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    Convicting Scientists For Miscommunicating Risk: What We Should Focus On
    By Tommaso Dorigo | October 29th 2012 04:48 AM | 35 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    As I reported in a post a few days ago, the Italian sentencing of seven scientists to 6-years imprisonment for their misassessment of the risks of the population of L'Aquila, soon thereafter struck by a powerful earthquake which killed 309 and injured 2000, raised interest and disconcertment worldwide and spurred a debate which is not likely to end soon.

    Who is guilty ?

    I personally believe that the real offenders in the L'Aquila case are the politicians who put in charge a "great risks" committee which could be steered and manipulated at will, and who then put words in their mouths as they pleased in the eve of the seism. The fact that this is exactly what happened has now been proven by wiretaped conversations between the head of the italian civil protection Guido Bertolaso and members of the committee.

    Also guilty, and even more so, are of course the criminals who constructed buildings in a seismic area with defective materials, earning huge profits. These belong to the same race of subhumans as those who were reported laughing on the phone, upon hearing the news that L'Aquila was destroyed by the earthquake and would soon need their companies to be rebuilt (yes, they laughed).

    The issue

    What I think is worth focusing on here, however, is not Italian politics nor the way politicians manipulate the information for their own agendas - scientists have no more power than private citizens in dealing with that problem. I believe the issue is the way one may communicate the estimate of a risk, in the case this risk is not of the order of magnitude unity, say 30% or 50% (as for instance the risk of a large water surge in the coast of New York at the time of writing, due to the arrival of hurricane Sandy), but rather, 0.002% or 0.1%.

    If you read these lines you are probably among the top N% of the population who has familiarity with such small p-values, and I have no doubts you would agree that a 0.002% risk of serious injury or death is one you can occasionally take without worrying much, while a 0.1% risk is worth all your attention. But how many people around us are capable of handling the difference between those numbers ?

    Whatsa p-value ?

    If I were the lawyer of a scientist brought to court for downplaying too much the risk of a catastrophic event in communicating with the public, I would center my defence on that particular point: at least in Italy, citizens are not capable of handling that kind of information. If I release a statement that the risk of a strong earthquake in the coming month has risen from 0.002% to 0.1% I will give citizens the tools to decide on their own whether, say, to invest money and time into temporarily moving to another town, but how many will really know what it is logical to do and what 0.1% really means ? Would it not be better to strive for a imprecise but understandable information rather than for a correct but obscure one ? I confess I am not sure of the answer to this.

    Add to the above the fact that a p-value is not enough by itself. Besides obviously relating the probability to the considered time span (one thing is a 0.1% per day, and quite another is a 0.1% per year!, but note how this is seldom specified), I would want to get the best possible estimate of the p-value as a function of the magnitude of the earthquake. Personally I would be happy with a root file with a two-dimensional graph, but maybe others would prefer a spreadsheet ;-)

    The alternative of speaking about p-values could be to make a global risk analysis for the average citizen, and report only the final result of that. A risk analysis involves a cost function (which is of course subjective, but could be "averaged out" over the entire population) and a probability density function describing in this case e.g. how likely it is that they get injured, or killed, if they take either the decision of leaving or of staying in their high-risk home area. Would I, upon performing that calculation and finding that it is better for the citizens to continue living normally during an increased risk period, be justified if I told citizens "Go back home and do not worry, the slightly increased risk of an earthquake is not significant to warrant a change in your habits" ? It would be a half lie, but would it be really worse than a correct information which is harder to handle by most ? Especially if compounded with additional false information spread by  alarmists armed with a radon detector, as in the case we are discussing.

    I know what you would choose: you want the p-value, the graphs, the hard data, the whole shebang. Yet the matter is not so clear-cut to me. My impression, anyway, is that we first need to change our society, fostering more education to scientific and quantitative information. We need to explain what small chances mean, and how to take decisions based on a logical assessment of all the variables in the system.

