Trump –> Armageddon: A Few Scenarios

 

The Sweet Meteor of Death. Credit: @smod2016Yesterday Genferei made a request:

Claire: Try to write a scenario where Trump causes Armageddon. Don’t leave out any steps or resort to hand-waving or amateur psychology or appeals to authority. Don’t forget there are a squillion hangers-on, advisers and career civil servants and/or soldiers involved. Perhaps you’ll convince us. The “I don’t know but it feels scary” isn’t convincing me.

Great question, and exactly why I love Ricochet: Sooner or later, someone’s going to point out exactly where your argument’s a little vague or flabby, and you’ll either tighten up your argument or change your mind, both or which are good outcomes.

It’s going to take me a couple of weeks to make this case, because I want to do this carefully. I don’t want to write a book in a single post, then come back to see all the tl;drs at the end. So here are the the argument I’ll make in the coming weeks, not necessarily exactly in this order:

  1. I’ll argue that a nuclear war, even a limited one, would be a catastrophe for the United States, as would a major global war like the First or Second World War. I’ll also note that we now face a number of other, very serious, national security threats.
  2. I’ll argue that the probability of the outbreak of such a war in the next president’s term or terms is greater than it has been since the end of the Cold War, and greater than at many points during the Cold War. I believe the probability will be unusually high no matter who’s elected president. My argument will be based on fairly standard and widely-accepted theories about why wars among great powers break out.
  3. To draw analogies that may be relevant, I’ll look at the origins of previous great-power conflicts, particularly the First and Second World Wars, but also at other unusually catastrophic and costly wars that broke out among powers akin to the United States and its present-day competitors. (I’ll also explain why I think they’re relevantly similar.)
  4. I may also consider the risk of civil war, and why it might be slightly higher under Trump than other presidents, although I still think it’s quite unlikely.
  5. I’ll describe in some detail the nuclear near-misses of the Cold War, some of which may still be unknown to all of you, and more of which, I’d assume, are unknown to all of us. I’ll see if we can draw relevant conclusions about why these near-misses didn’t become misses. (Tangential: Why do we call it a “near-miss?” Surely we mean a “near-launch?” Anyone know?) I’ll argue that because we’ve been very lucky from 1945 to the present, we tend to underestimate the risk and see such a war as impossible. I’ll argue that it’s not.
  6. I’ll make the argument that in matters of foreign policy and war, the US president is far less constrained by institutional checks and balances than he is in matters of domestic policy. Moreover, the powers of the executive during wartime were markedly enlarged after September 11, and few of these powers have been withdrawn.
  7. I’ll ask how many advisors, staffers, bureaucrats, hangers-on, advisers, or DoD officials truly have the power to interfere with the commander-in-chief should he make a decision they think unwise. I’ll ask, for example, “How many steps does it take to launch a nuclear weapon?” (fewer than you’d think), and ask as well what we know, historically speaking, about the willingness of soldiers to follow illegal or unwise orders. I’ll try to come up with an estimate — based on what we know of similar situations in the past — of the likelihood that his bad judgment would be questioned or his orders disobeyed in an ambiguous situation that’s widely and plausibly perceived as a great threat.
  8. I’ll walk you through several plausible scenarios in which the president would have to make very quick decisions in response to an emergency, scenarios in which the making the wrong decision would be catastrophic.
  9. I’ll sketch out what the president might do using several hypothetical versions of Donald Trump, all based on things he’s said during the campaign or my observations of him in “The Apprentice.” We don’t know which things he really means, and they often contradict each other, so I’ll try creating a number of plausible Donalds. They’ll range from “Secret-Churchill Donald” — someone who campaigns as a lying fool because he knows this is effective, but unknown to the public has an alter-ego who’s a highly-informed strategic genius surrounded by competent and experienced foreign policy advisors who challenge his assumptions ruthlessly. For this Donald I’ll assume he and his advisors share the goal of furthering American interests. On the other end of the spectrum might be “Psychopath Donald,” a man who would score a full 40 on Hare’s Psychopathy test (click the link to read what that is), and who would neither surround himself with competent advisers, nor take anyone’s advice, nor act toward any goal save that of keeping himself entertained and stimulated. I’ll then try to estimate the odds of his being or behaving as these different alters, and I’ll ask how these alters would be apt to handle the scenarios I’ve suggested in Step 7. I’ll try to sketch out a more rigorous way of calculating “odds of Armageddon” based on that.
  10. I’ll also sketch out what the world might look like if he followed through with various things he’s said he’ll do, using the most common-sensical, plain-English interpretation of his words, and argue that some of these things would be likely to raise the risk of global or thermonuclear war even higher than it already is. Some of the things he’s said are contradictory, so I’ll sketch out both or all three or four scenarios. I’ll predict the effect these actions would be apt to have based on the best historical analogies I can find. I’ll offer some evidence of how these statements, even if he has no intention of acting on them, have already changed the perception of America among its allies, enemies, non-aligned states, and terrorist entities, making us less secure. I’ll outline how they would change even more dramatically if in office he acts on his campaign promises (as best I understand them), and what the implications of this would be. I’ll make the case that even if judgements such as these are incorrect or unfair, other states will be obliged, out of an abundance of caution, to prepare for worst-case scenarios, and thus their fear of him will tend to be self-fulfilling.
  11. I’ll look at two ways he could end up making decisions, good or bad, unconstrained by the usual checks on a president’s power. The first is the “sudden shock” scenario — something like September 11, or another highly traumatic event, after which the checks on his power might literally be gone (a plane hits Congress while it’s in session, or a bomb takes out the Supreme Court), or easily overridden (think of Trump’s gift for demagoguery, of our known willingness to accede to all kinds of liberty-killing legislation in the wake of a terrorist attack, our generally poor understanding of how our government is supposed to work and the importance of checks and balances, and how easily that combination could be exploited if Americans were even more frightened than they were on September 11.).
  12. The second is the “slow accretion of untrammelled power” scenario to which I alluded in a comment yesterday. As I wrote, “His personality reminds me [not so much as Hitler but of] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. … If you look at the last line [of a piece I wrote for City Journal about Istanbul in 2010], you’ll see I wrote it when we didn’t yet know what would happen next. That what happened next has been catastrophic makes me all the more uneasy about Trump’s personality. We may have checks and balances sufficient to contain him for a while, but over the course of two terms, even enormously secure restraints can wear thin. Tayyip managed seriatum to discredit the military and imprison the top brass, stack the courts, stack the bureaucracy, quash the press, transform the Constitution, and ultimately make it impossible to get rid of him. It’s easier to do than you’d think.” In other words, I’ll sketch out the way I’ve personally seen a charismatic, shrewd and power-hungry leader undermine checks on his power that were widely believed to be nearly-failsafe.

