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Step Away From Stepwise Regression (and Other Data Mining)

Stepwise regression, which is making a comeback, is just another form of HARKing — Hypothesizing After the Results are Known

There is a strong correlation between the number of lawyers in Nevada and the number of people who died after tripping over their own two feet. There are similarly impressive correlations between U.S. crude oil imports and the per capita consumption of chicken — and the number of letters in the winning word in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the number if people killed by venomous spiders. If you find these amusing (as I do), there are many more at the website Spurious Correlations. These silly statistical relationships are intended to demonstrate that correlation is not causation. But no matter how often or how loudly statisticians shout that warning, many people do not hear it. When there is a…

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Does Creativity Just Mean Bigger Data? Or Something Else?

Michael Egnor and Robert J. Marks look at claims that artificial intelligence can somehow be taught to be creative

In Define information before you talk about it, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor interviewed engineering prof Robert J. Marks on the way information, not matter, shapes our world (October 28, 2021). In the first portion, Egnor and Marks discussed questions like: Why do two identical snowflakes seem more meaningful than one snowflake? Now they turn to the relationship between information and creativity. Is creativity a function of more information? Or is there more to it? This portion begins at 10:46 min. A partial transcript and notes, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Michael Egnor: How does biological information differ from information in nonliving things? Robert J. Marks: I don’t know if it does… I do believe after recent study that the mind…

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Yellow Fingers Do Not Cause Lung Cancer

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and computer engineer Bob Marks look at the ways Big Data can mislead us into mistaking incidental events for causes

It’s easy to explain what “information” is if we don’t think much about it. But what if we ask a student, what does your term paper weigh? How much energy does it consume? More or less matter and energy than, say, lightning striking a tree? Of course, the student will protest, “But that’s not the point! It’s my term paper.” Exactly. So information is very different from matter and energy. It means something. Realizing that information is different from matter and energy can help us understand issues like the difference between the causes of a problem (causation) and circumstances that may be associated with the problem but do not cause it (correlation). In last week’s podcast, “Robert J. Marks on…

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Should We Really “Listen to Science”? What Should We Listen For?

Politicians who insist that their beliefs represent science might be surprised by the checkered history of that view

This political season, politicians are telling us to “listen to science.” But buyer beware. The politicization of science is a long and sad history of so-called “scientific truths” that were not only mistaken but resulted in tragedy. Those who know a bit of this history should be wary of politicians’ table-pounding claims on topics ranging from climate change to COVID. In a 2003 lecture at Caltech, Michael Crichton, MD (pictured in 2002, courtesy Jon Chase CC BY-SA 3.0), author of great science fiction including Jurassic Park, noted, “science has in some instances been seduced by the more ancient lures of politics and publicity.” For example, racism was “settled science” in the early 20th century. So was eugenics, the so-called science…