    Alas, educating how to correctly use small p-values is surprisingly hard to do, because although everybody has experience with events which have very small odds -a relative who wins a large sum at the lottery, somebody who dies in an airplance crush, etcetera- very few are capable of looking at the big picture, evaluating the look-elsewhere effect for the situation at hand, and correctly assessing statistical fluctuations.

    The bottomline is my whole starting point, the motivation for writing this blog - as scientists and informed citizens it is our duty to educate the public to rational thinking.

    Comments

    Stellare
    I agree with you, it can't be the responsibility of scientists to communicate to the public. The authorities and politicians are responsible for setting up appropriate systems to handle risk.

    Communicating risk is a difficult task in any culture and indeed highly dependent on the various cultures and political systems.

    I think respect for the difficulty of managing risk is in place. Not sending scientists, eloquent or non-eloquent ones, to prisons.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Gerhard Adam
    ...as scientists and informed citizens it is our duty to educate the public to rational thinking.
    I have to respectfully disagree with this assessment.  I don't believe the scientists should have received prison sentences, nor that manslaughter was appropriate.  However the notion that risk can be reduced to probabilities is simply indicative of a failure to understand humans [and life in general].

    Survival is not about rational decisions.  It is about making decisions with incomplete data, and attempting to achieve the best possible risk mitigation.  This involves guessing, often with NO samples against which to compare or make estimates.

    The notion that a disinterested third party can somehow assign a probability to an event to which they are not at risk is absurd on the face of it.

    We routinely expect people to make decisions, risking their lives when probability indicates it would be foolish to continue [i.e. soldiers in wars, police officers, firefighters, etc. etc. etc.].  People know and understand this and regardless of how frustrated they may become by it, are prepared to cope with life in that fashion.

    It is when there is an authority figure of some type [political, or "expert"] that this mechanism becomes short-circuited that people push back.  This isn't simply about some scientist's prediction.  This is about a system that has failed people at multiple levels [as you've pointed out].  Politicians lying is presumed to be second-nature.  The corruption of those with a responsibility for building secure housing, and finally those that provide the assurance that nothing bad was going to happen.

    If the scientists had been adamant and said that there was simply no way to predict the earthquake and for good or ill, people were going to have to use their own judgement, then there would have been nothing wrong.  People might not like it, but they would have coped with it. 

    Let me ask this ... putting all these things together ... what is the p-value that people were going to get upset and want someone's head?
    Mundus vult decipi
    dorigo
    Hi Gerhard,

    let us factor out the issue of the trial against scientists. You raise the point of computing the risk for an individual, and how the p-value somebody computes for him cannot be applicable. I think the p-value is not arbitrary per se; what is arbitrary is the cost function - i.e., the resulting gain or loss to the individual as a function of the different possible outcomes of the event being considered.

    I have no problem with somebody telling me, to the best of the scientific knowledge and data available -always incomplete, subject to interpretation etc. as it may- what is the probability of happening of an earthquake, and I am willing to trust it, no more and no less than I trust the surge forecasts from a hurricane hitting the coast of my country.

    The problem you raise is all in the cost function. On that I agree with you: nobody can take decisions in your place. If scientists had been able to say "there is a 0.1% chance of an M>5.5 earthquake hitting this month", I think nobody could be dissatisfied. But sometimes, with no education on the receiving end to handle the information, this kind of communication can be useless and actually damaging.

    Cheers,
    T.

    Cheers,
    T.
    Gerhard Adam
    Again, I have no quarrel with your point, but by being told to "relax" as a result of the meeting, the committee set a cost function out to the populace.  Scientists aren't the first group to feel political pressure, and my point is that their behavior was naive at best.

    This wasn't a technical conference.  Every participant knew exactly what was expected of them and also knew where the comments were going to be directed.  If I specifically give you advice regarding your safety, I can't hide behind the scientifically vague presumption of uncertainty.  We aren't discussing the science at that point, we are discussing your safety.