That’s twelve posts, which I’ll work through over the coming two weeks. Genferei, would you consider the challenge met if by this line of reasoning I derive, “Armageddon is a higher risk with Donald Trump in office than it is with any other plausible aspirant to the presidency?” If not, does this mean that no argument would convince you, or does it mean you’re looking for a different kind of argument? If so, what kind of argument would that be?

(A closing thought: I’ll make the argument more fully and seriously in days to come, but how do you reckon Donald would score on the Hare Psychopathy test? Genferei asked me to eschew amateur psychology — as would Hare himself — but I reckon Trump won’t be sitting down with a professional psychologist anytime soon, so what choice have we but to practice amateur psychology? Run Trump through the scale as dispassionately as you can. What number do you get, roughly?)

Published in Foreign Policy, General, History
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  1. Chuck Walla Member
    Chuck Walla
    @ChuckWalla

    Joseph Kulisics: [#109]

    Chuck Walla:

    Joseph Kulisics:

    I’m guessing that few articles mention axiomatic set theory, but the absence of mentions isn’t evidence that the authors don’t assume the modern axiomatic treatment of set theory.

    Plenty of good probability is possible without any set theory. Indeed, Jaynes explains why Venn diagrams are often a misleading crutch.

    I’m pretty sure that you’re just wrong about this.

    Your comment shows that you most likely endorse Kolmogorov’s axioms of probability, but they are not necessary.  See Appendix A.1 and Chapter 2 of Jaynes, especially pp. 47-50.  Appendix A.2 explains why your earlier example 0f de Finnetti is no Bayesian in the modern sense.  Wikipedia was wrong again!

    I don’t know why you’re talking about Venn diagrams—I didn’t think that any serious student of mathematics looked at them after fifth grade—and I can’t imagine that adults use them in any capacity to reason about probability. Venn diagrams are not axiomatic set theory. They’re a tool for illustration.

    The points in a Venn diagram are the omegas in the Kolmo system. Both can be dispensed with.  They are irrelevancies compared to the essential rules of probability, such as the sum and product rules.  (Again, pp. 47-50.)

    Axiomatic set theory is the formal foundation for arithmetic, so I doubt you can do much at all in probability without arithmetic.

    Grade schoolers can do arithmetic without set theory, so I imagine other people can too.

    The point is that axiomatic set theory isn’t controversial for people working in probability, and I doubt that anyone mentions it.

    Well, Billingsley, my teacher for three semesters of probability and measure at your school (U of C) certainly mentions set theory when discussing probability.

    Similarly, people accepting objectivity and writing articles for their peers wouldn’t be inclined to spend time discussing objectivity.

    That’s okay; if you find one paper you certify as providing estimates of objective probabilities relating to human interaction, that would be great, whether they discuss the term “objectivity” or not.

    You’re claiming that probabilities cannot be objective. You have the burden to prove that no one believes any probabilities to be objective.

    Oh I don’t claim the latter. Some people believe wild and crazy things. That’s no skin off my nose.

