begging a question (?) on Parler

24 December 2020

Life during the pandemic has been different.  For instance, today I showered for the third day in a row.  My spouse is calling it a Christmas miracle.

20 December 2020

I hope everyone understands that, when the pandemic is over and we go back to the office, I am going to continue to wear pajama bottoms rather than pants to work.

19 December 2020

“Sometimes things that are cheap aren’t as good.”

    −Pat Mercardante

5 December 2020

“Four minutes is less than five minutes.  Even in the United States, that’s still true.”

    −Adam Finkel

2 December 2020

“And so now as we add more disasters to this doom chart we can assess how scary they are relative to earthquakes. So anything further up is more likely, and anything further to the right is more deathy. And so those are the things we really want to worry about.”

    −Dominic Walliman, “The map of doom: apocalypses ranked”,  in the Youtube series Domain of Science

30 November 2020

“There's a myth that linguists are pedants who love correcting people, but they're actually just enthusiastic about understanding language in all its infinite varieties, which is much worse.”

    −Randall Munroe, being insightful in the comic, but not being quite as funny as the talk page for the comic

26 November 2020

“I still need to do some obligatory training on bribery.  It’s crazy.  I know how to bribe.” 

22 November 2020

“So we need a culture change where people recognise that certainty is more reflective of deceit than of knowledge.  Though we’ve needed that for quite a while.”

    −Alex Wimbush, commenting on “COVID-19: Known Unknowns”, a webinar by the BMJ on covid-19

20 November 2020

“It seems that all exercises in expert elicitation work well, so long as we don’t look too closely at what we’re doing.”

16 November 2020

“Cox’s famous paper arguing that probability is the only possible model of uncertainty is still considered serious by some people, although not by any serious people.”

16 November 2020

“I still have faith left in the system, primarily because I believe so much money is at stake and a civil disruption caused by a coup just doesn’t seem like it would be good for the stock market, but I’m still concerned.” 

    −Luke Green, on the prospect of a coup in the United States

11 November 2020

“An optimist is someone who thinks the future is uncertain.  A pessimist is right [about the future], but he gets no satisfaction from being so.”              −Robert Downey, Jr.

21 October 2020

Maya [Katherine Langford]:  Children can be so cruel.

Dylan [Charlie Plummer]:  Were all cruel.

    −Brian Duffield, screenwriter of Spontaneous, which The Hollywood Reporter called explosively funny and touching

film released 2 October 2020

“Person: what’s your favourite song?
“Me: it’s hard to explain.”

    −Erfaneh Mhm, about “Iran (So Far Away)” by The Lonely Island, featuring Adam Levine and samples of Aphex Twin's “Avril 14th”, in an SNL Digital Short with Andy Samberg and Fred Armisen from Season 33 (2007) of Saturday Night Live, about which Daniel Mullarkey had previously remarked “how the hell can a love song between andy samberg and mahmoud ahmadinejad make me tear up?”

September 2020

“Suddenly the Amish are the top of the technological heap.”  

    −Bill P, commenting on the prospect of a solar coronal mass ejection ending our technological civilization, described by Anton Petrov in How World Almost Ended in 2012 And Still Might Later!

September 2020

“Trump: I am illegally defunding the Post Office so less people can vote.

“Democrats: *fewer”

    −Michael Green

13 August 2020

“Our goal is to do for uncertainty what Arabic numerals did for numbers.  Now, appropriately bombastic.  But actually, mathematically, it’s sort of what we’ve done.  Very basically, we represent uncertainties as arrays of realizations.  That is, the way we would represent rolling a die would be to roll it ten thousand times and store it as an auditable data.  Now, that’s fantastic because you can take these arrays and you can add them together row by row to see what happens under, say, a thousand or ten thousand scenarios….  Forget probability distribution. What?  It has way too many syllables.  Okay.  All you have to do is write some goal in your spreadsheet.  ‘Ooh, I want a profit of at least a million dollars.’  And then I’ll tell you the chance you’ll achieve your goal. Oh, and you can change your goal to whatever you want.  Whatever you change it to, I’ll tell you the chance of achieving your goal.  No probability distributions here though.    Okay, that actually was the definition of a probability, but, shh!  We don’t have to tell people.”

    −Sam Savage, The goal of probability management

posted on 10 August 2020

“Patients requiring mechanical ventilation and those who had died were considered to have experienced poor outcomes.”

    −Feng et al. 2020. Clinical Characteristics and Short-Term Outcomes of Severe Patients With COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. Frontiers in Medicine

6 August 2020

“So you’re suggesting the BLM movement is a moral panic?  The outrage we feel is not about the sheer numbers.  It is about the shameless way the police close rank, deny, lie, or even actively foment trouble themselves, and especially the way the good cops do not seem willing to reign in the bad ones.  If you’ve got one bad cop and forty-nine good cops who don’t expose and drum out the bad cop, then you've got fifty bad cops.”  

    −scadqwqw, responding to “Sam Harris Breaks The Silence on BLM and Police Brutality” and ignoring the stunning difference between 2% and 20% in the estimate of 20 to 25 bad cops out of 110 sworn officers in Vallejo, California

1 August 2020

“And, finally, new rule.  America’s top health officials have to find the courage to do what the health officials in Huntington, New York, did.  They told the entire town of 200 hundred thousand to go on a diet because, as the head of the program put it, ‘[With] COVID-19, you’re twice as likely to have a poor outcome if you’re obese’.  Actually it’s worse than that.  Public Health England found that people with a body mass index of 35 to 40 have a 40% greater risk of dying from COVID.  And, over 40, it’s a 90% greater risk.  Even being mildly obese makes it five times more likely that catching the virus will land you in the ICU [intensive care].  … I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the countries with the lowest rates of obesity have had the fewest COVID deaths.  Maybe China isn’t hiding all their COVID deaths.  Maybe their secret is that their obesity rate is six percent, and ours is 42.  And pointing all this out doesn’t make me a dick.  In fact, the shame is on everyone in media and government who is too cowardly to emphasize how important an issue this is.  Because the virus made it an issue.  Obesity was already killing us slowly, but you mix it with COVID and it kills you fast.  You can scream all you want at me for saying that, but it won’t change the scientific truth of it.”

    −Bill Maher, “New Rule: The Quarantine 15” segment from HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, with an important message but failing to understand that 90% greater is actually less than twice as big (unless, to be fair, he is distinguishing  poor outcome from its subset dying)

posted on YouTube 31 July 2020

“We are just past the halfway point of 2020, and if nothing else happened this year, it would still go down as one of the strangest years in history. The best word to describe it, I believe, is ‘uncertainty’.... No one knows when the [R]apture will come (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32).... It would take a book to make an exhaustive study of the chronological order of the [R]apture and future events; much more tha[n] space allows me. Rest assured, however, as of right now, the Christians are still here, and the Tribulation has not started.” 

    −Timothy Johnson, whistling in the dark in The Pre-Tribulation Rapture”, in the Greenvile, Ohio, daily newspaper Daily Advocate

31 July 2020

“The only thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history”

    −SublimeSparo, channeling Hegel, commenting perhaps in a ‘meta’ way on a shakily researched video “The Spanish Flu & How The World Recovered (1918-1929) History Documentary” by History Time that called World War I soldiers the Greatest Generation and said that American Midwest farmers of the 1930s “starved to death in droves” (that that did not happen may explain why there is no right to food in the US)

25 July 2020

“Bayesians look at the world through their posteriors.”

25 July 2020

“I don't think Joe Biden or Donald Trump will be president a year from now.  I don't even know if the presidency will be a thing a year from now.”

    −Michael Balch

22 July 2020

Enrique [discussing the progress report for his PhD project “Uncertainty Quantification in Fusion Power Plant Design” with no prior knowledge of Abbott and Costello]: “Figures 19 and 20 show the Greenwald factors as functions of net electric power from a multiobjective optimisation using a genetic algorithm and the resulting Pareto frontier after 100 generations.”
Scott: “What is the unit of net electric power in those figures?”
Enrique: “Watt.”
Scott: “What is the unit of net electric power?”
Enrique: “Watt.”
Scott: “The net electric power.  What is its unit?”
Enrique: “The unit is watt.”
Scott: “Yes, that is what I'm asking.”
Enrique: “What?”

22 July 2020

“Despite a slight time delay in getting back to you, I am still interested...”

    −Andrew McArdle, responding to an email sent to him at 9:10 am on Monday, 3 September 2012 [about eight years earlier]

15 July 2020

“You know, I think I made a mistake.”

    −purported death-bed statement by a thirty-year-old Covid patient who had attended a  ‘Covid party’, reported by Jane Appleby, chief medical officer at San Antonio's Methodist Hospital, perhaps uncredibly implying self-awareness by someone who would attend a Covid party

reported by San Antonio duopoly WOAI-KABB 10 July 2020

“The AI has a vast number of potential strategies to choose from, but some are unethical—by which we mean, from an economic point of view, that there is a risk that stakeholders will apply some penalty, such as fines or boycotts, if they subsequently understand that such a strategy has been used.”

    −Nicholas Beale, Heather Battey, Anthony C. Davison, and Robet S. MacKay in “An unethical optimization principle” [Royal Society Open Science 7: 200462], leading to the question of whether their definition of ‘unethical’ as likely to attract penalties is more or less terrifying than their reference to something called ‘The AI’

published 1 July 2020

“How do you deal with uncertainty? What is wisdom in a situation no one can fathom? Intervening and seeing how it turns out, or doing nothing before you know more?”

    −Tamar Stelling, “No one knows what problem The Ocean Cleanup actually solves”, The Correspondent

 written 22 June 2020

No, sorry.  It wouldn't help to turn on my video for the Zoom meeting.  During the lockdown I have evolved past the need for a body.  I have become pure energy, pure thought, totally incorporeal, not life as you know it at all.

17 June 2020

“Given the virus, the rioting, the destroyed economy, I’m starting to think maybe we should have elected the email lady.”

    −Alex Cole @acnewsitics

31 May 2020

“Yes, you’ve heard right, Python is identical and as easy as Lua, although Lua is easier than Python. Beginning from Lua and then escalating to Python is recommended.”

    −Rafey Iqbal Rahman, perhaps channeling Orwell on animal equality in a reply on StackShare about which coding environment is better for microcontrollers

21 May 2020

Homo erectus almost certainly hunted and butchered prey. And the researchers even suggest that hominids might have hunted each other. Like maybe Homo erectus hunted and ate Paranthropus, which is how that link in the transmission chain could have happened. Now, the research does also suggest that the virus could have been transmitted by mating, which I’m sure has crossed your mind, but they think the hunting pathway was more likely.”

    −PBS Eons in “The two viruses that we’ve had for millions of years” [writer Darcy Shapiro], acknowledging their viewers’ dirty minds in their explanation of associations between herpesvirus strains and primate species

20 May 2020

“Today people view expertise as in service to something else, an agenda, emotions, a conspiratorial plot and so on.... It’s hard to unilaterally condemn this suspicion of [experts]. You don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to know that experts can and do have political agendas, or they simply fail to see the collateral damage of their policies. Davies writes that ‘The resentment of elites that we see around us today is fueled by a sense [that the promise of experts] is now bogus.... Revelations of their personal moral failings, via media exposés, leaks, and social media searches make the distinction of these figures ever harder to sustain. Their claim to represent our interests becomes nothing but a shroud for their own political agendas.’ And that’s why this [level of distrust of] experts is so complicated. It’s sometimes justified, sometimes not. But it raises a much deeper problem for society. As Rosenbloom argues, it’s not just trust in institutions or science that’s at risk, but our trust in each other. Whereas older conspiracy theories often targeted those at the top, the wealthy elites pulling the strings, today’s conspiracy theories often target people on the bottom as well: survivors of school shootings who are called crisis actors, scientists and teachers deemed spherist shills, pizza shop owners labeled pedophiles, and Youtube channels theorized to be fronts for the Illuminati. At the same time, people at the top who were formerly the perpetrators of conspiracies can now be the victim, like, say, people in the highest offices of government. Davies argues that our lack of trust in elites or each other has resulted in a kind of Hobbesian war of all against all. It’s not that we want to murder each other, but that in any kind of disagreement we distrust the basic premise of our so-called opponents. They’re either a hypocrite, a liar, politically tainted, or so on. The phrase virtual signaling for instance is not an attack on the virtue itself, but rather a statement that it’s done inauthentically. Similarly, arguments have become a place to win this so-called war rather than to seek truth. The Internet has become not a place to advance knowledge but a place to go to see people destroyed or dumped on in the game of truth. And it’s this gamification of truth that is particularly worrisome. Beyond the Internet we see tons of knowledge produced for think tanks, lobbyists or advocacy groups, and while some might simply suggest that a marketplace of ideas will separate the good ideas from the bad, Davies warns that the facts alone won’t save us. There is no overwhelming victory of truth against fiction, especially on the Internet. While some platforms have recently cracked down on conspiracy theory content, paranoia and fear are still incredibly shareable. We could also ask if fake news and post truth are more symptoms of arguments accelerating to the point where only superficial judgments are possible as Davies writes. Instead, he suggests we defend slowness, the ability to restrain our impulse toward reactivity and commit ourselves to thoughtfulness. So what do you think [audience]? How can we continue to build a society based on trust while still promoting healthy skepticism and criticism? Or do we truly live in a post-truth society?”

    −Alec Opperman, read by Jared Bauer, How Conspiracies Changed, Wisecrack, apparently not having noticed that the point of argument has never been ‘to seek truth’

11 May 2020

“The University of Liverpool’s motto is haec otia studia fovent, which means ‘these peaceful times foster learning’. I’ve translated otia as ‘peaceful times’ but it also means ‘leisure’ or ‘idleness’ or even ‘emptiness’. I think today we’d say ‘free time’. Be smart about how you use your covid otia.”

10 May 2020

“Research is not a technical activity. It is political. As has always been true, and will continue to be true, information is power. Power can be wielded for public good or to further vested interest. And statistical research can serve citizens and support democracy or cloak a political claim in a veneer of respectability and hoodwink people into a fantasy that ultimately only serves those who already wield power. It is no wonder people are skeptical when any one of us says, ‘Give us your data and we will do good, good things with it.’ To succeed, we must show respect, earn trust, and differentiate what we do as something to be valued. This is not about being difficult; it is an essential part of every researcher’s license to operate.”

    −John Pullinger, “Lots of lovely numbers, but why does everyone make it so difficult?”, Opinion 1(2), 100033

8 May 202

“They say that education is the telling of smaller and smaller lies.  Research, similarly, is a sequence of realisations of tinier and tinier exceptions to broad theses.”

2 May 2020

Apophis: I'm gonna end civilization in 2068.
Corona virus in 2020: hold my RNA

    −Grey Troll, commenting on Anton Petrov's video “Russian Scientists Warn Apophis May Hit Earth in 2068

~April 2020

“More like Bias-ian statistics, am I right?”

    −Alex Wimbush, commenting on Andrew Gelman's blog post as reported in Kevin Drum's article “What’s the Deal With Bayesian Statistics? (from the hard-hitting journalism of Mother Jones) which has something fun in every paragraph and illustration

29 April 2020

people during evacuation: “I don’t wanna leave my house.”
people during lockdown: “Get me out of this prison.” 

    −Setsuna Aottg, in comment about Abacaba's Youtube video Coronavirus: Are the lockdowns actually working? (April 21st update)

23 April 2020

“If the unofficial song of social distancing is Alec Benjamin’s ‘Six Feet Apart’, I think I may have found the song for the lockdown in ‘If the World is Ending’ by JP Saxe, ft. Julia Michaels. It’s poignant, even beautiful.  Maybe I am overly sentimental on our fifth Friday in lockdown.  Fifth, right?  Pat is laughing at me because there are tears on my face.  Yes, sure, it rhymes ‘for the hell of it’ with ‘relevant’, but, hey, artistic license. What gets me is that, in the song, their relationship has been over for a year.  It’s like the Lady Antebellum song ‘Need You Now’ or that song ‘Dust’ by Matt Simons, ft. Betty Who. It’s emotionally equivalent in a certain way with ‘I Wasn’t Expecting That’.  I think Spotify has been trying to make me cry this afternoon.”

17 April 2020

“I heard it was developed in the basement of a pizza shop in Bowling Green, Benghazi.”

    − Steal My Memes, responding to Trevor Noah's review of coronavirus origin conspiracy theories 

 17 April 2020

“As soon as people started saying ‘Ok, boomer’, all of a sudden we’ve got coronavirus and old people are dying. That can’t be a coincidence.”

    −Trevor Noah, The Daily Show on Twitter, discussing the conspiracy theory suggested by Roseanne Barr and others that coronavirus is a bioweapon created to take down old people

17 April 2020

“I remember restaurants...In the before times.”  

    −Guy Incognito

10 April 2020

“Of course, all the experts agree that the only way out of this pandemic is to increase, in any way possible, widely available reliable testing.”

   −Stephen Colbert, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,

(the very day that “No test is better than a bad test: impact of diagnostic uncertainty in mass testing on the spread of Covid-19” is drafted) 9 April 2020

CDs are less useful for obtaining confidence for all possible statements that can be made concerning the full parameter, as in a sense is the goal of the Inferential Model and the Bayesian method, where false confidence might occur at least in the Bayesian case.

   −Cunen, C., N.L. Hjort, and T. Schweder. 2020 Confidence in confidence distributions! Proc. R. Soc. A 476: 20190781.

accepted for publication 9 April 2020

Notes from the fourth week of my coronovirus lockdown: This afternoon I fell asleep and slept so hard that I strongly suspect I may have been rooffied.”  

7 April 2020

“After my computer has now rebooted, whatever this program is has installed and opened itself (in flagrant and vicious disregard of the principle of human assent...which I've never heard of but which ought to exist and ought to be a fundamental element in humane algorithms).  It suggests, bossily but rather unconvincingly, that I should message @Gray, Nicholas or @De Angelis, Marco.  Ah ha, judging by the fact that it knows you both as your surname-comma-firstname, I deduce this must be a clunky Microsoft program. It seems like it’s straining to look like Slack, with options Activity, Chat, Teams, Assignments, Calendar, Calls, Files, ‘...’, Apps, Help, and a phone icon. Oh, it also has an eye icon and the word ‘Team’ in the corner. Ah, this must be Teams, which I never installed, opened, assented to use, or ever willingly or knowingly used. Is there a gender-neutral way to say ‘poor man’s Slack’? I guess there isnt.”

6 April 2020

“Actually, I have long felt sure that I would live long enough to see the collapse of our civilization. What I didn’t anticipate is that that collapse would be so boring. For the last ten years, I have been routinely saying at dinner parties and the like that the End might be in the form of a great Sino-American war, which in my judgment is itself a near certainty. For many years earlier, I had presumed it would be a Simplification à la that novel Canticle for Liebowitz or Cambodia in real life (and recent events in the US made me circle round to this presumption lately). Of course I never believed that the End would be in the form of This is the End. Though it was possibly my favorite film of 2013. To be fair, competition was weak that year. Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle, Gravity, all great, but hardly life-changing. Never saw 12 Years a Slave…too depressing. I don’t know whether you saw This is the End, or whether your sensibilities are such that I should recommend it to you. Think of the Nicolas Cage’s Left Behind, only not a horrible movie. The funniest scene in the entire film is when the boys, having just witnessed the Rapture on the streets of Los Angeles with people dramatically sucked up in blue spotlights into Heaven, return to a huge crowd at a party at James Franco’s house in Hollywood where not a single person was raptured. It’s funny how humor works in films like this as they take the Biblical account completely seriously, and the joke is profoundly at the expense of the non-believer, showing them in the depths of their shallowness, vanity and, yes, their depravity. (Can you say ‘depths of shallowness’?) Yet I suspect believers would not approve. Could it be just the count of the F-words in the dialog? What was I saying about the covid sequestration being boring?”

5 April 2020

“What’s hard is when social distancing conflicts with mating season.”

4 April 2020

“We are witnessing in the United States one of the greatest failures of basic governance and basic leadership in modern times.”