    Surge forecasts are a bit different because it isn't like such predictions are simplistically yes or no.  As a result, people are more prepared to react.  However, I expect you would be just as incensed if someone predicted that there would be no surge.  While you might know better than to believe such an assertion, would you really feel that they had acted responsibly in making such a claim?

    This wasn't a prediction about when, specifically, an earthquake would occur, nor was it a prediction about the proposed magnitude of the earthquake.  All of those predictions would have been taken with a large grain of salt.  It was specifically about no earthquake occurring.

    Now you can argue that the people were uneducated or even gullible, but I would argue that the scientists are even more guilty, because they knew that they couldn't make a prediction and yet made one anyway [based on probabilities]. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hfarmer
    Your totally right.  While it is a really bad sign that these sort of charges would even be brought to court that is just a symptom of the real problems.  
    Perhaps it is simpler than P values and standard deviations.  The average person simply needs to under stand that a small chance of 0.0002 isn't the same as a chance of 0.0 .    

    Basic numerical understanding is all it would take to solve many of these problems.   Most school children are never introduced to very small or very large numbers before college.  So when the general public hears numbers like one hundred thousandth or 16 trillion they don't really understand them. 
     


    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Gerhard Adam
    Basic numerical understanding is all it would take to solve many of these problems.
    I have to disagree.  Many of these problems would go away if people would simply admit when they don't know instead of constantly trying to formulate answers to questions impossible to answer.

    What is the basis for assigning a probability to any event that one can't predict by any measure?
    Mundus vult decipi
    What is the basis for assigning a probability to any event that one can't predict by any measure?
    None whatsoever. But that was not what they did. Nor is anyone except yourself suggesting any such thing.

    It is always possible to make predictions based on theoretical models. You don't need a series of very similar prior events. In fact even relying on similar events to yield a frequency can only work if you have a means for recognising "similar events" and this means interpreting data according to a model.
    Gerhard Adam
    It is always possible to make predictions based on theoretical models.
    Yes, but then one can't hide behind the excuse that such predictions are impossible. 
    Nor is anyone except yourself suggesting any such thing.
    Of course it's being suggested.  Why discuss p-values for a phenomenon that is impossible to predict?
    Mundus vult decipi
    dorigo
    (I think you do not dispute this, but to be clear):
    Well, of course a p-value can be defined even in the absence of a solid prediction. One looks at the historical data. For instance, I think I remember that the last big one in the region of L'Aquila was some 300 years back. So one has simply a p-value computed assuming half of the mean time between strong quakes has passed since then (this is assuming a flat distribution etc.). That makes a prediction of p=0.016% per month or so. How big is the error ? It is of course quite large, being based on just one event! But it is a reasonable basis. One can then add all available data on how often a series of shocks of low entity precedes a big quake, taking homogeneous data among all historical data on earthquakes worldwide (e.g. one would choose tectonic situations not far from that of central Italy). This would lead the p-value to probably increase by one order of magnitude or so. I believe scientists can and should do these calculations - in fact one of the charges against them is that they did not produce a well though-over estimate...

    Cheers,
    T.
    Gerhard Adam
    You're right, I don't dispute this.  However, this also renders the claim that earthquakes are impossible to predict an irrelevant excuse.  Therefore, the inability to accurately predict an earthquake is not a defense when a prediction has been made.

    After all, the argument has been that the verdict was foolish since everyone knows that no one can predict earthquakes, and yet here we have a prediction.
    Mundus vult decipi
    dorigo
    No, here we part. "predicting an earthquake" does not mean "evaluating the probability that an earthquake will strike", nor vice-versa. The webster's gives:

    To predict: to declare or indicate in advance; especially : foretell on the basis of observation, experience, or scientific reason

    So, predicting an earthquake means to indicate it will strike. This nobody can do, as already stated.