    Obviously, I meant that you’re disputing that others regard probabilities as objective. You should be answering that point.

    Oh I admit that some people claim objective probability all the time, since you do it.

    • #121
  2. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Chuck Walla:

    Joseph Kulisics: [#105]Finally, since the original post said the following,

    Claire: Try to write a scenario where Trump causes Armageddon. Don’t leave out any steps or resort to hand-waving or amateur psychology or appeals to authority. Don’t forget there are a squillion hangers-on, advisers and career civil servants and/or soldiers involved. Perhaps you’ll convince us. The “I don’t know but it feels scary” isn’t convincing me.

    I take the original question and the rationale for the multiple inferences in her plan for her exposition to be giving a rigorous explanation for her dislike for Trump. You’ve already acknowledged that she hasn’t made the argument rigorous yet. I’m pointing out that simply assigning a number to her dislike doesn’t make the argument rigorous.

    I’m so confused by this. How do you mean rigorous? Mathematical rigor? Set theory? Axiom of choice? I can’t imagine what you are hoping for. A mathematical proof?

    The argument needs to explain how the number makes sense. If her argument follows the outlined form, the argument will not make rigorous use of numbers. It will substitute a number for a concept that could be said equally clearly in words, she really, really doesn’t like or feel comfortable with Trump.

    Goodness. Let her say what she wants to say. I don’t expect any new mathematical theorems or perfectly objective probabilities forthcoming in this topic.

    What is your complaint about my original criticism?

    Simple. You’re asking her for objective probability estimates was over the top.

    A number or soft statement about relative magnitudes alone isn’t rigorous.

    No. No rigor is possible here, so we shouldn’t ask for the impossible.

    Her plan doesn’t appear to involve justifying any probabilities.

    You’re guessing. I think you will be wrong, unless to you justification = proof.

    Are you saying that the argument can be rigorous with arbitrary probabilities, that the argument in effect, doesn’t depend on probabilities? Why introduce them? What value do they add?

    Simple. When discussing uncertainty, whether subjective (reality) or objective (imaginary), the best language is probability.

    God bless Ricochet. I in no way believe I can predict the future well enough to offer a proof that Trump–>Armageddon. I’m responding to Genferei’s request that I sketch out scenarios under which this might happen without leaving out steps, handwaving, amateur psychology, or appeals to authority. I’ll consider myself to have satisfied the criteria if:

    1. readers agree that these scenarios are plausible, not fantastical;
    2. more plausible if we assume Trump is president than if we assume a president who is a) more familiar with the mechanics of diplomacy, foreign affairs, and governance, and b) more likely to receive and respect the advice of people who are familiar with the mechanics of diplomacy, foreign affairs, and governance.

    All of this is assuming Genferei would consider a response such as the one I outlined an adequate response to his request. He hasn’t yet replied, so I assume either he hasn’t yet seen my question or hasn’t yet had a chance to answer. If he has a different form of argument in mind, I’d like to give him a chance to clarify his question and specify what kind of argument would satisfy him.

    I’m happy to see if I can make the case in a way that would satisfy either of you, as well: If you set out a form of argument that you’d find better than “I feel this,” given the kind of problem this is, I’ll see if I can make the argument in that form. Obviously, if you think any kind of judgment about human behavior can be reduced to “I feel this,” then there’s no point in my saying anything more than “I feel bad about Trump.”

    I think we’d all agree that predicting the behavior of dynamic systems is very tricky and prone to model and initial condition errors. I make no claim of an ability to predict the future of international relations to a degree of accuracy that would satisfy the standards of a climate scientist, no less a physicist. Nor do I wish to dress up “my opinion” in purely ornamental mathematics.

    But I may note, as part of my argument, that it’s common for transitions between states in  complex systems to be rapid, not gradual; that it’s possible this is also true of international relations; and that in other such systems, this often reflects small-scale perturbations in controlling variables. Quite a bit of work has been done in international relations theory to try to model international relations as a nonlinear dynamical system, and some of that work might be worth thinking about in this context. Or it might not be: I’ve never been persuaded that this model generates more reliable predictions than other major theories in IR.

    • #122
  3. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:As a mathematician, I think you must know that an existence proof by way of a single example is orders of magnitude easier than that a proof that no example can be found. I’m probably not going to be able to provide a Godel-level proof of no possible example. If you are sure that one example exists, please show it. Otherwise, I feel safe in assuming you have none.

    Again, you offer a bit of sophistry instead of an argument or evidence. The sophistry is that proof that something doesn’t exist is orders of magnitude more difficult than finding one example of something. The claim is only slightly less obtuse than the common, incorrect claim that you can’t prove a negative. Here’s an easily established non-existence claim: there is no rational number whose square is two. Here’s a claim requiring you to find a single example to verify the claim: there are prime numbers differing by two and greater than a million.