   −Jeremy Konyndyk, formerly USAid, reported by Pilkington & McCarthy in “The missing six weeks: how Trump failed the biggest test of his life”, The Guardian

reported 28 March 2020


“Well, I’m guessing the ‘indivisble’ in US constitution takes a wh[o]le new meaning. It just means its citizens can’t divide 2 numbers”

   −Robi_CK , commenting on Matt Parker’s Youtube exposition “Why do people keep getting this wrong‽” of the Internet meme of the form “317 million people in America and you spend 360 million on just introducing Obamacare?  Just give each citizen a million bucks” [high marks for Robi_CK’s witty and apt point, but marks off for misspelling indivisible and for forgetting that the word appears in the US Pledge of Allegiance but not actually the US Constitution, but full marks to Matt for his explanation, and on his use of the interrobang]

24 March 2020

“Not to make light of the situation but, so far, the surest prediction I can make about this pandemic is that we will see a global, exponential explosion of emails.”

14 March 2020

“We are making every misstep leaders initially made in table-tops at the outset of the pandemic planning in 2006. We had systematically addressed all of these and had a plan that would work – and has worked in Hong Kong/Singapore. We have thrown 15 years of institutional learning out the window and are making decisions based on intuition. Pilots can tell you what happens when a crew makes decisions based on intuition rather than what their instruments are telling them. And we continue to push the stick forward….”

   −James V. Lawler, reported by Eric Lipton in “The ‘Red Dawn’ emails: 8 key exchanges on the faltering response to the coronavirus” in The New York Times, 11 April 2020

12 March 2020

Parasite was a good film on how urban pluvial flooding disproportionately affects poor neighbourhoods due to (but not only) outdated drainage, low/no investment or green infrastructure, less political clout, & high population densities. Rest of the film was fun if unnecessary imo”

   −Simon D.A. Clark (@Sunkensie), displacement tweeting while finishing his dissertation on ecological services and hydrological phenomena

19 February 2020

“The lies aren’t meant to be consistent.  The goal is merely to disrupt the truth from being exposed.”

   −Nancy LeTourneau, writing in Washington Monthly

18 February 2020

“Most of my science outreach is now either done: A) in the back of a taxi B) on Grindr.”

   −Simon D.A. Clark (@Sunkensie)

4 February 2020

“Instead of trying to design things for an average human, they embraced the variability.”

   −Matt Parker, discussing the reaction of the US Air Force to the recognition that the centroid of a high-dimensional anthropometric study is sparsely populated in “Does the average person exist?”, Standup Maths

19 January 2020

23 September 2019

“Their evil is still not gone”

   −Sam Fender, “White Privilege”, Hypersonic Missiles, Polydor

13 September 2019

Josh:     “I know that ASME has a VVUQ journal, and I know that SIAM has a UQ journal.  I was wondering what other UQ journals you are aware of?”

Scott:   “It is a jungle out there:

     I am confident there are more.  Why do you ask?”

6 September 2019

In school you notice that jokes about Jews have become funny again.  Those kinds of jokes are acceptable again.

   −student in Köln gymnasium play about the Holocaust in Jan Schmitts Deutsche Welle documentary What neo-Nazis have inherited from original Nazism

Episode aired 21 September 2019

“Fake is when it’s wrong, Mr. President, not when it’s unpleasant.”

   −Neil Cavuto, Fox News host, in his closing monologue (

29 August 2019

There are three forms of [inferential uncertainty] presentations: confidence density, confidence distribution, confidence curve.

   −Min-ge Xie, speaking at the Data & Information Fusion Conference in Santa Fe

21 August 2019

“Reliability is a part of trust, sure.  But it’s a very small part.”

20 August 2019

“Do we really need explainability?  Maybe just better calibration.”

   −Rajeev Mittu, Branch Head at Naval Research Laboratory , discussing the future of machine learning

20 August 2019

Jim (lecturing): “Relations aren’t properties of entities. Philosophers say relations are non-monadic. You can't tell my relationships with the world just by looking at me.”

Scott (sotto voce) “Wha? One look at your haircut and we know your relationship with the world.”

20 August 2019

“The uncertainty is hard for doctors as well as patients.”

   −Lisa Sanders, Netflix series Diagnosis, “Déjà Vu” (season 1, episode 6)

16 August 2019

“If a service is given to you for ‘free,’ you are not the customer, you are the product.”

   −Olandp, discussing the Facebook’s five-billion-dollar fine by the FTC

12 July 2019

“Don’t burn bridges...but set the house on fire.”

   −Nick Gray, giving the best advice I’ve ever heard about how to give a talk to a room of academics

10 July 2019

“Did you see the 2004 film The Aviator with DiCaprio?  It argued that Howard Hughes was a genius not despite his craziness, but because of it.  I find that everyone is crazy to some extent.  Literally everyone.  The only question is whether you get enough out of the interaction to make bearing that craziness worth it.”

9 June 2019

“The future is uncertain, but the science of uncertainty is the science of the future.”

   −Ian Stewart, Do Dice Play God, page 266

publication date 6 Jun 2019

“We humans are lousy at detecting deception.”

   −Joe Navarro, former FBI agent, “Former FBI Agent Explains How to Read Body Language”, Tradecraft, WIRED 

21 May 2019

“What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all. What can we do then? What else is left but to abandon even the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories? In these stories, it doesn’t matter who the heroes are. All we want to know is: ‘Who is to blame?’”

   −Valery Legasov [played by Jared Harris] in the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, written by Craig Mazin

release date 6 May 2019

“I’m not doing anything unethical.  I just wanna ask people about growing plants.”

   −Francis Baumont de Oliveira, on the ethical approval process required to interview business people about their businesses

3 May 2019

so str function does not convert to a real string anymore. One HAS to say an encoding explicitly for some reason I am to lazy to read through why. Just convert it to utf-8 and see if ur code works. e.g. var = var.decode('utf-8')

   −Charlie Parker, posting at 23:32, presumably after a long day, on Stack Overflow

22 April 2019

“I look back on pictures of me when I was eighteen, and my eyes looked like I still had a soul.”

   −Francis Baumont de Oliveira

18 April 2019

“I am so blissfully unaware of everything”

   −Sam Fender, “Hypersonic Missiles

March 2019

“The Swedish can fetishize anything.”

   −sotto voce reaction to the notion of an “uncertainty show” [osäkerhetsshowen] discussed in the presentation “Using games to train or test our ability to express epistemic uncertainty” by Prof Ullrika Sahlin from Lund University at a conference held in Berlin on uncertainty in risk analysis hosted by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

21 February 2019

“But there is no word for the unique agony of uncertainty.”

   −Michael Burnham [played by Sonequa Martin-Green], “Saints of Imperfection”, Star Trek: Discovery [season 2, episode 5], written by Kirsten Beyer

release date 14 February 2019

Dominic: “Machine learning for predicting rare events?  How would that be possible?”
Scott: “What are you talking about?  Machine learning can do everything.  Just ask any young person.  They’ll tell you it can do anything.”
Enrique: “Why are you so jaded?”
Scott: “You used to be a believer!”
Dominic: “No, I agree machine learning’s been massively oversold.”
Enrique: “It’s just a tool.”
Scott: “Yes, as are the people who use it.

11 February 2019

“Police forced to intervene as Brexit tensions rise outside Parliament.”

   −Evening Standard, caption for the above photograph of Francis’ mum and her radical, vaguely terroristic, ‘remoaner’ colleagues

16 January 2019

“[1]  Indeed, one might say that ‘the Crain and Crain fails mainly to explain.’”

   −Adam Finkel, the footnote to his comments to EPA on its moribund secret science regulation:  Perhaps the most well-known study of the aggregate costs of regulation is the article by Mark Crain and Nicole Crain suggesting that regulations cost the U.S. nearly $2 trillion per year.  This work is of no real value, since it relies on comparing the GDP growth rates of different countries to a subjective index of regulatory quality, which of course has no relationship to regulatory burden.  And I hope needless to say, even a robust correlation between GDP and actual burden would not be useful for estimating cost.[1]


“There used to be a time when I thought I could rely on Future Francis,  But I’ve come to realise that I can’t trust that guy.  It’s up to me to get things done.”

   −Francis Baumont de Oliveira

28 September 2018

All my role models are on TV for the wrong reasons
And, I will unravel if you rip away my best pieces
Would've never come so far without someone there to start it
Can I truly love the art when I kinda hate the artist?
But, all my role models are on TV for the wrong reasons
Wrong reasons

   −AJR, “Role Models”, The Click (Deluxe edition), AJR Productions

album released 21 September 2018

Scott:  “Has [the executive pro-vice chancellor with whom we are about to meet] had his lunch yet?” 

Personal assistant to the executive pro-vice chancellor:  “We don’t have lunch at this level.”

21 August 2018

“When Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living—he didn’t mean for you to use social media to force the rest of us to examine your damn life.”

   −Adam Crowe

10 August 2018

“Yes I’ve heard this word. I think sociopaths use it in an attempt to discredit the notion of empathy”

   −John Cleese, in a tweet on the word snowflake as an insult to liberals

8 July 2018

“Transportation safety regulations and the rule-making process in the U.S. is very reactive, slow and usually, unfortunately, written in blood of past victims.”

  −Najmedin Meshkati, quoted in a news report which added “The U.S. has long trusted automakers to guarantee their cars’ safety and it hasn’t always ended well.”

May 2018

Isola [Katherine Parkinson]:  “She’s only four years old.  What can she understand?”

Amelia [Penelope Wilton]:  “I’m older than time, and I understand nothing.”

  −Kevin Hood, Don Roos, and Tom Bezucha (screenwriters), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, on human capacity to comprehend the meaning and finality of death

film release in the UK, 20 April 2018

“These sort of tactics are very effective: instantly having video evidence of corruption, putting it on the internet. ...I mean, it sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true, as long as they are believed.”

  −Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica CEO

secretly recorded 16 January 2018, broadcast 19 March 2018

“Instead of standing in the public square and saying what you think and then letting people come and listen to you and have that shared experience as to what your narrative is, you are whispering into the ear of each and every voter and you may be whispering one thing to this voter and another thing to another voter. We fragmenting society in a way where we don’t have any more shared experiences and we don’t have any more shared understanding. If we don’t have any more shared understanding, how can we be a functioning society?...If you want to fundamentally change society, you first have to break it. And it’s only when you break it is when you can remold the pieces into your vision of a new society.”

  −Christopher Wilie, discussing Mercer-funded Cambridge Analytica’s harvesting Facebook data, The Guardian

17 March 2018

“That the video is essentially fiction hasn’t stopped it from becoming extremely popular. At typical YouTube ad rates, it’s likely pulled in tens of thousands of dollars in earnings. But though its offerings are fringe, the operation is bankrolled by major corporations. Advertisers on Ridddle videos on YouTube include insurer Geico, mattress seller Purple, and even The New York Times. Stranger still, Ridddle’s English-language videos seem to be translations of clips that originally appeared on a second channel, which is entirely in Russian. The Russian-language Ridddle videos have also accumulated millions of views, and have picked up extensive coverage in the Russian media.” [quote omits three links]

  −Jon Christian, in The Outline piece on popularity of the fake science video “If you detonated a nuclear bomb In the Marianas Trench” by Ridddle

9 March 2018

Robert Goldman on Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence [UAI] listserver: “I’m looking for some advice...for handling the case where one’s prior is qualitatively wrong. For example, imagine that I have chosen a normal distribution for a random variable, and when the observations come back, they are bimodal. What does the Bayesian philosophy say about cases like this?”

Jason Eisner on UAI: “Why did you ‘choose a normal distribution’? Did you really believe that it was impossible that your variables...followed any non-normal distribution? If so, then you should attribute the apparent bimodality of the observations to a coincidence in the sample, because no other explanation is possible. It seems that you are not willing to do thisyou are willing to be convinced by a finite sample that the distribution is not normal. So apparently your true mental model must place some probability mass on non-normal distributions. In other words, for engineering purposes, you were apparently applying a prior that didn’t actually match your true prior state of belief.”

27 February 2018

“I stopped reading after Annex B1 if I’m allowed to lie, and after the Executive Summary if I’m not.”

  −Willem Roelofs

19 February 2018

“Newspaper comment sections are basically a gathering spot for backwards, grammatically challenged idiots.”


17 February 2018

“Maximum Likelihood (ML) methods are a Bayesian approach to data analysis.”

  −David Dunstan [in an abstract for a public lecture]

13 February 2018

“The common thread running through these the idea that normative statistical inference can be achieved without requiring analysts to express more information than they actually possess.”

  −Michael Balch

 February 2018

“Truth is a gateway drug to science.”

  −Stephen Colbert, responding to Joel Kinnaman's claim that Scandinavians hate Donald Trump because “we have this relationship with truth”

30 January 2018

“I am so good at witty YouTube comments. The greatest!”

  −okrajoe, commenting on a Youtube dialog about the Dunning−Kruger effect, in which Sam Harris says “mentioning the Dunning−Kruger effect is often a symptom that one is suffering from it”

January 2018

Carolyn:   “You complain all the time.  All the negativity is hard to take.”

Edo:   “Do you recognize that you are now complaining about how much I complain?  I am a very positive person.”

Scott:   “Risk analysis is a discipline for positive people who still love to complain.  Risk analysis is great because it allows you to complain about things that don't even happen.”

Carolyn:   “But what if it comes true?”

Scott:   “Ah, then you get the greatest joy of all: getting to say ‘I told you so’.”

16 January 2018

“Florida is the peninsula of the lotus eaters.”

15 January 2018

“Saying ‘I don’t know’ is never acceptable...If a child asks you what Tinker Bell better come up with an answer quickly. (Answer: very tiny apples.)”

  −former employee of Florida’s Walt Disney World, anonymously (“so the mouse won't track me down”) in “32 Fun Disney Facts From a Former Cast Member”, POPSUGAR, because not knowing destroys the illusion of a perfect fairytale world

9 January 2018

“Given what I saw on the roads last night, this must be a hard concept for people to understand.  So, today, we’re going to break down the science behind wiping the snow off your car.”

  −Derek Kevra, meteorologist for Fox 2 Detroit, introducing his video segment describing the use of a “scientific swiping motion” with a ice scraper

14 December 2017

“It’s very good to study probability”

  −Anali Rico, inscrutable “reason for downloading” recorded on for the iconoclastic (or just bombastic?) paper “Different methods are needed to propagate ignorance and variability”

December 2017

“I think it was Gandhi who wisely said, ‘We seek justice just as we seek love. And neither is found in online comments.’”

  −Nicholas A. Friedenberg

4 December 2017

“Conspiracy theories are nothing new, but in the age of the internet, they spread like ‘chemtrails’ in the wind. The theory that the world is flat, for example, gained so much popularity online that this year 500 people gathered for the first ever International Flat Earth Conference. The belief that the world is flat has kind of been around forever, but it picked up steam in 2015 with a rash of online communities, YouTube videos, podcasts, and even songs preaching the gospel. At some point, Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics started talking about it too, which really seemed to blow the lid off the heliocentric model. So, the time was right for the Flat Earth International Conference, the first of its kind, held at the beginning of November outside of Raleigh, NC. Sold out since May, the conference brought together hundreds of people who had before only really interacted online. It was an opportunity for believers to network, share research, meet thought leaders, find a flat-earth compatible mate, show off various NASA parody t-shirts, and talk shit about Neil deGrasse Tyson.”

  −VICE News, “People from around the globe met for the first flat earth conference”, HBO

published on 28 November 2017

“When you’re young, they say you don’t understand until you’ve gone to school and been educated. In school, and certainly after you graduate, you find out you don’t fully understand something until you see it in actual practice, or maybe until you actually do it yourself. Professionals realize, however, that you don’t really understand a subject until you’ve had to teach it. But the actual truth is that you don’t really, fully understand a subject until you’ve programmed it. Programming is teaching the actual practice to the stupidest possible student, a computer. And, once the computer can handle it, you don’t have to understand it anymore.”

17 November 2017

“Sometimes people don’t know what decision they’re making, and they don’t even know what variables are important in the consideration, so they display a lot of them together on the screen and call it a dashboard.”

  −Simon Maskell

16 November 2017

“Emails are supposed to be asynchronous, so don’t let anybody shame you for not getting back to them on their schedule.  If they want that, they have to try to use phones.”

11 November 2017

“Vertical farming is getting a lot of investment now.  I guess it’s either this or we starve.  Which do you prefer?”

  −Francis Baumont de Oliveira

10 November 2017

“His ratio of certitude to knowledge is nearing record highs.”

  −Richard H. Thaler, Chicago University professor and Nobel laureate, speaking of President Trump

10 October 2017

“The New Scientist editor who selected the cover illustration [depicting Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump as Khrushchev and Kennedy pensively engaged in a game of chess] may not appreciate the full scope of the problem.”

23 September 2017

“When a mathematician writes an integral, it means ‘this is one of those things I’d like to be able to compute.’”

  −Brendan McCabe

23 September 2017

“A Bayesian belief network can handle aleatory uncertainty, and it can handle epistemic uncertainty, but not at the same time, please.”

  −Ullrika Sahlin 

23 September 2017

“I was observing with my French colleague the strangeness of the fact that Bayesianism is named for Bayes and not Laplace (which by rights it should be).  I tried to say this in French.  When I  pronounced the name Bayes, he said ‘oh, be careful....’  It took me a moment to realise that Bayes is a near homonym for baise, which is the French word for fuck. It dawned on me that this is probably why the French let the English get away with pretending that Bayesianism was invented by the Englishman Bayes.  They just think it’s funny the English are going around all day saying baise, baise, baise.”

22 September 2017

“Classification is a branch of machine learning.”

  −Alfredo Garbuno, causing the irises on Ronald Fisher’s grave to move slightly as he spun

22 September 2017

“The initial motion is a little uncertain because of the significant cloud structure change during the past 6 hours. Shortwave and enhanced BD-curve infrared imagery reveal a more north-northeastward short term motion, with the center possibly as far east as 71.1W. However, an earlier GPM microwave image and the satellite classification fixes indicated a position bit farther to the west near 71.2 to 71.5W. As a compromise, I elected to split the initial position between the two solutions which yields a northward motion, at about 360/8 kt.”

  −Forecaster Roberts of the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center in Miami, “Hurricane Jose Discussion Number 52

18 September 2017

“As human beings, false belief is our birthright.”

Most of what we believe is not based on whats in our heads, and theres a good reason for that.  Theres not much in our heads.

Thinking is a social process. Rather than happening inside your head, it emerges from your interactions with those around you.

Everything great we do as human beings depends on this ability to share knowledge and to collaborate.

The sense of understanding is contagious.

We can build cathedrals but we can also build houses of cards.

Knowledge is not in my head, and its not in your head. Knowledge is shared....

Ignorance is a feature of the human mind, not a bug.

  −Philip Fernbach, les meilleurs bons mots in Why do we believe things that aren't true?”, TEDxMileHigh, Youtube

13 September 2017

Most of what we believe is not based on whats in our heads, and theres a good reason for that.  Theres not much in our heads. ... As human beings, we are just not made to store a lot of detailed information. ... We do not have to know a lot because were not made to think on our own. Its natural to think about thinking as what happens between your ears, but thats not where the magic really happens. ... Thinking is a social process. Rather than happening inside your head, it emerges from your interactions with those around you. ... On our own, none of us knows all that much. We dont have to. We each have our own little slice of expertise, and our minds are built to collaborate and to share knowledge, which allows us to pursue incredibly complex goals, when none of us has anything approaching the knowledge to understand it all. This is the Milan Cathedral. Its one of humanity's great  works. Construction began in 1386...[and it] was completed when they consecrated the final gate in the 1960s. Six hundred years! In that time, there were 75 chief engineers responsible for the project and thousands upon thousands of people involved. None of those people had anything remotely approaching the knowledge to understand it all, not even close. Everything great we do as human beings depends on this ability to share knowledge and to collaborate. So thats the positive side of the knowledge-sharing story. When we put our minds together we can do incredible things. 

But theres also a dark side. Because we are built to so seamlessly draw on knowledge outside of our heads, we often fail to realize the limits of our own understanding. ... The sense of understanding is contagious. And when contagious understanding is paired with individual ignorance, it can be a toxic recipe. The danger is that I may express a strong belief because I feel like I understand. But my sense of understanding is false. It comes from those around me expressing strong beliefs because they feel like they understand. But their sense of understanding comes from those around them and so on. Individually, none of us knows enough to tell whats true and whats false. And, yet, because we feel like were on firm ground, we dont do enough to verify, and that is how entire groups of people can come to believe things that arent true. We can build cathedrals but we can also build houses of cards. 