    Cheers,
    T.
    Stellare
    Hi Gerhard,

    We cannot predict earthquakes. You'll find a quick introduction to the way we talk about disaster management here. We do not even talk about earthquake forecasts as we talk about weather forecasts for instance. Assessing the risk is easier geographically. It is the time paramenter that cannot be said much if anything about. People do live comfortably with high risk - just look at California!

    Here you can see where there is expected a major event (and events that have taken place already)
    Geohazard Supersites
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Gerhard Adam
    Bente. 

    Thanks for responding, and yes, I fully understand that we cannot predict earthquakes and I also appreciate the role of disaster and even risk management of population centers.

    However, as I've stated elsewhere this also places a tremendous responsibility on those in charge, because a mistake, a misinterpretation, or even a casual statement can have dramatic consequences to the population affected.

    In my understanding of this situation, the problem wasn't the inability to predict earthquakes, since everyone accepts that.  The problem is that the science become conflated with political expediency, so that the citizens were left with the impression [rightly or wrongly] that there was negligible or even zero risk of an earthquake.  Part of this occurred because of rationalizing that the tremors felt previously released pent-up energy which sounded like a reasonable explanation to many people.

    I also understand the need/desire of the leadership to avoid panic, which is precisely why their actions are baffling.  It would seem that the prudent choice would have been to tell people that since earthquakes cannot be predicted, reliably, and given the seismic activity of the region, that people needed to remain vigilante for changes that might indicate a change to more serious events. 

    As you said, people can be quite used to living in high risk areas, which is why the blanket reassurance that nothing would happen is so inexplicable.  Surely these people understood their potential exposure, and a little bit of caution [and potentially a lot more scientists on the ground trying to collect real data] could have made a much more realistic assessment.

    As indicated in your linked article.  I expect that if people had been told that the risk of an earthquake could not be predicted, so there could be a large one tomorrow or ten years from now, they would have understood that better than assigning a low probability which effectively was interpreted as indicating that no earthquake would occur.

    There is little more annoying than listening to an "expert" or leadership relying on experts that effectively communicates no information and essentially leaves it up to me to make the decision.  Such commentary is worse than not saying anything at all.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Stellare
    You point to the dissemination part of disaster management. One of the tricky parts of that is the amount of trust a certain population has in its authorities. For a Norwegian for instance, it is surprising to hear about cultures where the population has the exact opposite sentiment towards authorities than trust...:-) It varies with the culture. That again raises another tricky problem to solve. How do you communicate risk or disaster related information in areas with lots of tourists from all over the world?

    Communication is difficult! :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Basic numerical understanding is all it would take
    Are you saying people are so stupid they will base a life-and-death choice - not a split second decision in an emergency but coolly and with hours or days to consider it - on a few weasel words that they have heard from a politician whom they wouldn't trust with a bucket of manure at any other time and whose bland words rest on the tacit assumption that experts are infallible little gods, despite the evidence to the contrary that we are bombarded with every moment of the day?

    It has to be more than that. Or perhaps the word "all" is inappropriate. I suspect that numeracy or even a sense of quantity is systematically expunged from kids' minds by our schooling system. Merely filling the gap with a bit of numerical understanding is not enough. We create "good productive members of society" in factory-like conditioning centres dedicated to teaching our children to take their place in the money machine, working - what a numerical coincidence - NOT! - most of their waking hours with just 30 minutes off at playtime and then, well it's homework time! And for what? For paper money printed to order, whose sole value is the pious hope that the government will tax us enough to pay for it. Meanwhile we borrow, from the banks, barrow-loads of money that they have not got and pay them interest on it. It's all a gigantic fraud and could not possibly survive if people had the slightest clue about numbers. 

    But people are not stupid. Ergo, they are conditioned out of any sense of number and only professionals who need to use the things in their work ever recover it.

    Feel free to request another rant at any time.