    • #123
  4. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:

    Axiomatic set theory is the formal foundation for arithmetic, so I doubt you can do much at all in probability without arithmetic.

    Grade schoolers can do arithmetic without set theory, so I imagine other people can too.

    Again, you side-stepped the point. The point was that there’s no reason for most papers in these fields to discuss interpretation and take a position on objectivity in the same way that there is no reason for them to discuss set theory. Even in admitting that set theory underlies probability as all other mathematics, you’ve not produced a paper acknowledging the fact. You referred to lectures in school. You’re insisting that I give you a paper when I’ve given you far more and higher quality evidence of objectivity in interpretation of probability than the piddling evidence that you’ve given for set theory.

    My point wasn’t that first-graders couldn’t do arithmetic without discussing set theory. My point was exactly the opposite. Though it is the theoretical underpinning of the most common formalization of arithmetic, you won’t see anyone doing arithmetic discuss it, especially children, and you won’t see anyone simply doing arithmetic defend or dispute it. You’re making the ludicrous request that I find papers on systems reliability or a similar field that deal with probability interpretation, which would be deep background material and not foreground material. I gave you direct references. That proves the point.

    • #124
  5. Chuck Walla Member
    Chuck Walla
    @ChuckWalla

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: I’m happy to see if I can make the case in a way that would satisfy either of you, as well: If you set out a form of argument that you’d find better than “I feel this,” given the kind of problem this is, I’ll see if I can make the argument in that form.

    I am very happy with your OP, Claire, and I especially hope you go forward with the project.  Actually, it would be uniquely interesting.

    I would like it if you use probability numbers (or odds, etc.) sometimes to clarify your degrees of belief.  I have never asked for rigor from you in this endeavor, because I believe that would be a silly request.

    • #125
  6. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:Oh I admit that some people claim objective probability all the time, since you do it.

    This is clearly not what I said. (Quote me to prove otherwise.) From our first interaction, I acknowledge probability as a measure of belief as a textbook area in the subject. I didn’t accept the casual assertion of probabilities in this case as distinguishable from the writer’s subjective opinion of Trump.

    • #126
  7. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:Your comment shows that you most likely endorse Kolmogorov’s axioms of probability, but they are not necessary. See Appendix A.1 and Chapter 2 of Jaynes, especially pp. 47-50. Appendix A.2 explains why your earlier example 0f de Finnetti is no Bayesian in the modern sense. Wikipedia was wrong again!

    You seem to have no word limit, but you couldn’t go to the trouble to make this clear. I really have no idea what you’re saying. I quoted text from Wikipedia. The text follows.

    Bayesians point to the work of Ramsey[10] (p 182) and de Finetti[8] (p 103) as proving that subjective beliefs must follow the laws of probability if they are to be coherent.[25] Evidence casts doubt that humans will have coherent beliefs.[26][27]

    I didn’t quote the text to connect de Finetti with any particular school of thought—the quote only intended to support the claim that subjective probabilities should follow laws of probability to be coherent and the claim that humans don’t typically make coherent estimates subjectively—but the text takes no position on de Finetti being a Bayesian. I don’t follow your complaint. It appears that you misread the Wikipedia quote because the text only says that Bayesians point to his work.

    • #127
  8. Chuck Walla Member
    Chuck Walla
    @ChuckWalla

    Joseph Kulisics: [#112]

    Chuck Walla:If I claim that purple unicorns are everywhere but you don’t agree, is the burden on you to scan all animals on the planet and show they are not purple unicorns, or is the burden on me to show you one simple single example of an actual purple unicorn? I say the latter.

    The analogy is defective. You said that no one takes probability to be objective under any circumstances or interpretation.

    That is not what I was attempting to say.  Obviously, many people claim objective probability in many cases, but they are wrong in all interesting cases involving estimates of the probability of events involving human interactions.

    • #128
  9. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:I think we’d all agree that predicting the behavior of dynamic systems is very tricky and prone to model and initial condition errors. I make no claim of an ability to predict the future of international relations to a degree of accuracy that would satisfy the standards of a climate scientist, no less a physicist. Nor do I wish to dress up “my opinion” in purely ornamental mathematics.

    I have no doubt that you’re sincere, but I’ve grown quite tired of the hysteria about Trump. Sincerity doesn’t justify hysterical fear. I didn’t support Trump; I voted for Cruz. I don’t even like Trump—because he attacked Rosie O’Donnell as fat, he’s the kind of guy that my mother would have hated, and sometimes, his personality makes me shudder—but I won’t let my personal feelings cloud my judgment. He is running for office for the first time at nearly seventy. I see no evidence of worrying political ambition. I have seen no evidence of the kind of recklessness that you seem to assume. I want to see hard evidence that he is something worse than simply brash. Without seeing the rigorous argument based on the evidence of his past or other measurable characteristics, for example, something like impulsive business decisions, not mistakes but poorly thought out strategies, I have to consider voting for Clinton over Trump to be an emotional reaction.