Now, the real tragedy occurs in how we relate to people who have different beliefs than us. We live in the illusion that we have arrived at our own positions via a serious analysis, and that we can support and justify what we believe based on what we know. Therefore, when someone doesnt believe what we believe, its obvious what the problem is: theyre too stupid to see the truth! And theres actually a sense in which youre right when you think that. Its true! They did not arrive at their position via a rational process of evidence evaluation, and they dont understand the issue in depth. But neither do you! ... When we express our beliefs, we are all just channeling our communities of knowledge. Thats what we do. Knowledge is not in my head, and its not in your head. Knowledge is shared.... Now, the point is decidedly not that people are stupid. Its true; we are all ignorant, but thats not something we should hide from. The world is far too complex for any one of us to understand much of it. What makes us special is the ability to thrive amidst that complexity by sharing knowledge. From our individual ignorance can arise collective genius. Ignorance is a feature of the human mind, not a bug. But we dont have to be so darn sure about things we dont understand.

  −Philip Fernbach, Why do we believe things that aren’t true?, TEDxMileHigh, Youtube

13 September 2017

“Number 10, Twinkies. In 2012 this parent company of Hostess filed for bankruptcy, and the public went mad. How would we satisfy our sugar cravings now? Luckily, one eBay seller thought it was best to cash in and placed a box of the tasty treats up for sale. The box of delicious treats ended up selling for around $60. That’s over 95% more than the grocery stores were charging. If only the buyer would have held out a little longer. In March of the following year Twinkies returned to American shelves.”

  −“Strangest things ever sold on eBay”, Talltanic, self-described as “where we push the boundaries with unbelievable facts that will blow your mind", like the fact that a price doubled

2 September 2017

“So the Republicans don’t even believe in weather?”

  −Name, on the news that Trump’s budget has an unprecedented 6% funding cut for the National Weather Service, a 26% cut for NOAA’s oceanic and atmospheric research, and a 22% cut in its weather satellite information program, as well as other cuts in computer modeling of storms and tsunami research

25 August 2017

“My definition of creativity has long been that it’s what happens when you are struggling back from confusion.  Steve Jobs famously said that creativity was just about finding connections that hadn’t been noticed before.  I guess graduate school is about teaching you what dots exist so that you can connect them. Graduate school is about creativity, for sure, but not in the way you think.  Yes, the classes you take and the other stuff you have to do for graduate school are mostly getting in the way of creativity.  In fact, the whole enterprise of graduate education is actually to try to stifle some of your creativity so that you dont turn out crazy...which is what happens if you study by yourself.  In autodidacts, creativity can take over completely, and you lose the ability to tell what is making sense and what will fly with others.

23 August 2017

“The basic truth about UQ is that people don’t want to do it. We are hopeful creatures, constantly underestimating the uncertainty that surrounds us. The financial market is an easy example. In an industry where estimating risk is synonymous with success, financial analysts continue to use methods that can kindly be called optimistic, but which are plainly just wrong.”

  −Lev Ginzburg

17 August 2017

Kari:  “Isn’t Art Dempster in his nineties?”

Scott:  “I’ll look it up.”

Arthur P. Dempster
Born 1929 (age 87–88)

Scott:  “Wikipedia says his age is an interval.”

Kari:  “Very few people would get that joke.”

13 August 2017

“FEMA calls the long-term period between the recovery from the impact of some hazard and the next hazard the ‘mitigation phase’. We know that people don’t mitigate during this phase.”

  −Allison Reilly

8 August 2017

“There is a neighbor effect. If your neighbor buys an emergency generator, you are more likely to buy a generator. Social scientists call this conspicuous consumption, but, to me, that is just risk communication.”

  −Allison Reilly

8 August 2017

“It’s good to have old technology, and new ideas.  It’s better than having new technology and old ideas.”

  −Reinhard Viertl, as he reverted to overhead transparencies after the Powerpoint slides failed

8 August 2017

“Hypocrisy used to be a thing.  Is it still?”

  −Bill Maher, capturing in nine words, what I was feebly trying to say in the 800 words (below) earlier in the week

5 August 2017

The rise of uncertainty as a theme of modern life is certainly a well discussed topic.  Morris Kline’s great book Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty traces the progressive embrittlement of notions of consistency that developed during the twentieth century since Gottlob Frege’s charmingly naive logicism in Begriffsschrift that mathematics is based on logic and could therefore be formally proven to be correct.  My favorite college professor Paul McKinney once wrote a vers libre poem about uncertainty made up of five mathematical formulas.  It started with the tautology from symbolic logic, p or not p, followed by expressions from statistical mechanics and the Heisenberg principle saying we can’t escape imprecision. The poem ended with the eternally pessimistic second law of thermodynamics that says disorder increases.  The poem’s title was “There was a time when I was absolutely sure, a happy time when it was all together”.  I guess I am glad that the chemistry professor cum poet did not have to witness the state of the world today.  Today, the lack of surety is the least of it. 

It has been trite for years now to say that we live in a post-truth age.  Bill Maher has pointed out that Donald Trump sometimes holds contradictory positions in the same sentence.  The New York Times described an incident in which Steve Bannon was standing too close to a hot light while deciding what to enter into a teleprompter for the candidate’s speech when his pant leg literally caught fire, life parodying the childhood chant.  But whining about a post-truth age or ‘alternative facts’ just a few decades after Joseph Goebbels seems quaint at best.  It just doesn’t seem serious to complain that statements from authorities or leaders feel like gas-lighting after the report by the Church Committee, after revelation of the disinformation operations, or even after reading 1984 or just seeing Wag the Dog.  People lie, corporations lie, and governments lie; of course they do.  Some do it more or less artfully; some do it more or less gallingly.  

We are unsure about many important things.  And the more important those things are, the more people may have reason to feed us lies about them.  This has always been true.  What seems different in recent times is the level of apathy about the truth of our concerns.  What is novel is the argued belief that, not only don’t we know, but no one can know.  The new blistering starkness is that the lie doesn’t matter, that a lie is just as good as a truth.

In the prehistory of my own youth, and apparently for last century or two, at least the difference between truth and falsity mattered, or very much seemed to.  Maybe we have been teetering on this edge for years.  Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message”.  South Park noticed that commentary is the content.  And even the ever-young-at-heart Hank Green begrudgingly agrees that nobody should invest in ‘content’.  Perhaps this is merely a nod to the perennial inventiveness of people, the idea that interesting and compelling content will self-generate and bubble up to fill any void, like energy and matter do in the latest astrophysical models of universe creation, multiverses, and the on-going Big Bang.  But I come from a time before the word content was used to mean amorphously the stuff shown on television, uttered in speeches, broadcast on radio, acted out in movies and plays, and written in books and newspapers.  I come from a time when we thought it mattered what you said.  A time when true and false were at least different, if not always discernible.

One might call this the final and utter triumph over substance, but it’s more than that.  Worse than that, it is the erasure of substance.  But that hardly expresses the depth of the dissolution we have seen in our lives.  This is well beyond post-truth.  Today, we live in a post-meaning age.  Originally, stone inscriptions, and later paper and electronic files were made surely because someone had a message to convey. It’s hard to carve words into stone. It’s difficult to make paper. You really had to want to say something. Even if the cuneiform etchings were records of inventories and transactions, you know they were important to somebody.  Why should we bother to record anything anybody says nowadays?

It’s not that I’m looking for scripture.  I don’t think everything <<>>.  Meaning is only important if it excludes something.  If everything can be switched out, without changing the valence, what could that value possibly be?

2 August 2017

“Dare to be curious, but don’t drink the koolaid.”

  −Thomas Westbrook, aka Holy Koolaid, later paraphrase of the outro for the tragic “The Holy Koolaid Origin Story” from his Youtube channel Holy Koolaid

16 July 2017

1978: In 2017 there will be flying cars   
2017: People still believe that the earth is flat

  −h9h1ker, commenting on Is Earth actually flat?, Vsauce

(edited) 9 July 2017

“Family is life’s greatest lottery, and I feel like I’ve scratched off a losing ticket.”

  −Jonny Pierce of The Drums

July 2017

“The pioneering American sex researcher Alfred Kinsey from Indiana University is certainly a hero of modern science, if not of modernity itself. In his time, the importance of sampling randomness had not yet permeated the science of biology. Statistician John Tukey criticized Kinsey’s sampling technique, saying ‘A random selection of three people would have been better than a group of 300 chosen by Mr. Kinsey.’ Although Kinsey drew conclusions that can’t strictly be justified given his nonrandom sampling methods, [Tukey’s] stark criticism seems hyperbolic and statistically wrong; 300 nonrandom samples can tell us many things about a distribution that 3 random samples cannot. For instance, a lower bound on a frequency is number of unique reports / population of reference class, which was ~100 million Americans at the time.  And, by the way, the number of Kinsey’s samples wasn’t 300; it was over 12 thousand.”

6 July 2017

“Eighty percent of the material we work with is made of atoms.”

  −Andrew Harrison, head of the UK’s national synchrotron science facility Diamond Light Source

4 July 2017

“[The synchrotron facility] is ten years old.  We’re not finished constructing it yet.  But, when we are, then we’ll begin the process of rebuilding it.”

  −Andrew Harrison, head of the UK’s national synchrotron science facility Diamond Light Source

4 July 2017

“In the framework of the probability theory and mathematical statistics of uncertainty quantification, there is no need to distinguish these two type of uncertainty [aleatory uncertainties and epistemic uncertainties] (and we simply say Uncertainties) because the tools are exactly the same, 

  −Christian Soize, page 2 in Uncertainty Quantification: An Accelerated Course with Advanced Applications in Computational Engineering (Springer)


“He’s got a Ph.D. in chemistry.”

“Oh?  I got a D in chemistry too.”

4 July 2017

“We’re not going to let these people win. And I keep saying, if me having a gin and tonic with my friends, flirting with handsome men, hanging out with brilliant women is what offends these people so much then I’m going to do it more, not less, because that’s what makes London so great.”

  −Richard Angell, firsthand witness to Saturday’s attack in London, keeping calm and carrying on by returning Sunday to pay his restaurant bill and tip the staff (highlighted by John Oliver, Last Week Tonight)

4 June 2017

“It really turns out that if you’re going to actand you have to actyou have to make assumptions.  And the reason for that is: what the hell do you know? You gotta put your ignorance somewhere.  And people put their ignorance, they box it up inside their assumptions.”

  −Jordan Peterson, on veganism (he also panders to his audience of college students, “You’re the most complicated thing that exists.”)

2 June 2017

“The Knowledge Illusion described by Sloman and Fernbach has some serious implications. As individuals, we know less and less as technological civilization gets more complex. Science education efforts don’t work, and they never will. Indeed they often backfire because telling people a whole bunch of stuff (effectively telling them they’re stupid) isn’t an effective way to teach, but it is a good way to make them mad. Our personal knowledge is a result of a communal process determined by the tribe or group we are a part of. Groupthink is the only think. We know it here in Liverpool―you’ll never think alone.”

17 May 2017

“Can’t you wait for the music?”

  −mother to her vigorously dancing 5-year-old daughter as they await a street band to beginning playing in Liverpool One

29 April 2017

“I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here . . . but this shit is hard.”

  −anonymous White House official, as reported by J. Dawsey, S. Goldmacher and A. Isenstadt in "The education of Donald Trump", Politico 

filed at 5:15 AM EDT on 27 April 2017

«A toi, je voudrais te dire que tu vas rester dans mon cœur pour toujours. Je t’aime. Restons tous dignes, et veillons à la paix, et gardons la paix.»

  −Etienne Cardiles in a eulogy for his husband Xavier Jugelé, a policeman killed on the Champs-Elysees by a terrorist

25 April 2017

James [in a scientific presentation]:  “We’re not in the business of generating hype.”

Scott [under his breath]:  “Speak for yourself.”

19 April 2017

“Poor analysis with good visualization is probably more dangerous [than good analysis with poor visualization].”

  −James Cheshire

19 April 2017

Tom Servo [voiced by Baron Vaughn]: This is why everything you thought was true is, in fact, untrue.  And everything you thought wasnt true, totally true.  Thats what I call Tom Servos Five Principles of Counter-Intuitivity.

Jonah Heston [played by Jonah Ray]: Oh, hey.  Welcome to the Satellite of Love.  Were in the middle of Servos Tom Talk.  Its like TED Talk, except its mostly vague gibberish that doesnt actually mean anything when you think about it later.

Crow T. Robot [voiced by Hampton Yount]: So, a TED Talk then?

  −Mystery Science Theater 3000 (season 11: The Return, episode 12 Carnival Magic), written by Joel Hodgson, Paul Chaplin, Mary Jo Pehl, Elliott Kalan, Dan Harmon, and Justin Roiland 

released 14 April 2017

“Yes, our numerical examples are simple, without very many variables or complications. You might even ungenerously call them ‘toy problems’ as some reviewers have. But I think our solutions are far from toy. They are the rich, complete answers that take a serious and assumption-free accounting of epistemic uncertainty. In contrast, you have complex problems but stick-figure solutions. They are stick figures that assume linearity without justification, normality without evidence or warrant, and assume independence counterfactually.  They are really only placeholders for solutions that might exist.”

4 April 2017

“I think the president is somewhat indifferent to things that are true or false. He has spent his whole life bullshitting. He has succeeded by bullshitting. He has gotten to the presidency by bullshitting. It’s very hard to tell somebody at that point that bullshit doesn’t work because, look at the results. Right?”

  −Fareed Zakaria, on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon

17 March 2017

“You can be combative, it can be confrontational, but it’s always a long-term much better strategy to engage with the press.” 

  −Massachusetts attorney and Democratic strategist Scott Ferson, quoted in a Politico article about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recent openness with local reporters

18 March 2017

Simon:  “We know correlations are important.”

Scott:  “Do you know what the correlations are?”

Simon:  “No.”

8 March 2017

“[Set-based design] is standard theory, particularly here in Liverpool.”

  −Simon Coggon

8 March 2017

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villany.”

  −Python instructor (played by Ulka Simone Mohanty), about the city of Monte Carlo, in “A random walk & Monte Carlo simulation || Python tutorial || Learn Python programming”, written Michael Harrison

6 March 2017

“I was innocent and certain; now I’m wiser but unsure.”

  −Belle (played by Emma Watson) in “Days in the Sun”, Beauty and the Beast, lyrics by Tim Rice

London release date 23 February 2017

“That your consciousness continues after your body dies is pretty much a proven fact. Tens of thousands of testimonies, and a good number reveal that the temporarily ‘deceased’ was able to describe specific events that took place in the operating room and in waiting rooms, when they should have had no brain function. It’s not a debate anymore, except among those who have not studied the evidence, or who are ideologically committed to absolute materialism. More importantly, we need not fear leaving this world—beauty, peace and profound love await us.”

  −Iam Hudsdent, commenting on the recorded symposium “Medical Center Hour” entitled “Is There Life after Death? Fifty Years of Research at UVA” held at the University of Virginia, which used to be a university in the United States, and at which UVA professor emeritus Bruce Greyson revealed “We have identified dozens of cases of this type [where people report they acquired knowledge they should not otherwise have during a near-death experience]”

after and during the symposium held on 22 February 2017

“If we live through this precarious moment, if his catastrophic instinct to retaliate doesn’t lead us to nuclear winter, we will have much to thank this president for, because he will have woken us up to how fragile freedom really is. ... His whisperers will have alerted us to the potential flaws in our balance of power in government, to how we’ve relied on the good will and selflessness of previous occupants of the Oval Office, and how quaint notions of custom, honor, and duty compelled them to adhere to certain practices of transparency and responsibility, how easily all of this can be ignored, and how the authority of the executive in the hands of a self-dealer can be wielded against the people, and the Constitution and their Bill of Rights.  The whip of the executive can, through a Twitter feed, lash and intimidate, punish and humiliate, delegitimize the press and all the imagined enemies with spasmodic regularity and easily provoked predictability.”

  −Meryl Streep, speaking at the Human Rights Campaign

11 February 2017

“France is your nation.”

   −Emanuel Macron, in his invitation to American climate change researchers to move to France, strengthened perhaps by the snarky advice of US conservatives, which was “Go.”

uploaded to Facebook on 9 February 2017

“Any sufficiently advanced negligence is indistinguishable from malice.”

   −Deb Chachra, reappropriating Hanlon’s razor (about stupidity) and Clarke’s third law (about technology and magic)

a few years before, but publically claimed on, 9 Feb 2017

“Fisher was quite clear about 0.05 being a rule of thumb for the kind of field work he was doing, but as you know, for almost a century now, people have nevertheless treated p-values [being less than] 0.05 as though it were god’s holy finish line.”

  −Michael Balch

8 February 2017

“So many tweets, so little truth.”

  −Randy Rainbow, “Fact-checker, fact-checker

6 February 2017

“Whispered to myself ‘that’s so cool’ at the probability distribution curve today. Two years in the Risk Institute has changed me.”

  −Simon D.A. Clark

1 February 2017

Scott [to engineers pointing at the derelict Chadwick tower]: “Are you going to do anything to it?”
Engineer: “Might do.”
Scott: “We’re risk analysts, and we’re wondering if it’s going to fall on us.”
Engineer: “No, probably not.  It's not that bad.”
Scott:  “Are pieces falling off?”
Engineer:  “Just the little mosaic tiles.  No windows or anything.  Nothing to worry about.”
Scott: “Famous last words.”
Engineer: “Don’t tell anyone we’ve had this conversation.”

24 January 2017

Like zoos, [international] borders are immoral.  Fences in general Im dubious about.

January 2017

“Finally gets code to run / First minute: celebration / Every minute after: suspicion and self-doubt”

  −Simon D.A. Clark

16 January 2017

“Imagining a greater flexibility in a go-it-alone approach, a majority of voters in the United Kingdom have decided they’d like a divorce from the European Union.  But if your dream doesn’t work out and you realize that being in a club is better than seeing it through a plate-glass window, I invite you to consider petitioning the United States Congress for statehood.  You’d be the biggest state population-wise, even if you broke yourselves into England, Scotland, Wales and the Northern Ireland to get more senators.  You’d kind of have to ditch the monarch, but, hey, win win.  You’d also have to get rid of the state religion.  Win win win.  But you’d get to keep the swagger and thoughtlessness.  ¶  It’s been done before.  Texas won its independence from Mexico and sued to join the United States.  Had the movement for Québécois sovereignty been more successful, the anglophone provinces from a fractured Canada might well have joined the United States.  Of course, there’s no chance of that anymore.  Not because Québec will never be free, but because Canadians will have seen Donald Trump standing next to Justin Trudeau.”

13 January 2017

“A function that doesn’t function shouldn’t be called a function.”

  −Thorsten Altenkirch, arguing that the set-theoretic definition of a function is awkward, Computer Science ∩ Mathematics (Type Theory), Computerphile

11 January 2017

“Since the election, more Americans have learned about the problem of online ‘fake news’. The term doesn’t refer to political spin or overheated opinion, but rather to completely false, made-up stories like these:
          FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide
          WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS...
          Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump
There is nothing new about conspiracy theories or internet hoaxes, but one report found that some of those stories I just showed you were the most read items on Facebook heading into the election, reaching tens of millions.

     . . . Some are [now] trying to flip the script and say that stories about real facts are just fake news. . . . [O]ur debates about politics are increasingly debates about legitimacy, about what is true and who has the right to decide. That is why there’s been such an intense effort to dilute this label ‘fake news’ because the label was helping beat back some of this nonsense.

       We have to keep calling out lies and misinformation. And we have to do it even more forcefully. Spreading the falsehood that an FBI agent was murdered or a child sex ring was run out of a DC restaurant—two real canards from this election season—that’s not just fake. The Tooth Fairy is fake. That is a lie. It is a fraud. We are in a world that is now full of fraud news. And just as free speech doesn’t mean it's okay to shout 'fire’ in a crowded theater, the free internet doesn't mean it’s okay to perpetuate fraudulent stories online that threaten real harm offline.”