    Hfarmer
    Are you saying people are so stupid they will base a life-and-death choice - not a split second decision in an emergency but coolly and with hours or days to consider it - on a few weasel words that they have heard from a politician whom they wouldn't trust with a bucket of manure at any other time and whose bland words rest on the tacit assumption that experts are infallible little gods, despite the evidence to the contrary that we are bombarded with every moment of the day?


    Yes. 

    But not because they think experts are gods, they think experts are experts.  They bow to the expertise of others and don't apply a modicum of critical and independent thought.  That is why people have leaders, that is why employed scientist have the privilege of relatively secure jobs.    

    Thinking is the hardest thing we humans do. It is why we are what we are. 
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Gerhard Adam
    But not because they think experts are gods, they think experts are experts.  They bow to the expertise of others and don't apply a modicum of critical and independent thought.
    This is often raised as a reasonable doubt regarding people's attitudes towards experts, but isn't that precisely why we have experts?  Are we to assume that every time we get on a plane we need to be skeptical of the pilot's decisions?  Are we to presume that we need to have a consensus of doctors in the surgery suite because we need to retain a healthy skepticism?

    Our society is structured in such a way so that no individual can ever possess enough expertise for the decisions they have to make.  As a result, the "expert" becomes the spokesperson for what is accepted knowledge and even "wisdom".  So, how does a layperson respond?

    This simply gives rise to superstition, pseudoscience, and even anti-scientific sentiments which is precisely what is being witnessed around the globe.  Wonder why people question vaccines?  Wonder why people question GMO's?  This is the reason, because every time experts fail, the layperson is chastised for not being more of a critical thinker.  Well, you can bet they're critically thinking now, but then, scientists don't like the results.

    You don't get to claim expertise without also claiming the liability and responsibility such a position requires.  Unlike most other experts, scientists assume that they have no liability for their views and [despite the exaggeration of the charges and verdict], this is a clear message that the population aims to begin holding them accountable.  If the science is incomplete, then they need to keep quiet and stop lending their credibility to questionable or even impossible claims.

    After all, what would increased scientific knowledge or numeracy have achieved?  Do we really want people to discount the opinions of experts, because they say things out of political expediency and we want the public to think for themselves?  If that's the case, then let's dispense with the experts, because their only contribution is just another layer of noise.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    This article just proves that scientists want to desperately excuse their increasing misinforming, here for example by that people are too stupid anyway or so. But see, this is precisely the point: Information politics is the task of politics, and politicians may like to use scientific insights about stupidity for that, but the task of scientists is not to be political, which simply renders science no longer trustworthy. Your task as a scientist is to inform accurately! They objectively misinformed, playing down the risk - no matter how many times you selectively quote in order to make it appear as if they were not actively misinforming. Modern society separates politics, law, law-enforcement, religion, etc., to be "secular" in that way, and this happens for very good reasons that many of you narrow minded scientists do not grasp because you think social science does not matter. Any single force who wants to ursurp the other powers, like the scientific community ever more desires, needs to from time to time get a little hint, and sometimes that hurts.

    You guys are too political as it is. Get back to talking about what you actually know about and otherwise shut up. Nothing bad would have happened if those scientists had just informed about the probabilities relative to certain assumptions put into certain models saying "we are unsure about the applicability of these models". However, they were too proud to do so, because hyping is what the scientific community today strongly selects for. The scientific community is at fault here. Politics needs to intervene and reform it.
    Agreed except that you should distinguish between your moral assertion:
    Your task as a scientist is to inform accurately!
    and your prescription:
    Any single force who wants to ursurp the other powers, like the scientific community ever more desires, needs to from time to time get a little hint, and sometimes that hurts.
    Perhaps that is true in general terms, but the indignation expressed here is not that some scientists have been called to book, but that the punishment seems draconian and is concentrated on a small number of individuals. "I am going to make an example of you" is never good justice.