    • #129
  10. Chuck Walla Member
    Chuck Walla
    @ChuckWalla

    Joseph Kulisics: [#115]

    Chuck Walla:Oh, if all you want me to admit is that some people believe … whatever, I am sure they do think so, and I admit

    Then it’s settled. There are schools of interpretation of probability with an objective view. I gave you the Wikipedia article. It named textbooks on the subject by academics. That is sufficient to prove the claim.

    Of course I admit:  Many people, especially academics, make nonsensical claims of personal objectivity.

    You’re asking for an article instead of accepting the cited Wikipedia article and its included references as a cheap ploy to try to sustain an incorrect claim.

    I like your term “cheap ploy.”  It is a terrific exercise of convincing rhetoric.

    If you think any reference in any article links to an example like I keep asking for, please cite that specific reference.

    It’s a cheap ploy because I’m obviously not sitting in a library with a searchable index, and even if I were, no burden of proof requires an article instead of a textbook or a Google search. (I should have done the Google search an hour ago; every business site defines the concept, which would be odd if no one subscribed to the idea, and the first page of results produces articles and quotations from academic articles.)

    If there is a single good one, please say so.  If you have none, okay, admit it.

    Objective interpretations of probability are one of the main interpretive frameworks. You’ve offered nothing to say that they aren’t, but you continue to assert that they aren’t or that probabilities aren’t ever objective.

    Interesting real-world probabilities involving human interactions are never objective, but if you are talking about perfectly fair coins with perfectly independent tosses, then your inferences from that can be objective

    • #130
  11. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:That is not what I was attempting to say. Obviously, many people claim objective probability in many cases, but they are wrong in all interesting cases involving estimates of the probability of events involving human interactions.

    I don’t know that many people who follow objective interpretations of probability try to apply it to human interactions (opinions) at all. This is where we disagree. Subjective probability and objective probability might as well be two different fields, and in a lot of cases, the talk of subjective probability appears to me to just aim to create an illusion of rigor around naked opinions. There are rigorous uses of probability in subjective areas, but we’re reading a post on Ricochet, not FiveThirtyEight. I doubt that Nate Silverman would give a seal of approval to what I expect to be opinions formed from a small set of biased or out-of-context, thirdhand reports. If there’s going to be more to the argument, that’s great, but I’m not going to accept as evidence one other person’s unjustified understanding of the probability of an event when it differs radically from what I imagine the probability to be.

    • #131
  12. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Joseph Kulisics: Without seeing the rigorous argument based on the evidence of his past or other measurable characteristics, for example, something like impulsive business decisions, not mistakes but poorly thought out strategies, I have to consider voting for Clinton over Trump to be an emotional reaction.

    Fair enough. I assume then that for you a satisfying argument would be one in which I show that he is either a) impulsive; or b) has a history of poorly thought-out strategies. Would that be sufficient? Are there other criteria that would satisfy you? Can you say a bit more about how you measure “impulsive” and “bad strategist?”

    • #132
  13. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:

    and the first page of results produces articles and quotations from academic articles.)

    If there is a single good one, please say so. If you have none, okay, admit it.

    People can follow the links for themselves. I’ve answered you. I linked articles. You made the ridiculous claim that not even in the area of systems reliability engineering and mean time to failure data do people interpret probabilities objectively, and you did not provide one single piece of evidence to back up the claim. Defining the data set is not subjectively arriving at a probability. Picking a starting point in time is not subjectively arriving at the probability. They are decisions about the boundaries of the experiment and samples space, and once established, the probabilities that are measured and calculated are not subject to opinion. Decisions don’t taint the whole enterprise as subjective, and I’ve never seen you produce a reference, any reference, to the contrary. The Bayesian probability article says the same thing.

    Broadly speaking, there are two views on Bayesian probability that interpret the probability concept in different ways. According to the objectivist view, the rules of Bayesian statistics can be justified by requirements of rationality and consistency and interpreted as an extension of logic.[1][6] According to the subjectivist view, probability quantifies a “personal belief”.[2]

    • #133
  14. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Here is chapter 2 of a Springer-Verlag book on systems reliability engineering. It clearly described the use of objective probabilities as one aspect of systems reliability engineering. Here’s a quote:

    In the context of PRA, uncertainty is conveniently distinguished into two different types: randomness due to inherent variability in the system (i.e., in the population of outcomes of its stochastic process of behavior) and imprecision due to lack of knowledge and information on the system. The former type of uncertainty is often referred to as objective, aleatory or stochastic whereas the latter is often referred to as subjective, epistemic, or state-of-knowledge [26–29]. Probability models are introduced to represent the aleatory uncertainties, for example a Poisson model to represent the variation in the number of events occurring in a period of time.