  −Ari Melber, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell

4 January 2017

“This is actually how stock markets work...the value is determined not by the intrinsic value, but what others think the asset’s worth.” [edited]

  −Muzhi Li, commenting on the 1987 Saturday Night Live sketch “Common Knowledge” about a quiz show with questions supplied by Princeton professors but answers determined by a survey of American high school students


“At first, sales were up a significant amount over the previous year, even more than Coca-Cola had expected.  According to surveys run by Coca-Cola, most people preferred the new flavor over the old. . . . Coca-Cola stock went up, and things were looking really good.  But then the vocal minority started kicking up their heels. Complaints trickled in, and angered Coke fans started enlisting the aid of the media.  Soon that trickle developed into a flood.  One man, Gay Mullins, even started the Old Cola Drinkers of America organization to lobby for the return of old Coke or at least try to get Coca-Cola to license out the formula to someone else.  The fact that, in a blind taste test, Mullins picked New Coke over old Coke as his favorite didn’t stop him from attempting to sue Coca-Cola over the switch.  The dissenters started convincing others.  Many who had never even tried New Coke decided they hated it before even tasting it, primarily because they were upset at the fact that the original Coke was no longer available.  Finally, just three months after New Coke was introduced, the public outcry forced Coca-Cola to release the old formula under the name Coca-Cola Classic.”

  −Simon Whistler, "Why Coke Tried to Switch to New Coke", Today I Found Out, describing a backlash by an incoherent minority toppling broad consensus

27 December 2016

“This is the deepest part of the deep dark woods.  Nobody speaks for the prez-elect [Donald Trump], not even himself.”

  −Charles P. Pierce, referring to Trump’s often contradictory statements and tweets

23 December 2016

“It’s going to be a constant battle, but I think you need to look for the signal of truth, rather than just the signal of what pushes people’s buttons.”

  −Derek Muller, discussing how computers might help to distinguish fake news from reputable news, "Post-truth: Why Facts Don't Matter Anymore", Veritasium

20 December 2016

Maximum Likelihood Estimation (MLE) of the parameters of a Non Bayesian Regression model or simply a linear regression model overfits the data, meaning the unknown value for a certain value of independent variable becomes too precise when calculated. Bayesian Linear Regression relaxes this fact, saying that there is uncertainty involved by incorporating Predictive Distribution.

  −Ben Zaman, helping on StackExchange, in which the phrase “unknown value for a certain value” probably means the unknown value for a particular value and the phrase “Non Bayesian Regression” presumably refers to ordinary linear regression or, perhaps, generalised linear regression

8 December 2016

“This is all a matter of opinion . . . there are no such things as facts.”

  −Trump stalwart and self-described “classically studied journalist” Scottie Nell Hughes on The Diane Rehm Show, see also the reaction by James Fallows

30 November 2016

“Not appearing racist is more important to them than making sure that they don’t reproduce racism.”

  −Sean Mandell, commenting on Hanna Ingber's NYT article about artist Isaiah Lopaz's t-shirts about racism

21 November 2016

Gina [Ana Gasteyer]:  “What do you want?  I'm sorry.  How are you?”

Margaret [Nancy Lenehan]:  “Oh, well, this’ll be quick.  I'm struggling with the emptiness of my life, and I need to buy a throw pillow.”

  −Emily Heller (writer) “Past, Present and Future”, People of Earth

broadcast 14 November 2016

“No man’s ignorance will ever be his virtue.”

  −Sara Bareilles, “Seriously” [performed by Leslie Odom, Jr.], This American Life

28 October 2016

“Why do bad things always happen to mediocre people who are lying about their identities?”

  −Eleanor (played by Kristen Bell), “Chapter 8: Most Improved Player” [season 1, episode 8], The Good Place, written by Michael Schur and Dan Schofield 

broadcast on NBC 27 October 2016

“That’s what I’m saying is like I realized I just was worrying about things that I could not possibly control. Whether it be today, the future, life. And then I just kind of realized one day that, I mean, it was just...that’s the beauty of life itself.  It’s completely not knowing what is going to happen tomorrow, cause if we knew what was happening tomorrow, what would be the point of seeing tomorrow?  So I just snapped out of it and realized: wow, this is what being human is like.”

  −Kid Quill, “Dose of Reality (feat. Alex Hall)”, The Name Above the Title, Norham Road Records

album released 14 October 2016

How ironic then that a culture which rejects moral standards--and, make no bones, folks, we do. Standards? Moral standards? You stand up for moral standards, you are going to be mocked and laughed out of the room. Do you know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in Americans sexual mores today is one thing. You can do anything. The Left will promote and understand and tolerate anything as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four however many are involved in the sex act, it's perfectly fine, whatever it is. But if the Left ever senses and smells that there is no consent in part of the equation, then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the Left.

  −Rush Limbaugh, American right-wing commentator defending Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after release of a recording in which Trump boasts about sexually assaulting women (and perfectly exemplifying variation in the concerns of different actors in the moral foundations theory of Jonathan Haidt et al.) 

12 October 2016

“It’s incredibly frustrating when you’re talking to people and not getting any answers. . . . You just get a sense that people are fearful to speak out.”

  −Laura Richards, discussing her attempts to interview the Ramseys’ friends twenty years after JonBenét Ramsey's death, The Case of: Jon Benet Ramsey

broadcast 18 September 2016

“But what are news organizations if not truth squads?”

  −Evan Puschak, “How To Correct Donald Trump In Real Time”, the nerdwriter

14 September 2016

“Chris Wallace’s job is apparently exactly the same as that of Gwen DeMarco on Galaxy Quest, to simply repeat whatever she is told.”  [Gwen DeMarco (played by Sigourney Weaver in 1999 film Galaxy Quest) explained why she repeats everything said by the computer voice by saying “Look, I have one job on this lousy ship!  It’s stupid, but I’m gonna do it, okay?”]

14 September 2016

“Hillary Clinton’s made clear, she is mentally impaired.”

  −Louie Gohmert, the Texas congressman who previously suggested the Sandy Hook tragedy wouldn’t have happened had teachers been armed

9 September 2016

Scott:  “A scientist put special glasses on pigeons that inverted what they see.  At first they struggled around in this upside-down world, but in a few days they got used to it.  When the scientist took the glasses off the pigeons, they again stumbled about for a while, as though the world for them was again suddenly upside-down.”

Brian:  “Why do we do such things to pigeons?  Oh, right, the statues.”    

7 September 2016

Brian:  “Some people say the best part of a journey is what happens along the way.”
Scott:  “Those people don't have anywhere to go.”

7 September 2016

Howard Kurtz:  “What do you do if they make assertions that you know to be untrue?”
Chris Wallace:  “That’s not my job.  I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad.”
    in an interview of Chris Wallace on his selection to moderate the last 2016 presidential debate

5 September 2016

“do you see what happens when people are allowed to have free contact with each other from all over the world thanks to the internet? you no longer can control them and keep them in a bubble...people start thinking and asking questions instead of fallowing propaganda...this is a big blow to the controllers, and they are in panic mode...if you are in your 40s, it is almost impossible for you to escape the matrix because your mind needs it to stay sane..”

  −May Lee, commenting on “Flat Earth -- If it`s here to stay ! [ Why hide it ? ]

4 September 2016

“I’m from the UK where it’s not just Downtown Abby and posh peeps. Don’t believe those lies, like you heard them from Ryan Lochte.”

  −Riz Ahmed, in an impromptu rap on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

29 August 2016

“The cost of democracy is uncertainty.”

  −Edward Snowden, It's Only Getting Better, hitRECord

19 August 2016

“You take the minimum of the minima and the maximum of the maxima and form the union.  I don't want to say union ... because mathematicians and words.”

  −Melissa Hoffman

17 August 2016

Scott:      “What’s the singular of data.”

Christian:  “Datum.”

Scott:       “No, anecdote.”

16 August 2016

“And I don’t think we really have a good way of choosing these computational procedures [for filtering, transforming, measuring and testing data], other than that this is something you’re meant to learn through some sort of apprenticeship with the elders, which is the same as saying that we really don’t know.”

  −Tom Nielsen, in his lecture “Typed functional probabilistic programming—ready for practical use?” at Microsoft Research

posted on Youtube on 8 August 2016

“It appears that you have not read Hegel.”

  −Hans Wurst, commenting on a complaint by another Wikipedian who had written “In one section ‘he asked to be sent to a military unit instead, and joined a regiment in Cherbourg’, while in the Beliefs section ‘Weil refused to do military service’. This doesn't make sense.” in the Talk page for the Wikipedian article on Bourbaki mathematician André Weil

28 July 2016 

My point is I would have hoped that rednecks of all people could have empathized with this whole thing.  But we don't, and I wonder why.  Just kidding.  I don't wonder.  Nobody does, because everybody knows the reason.

  −Liberal Redneck Trae Crowder, Black Lives Matter 

19 July 2016

“Sometimes things that are expensive are worse.”

  −Freckle (played by Jason Greene), explaining her not-soft linens, The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo, episode 4, written by Brian Jordan Alvarez

June 2016

Q:   “What is the definition of a dam failure?”

A:   “You’ll know it when you see it.”

  −anonymous, overheard (or perhaps misheard) at the REC2016 meeting in Bochum

16 June 2016

“Three engineers enter a bar in South Carolina. The bartender asks ‘Y’all want some beers?’ Technically, that's a question about EACH of the three wanting beer, which is a joint event of imbibition. They indeed do all want beers, but if they had not mutually confirmed this fact, then each would make a mental calculation of some kind.

    “If the engineers were Bayesian probabilists, then the calculation for each would be the same: I want a beer, so the probability of ‘wanting a beer’ is one for me. But I don’t know whether my colleagues do too, so I should use an uninformative prior for them. That would mean the probability of ‘wanting a beer’ would be 0.5 for each of them. Thus, the probability assuming independence of ALL wanting a beer would be 1.0 x 0.5 x 0.5 = 0.25 implying that the answer is ‘probably not’, and each engineer would arrive at the same conclusion.

    “On the other hand, if the engineers are IP jocks, the calculations would be entirely different. Each engineer would naturally say ‘I don't know’, but after two of the engineers verbally expressed their uncertainty, the third engineer could instantly revise her inference to a ‘Yes’. Had the first engineer not wanted a beer, that engineer’s answer would have been ‘No’ since it would have been clear that not ALL wanted beers. Thus, the response ‘I don't know’ implies the engineer wants a beer. The same reasoning applies to the second engineer. So the only way the first and second engineers say ‘I don't know’ is that they both want beers. Because the third engineer does too, she thereby knows that ALL want beers.

    “Interestingly, this is an example of the famous aphorism of Francis Bacon: the (specious) certainties lead to uncertainty in the Bayesians, and, in the case of the IP jocks, uncertainties lead to certainty.”

  −Robert Mullen [paraphrase], in his talk “Static analysis of structural systems...”, at REC2016

15 June 2016

“Predicting the future is dangerous because we sometimes believe our predictions....”

  −Scott Ferson and Kari Sentz, in “Epistemic Uncertainty in Agent-based Modeling” at REC2016

15 June 2016

“If the way you talk makes people not take you seriously, then maybe you’re not very good at what you do.”

  −Kelli Johnson, reacting to received wisdom about vocal fry 

 26 May 2016

“Everything obviously I’m going to say tonight, quite clearly, [unintelligible] cup Manchester.  Don't believe a word I say.  You don’t have to believe a word I say.  But I’m not like the guy on the BBC News, staring right into you every night, hypnotizing you, telling you what to think. Please go and research every single thing for yourself. Every single thing has come from the Internet. It’s all researchable for yourself, quite clearly.”

  −[unidentified speaker], Flat Earth --The Truth will seem utterly Preposterous

published on Youtube 23 May 2016

“The most important thing in programming is the ability to give something a name. The second most important thing is to not be required to give something a name.”

  −Andy (Krazy) Glew in this blog post on the limits of scoping in Python

20 May 2016

“I wish I wished for things, man.”

  −Holland March (played by Ryan Gosling), The Nice Guys

released in the United States 20 May 2016

“[W]e have access to more information than at any time in human history, at a touch of a button. But, ironically, the flood of information hasn’t made us more discerning of the truth. In some ways, it’s just made us more confident in our ignorance. We assume whatever is on the web must be true. We search for sites that just reinforce our own predispositions. Opinions masquerade as facts. The wildest conspiracy theories are taken for gospel.”

  −Barack Obama, in his commencement address at Rutgers University, see the full transcript

15 May 2016

“Secret knowledge is a very intoxicating thing.”

  −Edward Snowden, reported by Andrew Rice in “I, Snowbot”, New York (June 27−July 10, 2016, page 142)

12 May 2016

“Man y’all ain’t gonna believe this, but turns out some people on the internet are the worst. I know. I was shocked too.”

  −Trae Crowder, on Twitter 

30 April 2016

“The broad-sweeping, unqualified, and unsupported statement [in a proposal review] “any alternatives to Bayesian methods have repeatedly been shown to be inferior” warrants further explanation as this logically entails dismissing all of frequentist-based statistics, much of machine learning, information theoretic approaches, logical models, physical models, etc. This is a very extreme position to hold and one that does not find consensus even amongst statisticians, much less should this be upheld amongst a broad scientific community without a rigorous technical justification.”

  −Kari Sentz, who got in some trouble for this “aggressive” response in asking for clarification of a review

April 2016

“You gotta knock them off their axioms.”

  −Rick Picard

April 2016

Scott:  “So how many pro-vice-chancellors are there at the University of Liverpool?”

Matt:  “It seems like there’s a new one every day.”

25 April 2016

“In 1994, John Ehrlichman, the Watergate co-conspirator, unlocked for me one of the great mysteries of modern American history: How did the United States entangle itself in a policy of drug prohibition that has yielded so much misery and so few good results? Americans have been criminalizing psychoactive substances since San Francisco’s anti-opium law of 1875, but it was Ehrlichman’s boss, Richard Nixon, who declared the first ‘war on drugs’ and set the country on the wildly punitive and counterproductive path it still pursues. I’d tracked Ehrlichman, who had been Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser, to an engineering firm in Atlanta, where he was working on minority recruitment. I barely recognized him. He was much heavier than he’d been at the time of the Watergate scandal two decades earlier, and he wore a mountain-man beard that extended to the middle of his chest. ¶  At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. ‘You want to know what this was really all about?’ he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. ‘The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.’”

  −Dan Baum quoting John Ehrlichman (who died in 1999) in an article “Legalize it all: how to win the war on drugs” in Harper’s Magazine

April 2016

Scott:  “The one unforgivable thing about this proposal text is the redundancy.”

Nick:  “You’ve said that so many times.”

5 April 2016

“Should I be embarrassed that, whenever I type a ‘W’ on my phone, it auto-completes it with ‘Why aren't you returning my texts?’”

31 March 2016

A Mayan elder wearing traditional Mayan garb walks into a bar. He sits down and strikes up a conversation with the bartender. And the bartender says, ‘Hey, you don't look like you’re from around here. Where are you from?’ The Mayan elder says, ‘Earth’. And the bartender says ‘So what do your people believe in?’ And the Mayan elder replies, ‘Well, our people believe that the earth rests on a giant crocodile, sitting in a lake of waterlilies.’ And the bartender says, ‘Wow. That’s fascinating. Tell me more.’

An Anishinaabe elder wearing a traditional feathered headdress walks into a bar. The bartender says, ‘Hey, pardner, where’re you from?’ And the Anishinaabe elder says, ‘Around these parts.’ The bartender says, ‘The last guy I had in here believe the earth was on a crocodile. What do your people believe in?’ And the Anishinaabe elder replies, ‘Well, our people believe that the earth sits on the back of a giant turtle resting in a great ocean.’ The bartender says, ‘Wow. That's incredible. Tell me more.’

A gentleman sitting at the bar then walks up to the bartender and says, ‘Hey, I heard you talking with those native wisdom keepers about the earth. Do you know what I believe?’  The bartender says, ‘No, what?’ The bar patron says, ‘I believe that the earth is flat.’ The bartender says, ‘The earth is a ball, you idiot.  Get the fuck out of my bar.’

  −Marty Leeds, “Flat Earth - The Ultimate Litmus Test

15 March 2016

Marco Rubio [in his speech in Miami suspending his campaign for the presidency]:  “My mother was one of seven girls born to a poor family. Her father was disabled as a child. He struggled to provide for them his entire life. My mother told us a few years ago she never went to bed hungry growing up, but she knows her parents did, so they wouldn't have to. She came to this country in 1956 with little education, no money, no connections. My parents struggled their first years here. They were discouraged. They even thought about going back to Cuba at one point, but they persevered. They never became rich. I didn't inherit any money from my parents. They never became famous. You never would have heard about them if I had never run for office. And yet I consider my parents to be very successful people. Because in this country, working hard as a bartender and a maid, they owned a home and they retired with dignity. In this country, they lived to see all four of their children live better off than themselves. And in this country, on this day, my mother, who is now 85 years old, was able to cast a ballot for her son to be the president of the United States of America.”

Scott [talking back to the television]:  “Yeah, and she voted for Trump.”

15 March 2016

“We’re talking about the most protected building in the world, where a president can’t even get a blow job without the rest of the world knowing. How is a 16-year-old kid meant to be doing that? You couldn’t even go for a pee without security.”

  −Erkan Mustafa [Roland “Ro-laaand” Browning] of Grange Hill, denying the decades-old rumor he smoked a blunt in the White House during a cross-branding photo op with Nancy Reagan of their single Just Say No  

quoted in an article in The Guardian on 7 March 2016

I understand that the French didn't make the mistake  the English made in their mathematical language.  The word for positive in French, positif, includes zero.  I propose to use that word in mathematical English too.  So the positif integers are [0, 1, 2, 3, ...].  I hate saying nonnegative integers, to define things by a negative property, by saying they don't have a negative property is really awful.  They have a positif property.

  −John Conway, introducing surreal numbers in a lecture at the University of Toronto 

23 February 2016

“If scientists can’t understand p-values, I don’t expect non-experts to be able to.”

  −Matthew Kay

17 February 2016

“Transparency really helps a lot in these kinds of systems.”

  −Matthew Kay, in a lecture answering a question about why he does not suggest that scales should automatically adjust values to reflect probable bias

17 February 2016

“I've been misunderestimated most of my life.”

  −George W. Bush, stumping in South Carolina for his brother Jeb who went on to a resounding defeat there and withdrawal from the primary race

15 February 2016

“There's a stock exchange in Saudi Arabia.  Its all-shares index is the TASI.  It's highly correlated with oil.”

  −Luke Green

2 February 2016

“Practice often outpaces theory.”

  −Michael Balch, at the 18th AIAA Non-deterministic Approaches Conference

8 January 2016

Nick:  “What proposal are you working on?”

Scott:  “[The proposal on algorithms to protect patient] Privacy.”

Nick:  “Ooooh.  Sorry!  [Walks away]”

5 January 2016

“[H]is parents encouraged him to give up college and pursue an acting career.”

  −Wikipedia entry for Canadian actor Justin Chatwin known for roles in War of the Worlds, Shameless and Dr. Who

4 January 2016

“Those things are true until they're not.  History is not a statistically significant sample size.”

  −Betsy Woodruff from the The Daily Beast, discussing the prospect that New Hampshire voters would behave as they have in the past, on All In with Chris Hayes

28  December 2015

“Modernity has two major elements: individualism and oil. And those two we have to transform.”

  −California Governor Jerry Brown, quoted by Justin Worland in Time article "How cities and states took the spotlight in Paris climate talks"

8 December 2015

The Wizard:   “And Scarecrow, you say you got no brain.  The surest sign you talkin' to a dummy is when he tells you he knows it all.  It takes a quality mind to know there's always something to learn.  You, my friend, are of that brainiac persuasion.”

Scarecrow:  “So, knowing that I know nothing means that I know something?  Well, what do you know.”

  −The Wiz Live! television special on NBC, written by Harvey Fierstein, far surpassing the original Wizard of Oz's speech to the Scarecrow, which was “Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got: a diploma.”

broadcast 3 December 2015

“Hiding uncertainty essentially severs the decision making process from scientific inquiry, and inevitably replacing it with a politically constructed reality that employs the moralistic fallacy at every turn.”

  −Clark Carrington, on the Riskanal listserv

3 December 2015

"I don't think, therefore I am Marco Rubio".

  −philosophy major Chris Hardwick, in response to presidential candidate Marco Rubio's campaign statements about philosophers, during @midnight with Chris Hardwick

broadcast 11 November 2015

"[E]very baby cries when it hears the cries of another."

  −Prince Ea (Richard Williams), "I Am NOT Black, You are NOT White.", invoking emotional contagion

2 November 2015

"We used to dig them up at night and take their hearts out.  That's how it was done in the old days.  But that's really old-fashioned.  People are smarter now.  Now we have new medicine.  Now we pierce the heart during the funeral, and that's that."