    I think a lot of people would agree that science advisors need to be accountable. The question is, is this desirable for the sake of the officials and population who are affected by their statements, or for the sake of the integrity of science? You make a strong point but it's buried in the emotional conflict between indignation at the scientists' arrogance and indignation at the harsh sentences.

    Or maybe you just have your didactic hat on? :)


    vongehr
    Derek, just to be 100% clear on this: I think the guys should be going to jail precisely as long as anybody found selling a pound of pot!
    dorigo
    > However, they were too proud to do so, because hyping is what the scientific community today strongly selects for.

    You are badly uninformed. Pride has nothing to do with their seconding political pressures; corruption maybe. You are excused for not knowing Italian politics and the facts of April 2009, but it is depressing to see you giving lessons from the top of your lack of input.

    Cheers,
    T.
    vongehr
    I was of course writing about the pride that you guys are in systematic denial about. BTW: Having arguments is usually a better way to show that somebody else is supposedly misinformed, better than just claiming so, which is effectively an admission of defeat. I have worked in more disciplines than you ever will, and I know about how scientists are selected for their ability to hype. That you are as usual unable to even consider this simply supports the point nicely.
    John Hasenkam
    The alternative of speaking about p-values could be to make a global risk analysis for the average citizen, and report only the final result of that. 

    Never use p-values to express risk to the wider public. The majority of people do not even study statistics in high school and even if they did they forget most of it weeks after the exam. Use natural frequencies, express the risk in relative terms. Tommaso you are appear to be making a mistake that is common amongst scientists: oh sure the public will understand ... you have perhaps forgotten the gulf between your understanding and the general public's understanding. What is habit for you is Sisyphean for the majority. 


    My impression, anyway, is that we first need to change our society, fostering more education to scientific and quantitative information.


    There are studies indicating that even people trained in statistics have trouble determining risk from statistical analyses. They do better with graphs and analogies. One of my favourites is saying to people ... if you're worried about that stop crossing the road. 


    Perhaps this will help: in my first year at high school everyone had to do maths. In my last year at high school there was a fraction of us doing advanced maths. At Uni one course with the highest failure rate was a general first year course in statistics. 


    The bottomline is my whole starting point, the motivation for writing this blog - as scientists and informed citizens it is our duty to educate the public to rational thinking. 


    A worthy goal but it takes years of continually sending the message. Keep it up. I've learnt a lot here. 
    lumidek
    I agree with Tommaso more than with any commenter. First of all, the bottom line - that it's a noble goal to try to educate the public about rational thinking and statistics - is something I entirely endorse.
    If some politicians were distorting the message the scientists are publishing, it's wrong but it's primarily the politicians' fault. But I don't really see any evidence that what the seismologists said reflected anything else than their expert judgement about the situation.

    The laymen may misunderstand the term "p-value" but one can surely express the same idea differently. One may say that chances are 1:10,000 that an earthquake greater than XY will occur. One may say that it means that if we faced the same situation like we face today about 10,000 times, only once in those cases we would be greeted by a large earthquake above XY within weeks. One may compare the probabilities to various other probabilities - of getting a disease, being a victim of a car accident, and so on.

    It seems to me that the debate about the cost function is irrelevant, too. If the seismologists evaluated that the chance was 1 in 10,000 that an earthquake of this magnitude or larger would take place within two weeks, then one may calculate - independently of any cost function - that the probability of dying in a hysterical evacuation procedure is actually larger than the probability of dying because of the possible earthquake. We only need some car accident statistics to complete this estimate.