    • #134
  15. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    MTTF estimates and the resulting probabilities of failure are not considered subjective. They’re not guesses. They’re either the result of experiments or calculated from other objectively measured or derived quantities.
    You big move here is to disagree with, well, every academic reference by trying to efface a difference that all of them recognize just so that you can effortlessly brand pure opinion as somehow rigorous.

    • #135
  16. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Joseph Kulisics: Without seeing the rigorous argument based on the evidence of his past or other measurable characteristics, for example, something like impulsive business decisions, not mistakes but poorly thought out strategies, I have to consider voting for Clinton over Trump to be an emotional reaction.

    Fair enough. I assume then that for you a satisfying argument would be one in which I show that he is either a) impulsive; or b) has a history of poorly thought-out strategies. Would that be sufficient? Are there other criteria that would satisfy you? Can you say a bit more about how you measure “impulsive” and “bad strategist?”

    Well, any proposal is fine by me. As a first attempt, I’d suggest finding evidence of situations where he spent more money on an endeavor than he could expect to recover. For example, he is criticized often for suing people, but suing people is common in America. Has he ever sued someone who was judgment-proof or sued when there was clearly no damage to his position? (Threats of lawsuits don’t count as a problem because they carry no cost.) I’d like to see some kind of pattern of behavior along these lines. A history of personal violence might be an indicator of impulsiveness. (Think of Clinton’s sexual assaults.) Do you have a suggestion?

    • #136
  17. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Chuck Walla:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: …

    I am very happy with your OP, Claire, and I especially hope you go forward with the project. Actually, it would be uniquely interesting.

    I would like it if you use probability numbers (or odds, etc.) sometimes to clarify your degrees of belief. I have never asked for rigor from you in this endeavor, because I believe that would be a silly request.

    Wouldn’t that be the silliest thing ever on Ricochet.  Yes, let us all here at Ricochet start giving probabilities for our opinions.  What a delightful swath we will cut through the blogosphere.  (“Mabel, did you hear that there’s this blog site – ‘Ricochet’ they call it – using probabilities instead of opinions.  No that isn’t right, I mean they are using Bayesian methods for all their “analyses”, and because they are they can arrive at probabilities instead of just opinions.  Oh, isn’t this the greatest!”

    PS. I believe, no make that I have scientifically analyzed the likelihood of Mr. Walla responding to this post as ~98.7% (with conditional probability if he does, of 100.000001% that his response will be recondite and dismissive in tone), and of Ms. Berlinski responding of ~87.32% – 92.4%) – the range to my uncertainty caused by whether she is ignoring me today.  Of course, if she does not respond that would not refute my prediction, because…math.

    (BTW, I use Bayes statistics every day on job, in case you’re interested.)

    • #137
  18. Chuck Walla Member
    Chuck Walla
    @ChuckWalla

    Joseph Kulisics: [#118]

    Chuck Walla:

    Joseph Kulisics: [#108]

    Chuck Walla:And that proves that weather probabilities are not perfectly objective. Thanks!

    ob·jec·tive
    əbˈjektiv/Submit
    adjective
    1.
    (of a person or their judgment) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

    No, this proves the opposite. If two people start with different data and get different results, the probabilities that they calculated are not dependent on their opinions. One or both could be wrong or have incomplete information, but they aren’t making up values. Their conclusions are reproducible from the data, in other words, not subjective.

    The choice of data is to use and believe in is subjective. We have choice as to what data to use, what model to use, what weights to use, etc., all of which are subjective.

    This is not a comment on the probability. It’s a comment on the experiment. Once the data is accepted, the calculation of the probability is objective and reproducible.

    But the choice of experiment and the choice of variables to watch and the choice of methods to use, such as significance level and functional form and removal of outliers, are subjective, and since they all affect the final answer, the final answer is subjective too.

    • #138
  19. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Joseph Kulisics:

    Probabilities of system failure are derived from empirical evidence like mean times to failure, not beliefs or guesses, not subjective evidence.

    Indeed, probability of failure is given by the formula:

    Pf = e^(-t/MTBF)

    Where Pf = probability of failure

    t= time in use

    MTBF = Mean Time Between Failure

    • #139
  20. Elisabeth Inactive
    Elisabeth
    @Elisabeth

    Sounds like an e-book in the making.  I’d buy it, Claire, and I bet I’m not the only one.  The whole country is doing a risk assessment of our various remaining options for what used to be known as Leader of the Free World.

    • #140
  21. Chuck Walla Member
    Chuck Walla
    @ChuckWalla

    Joseph Kulisics: [#124]

    Chuck Walla:

    Axiomatic set theory is the formal foundation for arithmetic, so I doubt you can do much at all in probability without arithmetic.

    Grade schoolers can do arithmetic without set theory, so I imagine other people can too.

    Again, you side-stepped the point. The point was that there’s no reason for most papers in these fields to discuss interpretation and take a position on objectivity in the same way that there is no reason for them to discuss set theory.