  −Romanian man Mircea Mitrica describing practices to protect his village from vampires, PBS series Secrets of the Dead, "Vampire Legend" episode

broadcast 27 October 2015

"You'll have to do more work.  You have to do a bit more thinking when you're talking about not knowing than you'd have to do if you were talking about knowing something.  That's not a Zen koan; it's just true."

 −Naomi Wolf, in her lecture at Stony Brook on op-ed writing

26 October 2015

"It's wrong to have secret knowledge."

 −Naomi Wolf, in her lecture at Stony Brook on op-ed writing

26 October 2015

"We have a monkey brain. And this brain is not adapted to build long-term computer architecture. This brain is adapted for the quick acquisition of [stops talking, looks away into the distance, (scene reframes to more distant shot of speaker who is focused on eating a banana), (return to original frame)]. Therefore we need a structure to hold ourselves a accountable. And that structure, my friends, is mandatory code reviews."

 −Mattias Petter Johansson, "Unit testing: how to get your team started" Fun Fun Function

11 October 2015

"Human beings are actually foolish enough to think that their conventional worldviews are the highest form of rationality.  They don't factor in intentional deception."

 −Jeran Campanella, in Google Project Loon Proves Flat Earth, apparently with no understanding of pot-kettle, or speck-plank

10 October 2015

"I noticed that quantitative language comes into value judgments...without helping."

  −Nick Friedenberg, discussing the tendency of philosophers to invoke mathematical ideas such as utility

18 September 2015

"[S]aying you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.  It's a fundamentally un-American principle and, more than just nationalism, more than just what this country is about, it's a deeply anti-social principle.  Because rights are not just individual; they're collective.  What may not have value to you today may have value to an entire population, an entire people, or an entire way of life tomorrow.  And if you don't stand up for it, then who will?"

  −Edward Snowden, in an interview on Al Jazeera

15 September 2015

"I wish I was more apathetic. Then I wouldn’t care so much about how much I don’t care."

  −Jesse Pepe

4 September 2015

"Oh, oh, oh, what do you mean?  Better make up your mind.  What do you mean?  You’re so indecisive...."

  −Justin Bieber, Jason Boyd and Mason Levy, "What Do You Mean?", Purpose, Def Jam Recordings

released 28 August 2015

"Right down the road, we have Jeb.  Very small crowd. ...  So Bush had, I heard, 140−150 people.  We have 2,579 people."

  −Donald J. Trump, speaking in a theater holding 890 people, according to the local fire marshal

19 August 2015

"I can't believe you think I'm narcissistic."

  −Chris Meyers

9 August 2015

"I am not a violent person, but I will throw a drink on a bitch."

  −Victor Medolia

9 August 2015

“You cannot hide General Motors or Walmart in a dataset. It’s too hard to anonymize the data in a way that would still make them useful."

  −Margaret C. Levenstein, in an article on synthetic data in The Atlantic

30 July 2015

“Unlike some engineering disciplines, the 'sweet science of size reduction' is not governed by any general theory. Rather, it’s been mastered pragmatically over time, backed by knowledge of basic physical laws and a lot of trial and error, i.e., the scientific method.”

  −Processing Solutions for the Process Industries, revealing the startling fact that engineers think the scientific method is the same as trial and error

8 July 2015

"An expert with no uncertainty is no expert."

  −Kari Sentz, at the NIST symposium on forensic science error management

21 July 2015

"Rohlf and I were at an anthro meeting once where the world's top anthropologists gathered around a table to look at casts and fossils. They said things like, 'That's STS5, right?', and 'And then there's OH9'.  Rohlf said, 'I don't know what to think of a field where everyone's data points are named.'"

  −Dennis Slice, recounting the 2003 meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists

9 July 2015

Everybody always tells you that to make it big in the city you'll end up having to be a sellout.  I'm not a sellout, but mostly because I've never been able to find a buyer.

8 July 2015

“Dave Davies interviews Adam Benforado on NPR about his new book Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice.  They  mention disturbing scientific research that finds undue effects of physical characteristics of witnesses and defendants at trial.  Apparently, people who are attractive are more likely to be believed as witnesses.  As defendants, they are less likely to be convicted, and they get lighter sentences if they are convicted.  Amazingly, the same goes for thin people, and for tall people and people who project confidence.  I'm not sure why such people are more believed than others, but as a short, fat, homely person with a professional interest in uncertainty, I consider this to be a very serious problem.”

6 July 2015

  −Robert Frey, “An analysis of 180 years of market drawdowns”, explaining that, despite a consistent growth trend over two centuries, a myopic stock market investor would be in regret 74% of the time

30 June 2015

“It only makes sense to do it that way if everyone wants you to do it that way.”

  −Anne Bichteler

30 June 2015

“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.”

  −Justice Anthony Kennedy

26 June 2015

“slow is not a speed. It’s a mindset that most of us somehow lost.  Let’s make time to bring slow back into our life. be slow...”

  −advertising copy for the brilliant and beautiful slow watches which have one hand that cycles once in 24 hours (but I don't understand why they are wearing ties in a park as they climb monkey bars and sled down a hill)


“wtf i just grew a beard....”

  −Alexey Bakh, commenting on a stunning rendition of “Song of the Volga Boatmen” by the Red Army Chorus, featuring Leonid Kharitonov (Леонид Харитонов)


“If you want to administer tests in schools, you need to get permission from the parents.”

  −Elena Yakubovskaya, discussing the use of pre- and post-testing in research in public education

23 June 2015

“These poor kids live in a multiple choice world. They don’t know there could be more than one answer to a problem.” 

  −Elena Yakubovskaya

23 June 2015

Money, in fact, is the most successful story ever invented and told by humans, because it is the only story everybody believes. Not everybody believes in God. Not everybody believes in human rights. Not everybody believes in nationalism. But everybody believes in money, and in the dollar bill. 

  −Yuval Noah Harari, talking about something he believes in, in Why humans run the world, TED

June 2015

Now suppose Ive managed to convince you perhaps that, yes, we control the world because we can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. The next question that immediately arises in the mind of [an] inquisitive listener is: how, exactly, do we do it? What enables us, alone of all the animals, to cooperate in such a way? The answer is our imagination. We can cooperate flexibly with countless numbers of strangers, because we alone, of all the animals on the planet, can create and believe fictions, fictional stories. As long as everybody believes in the same fiction, everybody obeys and follows the same rules, the same norms, the same values. All other animals use their communication system only to describe reality. ... Humans, in contrast, use their language not merely to describe reality but also to create new realities, fictional realities.

  −Yuval Noah Harari, in Why humans run the world", TED, utterly exasperating anyone who is aware of either (i) the commonness of imagination, i.e., conditional thinking (sensu Edgington), which underlies behaviors such as hunting, avoiding predators, and planning that are exhibited ubiquitously by many animals, or (ii) the fact that shared belief cannot explain long-term cooperation which requires some kind of social coercion (sensu Bingham and Souza) against non-cooperating free riders who would otherwise win the evolutionary game because they reap the social benefits without any costs to themselves from believing the story or toeing the line to uphold it

June 2015

“Something went wrong. I don’t know how. But you never do at first.”

  −Anne Bichteler

3 June 2015

“Seems like a myth.

  −metropolan, answering the question of whether Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland actually said the respective lines “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” and “We can use my dad’s barn!”

May 2015

“I used to have real thoughts in my head.”

  −Anita Creed, in recovery from a stroke, who elaborated “I still have real thoughts in my head, but they’re not connected to anything.”

11 May 2015

“If I’d given up the fight the moment I realized I was on the losing side, my career would have been a short one.”

  −Harry Pearce (played by Peter Firth) in the film Spooks: The Greater Good (released in the United States under the title MI-5)

film released 8 May 2015

“You can do good, or you can do well.”

  −Will Holloway (played by Kit Harrington) in the film Spooks: The Greater Good (released in the United States under the title MI-5)

film released 8 May 2015

“I wanted to be a thought leader, but it turns out I’m just a knowledge worker.”

30 April 2015

“Why is it up to anyone?”

  −Ava, an artificial intelligence in the film Ex Machina (played by Alicia Vikander) responding to a discussion about whether or not she lives

film released 10 April 2015

Scott:  “Sorry I’m late for the meeting.  Has Nick made you laugh yet?”  

Emily:  “Not yet.”

Nick:  “We were watching Nine Inch Nails before.”

Scott:  “What?  The one with him hanging from the meat hook?”

Nick:  “But what’s fun is right after that watching ‘Wrecking Ball’.”

1 April 2015

“The original mmm whatcha say isn’t from Jason Derulo. My life is a lie.

  −Kris Malbo, annotating Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” after finding it via Jason Derulo’s “Whatcha Say”, perhaps also realizing the difference between vocoder and auto tune

~1 April 2015

Max Emerson: “After all,  videos are the new textbooks.
Willam Belli:  Books! [laughs]

  −“Maxs Underpants Episode One - VPL, Guest Starring Willam Belli

11 March 2015

“I know it seems kind of strange.”

  −Michelle Obama, "Billy On The Street with First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird, And Elena!!!" (4:40), who followed up (at 6:35) by agreeing that One Direction are very cute

Published 19 February 2015

“Wouldn’t that be something, if the ads were useful to us.”

  −Kai Ryssdal, Marketplace, American Public Media, discussing a possible benefit of profound privacy invasions expected in marketing and commercialism

13 January 2015

“I need to learn more about the Weibull distribution.  I’m only familiar with the ‘bull’ part.”

  −Nick Friedenberg

9 January 2015

“Careful the things you say / Children will listen / Careful the things you do / Children will see / And learn” // Careful the spell you cast / Not just on children / Sometimes the spell may last / Past what you can see / And turn against you // Careful the tale you tell / That is the spell / Children will listen

  −Stephen Sondheim (sung by Meryl Streep), Into the Woods (adapted from his 1986 Broadway musical of the same name)

theatrically released 25 December 2014

“The Internet of Things?  Oh, that was when humans finally realized that there is no all-seeing god constantly watching them and they felt compelled to build one.”

19 December 2014

“Today, commentary is the content.”

  −Lorde's manager in the South Park episode "#REHASH"

3 December 2014

“One thing I will never forget was a panel of venture capitalists…four rich guys on the stage who were each asked, ‘What, if anything, would you definitely NOT invest in right now?’  Every. Single. One. Said. Content.’”

  −Hank Green

1 December 2014

“It was there the first time they acknowledged it is easier to change a community, it is easier to change a society, than to change your own identity, and it does much less damage that way.”

  −Thomas Lloyd, “Why am I so gay?” TEDxGeorgetown

published on 19 November 2014

“The motto of the State Department should be ‘we talk to foreigners so you don’t have to’.”

  −State Department official, in a light moment

22 October 2014

“The only thing remotely surprising about this is that there are people who supposedly clean airplane cabins.”

  −Scott Ferson, on reading the Washington Post article beginning “Fearful of exposure to Ebola, about 200 of the people who clean airplane cabins walked off the job overnight at LaGuardia International Airport.”

9 October 2014

“Does it seem to you that it’s during the ‘off decades’ that scientific vocabulary abruptly shifts for no apparent reason?  I mean, if you compare the seventies with the nineties and with the current decade (what is it, the teens?), we see that ordination became multidimensional scaling which became self-organizing maps.  And classification became discriminant function analysis which eventually became support vector machine.  I’m not saying they’re exactly the same thing through the decades, but I’m not sure why the overarching term--the very metaphor for what the thing is--had to change.”

October 2014

“Viruses won’t be so bad in the future.”

  −Jason O'Rawe, discussing the possible medical use of enzymes that cut genetic molecules

25 September 2014

“If scientists could be bought, these motherfuckers [Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, Murray Energy Corporation] would have already made it rain in nerd town.  Trust me.”

  −Jon Stewart, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, discussing the idea that scientists are motivated to fabricate evidence of climate change by the juicy research grants they receive

23 September 2014

Scott:  “There are a thousand people in this room, and six of you [customs agents at JFK international baggage claim].  How can you be effective?”
Agent:  “We can’t.  We try, but this is a joke.  Today is kind of light.  You should have seen us last month.  ...  Welcome home.”

20 September 2014

“Fun fact:  95% of the people who use the phrase ‘fun fact’ are misusing the word ‘fun’, or the word ‘fact’, or both.”

  −Dave Gorman, Dave Gorman: Modern Life is Goodish

16 September 2014

“And we’ve added more and more con to it, or content to it this year, and so there’s increasingly more things that you can do on there.”

  −Tim Cook, discussing Apple TV on Charlie Rose, while Charlie pretended not to notice the Freudian slip

12 September 2014

“I would love to be plagiarized.  For ideas to survive in the world, they have to have many parents.”

  −Scott Ferson

3 September 2014

“So, Baha Men, it was the mesolithic south western Chinese...who let the dogs out.”

  −Michael Stevens, in Dord., Vsauce, discussing the mitochondrial DNA evidence that all modern dogs may be descended from a wolf domestication event in China over eleven thousand years ago

12 August 2014

“What she’s upset about is the money in politics.  People think they’re too young to know about this stuff, but, trust me, they know.  The Supreme Court is making babies cry.”

  −Nick Friedenberg, reacting to an infant crying in a restaurant

6 August 2014

“The smartest answer you can give if you don’t know the answer is ‘I don’t know’.”

  −Jay Carney, former Press Secretary to Obama on The Late Show with David Letterman

30 July 2014

“...picture-based science...”

  −Nick Friedenberg, referring the seeming triumph of form over substance in the recent rise of graphics, maps, animations that dazzle but do not inform or even carry meaning

29 July 2014

Scott: “Have you heard of the generalized method of matching moments?”
Nick: “Only in a very general way.”

28 July 2014

“You know, we often think about the Second Law [of Thermodynamics] as a curse.  As though everything which is ordered is going towards disorder.  But, maybe, I mean it's only in a universe where this law is obeyed that the truly unexpected can occur, that the future can be actually undetermined.  For us, really, to have free will, we need the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  Now you might think that these quantum events are too small to have any meaningful impact on the evolution of the universe, but that is not true.  And that's because there are physical systems which are so dependent, so sensitive to the initial conditions that any tiny change will end up making a big difference later down the track.  That's called 'chaos', but it's also known as the 'Butterfly Effect'.  So you and I could be such physical systems, chaotic systems, and our free will could come from quantum events in our brains.”

  −Derek Muller, “What is NOT random?”, Veritasium

16 July 2014

“There's a whole literature on interval calculations.”

  −newcomer at the ICVRAM-ISUMA meeting, addressing Vladik Kreinovich

13 July 2014

  ( Identify information needs )  ←←¬
                    ↓                                                      ↑
      ( Make decisions )                                  
                    ↓                                                      ↑
        ( Conduct science)   →→→→→↑

  −graph in scientific presentation by government scientist (the graph provoked no comment from the audience)

10 July 2014

Discussant:  “These issues affect everyone in the same way  I see a lot of common ground that we all walk on.  No one's trying to shirk their responsibility.  But there's a lot of data we can share; I see a lot of things we can collude on, a lot of ways that we can come together to cooperate on in our common interests.”

Moderator:  “Don’t say collude.”

9 July 2014

“In probability theory and statistics, the Dirichlet process is one of the most popular Bayesian nonparametric models. ... A Dirichlet process DP(s, G0) is completely defined by its parameters: G0 is an arbitrary distribution and s is a positive real number.”  [italics added and parentheticals omitted]

  −Alessiobe, in the Wikipedia article “Imprecise Dirichlet process”, exemplifying why I cannot understand when Bayesians talk

1 July 2014

“Perhaps one day we will learn this lesson of the Tamarians: that understanding how the world works is a more promising approach to intervention within it than mere description or depiction. Until then, well: Shaka, when the walls fell.”

  −Ian Bogost, “Shaka, when the walls fell”, The Atlantic

18 June 2014

Every morning we’re born brand new
Dreams are funny little things, they only work if you do

  −Kid Quill (Mitchell Brown), “Brand New”, Ear to Ear, Norham Road Records

album originally released 14 June 2014

“Our very first tool in the book is learn to say ‘I don’t know.’”

  −Stephen J. Dubner, “How to think like a freak: learn how to make smarter decisions with the authors of Freakonomics”, intelligence2

28 May 2014

“That’s the thing about infinity.  You never run out of it.”

  −Derek Muller, Misconceptions about the universe, Veritasium

27 May 2014

“With Big Data comes big uncertainty, Peter.”

  −Jason O'Rawe

26 May 2014

“Overfitting models is in vogue right now.  Isn’t that the whole idea behind machine learning?”

  −Jason O'Rawe

16 May 2014

“We now have the ability to manage risks with more than a color chart.”

  −Robert Garrett

7 May 2014

“Philosophically, models are assumption analyzers.”

  −Omkar Aphale

7 May 2014

“In GLUE, the choice of the objective function is subjective.”

  −Omkar Aphale

7 May 2014

Pat:  “You’d be proud of me.  I hardly spent any money.”
Scott:  “Good for you.”
Pat:  “You wanna see the jewels I got?”

16 March 2014

“Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.”

  −Alain de Botton, quoted in an article on procrastination by Megan Mcardle in The Atlantic

published 12 February 2014


  −Benny, a “1980-something space guy”, voiced by Charlie Day, in The Lego Movie

7 February 2014

Scott:   “[Our colleague here in France] seems to be away from the office a lot.”
Sébastien:   “There are a lot of vacations.”
Michel:   “No, no.  We’re not always on vacation.  Sometimes we’re on strike.”

27 January 2014

Dan:  “The population growth models [in the global climate change assessments] are all done by economists.  They just use logistic growth.”
Scott:  “Larry Slobodkin lived and died in vain.”

9 January 2014

“Clearly, app-based health care is the future of modern medicine.”

  −Stephen Colbert, reviewing Doctor on Demand

8 January 2014

“What Condi Rice and the old guys at RAND failed to realize is that, although game theory is more relevant than traditional decision theory, game theory is not always the correct metaphor for dealing with competing human agents.  We need a new theoretical approach, one that is based fundamentally on the interactions of agents, one that eschews the crippling naivete of game-theoretic constructions. Utility theory is this century's version of Ptolemaic epicycles.  It can explain everything, but this means that, in the end, it explains nothing.”

27 December 2013

“Uncertainty analysis is too important to be left in the hands of the analyst.”

  −Scott Ferson, suggesting that it should be done automatically by computer

5 December 2013

“I love the claim that it is unrealistic to expect experts to provide estimates of bounds on a median, but that it’s fine [to expect them] to provide a fixed number instead.”

  −Willem Roelofs, about the guidance of EFSA "Guidance on expert knowledge elicitation in food and feed safety risk assessment" (to appear in EFSA Journal), particularly section 2.1.2 Uncertainty Elicitation

11 November 2013

[interview of former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Michael J. Morell by 60 Minutes correspondent John Miller in episode “The Deputy Director: Mike Morell”]
Miller:  “After Iraq, CIA analysts were required, not just to analyze the intelligence, but also give an assessment of their level of confidence in what the Agency spies were reporting.”
Morell:  “And so what we really learned from that experience was that analysts need to think about their confidence level and to be very, very clear with policy makers about it.”
Miller:  “That would happen today?”
Morell:  “That would happen today.”
Miller:  “As a matter of...?”
Morell:  “As a matter of course.  As a matter of discipline.  As a matter of the trade craft of doing intelligence analysis.”

(broadcast date) 27 October 2013

“Raisin cookies that look like chocolate chip cookies are the main reason I have trust issues.”

  −Will Mckenzie, continuing the use of cookie psychology to explain profound issues that may have begun with the classic but unattributed (and multiform) quip “I was eating Oreos and I was dunking it in milk, and the cookie broke and sank to the now I’m just staring at the glass and wondering why bad things happen to good people.”

17 October 2013

“...There’s a lot of uncertainty about uncertainty estimation.  And there’s good reason for that...because there’s no right answer.”

  −Keith Beven, in a lecture “Breakthroughs in Uncertainty” at the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan

3 October 2013

A: “Well, the software essentially reads the web, and it understands the natural-language statements that appear there, including their logical implications. It accesses the entire corpus of English text on the indexable web, and employs sentiment analysis and partially unsupervised learning in a multidimensional classifier based on Bayesian networks.”
Q: “Really? Does it handle sarcasm?”
A: “I don’t know, but the software is very sophisticated. I’m sure it has a way to deal with it.”
Q: “Are you being sarcastic?”