    It's enough that you don't care whether you are crashed by a house above you or by a car around you. As long as you're neutral about these two possible causes of death, the expert information was already enough to determine that it was a better idea to stay in town and do nothing than to evacuate. The conclusion doesn't depend on any cost functions because the costs and benefits may be expressed in the units of your life, whatever value you assign to it. Today, we know that this conclusion was wrong for that particular situation - the citizens would have benefited if they evacuated the town - but it was the bad luck of the L'Aquila folks in 2009. No one could have known it before the earthquake and even today, there's no evidence that the big earthquake was anything else than bad luck and no evidence that the radon gas method used by Mr Giuliani (and others across the world) is a more reliable method to predict earthquakes than what is used - Giuliani had "good luck" in guessing the right answer much like everyone else had bad luck.
    If we can't manage to explain the public - and sometimes even folks who angrily scream and claim that they understand science but they don't - that certain events depend on luck and probabilities are the best things we can determine (but probabilities different from 0 and 1 always mean that both things may happen and one event of this sort doesn't contradict a statement that the probability is close to 0 or 1), then it's just bad. Luck is an inevitable part of Nature. In classical statistical physics, chance may have been imagined to be due to our practical limitations and ignorance. Quantum mechanics shows that chance is fundamentally incorporated into the most fundamental laws of physics. It's just bad if some people don't understand that L'Aquila folks could have had bad luck and no human - and no scientists - are responsible for that bad luck.


    Things like earthquake may only be predicted statistically and to judge whether a framework to make such predictions is good or accurate - or better than another method - we simply need to look at many more predictions and events than one event! It may be a good contest to declare a loser after one prediction of this sort but it's simply not scientific because the winners and losers are rather likely to be winners or losers because of their good luck and bad luck respectively. Science simply can't and shouldn't reach "authoritative conclusions" by observations whose actual cause is good or bad luck. Too bad so many people don't get this point.
    Stellare
    Spot on and well written, Lubos!
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    lumidek
    Thanks, Bente, your Scandinavian female compliment is appreciated even more so than if it were an Italian male one! ;-)
    Stellare
    Well, I think you can be even more flattered by my compliment if you also take into consideration that I am an expert on disaster management - including early warning systems.....;-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    lumidek
    Wow, that would really make my day, Bente, if I gave a damn about a similar kind of expertise. ;-)
    Stellare
    Ok, noted. Scandinavian female it is then. ;-)
    We all have our weaknesses.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    k, noted. Scandinavian female it is then. ;-)
    Indeed, while it may not be the preferred metric for credibility, we have to take our victories where we can get them!
    Stellare
    Hahaha
    I absorbed that acknowledgement of credibility instantly. Then I got too greedy and was punished. :-)

    I think it is safe to say that Lubos could be carachterized as a mental hazard here on the net (I do not think he is that much of an hazard in real life) so perhaps a businessidea could be to develop LEWS: a Lubos Early Warning System. It would be based on probabilistic methods of course. Any attempt of empirical adjustments would be in total vain I fear. In that respect harder than early warnings of earthquakes (which is impossible).

    Oh, well! I have to return to my deadlines now and stop being ridiculous. hahaha
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    lumidek
    Very funny, Bente. ;-) BTW don't you want to write a guest blog on my blog?
    Chris Austin

    I agree with Luboš that the significance of a chance of 0.0001% is more readily understood when expressed as "1 in a million."

    Everyone knows that the chance of winning a big prize on a National Lottery is extremely small, but people do win the big prizes, so extremely small is not the same as zero.

    lumidek
    Dear Chris, whether the chance of winning this lottery is practically zero depends on whether you take the "look-elsewhere" correction into account. Here, "look elsewhere" means "look into other people's wallets". ;-)
    If I don't look at other people's wallets, my chances of winning are less than 1 in a million which is impossible at the 5-sigma level, so I can't win it, and my winning a lottery would probably falsify the null hypothesis and prove that I was chosen by God or something like that. On the other hand, when the look-elsewhere correction is incorporated, (someone's) winning the lottery has chances above 50%, so it's not even a 1-sigma effect, and if someone (someone else, of course) wins, it proves nothing.
    dorigo
    I salute the return of Lubos to this column - Lubos was missed here because, despite his at times extremistic texts, he brings content in the discussions.
    Cheers,
    T.