    My request for you is to give one example of a paper on human interactions that involves only objective probability.  The paper doesn’t have to use the word “objective” to satisfy my request.  If you think the paper’s conclusion is an objective probability of some future human event, that is exactly what I am looking for.

    I doubt such a paper exists, but you are the one making the claim, and since the number of papers is finite, and you are not claiming such a paper is in any way rare, it should be easy for you to cite one.

    It is easier for you to find one paper that supports your view than for me to look at all papers and offer proof that none of them support your view.  This is the kind of case that people are thinking of when they say it is difficult to “prove a negative.”

    Even in admitting that set theory underlies probability as all other mathematics, you’ve not produced a paper acknowledging the fact.

    I don’t depend on the Kolmogorov axioms of probability.  I consider them to be the wrong choice in many cases, for the reasons E.T. Jaynes gives.

    • #141
  22. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:But the choice of experiment and the choice of variables to watch and the choice of methods to use, such as significance level and functional form and removal of outliers, are subjective, and since they all affect the final answer, the final answer is subjective too.

    We’ve covered this ground. Theses choices define what probability you’re calculating, not the subjectivity of the particular probability as conclusion. You can make your same ridiculous claim about any analyses in the hard sciences. In physics, people often model situations by making simplifying assumptions like reducing large bodies to point masses or describing irregular bodies as belonging to abstract classes of perfect bodies. The choices in the modeling are anterior to the argument, and the existence of modeling choices doesn’t make the argument soft or subjective. It can make it correct or incorrect—it’s resulting predictions either accurately reflect reality, or they do not accurately reflect reality—but it does not make it subjective. You’re equating pure subjective opinion as results to modeling choices as preliminary assumptions. You’re essentially making the radical skeptic’s claim that because our knowledge doesn’t encompass everything at the outset, it can’t express anything, and therefore pure opinion is as good as arguments from assumptions.

    Are you really saying that a NASA engineer who models heavenly bodies as perfect spheres when planning a probe’s course is reaching subjective conclusions? Answer, please.

    • #142
  23. Chuck Walla Member
    Chuck Walla
    @ChuckWalla

    Joseph Kulisics: [#126]

    Chuck Walla:Oh I admit that some people claim objective probability all the time, since you do it.

    This is clearly not what I said. (Quote me to prove otherwise.) From our first interaction, I acknowledge probability as a measure of belief as a textbook area in the subject. I didn’t accept the casual assertion of probabilities in this case as distinguishable from the writer’s subjective opinion of Trump.

    My example for you is #88, and most of your posts thereafter.  For example, your first paragraph is this:

    Joseph Kulisics: [#88]
    Since I’m assuming that you’re not using any rigorous measure of probability, no inventory that could conceivably be applied by two different people to arrive at the same conclusion, the same numeric estimate of the probability of an event, this would have to be the latter.

    “Rigorous measure” and requiring “two different people to arrive at the same conclusion.”  These are hallmarks of objectivity.  See Chapter 1, Objectivity, in Personal Knowledge, by Michael Polanyi.  The book is simply magnificent.

    • #143
  24. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:I doubt such a paper exists, but you are the one making the claim, and since the number of papers is finite, and you are not claiming such a paper is in any way rare, it should be easy for you to cite one.

    Where? Where did I make the claim? You made the claim that you doubted that there were any objective probabilities.

    In post #89, you wrote the following.

    I don’t imagine that there are any fully objective probabilities out there on this topic.

    Maybe I gave you more credit than you deserved by assuming that you meant to make something other than the totally trivial and pedestrian, radical skeptic’s point that no argument is free of premises.

    I said that MTTF derived probabilities of failure are objective. You have repeatedly tried to defend a childish counterpoint and confuse science and engineering with pure subjectivity. I fully acknowledge that papers in the soft sciences like economics dealing with human opinion necessarily assume that they’re dealing with opinion and consequently define probability as a measure of belief, that practically they’re entire subject matter is opinion. So what? This has nothing to do with your preposterous claim, and you’re not going to bait me into taking up some argument that I didn’t make. I said that she could make her argument more rigorous in many ways. I never said that she could eliminate subjectivity as a technical concept in probability.

    • #144
  25. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:

    Joseph Kulisics: [#126]

    This is clearly not what I said. (Quote me to prove otherwise.) From our first interaction, I acknowledge probability as a measure of belief as a textbook area in the subject. I didn’t accept the casual assertion of probabilities in this case as distinguishable from the writer’s subjective opinion of Trump.

    My example for you is #88, and most of your posts thereafter. For example, your first paragraph is this:

    Joseph Kulisics: [#88]
    Since I’m assuming that you’re not using any rigorous measure of probability, no inventory that could conceivably be applied by two different people to arrive at the same conclusion, the same numeric estimate of the probability of an event, this would have to be the latter.