September 2013

“Arts degrees are awesome. And they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you, there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé.”

  −Tim Minchin

25 September 2013

“I really do believe every word, but know that I may not have been careful and cautious in the arguments up to your standards.  So I’m interested in where you think I am sloppy and where you thing I am wrong and where you think I am lying.  You may note that I did not offer delusional as an option.  Let me know if I should have.”  

  −Scott Ferson, in instructions to a reviewer

25 August 2013

Nick:  “The slide is cluttered and ugly.”

Scott:  “An ugly slide can be improved.  The real problem is that the slide is specious.  You can’t fix specious.”

2 August 2013

“The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects or the “Common Rule” was published in 1991 and codified in separate regulations by 15 Federal departments and agencies, as listed below.”


accessed August 2013

“You see, everybody, just because it’s unlikely doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal.”

  −Bill Nye, the Science Guy, “Could We Stop an Asteroid, Feat. Bill Nye” on AsapSCIENCE

23 July 2013

“Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known, what does your life actually matter?”

  −Rosa Dasque (played by Anamaria Marinca) in the film Europa Report, screenplay by Philip Gelatt and directed by Sebastián Cordero

released 27 June 2013

“[Probabilistic risk analysis] allows us to get away from the dichotomous language about Type I and Type II errors.”

  −Bruce Hope of CH2M Hill at a meeting sponsored by CropLife America in Washington

20 June 2013

“I was tested a number of times for the same medical condition, but the results of the tests were inconsistent. My physician recommended pursuing a treatment with unpleasant side effects, although a second opinion from another reputable authority disagreed about both the diagnosis and treatment.  My physician said he had sent my bloodwork to a lab using the ‘most sensitive test’. I asked about the Type 1 and Type 2 errors of that test given its sensitivity. I had to clarify that this meant false positives and false negatives. The physician said that, not only did he did not know that information, but he had no idea how it would be possible to obtain such information about a medical test.”

  −[medical patient, anonymized for privacy]

19 May 2013

“Being lectured by statisticians about my bad notation is like being lectured by the United States government on my war making.”

  −Scott Ferson, in response to reviewers

15 May 2013

“Now, I know this for a fact because I know the people that are, you know, are concerned about this and so, so there’s no downside if I’m wrong on this.”

  −Senator James Inhofe, discussing a putative government conspiracy to buy up ammunition to keep it from gun owners, The Laura Ingraham Show

29 April 2013

“You know what? If people are going to call Gaussian Process models ‘nonparametric’, then I am going to use the word ‘bootstrap’ however I want.”

  −Michael Balch

18 April 2013

“He made a sound argument, in that he made a sound.”

  −Steven Colbert

4 April 2013

“There will always be sampling error.”

  −Statistics Learning Centre, in Understanding Confidence Intervals: Statistics Help, neglecting the case where entire population is measured

26 March 2013

Andrei:  “[As a child] I was a pioneer in the Soviet Union.  It’s like boy scouts.  We had to wear a red handkerchief around our necks, and it had to be properly ironed or they’d punish you.”

Nick:  “You think it’s different here?  In Brooklyn, if you’re not ironic, you’re out.”

    22 February 2013

I like to quote because I think dead people shouldn't be excluded from the conversation.

  −Stuart Firestein, in his TED talk “The pursuit of ignorance

February 2013

So Id say the model we want to take is not that we start out kind of ignorant and we get some facts together and then we gain knowledge. Its rather kind of the other way around really. What are we us[ing] this knowledge for? What are we using this collection of facts for? Were using it to make better ignorance, to come up with, if you will, higher-quality ignorance. Because, you know, theres low-quality ignorance, and theres high-quality ignorance. Its not all the same. Scientists argue about this all the time. Sometimes we call them bull sessions; sometimes we call them grant proposals. But, nonetheless, its what the argument is about. Its the ignorance.  Its the what-we-don't-know. Its what make a good question.

  −Stuart Firestein, in his TED talk The pursuit of ignorance”, which he opens with the analogy about the difficulty of finding a black cat in a dark room

February 2013

Chris:  “I’m not sure whether I can get with this girl or not.  I don’t think any angling will improve my chances―the outcome is probably already determined.  I won’t find out until I go for it.”

Wells:  “I see.  It’s like Schrödinger's pussy.”

    7 February 2013

“...I’m going to forget about the official statistics-textbook interpretation, in which a 95% confidence interval is defined as a procedure that has a 95% chance of covering the true value. For most of the examples I’ve ever seen, this interpretation is pretty useless because the goal is to learn about the situation we have right now in front of us, not merely to make a statement with certain average properties.”

  −Andrew Gelman, candidly answering a question about confidence intervals in his blog Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science

14 January 2013

Research has long shown that spreadsheet developers are 96% to 99% accurate when they enter information into spreadsheet cells. For large spreadsheets, unfortunately, a cell error rate of 1% to [4]% will almost certainly lead to incorrect results. ... General human error research has shown that when humans do simple but nontrivial cognitive tasks, they inevitably have comparable error rates. ... [There is] no difference in error rates between paper and electronic medical records. While many developers are confident that their prescriptions for reducing errors are highly effective, this confidence is meaningless.

  −Raymond R. Panko, The cognitive science of spreadsheet errors: why thinking is bad, Proceedings of the 46th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences

10 January 2013

“One of the pervasive risks that we face in the information that even if the amount of knowledge in the world is increasing, the gap between what we know and what we think we know may be widening.”

  −Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail―but Some Don't


“...the ratings agencies’ problem was in being unable or uninterested in appreciating the distinction between risk and uncertainty.”

  −Nate Silver, in his book The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail―but Some Don't, which went on to say "The alchemy that the ratings agencies performed was to spin uncertainty into what looked and felt like risk. They took highly novel securities, subject to an enormous amount of systemic uncertainty, and claimed the ability to quantify just how risk they were.  Not only that, but of all possible conclusions, they came to the astounding one that these investments were almost risk-free." and "Too many investors mistook these confident conclusions for accurate ones, and too few made backup plans in case things went wrong.” 


“We need to stop, and admit it: we have a prediction problem. We love to predict things—and we aren’t very good at it.”

  −Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail―but Some Don't


“[N]umber, the traditional language of science, is actually quite ill adapted for managing the sorts of uncertainty that we now confront. ... We need an arithmetic that reflects this [reality]. ... Quality control is not a regular, formalised activity among scientists in many fields.

  −Jerry Ravetz, in his essay Dealing with uncertainty in numbers

circa 2012

Suppose that it turns out that their uncertainty bounds are so very broad, and their quality in relation to the decisions is so low, that they are of little use as a basis for decisions.  Well, then we learn something very important indeed: the depth of our ignorance.  This could be one of the most important lessons that science can give us at the present time: to learn of our ignorance of what we are doing to the world around us. But so long as we believe that somewhere, somehow there is a magic number to be found which will define our problem and also its solution, we are fumbling in the dark. This is what we imbibe in traditional scientific education, and it is a lesson that needs to be unlearned without delay.

  −Jerry Ravetz, in his essay “Dealing with uncertainty in numbers

circa 2012

“The great thing about the past is that it’s already happened.”

  −Adam Finkel, in response to a school superintendent who said he couldn’t see how current 8th-graders were doing on standardized tests when they were in 6th grade

circa 2012

“Random sampling is terrible at finding worst-case scenarios, but terrorists are pretty good at it.”

  −David L. Alderson of the Naval Postgraduate School, at Society for Risk Analysis annual meeting, San Francisco, California

   12 December 2012

“They had the idea of five cows.  But the idea of five, not so much.  The idea of fiveness they didn’t quite understand.”

  −James Grime, discussing the origin of numbers in “Is zero even?”, Numberphile

2 December 2012

“In the city of Florence during the Crusades, the Catholic Church banned the use of the number zero because it was, they thought, invented by the enemy.” 

  −Roger Bowley [paraphrase], “Is zero even?”, Numberphile

2 December 2012

“...statisticians are the new sexy vampires, only even more pasty.”

  −Paul Rudnick, in a love letter to Nate Silver “A Date with Nate”, in the The New Yorker

19 November 2012

Were were not the fastest. Were not the strongest. We dont have sharp teeth; we dont have long claws. I mean we are weaklings physically. There are creatures all around us that can beat the whatnot out of us and do evil things to us, but we can cooperate. We can be smart, and we can cooperate. And that turns out to be [a] good strategy. I mean theres no way we can outlive the ants, but thats another issue. Okay, and they arent going to be able to outlive the viruses, so, you know, ultimately its all viruses. They will inherit the earth.

  −Keith Devlin, 5. How Did Human Beings Acquire the Ability to do Math?

29 October 2012

“[Imp]lausibility has never been a barrier to the spread of popular urban legends.”

  −David Mikkelson, founder of Snopes,

19 October 2012

“We attempt in this book to circumvent the use of measure theory as much as possible. However, in several places where measure theory is essential we make an exception....”

  −Guy Lebanon, a good idea thwarted, in Probability: The Analysis of Data, Volume 1 

9 October 2012 [also internally marked as 2013]

“The social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century conceived of an institution which he called the panopticon where all the inmates could be observed twenty four hours a day without ever knowing whether they were being observed or not. The Internet of Things is the ultimate global panopticon.  Privacy as a concept under the Internet of Things may become meaningless.”

  −John Barrett of the Cork Institute of Technology, in a TEDxCIT talk

5 October 2012

Last December, me and my fellow Nobel Laureates were asked by a journalist if there was one thing that we could teach the world, what would it be? And to my surprise, two economists, two biologists, a chemist, and three physicists gave the same answer. And that answer was about uncertainty. So Im going to talk to you today about uncertainty. To understand anything, you must understand its uncertainty.

  −Brian Schmidt, “There is certainty in uncertainty, TEDxCanberra

3 October 2012

The first real evidence we have for abstract numbers was money. Why do we have numbers? It was money, folks. You want to find out where numbers came from? Follow the money. ... You need numbers to have money. ... You didn't have numbers until you needed money.

  −Keith Devlin, 1. General Overview and the Development of Numbers

1 October 2012 

“Using confidence structures, many of the classically difficult problems of frequentist statistical inference can be reduced to a matter of straightforward uncertainty propagation.”

  −Michael Balch, International Journal of Approximate Reasoning 53: 1003–1019


“The [United States] nuclear stockpile has become more reliable since they’ve stopped testing it.”

−unnamed observer at the NNSA describing the annual certifications of the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear arsenal mandated under US law in the wake of its signing the CTBT (see also this and this)

July 2012

“The greatest thing I ever learned is I don’t know a thing.”

  −Jay Brannan, “Rob Me Blind”, Rob Me Blind, Great Depression Records

27 June 2012

“Imagine all the food mankind has produced over the past 8,000 years. Now consider that we need to produce that same amount again—but in just the next 40 years if we are to feed our growing and hungry world.”

  −Paul Polman and and Daniel Servitje

17 June 2012

“Q: What’s negative information?  A: I could tell you, but then you’d know even less....”

  − Baez, who perhaps unjokingly also claimed he “understood less after reading” a paper about negative information, in a post

2 June 2012

“[College Physics from OpenSTAX is] an excellent text–as far as it goes–but [it] has almost NO discussion of margins of error or confidence intervals–and the central role of such measures as THE method for distinguishing ‘just so stories’ from science!  It’s bad enough that high schools do so poor a job in this respect. Let’s hope OpenSTAX quickly fixes this.”

  −Len Ornstein, commenting on Sean Carroll's blog entry about nonprofit textbooks at OpenSTAX

21 May 2012

Dr. Julia Hoffman [played by Helena Bonham Carter]:  “Now, where were you born?”
Barnabas Collins [played by Johnny Depp]: “Liverpool.”
Dr. Julia Hoffman:  “Can you describe it for me?”
Barnabas Collins: “Filthy!  The air is choked with soot, and the streets reek of freshly hurled chamber pots. The smell of urine permeates the air.”

  −Seth Grahame-Smith in his screenplay for Dark Shadows [t=53m07s]

film released 11 May 2012

“Russell’s paradox shows us that if ‘the set of all sets’ exists as a set, then set theory contains false statements (and is therefore inconsistent and worthless).”

  −Tom Cuchta, on the difference between a set and a class, in Math StackExchange

1 May 2012

“You can’t say anything bad about interdisciplinarity.  It’s the easiest way to be original.  The easiest way is to import some body of knowledge from one place into another place where it looks new.”

  −Mark Petersen, in an interview about his book Galileo's Muse: Renaissance Mathematics and the Arts

5 March 2012

“You were wrong. You shouldn’t have thought that.”

  −Louis Virtel


“...there does not exist any evidence that the truth value of [a] conjunction is completely determined by the truth value of individual propositions [in the conjunction]....” (page 5 in Liu, B. 2012. Why is there a need for uncertainty theory? Journal of Uncertain Systems 6: 3-10)

  −Baoding Liu, discounting the argument that probability theory is the only legitimate approach to uncertainty


Bystander:  “You're protesting linear algebra?”
Tim Lee:  “Yeah.”
Bystander:  “For real?”
Tim Lee:  “Yeah.”
Bystander:  “What would you prefer in the place of linear algebra?”
Tim Lee:  “Well, I would prefer...I think there’s too much focus on linear algebra.  I think basic probability theory is more important in people's lives.”

   (from a brief conversation with Tim Lee about his sign protesting linear algebra at Occupy Wall Street in lower Manhattan)

uploaded 19 October 2011

“The Adriane 5 disaster was blamed on inadequately tested software.  But what I want to know is where is the adequately tested software?”

  −William Kahan, at the IFIP Working Conference on Uncertainty Quantification in Scientific Computing, at NIST in Boulder, Colorado

3 August 2011

“In the Airbus disaster, the computer's response to an error’ event was to abandon control, which caused a stall from which the pilots never recovered. ... Stopping on an execution error is a bad idea.  It’s a bad policy.  The alternative is a bad policy too. ... We need to handle exceptions in a humane way.”

  −William Kahan, at the IFIP Working Conference on Uncertainty Quantification in Scientific Computing, at NIST in Boulder, Colorado

3 August 2011

“I think we have to get to a time in which people are embarrassed to pretend to know things they don’t know. ... I think the goal is to get to a time where people’s bullshit detectors are really finely calibrated, and where in public discourse, in journalism, at the level of newspaper editorials, and in every conversation that matters we are reluctant to give people a pass when they pretend to know things they don’t know.”

  −Sam Harris, Ask Sam Harris Anything #1 (1:17−2:01)

uploaded 28 June 2011

“I did nothing.” 

  −Stanislav Petrov, the Russian officer who may have saved the world from nuclear war in 1983 by not reporting the apparent launch of five nuclear missiles targeting the Soviet Union from the United States to military decision makers in the hardline Andropov regime in the Kremlin on edge after being called an “evil empire” by U.S. President Ronald Reagan [context: “I was simply doing my job, and I was the right person at the right time, that’s all. My late wife for 10 years knew nothing about it. ‘So what did you do?’ she asked me. I did nothing.”], recorded in the documentary The Red Button 

documentary released 2011

“Java is sort of the COBOL of the twenty-first century I think.  It’s kind of heavy weight, verbose, and everyone loves to hate it.”

  −Larry Wall, “5 Programming Languages Everyone Should Know”, Big Think

uploaded 13 June 2011

Ohne Zweifel, die dramatischen Ereignisse in Japan sind ein Einschnitt für die Welt. Sie waren ein Einschnitt auch für mich ganz persönlich. Wer auch nur einmal die Schilderungen an sich heran lässt, wie in Fukushima verzweifelt versucht wurde, mit Meerwasser die Reaktoren zu kühlen, um inmitten des Schreckens noch Schrecklicheres zu verhindern, der erkennt: In Fukushima haben wir zur Kenntnis nehmen müssen, dass selbst in einem Hochtechnologieland wie Japan die Risiken der Kernenergie nicht sicher beherrscht werden können.

Wer das erkennt, muss die notwendigen Konsequenzen ziehen. Wer das erkennt, muss eine neue Bewertung vornehmen. Deshalb sage ich für mich: Ich habe eine neue Bewertung vorgenommen; denn das Restrisiko der Kernenergie kann nur der akzeptieren, der überzeugt ist, dass es nach menschlichem Ermessen nicht eintritt. Wenn es aber eintritt, dann sind die Folgen sowohl in räumlicher als auch in zeitlicher Dimension so verheerend und so weitreichend, dass sie die Risiken aller anderen Energieträger bei weitem übertreffen. Das Restrisiko der Kernenergie habe ich vor Fukushima akzeptiert, weil ich überzeugt war, dass es in einem Hochtechnologieland mit hohen Sicherheitsstandards nach menschlichem Ermessen nicht eintritt. Jetzt ist es eingetreten.

Genau darum geht es also - nicht darum, ob es in Deutschland jemals ein genauso verheerendes Erdbeben, einen solch katastrophalen Tsunami wie in Japan geben wird. Jeder weiß, dass das genau so nicht passieren wird. Nein, nach Fukushima geht es um etwas anderes. Es geht um die Verlässlichkeit von Risikoannahmen und um die Verlässlichkeit von Wahrscheinlichkeitsanalysen. Denn diese Analysen bilden die Grundlage, auf der die Politik Entscheidungen treffen muss, Entscheidungen für eine zuverlässige, bezahlbare, umweltverträgliche, also sichere Energieversorgung in Deutschland. Deshalb füge ich heute ausdrücklich hinzu: Sosehr ich mich im Herbst letzten Jahres im Rahmen unseres umfassenden Energiekonzepts auch für die Verlängerung der Laufzeiten der deutschen Kernkraftwerke eingesetzt habe, so unmissverständlich stelle ich heute vor diesem Haus fest: Fukushima hat meine Haltung zur Kernenergie verändert.

  −Angela Merkel, physical chemist-cum-politician who had previously strongly supported nuclear power defending her sudden closure of many German nuclear plants and plan for nuclear phaseout by 2022 in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in a government declaration Der Weg zur Energie der Zukunft” on German energy policy before the Bundestag [reductively translated by Craig Morris and Arne Jungjohann in Energy Democracy: Germany's Energiewende to Renewables (2016, Palgrave Macmillan, page 338) as “You can only accept the residual risk of nuclear if you are convinced that it will not occur as far as it is humanly possible to determine…And that is exactly the point—it’s not about whether Germany can ever have such a disastrous earthquake, such a catastrophic tsunami as in Japan. Everyone knows it won’t happen exactly the same way. No, after Fukushima we’re talking about something else. We’re talking about the reliability of risk assessments and the reliability of probability analyses…Fukushima changed my stance on nuclear power.” and further reductively translated in The Atom: A Love Affair (1:15) as After Fukushima, something else matters: the reliability of risk assessments and of probability analyses.  Thus, the use of nuclear energy in Germany will be brought to an end by 2022]

9 June 2011

The ancient Greeks had already noticed this fire gleaming in animals eyes (Pliny the Elder in his Natural History mentions light emitted by cats, wolves and wild goats). It must therefore have seemed natural to deduce that eyes must somehow contain or emit light. This erroneous conclusion...explained why many animals can see well in the dark...and why, as noticed by Alcmaeon of Croton in the fifth century BC, when the eye is tapped or pressed, you sometimes see light flashes....[I]t was natural for thinkers to deduce that there was some kind of light source in the eye, and to suppose that it was precisely this light that underlies vision.... [excluding some references]

  −J. Kevin O'Regan, Ancient Visions supporting his book Why Red Doesn't Sound Like a Bell which is available as a draft, which Todd Rundgren presaged (“I Saw The Light”, 1972)
Can't you see the light
In my eyes? (In my eyes)
In my eyes (in my eyes)
In my eyes (in my eyes)
In my eyes (in my eyes)
In my eyes (in my eyes)
and Peter Gabriel further expounded (In Your Eyes,1985)
I wanna touch the light, the heat, I see in your eyes
In your eyes
In your eyes
In your eyes
In your eyes (in your eyes)
(In your eyes)
In your eyes (in your eyes)
In your eyes (in your eyes)


Captain Avery: “The ship is cursed!”
Doctor: “Yeah, right. ‘Cursed’ is big with humans. It means bad things are happening but you can’t be bothered to find an explanation.”

  −Stephen Thompson, “The Curse of the Black Spot”, third episode of the sixth series of Doctor Who

7 May 2011

“The truth is science has always been in the values business. We simply cannot speak of facts without resorting to values. … All we can do is appeal to scientific values, and if [someone] doesn’t share those values, the conversation is over. If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic? I think this split between facts and values should look really strange to you on its face. What are we really saying when we say that science can’t be applied to the most important questions in human life? We’re saying that when we get our biases out of the way, when we most fully rely on clear reasoning and honest observation, when intellectual honesty is at its zenith, well then those efforts have no application whatsoever to the most important questions in human life. That is precisely the mode you cannot be in to answer the most important questions in human life. It would be very strange if that were so.”

  −Sam Harris, in a debate with William Lane Craig on the foundation of morality

April 2011

“I can’t prove it, but I can say it.”

  −Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

19 April 2011

“Typically, we think of education as informing students about things they are not aware of, like the French Revolution for example.  But science presents a different challenge.  It is not that students know nothing about it, but that they already have plenty of ideas, most of which are, unfortunately, wrong scientifically speaking.  They don’t pay attention because they think they know it, and then asked what they saw they falsely remember their own ideas as what was presented. ...  We really have to tackle these misconceptions somehow.  It seems if you just present the correct information five things happen.  Number one, students think they know it. Two, they don't pay their utmost attention.  Three, they don’t recognize that what was presented is different to what they’re already thinking. And four, they don’t learn a thing.  And finally five, perhaps most troublingly, they get more confident in the ideas they were thinking before.”

  −Derek Muller, "Khan Academy and the effectiveness of science videos", Veritasium 

17 March 2011

“It’s over...Fukushima has forever changed the way we define risk in Germany.”

  −Angela Merkel, reported by Christian Schwägerl in Germany’s Unlikely Champion Of a Radical Green Energy Pathin YaleEnvironment360 (9 May 2011)

15 March 2011

“It’s very hard to find any kind of focus on these questions, at least in the areas of cognitive science that I’m particularly interested in like language for example.  What you have is extreme efforts, which are sometimes extremely strange, to try to show that trivial problems, for which we basically know the answers and have for sixty years, can be somehow dealt with by massive data analysis.”

  −Noam Chomsky, Ask Me Anything (4:25−5:04)

11 March 2011

Lev:  “The evolutionary psychologist Kurzban says that it might be advantageous for there not to be perfect communication between the different modules of the multicameral brain.  It might be helpful for the speaking 'you’ not to know the reason you’re doing something.”
Nick:  “Wha...?”  [furrows brow]
Scott:  “You don’t think you can lie to yourself?”
Nick:  “We never lie to ourselves.”
Jack:  “Never have.”

    January 2011

If you’d not took a chance on a little romance
When I wasn’t expecting that
Time doesn’t take long, three kids up and gone
And I wasn’t expecting that
And when the nurses they came, said it’s come back again
I wasn’t expecting that
Then you closed your eyes, took my heart by surprise
And I wasn’t expecting that!

  −Jamie Lawson, “Wasn't Expecting That”, Gingerbread Man records 

released 3 April 2015, originally released 11 March 2011 on Wasn't Expecting That, first available on Youtube on 3 January 2011

“It’s always a shock to the old that the young have their own ideas about things, isn’t it?”

  −Scott Ferson in an email about a SAMSI workshop at Sandia on UQ

    November 2010

“The only gut feeling I have about probability is not to trust my gut feelings, and so whenever someone throws a problem at me I need to excuse myself, sit quietly muttering to myself for a while, and finally return with what may or may not be the right answer.”

  −David Spiegelhalter, "Why Do People Find Probability Unintuitive and Difficult?” in NRICH: Enriching Mathematics

November 2010

“What you’d really like to know is what you know, from the data.”

  −Michael Balch in his job talk at AB

    November 2010

“I don’t care how many degrees you may have, how many books you may have written.  This was a set fire.”

  −Corsicana, Texas, assistant fire chief Douglas Fogg, Frontline episode "Death by Fire”, on the case against Cameron Todd Willinghan

19 October 2010

Nelson Muntz: “She can do the kind of math that has letters.  Watch.  What’s X, Lisa?”

Lisa Simpson: “Well, that depends....”

Nelson Muntz: “Sorry. She did it yesterday.”

  −Tim Long (creators Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Sam Simon), “MoneyBart”, The Simpsons

10 October 2010

What the p-value? [video]

  −Steve Grambow, an Xtranormal movie of a clinical researcher and a statistician talking about the meaning of a p-value, loosely based on Blume and Peipert’s 2003 paper “What your statistician never told you about P-values” that appeared in The Journal of the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists (10: 439-444).

19 September 2010

“In science, your most hostile critic is your best friend.  I’m pleased to have so many friends here today.  I also hope to make more friends in the future.”

  −Roger Cooke, author of the chapter on uncertainty analysis of the EPA dioxin reassessment, at its panel review

    July 2010

“I hope my anger gets through the phone.”

  −Elizabeth Coker, Tennessee mother speaking telephonically during the public comment period at an EPA public meeting on dioxin reassessment

    July 2010

“If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent.… [T]he skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

  −David Dunning, in a New York Times article "The Anosognosic's Dilemma" by Errol Morris

article published 20 June 2010

“My seven word definition of statistics is ‘Statistics tells you what you actually know’.  This is a condensation of what I tell my stat students, that the job of statistics is telling you what you deserve to conclude from the data you have.”

  −Jim Dukelow, on the Riskanal list server

    10 May 2010

“I have found a good bit of confusion and contradictory arguments on the topic by many who argue for the [second-order probability] interpretation. I believe the confusion often comes down to what a person precisely means by ‘epistemic uncertainty’. It is rare when an author carefully defines what they mean by epistemic uncertainty. Just saying ‘It is lack of knowledge uncertainty’ is actually quite vague and, I feel, inadequate in real decision making.”

  −William Oberkampf

    27 April 2010

“Fucking magnets, how do they work?  And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist.  Y’all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed.”

  −Insane Clown Posse and Mike E. Clark, “Miracles”, Bang! Pow! Boom!, Psychopathic Records

6 April 2010

“The great irony of the popular conception of science as arrogant is that when you go to a scientific meeting, you don’t see arrogance. You are about as likely to see real arrogance as you are likely to see nudity at a scientific conference. People are constantly offering caveats and hedges toward what they say. Every statement is couched in ‘I’m sure there’s someone in the room who knows more about this than me, but…’ because everyone is desperate to avoid public embarrassment.”

  −Sam Harris, in “Does God Have a Future” on ABC’s Nightline

broadcast 23 March 2010

“You see I’m married now, but I used to be really scared about marriage.  I was like wow!  Fifty percent of all marriages end up lasting forever.”

  −Joe Wong, Radio and Television Correspondents' Dinner

17 March 2010

“[The meanings of] ‘It’s gotta be’ and ‘it’s the only thing I could think of’ are different.”

  −Scott Ferson

    11 March 2010

Scott:  “Who was it that had that famous dictum about change, Heraclitus?  I wrote a paper about it in college.  He said change never stops, or the only constancy was change.”
Nick:  “You should have seen how many drafts of it Heraclitus had gone through.”

    January 2010

“...separating fraud from optimism can be like trying to separate ice from snow.”

   −Mark Powell

    January 2010

“Hearing this song [‘Miracles’ by Insane Clown Posse] makes you wish ICP would stick to serial killing.”

   −Adam Graham, music critic for The Detroit News 

1 September 2009

“A significant correlation between two variables implies causation, just not necessarily between those two variables.” 

   −Jack Siegrist

    November 2009

“The American Restoration Movement aimed to restore the church and sought ‘the unification of all Christians in a single body patterned after the church of the New Testament.’…The Restoration Movement has seen several divisions, resulting in multiple separate groups.”    

   −Wikipedia article “Restorationism” 

edited 3 October 2009

“We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission.”

   −Harry Schoell, dispelling rumors that the flesh of fallen soldiers might be the biomass used by his companys EATR biomass refueling capability that will now power autonomous robots, not noticing that the conversion from phytophagic to omophagic digestion would be pretty simple technologically

17 July 2009

“Even when there is no significant optimism—or significant parallelism to compound it—the most likely outcome of the project is rarely the scenario based on the most likely estimates. Using the most likely estimates in a plan usually gives a projected outcome that has a very low level of confidence.”

  −The Benefits of Risk Assessment for Projects, Portfolios, and Businesses (page 3), Oracle White Paper

June 2009

“Modelers owe us this much: they have to take a Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, to not pretend they know things they don't know.” 

  −Steven Munch

    April 2009

“Also, I’ve left The Trouble With Physics on your desk, passing the torch. Nice book. Would’ve been an even better pamphlet.”

  −Nick Friedenberg

    April 2009

“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

  −John Rogers, on his blog Kung Fu Monkey

19 March 2009

Scott: “Are we having lunch tomorrow?”
Steve: “Yes. What time / where would you like to have lunch?  12 or 1?”
Scott: “Shall we say 12:30? Ordinarily, the result of indecision about whether it should be 12 or 1 would induce me to offer the interval [12,1], but I’ve reverted to splitting the difference in the old-fashioned way for your sake.”
Steve: “I truly appreciate you sparing me having to wrap my head around another damn interval problem. See you at 12:30!  Where?  Your office or the restaurant?”
Scott: “Uh, I guess halfway between my office and the restaurant.”

    February 2009

What makes it possible to learn advanced math fairly quickly is that the human brain is capable of learning to follow a given set of rules without understanding them, and apply them in an intelligent and useful fashion. Given sufficient practice, the brain eventually discovers (or creates) meaning in what began as a meaningless game, but it is in general not necessary to reach that stage in order to apply the rules effectively. An obvious example can be seen every year, when first-year university physics and engineering students learn and apply advanced methods of differential equations, say, without understanding them - a feat that takes the mathematics majors (where the goal very definitely is understanding) four years of struggle to achieve.

  −Keith Devlin, also explaining how religions and armies work, and perhaps how human cooperation on any scale is possible, in Should children learn math by starting with counting?

January 2009

“It proves we can’t ever really know what’s going on!”  [BELL RINGS]  “ will be responsible for it on the mid-term!”

  −Joel and Ethan Coen, in character Larry Gopnick's lecture about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in A Serious Man


“There is a large, confusing literature on the relationship and possible conflicts between Bayes’s theorem and Maximum Entropy. I don’t recommend reading it.”

  −Brendan Brewer in his blogpost “Where do I stand on maximum entropy”

29 December 2008

“I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians.”

  −Hal Varian, Google economist, in Insights & Publications

October 2008

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.”

  −Alan Greenspan, whose philosophical ‘flaw’ (not realizing it is individuals within corporations rather than mythical corporation-persons who make self-interested decisions) precipitated the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession

23 October 2008

Scott (seeking more help with the same computer question he’d asked the day before):  “Teach a man to fish...”
Nick (not understanding the allusion):  “What?  And he’ll drive a species to extinction?”  

    August 2008

“Words like ‘few’ are ambiguous.  That’s why we invented numbers.  As the old joke goes, a few dollars in your wallet are not many, but a few hairs in your soup are a lot.  Not all cultures have numbers.  Only those engaged in commerce.” 

  −Scott Ferson

    July 2008

“The dark discipline”  

  −Mark Burgman, in reference to statistics

  July 2008

“All models are wrong, but some are stupid.” 

  −Scott Ferson, paraphrasing George Box

    May 2008

“It’s the wet field of dreams in Everglades modeling.” 

  −Lance Gunderson, at an Army Corps of Engineers panel meeting, on Florida ecosystem modeling

May 2008

“Will arm-wave for food.” 

  −Troy Tucker


“On the positive side, Larry did have the benefit of going through life knowing what it was all about.”

  −Greg Paoli, in response to the email joke:  “Larry LaPrise, the man who wrote ‘Hokey Pokey’ died peacefully at the age of 93.  The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin.  They put his left leg in, and then the trouble started.”

23 March 2008

“There’s an old saying about those who forget history. I don’t remember it, but it’s good.”

  −Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

10 March 2008

“A Supreme Court justice once said the Constitution is not a suicide pact.  I likewise think that we should not let American anti-intellectualism―as fun as it is―be the death of us all.” 

  −Scott Ferson

20 February 2008

“You know, in today’s regulatory environment, it’s virtually impossible to violate rules.  This is something the public really doesn’t understand.  But it’s impossible for a violation to go undetected, certainly not for a considerable period of time.”

  −Bernard Madoff, speaking extemporaneously at the Philoctetes Center

20 October 2007

“We brought in good health, very important, youth, optimism.  That’s why these eighteen-year olds could pursue war at all.  They were kids.  They were optimistic.  And they really thought that, if you did well, you’d be rewarded.  I mean, they were that innocent.  They had no idea about life’s accidents.”

   −Paul Fussell, at 1:28 in episode 5, “Fubar”, in Ken Burns’ film The War

broadcast 30 September 2007

“I think this affirms something that’s long been known by diplomats, namely that the vagueness of language, far from being a bug or an imperfection, actually might be a feature of language, one that we use to our advantage in social interactions.”

  −Steven Pinker, "What our language habits reveal", TED Talks

11 September 2007

“I was elected to lead, not to read. Number 3!” 

  −President Schwarzenegger [voiced by Harry Shearer], The Simpsons Movie, screenplay by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, et al.

US release 27 July 2007

“We as a nation have to ask ourselves, what the hell is going on...?”

  −Dboots, surprised by “rainbow’s [sic] near the ground” in the spray from a lawn sprinker in

6 July 2007

“According to microbiologists at Plymouth University in England, most of the world’s coral reefs are riddled with herpes! Now, you’re probably asking yourself, ‘How did the coral catch herpes?’ Scientists blame humans for putting too much carbon into the oceans. But that doesn’t answer the basic question: Who’s been fucking the coral reefs?”

  −Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

25 June 2007

Its one thing to know that theres maybe one chance in 45,000 that its gonna hit the Earth.  But what youd like to know: is there one chance in a hundred?  Is there one chance in ten? Is the probability one that its gonna hit the Earth?

  −Apollo IX astronaut Russell Rusty Schweickart on the next and subsequent close approaches of 99942 Apophis  on The End of the Earth: Deep Space Threats to Our Planet, at 12:55-16:00 during episode 3 of season 1 of The Universe, demonstrating that deep knowledge of astrodynamics does not guarantee a traditional perspective about probability

aired on The History Channel on 12 June 2007

“It is not snobbish to notice the way in which people show their gullibility and their herd instinct and their wish or perhaps their need to be credulous and to be fooled. This is an ancient problem. Credulity may be a form of innocence and may be innocuous in itself, but it provides a standing invitation for the wicked and the clever to exploit their brothers and sisters and is thus one of humanity’s great vulnerabilities.”

  −Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great, chapter “‘Lowly Stamp of Their Origin’: Religion’s Corrupt Beginnings

1 May 2007

“The reality is, most academics don’t know how to talk to normal human beings.”

  −Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus

25 April 2007

“The secret to happiness is low expectations.” 

  −Barry Schwartz, explaining why freedom of choice creates more regret and less satisfaction, The paradox of choice, TEDTalks

uploaded 16 January 2007

“It turns out the death rates on Death Row from all causes, including execution, [is] two percent a year.”

  −Steven Levitt, The freakonomics of McDonalds vs. drugs, 14:38

uploaded 16 January 2007

“This [latest microcomputer chip] is so fast you can cure cancer.”

  −Ed Davis, Chief Architect at Intel Corporation, apparently believing that the barrier to curing cancer has been insufficient computational power

16 December 2006

“Parallel programming is an iterative process.”

  −Ed Davis, Chief Architect at Intel Corporation,

16 December 2006

And truth is such a funny thing
With all these people keep on telling me
They know what's best and what to be frightened of
And all the rest are wrong
They know nothing about us
They know nothing about us
And though they say it's possible
To me, I don't see how it's probable
I see the course we're on spinning farther from what I know
I'll hold on
Tell me that you won't let go
Tell me that you won't let go

  −Terra Naomi, "Say It’s Possible", Youtube, and her album Under the Influence 

single released 11 June 2007, available on Youtube on 16 June 2006

…[T]he Committee reaffirms…Churchill had a protected right to publish his views. … The aggressive pursuit of knowledge cannot proceed unless…researchers are permitted—and indeed encouraged—to present alternative and sometimes heretical positions and to seek to defend them in the court of academic opinion. …

The Committee notes that this investigation was only commenced after, and perhaps in response to, the public attack on Professor Churchill for his controversial publications. … [One] claim was brought to the attention of responsible University officials a decade ago, but the University, after preliminary investigation, decided to take no further action. Thus, the Committee is troubled by the origins of, and skeptical concerning the motives for, the current investigation. The…Laws of the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado [hold] that faculty members’ “efforts should not be subjected to direct or indirect pressures or interference from within the university, and the university will resist to the utmost such pressures or interference when exerted from without.”

Nevertheless, serious claims of academic misconduct have been lodged and they require full investigation…. To use an analogy, a motorist who is stopped and ticketed for speeding because the police officer was offended by the contents of her bumper sticker, and who otherwise would have been sent away with a warning, is still guilty of speeding, even if the officer’s motive for punishing the speeder was the offense taken to the speeder’s exercise of her right to free speech. No court would consider the improper motive of the police officer to constitute a defense to speeding, however protected by legal free speech guarantees the contents of the bumper sticker might be. [some footnotes omitted]

  −Wesson et al., whose treatment of Ward Churchill (however much of a dick he may be) brings shame to the University of Colorado at Boulder, and gives voice to little Eichmanns everywhere (who hate it when you call them that) while simultaneously signalling their chilling insensitivity to the grave danger of selective law enforcement more widely

9 May 2006

“You talk to God, you’re religious. God talks to you, you’re psychotic.”

   −Dr. House (played by Hugh Laurie) in “House vs. God”, House MD, screenwriter Doris Egan

originally aired 25 April 2006

“Equations are the devil’s sentences.”

  −Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, in a segment “Nerd Patrol” 

7 February 2006

The list of examples of engineering hubris includes
    Crimes against Occam, such as computer models that run slower than real time, or analyses with 100 parameters but only 25 data points,
    Neglecting model uncertainty, or designing without accounting for uncertainty, and, most egregiously,
    Wishful thinking, such as by using inputs or models because they are convenient, or because you hope they are true.

July 2005

 In 1939, he resumed his studies at the University of California at Berkeley, studying statistics under mathematician Jerzy Neyman. An incident during his first year at Berkeley became a math-world legend.

As Dr. Dantzig recalled years later, he arrived late for class one day and saw two problems on the blackboard that he assumed were homework assignments. He copied them down, took them home and solved them after a few days. "The problems seemed to be a little harder to do than usual," he said.

On a Sunday morning six weeks later, an excited Neyman banged on his student's front door, eager to tell him that the homework problems he had solved were two of the most famous unsolved problems in statistics.

“‘That was the first inkling I had that there was anything special about them, Dr. Dantzig recalled.

  −Joe Holley, in the obituary “Vanguard Mathematician George Dantzig Dies” in the Washington Post 

  −19 May 2005

“History also prescribes a sobering antidote for the arrogance that tracks life in medicine like an occupational hazard.”

  −Jacalyn Duffin, from the book description of her edited volume Clio in the Clinic: History in Medical Practice

12 May 2005

“[No] statistic can overcome the probabilistic nature of the relationship between evidence and inference. There is no surety, but only the relative safety of numbers, good experimental design, and empirical replication.”

  −Peter R. Killeen, in his 2005 paper “Replicability, confidence, and priors” which appeared in Psychological Science 16(2):1009−1012.


Whenever I encounter Christians who profess deeply held beliefs, I always try to convey my condolences that they werent among those taken up to heaven during the Rapture.  Sometimes they object and say the Rapture hasnt happened yet, but I laugh heartily and ask them if they really think this isnt the Tribulation were in now.  As if the sudden disappearance of the small assortment of people who deserve to be raptured would even be noticed on the evening news.


“So I think the first thing that the blogosphere tells us is that we need to expand our idea of what counts as rational, and we need to expand our simple equation of value equals money, or, you have to pay for it to be good.”

  −James Surowiecki, in his TED Talk “The power and danger of online crowds” (at 8:53) discussing unpaid contributions by bloggers, Wikipedians, etc.