    The quote doesn’t prove your claim. It confirms the bolded text; it doesn’t contradict it. I didn’t rule out the possibility that subjective opinions can be well-founded. I didn’t demand perfect ability to reproduce results. In the following paragraph, I explicitly listed the kinds of evidence that would make an opinion well founded. I dismissed the possibility that an unfounded opinion defines a useful probability, subjective or otherwise.

    The point was and remains that attaching a number to an opinion doesn’t make the opinion a correct reflection of reality, in other words, give it predictive value.

    • #145
  26. Chuck Walla Member
    Chuck Walla
    @ChuckWalla

     

    Joseph Kulisics: [#127]

    Chuck Walla:Your comment shows that you most likely endorse Kolmogorov’s axioms of probability, but they are not necessary. See Appendix A.1 and Chapter 2 of Jaynes, especially pp. 47-50. Appendix A.2 explains why your earlier example 0f de Finnetti is no Bayesian in the modern sense. Wikipedia was wrong again!

    [..] you couldn’t go to the trouble to make this clear.

    That was intentional, because I didn’t want to try to improve on Jaynes’s few pages of discussion.  I don’t know your background exactly, so the reference to a few pages that are just a click away seemed ideal to me.

    […] I quoted text from Wikipedia. The text follows.

    Bayesians point to the work of Ramsey[10] (p 182) and de Finetti[8] (p 103) as proving that subjective beliefs must follow the laws of probability if they are to be coherent.[25] Evidence casts doubt that humans will have coherent beliefs.[26][27]

    I didn’t quote the text to connect de Finetti with any particular school of thought—the quote only intended to support the claim that subjective probabilities should follow laws of probability to be coherent and the claim that humans don’t typically make coherent estimates subjectively—but the text takes no position on de Finetti being a Bayesian. I don’t follow your complaint. It appears that you misread the Wikipedia quote because the text only says that Bayesians point to his work.

    Jaynes does not “point to” de Finetti for his axioms of probability.  In Appendix A.2 of the reference I gave, Jaynes gives three major reasons to avoid de Finetti’s axioms.  The statement is misleading as to the foundations that Bayesians endorse.  I suggest the Laplace, Ramsey, Cox, Jaynes line of foundations and uses of probability.

    Jaynes covers these issues with great care and brilliance in Chapters 1 and 2.  The two Wiki sentences side by side hardly amount to thoughtful analysis of the subject.  For example, humans have evolved to be relatively good at informal Bayesian updating, for it helps perpetuate the species.

    • #146
  27. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:“Rigorous measure” and requiring “two different people to arrive at the same conclusion.” These are hallmarks of objectivity. See Chapter 1, Objectivity, in Personal Knowledge, by Michael Polanyi. The book is simply magnificent.

    This doesn’t accurately represent the content of the quote. Where does the sentence require anything?

    • #147
  28. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:Jaynes does not “point to” de Finetti for his axioms of probability. In Appendix A.2 of the reference I gave, Jaynes gives three major reasons to avoid de Finetti’s axioms. The statement is misleading as to the foundations that Bayesians endorse. I suggest the Laplace, Ramsey, Cox, Jaynes line of foundations and uses of probability.

    So what’s your point? The quoted material said Bayesians, not all Bayesians. The principle of charity in argument requires you to give the text the most sensible reading. Any fair reading of the text interprets Bayesians as many Bayesians. Wikipedia is only incorrect if there are no, two Bayesians who hold the opinion. Citing one perspective is not falsifying the statement in Wikipedia.

    • #148
  29. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Joseph Kulisics:The point was and remains that attaching a number to an opinion doesn’t make the opinion a correct reflection of reality, in other words, give it predictive value.

    I want to elaborate on this point. Her outline of her plan appears to start from the premise, articulated in probabilities, that Trump is more dangerous than any other candidate, and it uses the probabilities to conclude that Trump will do something dangerous in certain situations and is therefore more dangerous, the fundamental assumption in the probabilities.

    You cannot justify an assumption with the assumption. That was my whole point, and in all of your posts, you don’t answer the point, which incidentally, has nothing to do at heart with probability. It’s a point of logic.

    • #149
  30. Manfred Arcane Inactive
    Manfred Arcane
    @ManfredArcane

    Joseph Kulisics:

    Joseph Kulisics:The point was and remains that attaching a number to an opinion doesn’t make the opinion a correct reflection of reality, in other words, give it predictive value.

    I want to elaborate on this point. Her outline of her plan appears to start from the premise, articulated in probabilities, that Trump is more dangerous than any other candidate, and it uses the probabilities to conclude that Trump will do something dangerous in certain situations and is therefore more dangerous, the fundamental assumption in the probabilities.

    You cannot justify an assumption with the assumption. That was my whole point, and in all of your posts, you don’t answer the point, which incidentally, has nothing to do at heart with probability. It’s a point of logic.

    Finally, what I was hoping you would get around to saying.  Like!

    • #150
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