February 2005

Wardell Pomeroy: How old were you when you first engaged in sexual activity with a partner?
Research Subject: 14.
Wardell Pomeroy: How?
Research Subject: With horse.
Wardell Pomeroy: How often were you having intercourse with animals at age 14?
Research Subject: [stunned] It’s true. I fucked a pony. You are genius. How did you know?
Wardell Pomeroy: You just said you had... "sex with horse."
Research Subject: Nooo... Whores, not horse, whores.

  −Bill Condon, screenwriter and director of the film Kinsey

 released 12 November 2004

“Utility functions are today’s epicycles...matching anything, explaining nothing.”

  −Scott Ferson


Daisy [played by Laura Harris]: “These are all at the Farmer's Market in exactly 27 minutes. I smell a disaster.”
Mason [Callum Blue]: “No, five deaths is not a disaster.”
George [Ellen Muth]: “How many deaths is a disaster?”
Mason : “More than five. Five’s bullshit.”
George : “How many?”
Mason : “Sixteen to twenty is a disaster. Twenty-one and up: catastrophe. Eight to fifteen is a calamity.”
Rube Sofer [Mandy Patinkin] : “Seven and under?”
Mason : “That’s a crying shame.”

  −Bryan Fuller, John Masius, Stephen Godchaux [writers], “Send in the Clown”,  Dead Like Me, about a team of grim reapers discussing their day ahead)

episode aired 25 July 2004

“If Fisher and Neyman–Pearson agreed on anything, it was that statistics should never be used mechanically.”

  −Gerd Gigerenzer, in his paper “Mindless statistics” which appeared in The Journal of Socio-Economics (33: 587–606)


“[I]t would be capricious and improper to profess a respect for the engineers’ knowledge but deny their assertions about their ignorance.”  

  −Scott Ferson and Janos G. Hajagos, in their paper “Arithmetic with uncertain numbers: rigorous and (often) best-possible answers” in Reliability and Engineering and System Safety (85: 135-152)


“Do you know how hard it is to explain things by analogy?  It’s like....  It’s almost like....  Well, it’s really hard!”  

  −Matthew Butcher, who might also allow the variant “You know how hard it is to write without analogies?  Writing without analogies is like…, it’s almost like…, well, it’s really hard.”


Commander Robert Bob Iverson [Bruce Greenwood] : People! Doctors Zimsky and Keyes? You guys are our resident geophysicists, so what do you make of this?
Dr. Conrad Zimsky [Stanley Tucci] : The mantle is a chemical hodgepodge of, a, variety of elements...
Dr. Ed Braz Brazzelton  [Delroy Lindo]: Say it with me: "I dont know."
Iverson : Forgive me, but, you know Im not the expert here, but what if the core is thicker or thinner? I mean, what if its not what you think it is? Isnt that going to affect the way the explosions are...
Zimsky : Yes, yes, yes, yes, and what if the core is made of cheese? This is all best guess, commander. Thats all science is, is best guess.
Iverson : So my best guess is you dont know.

  −Cooper Layne and John Rogers, screenwriters for the delightful film The Core, widely regarded as the worst science-fiction film, but only by critics who missed Disneys 1979 monstrosity The Black Hole]

release date 28 March 2003

“Intervals are the future of mathematics, and always will be.” 

  −Jim Demmel [attributed], possibly parodying Berthold Schweizer (1985) who said “Distributions are the numbers of the future.”


“I have nothing against expert elicitation.  Some of my best friends are experts.”   

  −Reşit Akçakaya


Uncertainty is just about the only certainty in PVA.

  −Steven Beissinger (Beissinger, S. R. & McCullough, D. R., eds. Population Viability Analysis. University of Chicago Press) 


There is a theory about poetry that says that the deep meanings we perceive in poems are essentially the layers of ambiguity that the text has, and that if you dissociate the words from any ambiguity and any possibility of confusion, doing so would rob the language of its poetic force.  It is, after all, ambiguity that allows statements to be true in any interesting sense.  That 'fire burns' is only true because it is ambiguous.

  −[unknown, paraphrase] 


“Why are you leaving the church of probability theory?”

  −<<Rockewaitz>>, chastising Michael Beer for introducing imprecise probability into an analysis


“Certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right....”

  −Anthony Lewis, New York Times


“The drug war has no interest in its own results.”

  −Charles F. Manski

31 August 2001

“On June 12, 1994, a deck of cards was shuffled for 12 hours by Las Vegas Pit Boss Larry Mafia. It was shuffled to such an extreme state of randomness that it has not been sorted to this day.”

  −ChimpGod, Registered Sinner, in an internet posting

12 June 2001

“If you want industry buy-in for an idea, you have to convince them it’s what they do in government.  If you want government buy-in, you have to show them it’s all the rage in academia.  If you want academics to be excited about an idea, you have to demonstrate that it’s important in industry.”

  −Lev Ginzburg [paraphrase], explaining his Law of Circular Appeals 

10 May 2001

Simpson’s Paradox [means that] facts about probabilistic dependency can be reversed in moving from populations to subpopulations. For example, factor X may be positively dependent or negatively dependent or independent of Y in a population but still be any of these three in all partitions of the population along the values of a third factor Z if Z is itself probabilistically dependent on X and Y.  Z may for instance be a preventative of Y; because of its correlation with X, the presence of X does not after all increase the frequency of Y’s in the population....

  −Nancy Cartwright, "What is wrong with Bayes nets?", which appeared in The Monist 84(2) 242–264

1 April 2001

“The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program.”

  −Larry Niven, quoted by Arthur C. Clarke in “Meeting of the Minds : Buzz Aldrin Visits Arthur C. Clarke” by Andrew Chaikin in Space Illustrated

27 February 2001

[In a workshop on characterizing uncertainty in a model]
Mark Burgman:  “It’s always possible to put interval bounds around something.”
Reşit Akçakaya:  “So what are the absolute bounds on the exchange rate for Turkish lira in dollars?”
Mark:  “Well, I have no idea, so I’m gonna say somewhere between 1/100 and, say, 1 million.”
Reşit: “It’s actually 1.6 million.”


“Are there two dimensions of probability, one giving the total probability and the other the firmness or weight with which that probability can be held?”

  −James Franklin, page 78 in The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability before Pascal


Lt. Ted Santen [played by Benjamin Bratt]: “Based on our last uncorrupted nav state, I’d say we’re somewhere in this 60x120-kilometer ellipse.”
Dr. Quinn Burchenal [played by Tom Sizemore]: “All the mission data is here. We've just got to close in on the downrange variables. It’s about the math.”
Robby Gallagher [played by Val Kilmer]: “This is it. That moment they told us about in high school where one day algebra would save our lives.”

  −Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin, writers of the film Red Planet

release date 10 November 2000

Dam safety engineer:  “A terrorist couldn’t take out a dam.”
Scott (naively dubious):  “Really?  Could you take out a dam?”
Dam safety engineer:  “Oh, yeah.  Sure.  I could.”


“In addition to its use in arithmetic and science, the HinduArabic number system is the only genuinely universal language on Earthapart, perhaps, from the Windows operating system, which has achieved the near universal adoption of a conceptually and technologically poor product by the sheer force of market dominance. By contrast, the HindiArabic number system gained worldwide acceptance because it is far better designed and more more efficient for human usage than any other number system.”

  −Keith Devlin, in The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years (page 102)


“We conducted an extinction risk assessment for the northern spotted owl based on 8 years of data and projected the risk of decline out to 100 years.  Our uncertainty analysis showed that, after 100 years, the risk of extinction is somewhere between zero and one.  But we have a very high degree of confidence about that interval.  We’re really sure it’s in that range.”

  −Scott Ferson, getting a joke through simultaneous translation at a meeting in Japan

29 January 1999

“...two Bayesians cannot meet without smiling at each other’s priors.”

  −Cosma R. Shalizi, [Review of] Error and Growth of Experimental Knowledge, The Bactra Review

September 1998

“It’s always been easy to get wrong answers.”

  −Jim Dukelow, commenting on the criticism of a new methodology’s computational complexity

December 1998

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?

  −Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder 

book published 1998

In recent years there has been a major trend in uncertainty (more specifically, partial belief) modelling emphasizing the idea that the degree of confidence in an event is not totally determined by the confidence in the opposite event, as assumed in probability theory.

  −Didier Dubois and Henri Prade, in their chapter Possibility theory: qualitative and quantitative aspects, pages 169–226 in Quantified Representation of Uncertainty and Imprecision

book published 1998

“If, after hearing my songs, just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend, or perhaps to strike a loved one, it will all have been worth the while.”

  −Tom Lehrer, Songs and More Songs by Tom Lehrer, Rhino Records

released 6 May 1997

“Thus, selecting a probability distribution function for a variable is not a trivial matter.”

  −Fritz A. Seiler and Joseph L. Alvarez, page 6 of ‘On the selection of distributions for stochastic variables’, Risk Analysis 16: 5−18.


“We hired truly great people and gave them the room to do great work. A lot of companies . . . hire people to tell them what to do. We hire people to tell us what to do.”

  −Steve Jobs, interviewed on Fresh Air


Well, Im not calling you a liar but...but I cant think of a way to finish that sentence.

  −Bart Simpson (writer John Swartzwelder), The Day the Violence Died, S7, E18, The Simpsons

aired 17 March 1996

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

  −Steve Jobs, quoted by Gary Wolf in an interview published in Wired

February 1996

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s timewhen the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.... The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.”

  −Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (pp 25f)


“An article about computational results is advertising, not scholarship. The actual scholarship is the full software environment, code and data, that produced the result.”

  −Jonathan B. Buckheit and David L. Donoho, paraphrasing Jon Claerbout in their chapter “Wavelab and reproducible research” in Wavelets and Statistics, edited by A. Antoniadis


“The ability to think conditional thoughts is a basic part of our mental equipment. A view of the world would be an idle, ineffectual affair without them. There’s not much point in recognising that there’s a predator in your path unless you also realise that if you don’t change direction pretty quickly you will be eaten.”

  −Dorothy Edgington, in “On conditionals”, Mind 104:414, a scholarly paper squeezed out of the old joke “Imagine a world without hypotheticals....”

April 1995

I had a dog once….”   

  −Kindal Ferson, interrupting a story that was not about dogs but that was obviously not going to be interesting

December 1995

“I’ve been writing code in C++ for over a month now.  If C++ is so flexible how come they left out the goto statement, or am I missing something?”   

  −Jeff Millstein


“I have retained the word ‘Axiom’ (a statement that needs no proof because its truth is obvious) but have rewritten the axioms.”

  −Alan Berryman, in commentary on the fourth draft of a collaborative work


“The death of Karl Popper is not perhaps a scientific truth but it is a conjecture which is open to refutation, since experiments could easily be designed to falsify it, so it may be described as a scientific theory.” 

  −Nicolas Walter, in Popper’s obituary in the London Times; others place the quote as a response to the obituary in The Guardian

September 1994

“The truth is that any software program will probably contain one error for every 500 lines of code. The Therac-25’s software program, relatively crude by today’s standards, probably contained 101000 lines of code. At one error for every 500 lines, that works out to the possibility of twenty errors.”

  −Barbara Wade Rose, showing numerical errors don't require bad software, in “Death through Software” in Fatal Dose about the Therac 25 deaths

June 1994

“Education is the process of telling smaller and smaller lies.”

  −J. R. Deller, Jr., “Tom, Dick, and Mary discover the DFT”, IEEE Signal Processing Magazine [Deller is not the origin of the quotation]

April 1994

“I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.”

  −Jean Lyotard, in “The postmodern condition” in The Postmodern Turn: New Perspectives on Social Theory (edited by S. Seidman)


“A generic software system for developing stochastic matrix models has been developed by Ferson et al. (1987).  Special software isn’t really needed anyway!” 

  −Glenn Suter, in his book Ecological Risk Assessment


“It’s a straight port.”   

  −Jeff Millstein


“Account No.: CFERS002/CH, Date: 31-12-92, Page No.: 1, Your royalty contact is: Carol O'Leary. Transaction date: 31-03-93, Reference: 26542, Transaction: Sales earnings, Amounts due: 0.54, Balance: 0.54.  [stamped in red] HELD TO THE CREDIT OF YOUR ACCOUNT” 

  −Chapman & Hall Publishers, in a computer-generated summary royalty statement


There is an old Vulcan proverb: only Nixon could go to China.

  −Spock [played by Leonard Nimoy] in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, screenplay by Nicholas Meyer and Denny Martin Flinn

film release 6 December 1991

“Pain is real when you get other people to believe in it. If no one believes in it but you, your pain is madness or hysteria.”

  −Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth, page 254


“We have to build the best models we possibly can and then not trust them.”  

  −Robert Costanza, quoted in Science


“We start our proof of the Law of the Excluded Middle with the tautology ‘Either the Law of the Excluded Middle is true or it is not true.’” 

  −[unknown] writing in the Village Voice

[late 1980s or early 1990s]

“Oh, she’s out today.  She came down with Dutch elm disease.”

  −Anthony Bouvier [character played by Meshach Taylor], explaining the absence of Suzanne Sugarbaker [played by Delta Burke] on the television series Designing Women (only much later in show mentioning “It’s primarily a disease of trees.”)

[probably the fourth or fifth year of the series, which ran between September 1986 and May 1993]

Oh, you make me feel
Mighty real
You make me feel
Mighty real
You make me feel
Mighty real
You make me feel
Mighty real

  −Jimmy Somerville, covering “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)”, Read My Lips, London Records 

November 1989

“[W]hen people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

  −Isaac Asimov, The relativity of wrong. The Skeptical Inquirer 14: 35-44


But you can't always trust your mother” 

  −Lou Reed, Last Great American Whale, on his album New York, Sire Records

album released 10 January 1989

“All generalizations are wrong.” 

  −Matthew Liebman, reincarnated from Alexandre Dumas Père 


“Telling drug addicts to ‘just say no’, is like telling the homeless to just get a house.”

  −Reno, a New York City comedienne, commenting on Nancy Reagan's Just Say No campaign, giving a modern articulation of the wisdom in the parable of belling the cat


Million to one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

  −Terry Pratchett, in the novel Mort


[In the voice of Glenda the Good Witch] “Are you a good pesticide or a bad pesticide?”  

  −Paul C. Novelli


“It’s like the fall of Western Civilization.  You enough to be unnerving, but too slow to be really exciting.”    

   −Thomas F. Long 


“There’s no sleight of hand here; it’s just algebra.  [pause]  Oh, no.  Don’t tell me this is one of those departments where algebra is sleight of hand.”

   −Monty Slatkin


“What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

   −F. Sherwood Rowland, quoted by Paul Brodeur in his article In the face of doubt (The New Yorker, 9 June 1986 issue), about the research by Rowland and Molina on the damage to the earths ozone layer from chlorofluorocarbons, a quote which has apparently become another victim of its own success 

1 June 1986

The Challengers going to blow up. Everyones going to die.

   −Bob Ebeling, before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, after failing to convince his superiors at Morton Thiokol  and NASA to delay the launch

28 January 1986

I wondered, I guessed and I tried
You just knew 

   −Mike Scott, “The Whole of the Moon”, This Is the Sea, Ensign Records

released 14 October 1985

“Distributions are the numbers of the future.”

   −Berthold Schweizer


“[W]hen different reasonable priors yield substantially different answers, can it be right to state that there is a single answer? Would it not be better to admit that there is scientific uncertainty, with the conclusion depending on prior beliefs?”

   −James O. Berger, page 125 in his book Statistical Decision Theory and Bayesian Analysis (2nd ed., Springer)


“So as a corollary to writing about what we know, maybe we should add getting familiar with our ignorance, and the possibilities therein for ruining a good story.”

   −Thomas Pynchon, in Slow Learner: Early Stories, quoted by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in “Books of The Times

quoted 29 March 1984

Appearance never held you back
Must be when youre number one
You dont have to try so hard

   −Split Enz, Hello Sandy Allen, Time and Tide, Mushroom Records, about Sandy Allen whom the lyrics describe as towering over our heads in more ways than one

album released April 1982

“Statistics is the science of handling data.  On the other hand, probability is the science of handling the lack of data.”

   −Stan Kaplan and B. John Garrick, in "On the quantitative definition of risk" which appeared in Risk Analysis (1: 11–27)


Doug:  “I’m sorry, we might have come out [to the Huyck Preserve] too early [in the season] to see a lot of insects.”
Scott:  “Maybe it’s okay if we miss the mosquitoes.”
Doug:  “You damn the entire class Insecta because of one or two biting dipterans?”


“classic case of incomplete instructions”

    −graffito responding to “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” on the glass door of a cabinet containing three canistered fire extinguishers, a fifty-foot fire hose wrapped around a big spool with a hand crank, two small and one large red manual actuators of three valves, some nozzle connectors, and a large axe

observed (but written before) August 1980 

“Sometimes I think your head is so big because it is so full of ideas.”

   −Thomas F. Long, in a high-pitched and halting voice, making fun of my plans for graduate research, the day after we saw The Elephant Man in Chicago


“Nobody listens to mathematicians.”

   −Carl Sagan, Cosmos, page 262


“Creativity is what happens in the struggle back from confusion.”


“And New York looked so exciting, didn’t it?”

   −Andy Warhol

3 January 1978

You make me feel mighty real
You make me feel mighty real
Oh you make me feel mighty real
You make me feel mighty real

   −Sylvester, You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), Step II, Fantasy (songwriters James Wirrick and Sylvester James who was the First Lady of the Castro and Queen of Disco)

album released December 1977

If Id known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.

   −David Bowie, on the occasion of his 30th birthday

8 January 1977

   −Paul McKinney [thanks to Wabash College archivist Beth Swift]

autumn 1976

“No single theory ever agrees with all the facts in its domain. Facts are constituted by older ideologies, and a clash between facts and theories may be proof of progress.”

   −Paul Feyerabend, Against Method, page 33

published in 1975

“Ludwig Boltzmann, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics. Perhaps it will be wise to approach the subject cautiously.”

   −David L. Goodstein, in the opening passages of his States of Matter

published in 1975

Because if I wasnt the tallest woman, Id be just another ugly girl from Shelbyville. 

   −Sandy Allen, on getting a lot of attention (and free stuff) after her recognition by Guinness World Records as the worlds tallest woman

3 February 1975

“I was about to say ‘it makes you believe in God’, but then I remembered this was built by the Army Corps of Engineers.”

   −Scott Ferson, having an oceanic experience on Lake Monroe

August 1974

I am not a crook.

   −Richard Nixon

17 November 1973

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

   −Andy Warhol [arguably a misattribution]


Samuel T. Cogley, Esq. [played by Elisha Cook, Jr.]: “Now that I’ve got something human to talk about. Rights, sir, human rights! The Bible. The Code of Hammurabi, and of Justinian. The Magna Carta. The Constitution of the United States. The Fundamental Declarations of the Martian Colonies. The Statutes of Alpha III. Gentlemen, these documents all speak of rights. Rights of the accused to a trial by his peers, to be represented by counsel. The rights of cross-examination. But most importantly, the right to be confronted by the witnesses against him, a right to which my client has been denied.”

Lt. Areel Shaw [played by Joan Marshall]: “Your Honor, that is ridiculous. We’ve produced the witnesses in court. My learned opponent had the opportunity to see them, cross-examine them...”

Cogley: “All but one. The most devastating witness against my client is not a human being. It’s a machine, an information system, the computer log of the Enterprise. And I ask this court adjourn and reconvene aboard that vessel.”

Shaw: “I protest, Your Honor.”

Cogley: “And I repeat! I speak of rights! A machine has none. A man must! My client has the right to face his accuser. And if you do not grant him that right, you have brought us down to the level of the machine. Indeed, you have elevated that machine above us. I ask that my motion be granted. And more than that, gentlemen, in the name of a humanity fading in the shadow of the machine, I demand it. I demand it!”

  −“Court Martial” [season 1, episode 20], Star Trek, written by Don M. Mankiewicz and Steven W. Carabatsos. Neither the Bible nor the Code of Hammurabi speaks of the right to confront one’s accusers, although it may have been presumed as they certainly hated the bearing of false witness, which is addressed by the first four of the nearly three hundred laws in the Code of Hammurabi, the first holding “If a man brings an accusation against another man, charging him with murder, but cannot prove it, the accuser shall be put to death.” For a discussion of the antiquity of the right, see Herrmann, F.R., and B.M. Speer. (1994). Facing the accuser: ancient and medieval precursors of the confrontation clause. Virginia Journal of International Law 34: 481-552. 

originally aired 2 February 1967