Statistics, Science

[From Dag Forssell (930525 13.55)]


I would like to be able to relate some miscarriages of statistics.
Some months back, someone on the net (Joel?) mentioned some famous
study of what "made" black students excel. The highest correlation
was with the proximity to white students. Therefore forced busing.
This study sounds like something I would like to read up on. Can
someone give me a literature suggestion? Other miscarriages of



To illustrate to a group (of engineers) how I feel like a time-
traveler from a future, more enlightened point of view, I am
preparing to take my audience with me on a trip from today back to
the early 1600's. Together, we shall introduce Newton's three laws
of motion to scientists who thoroughly understand the impetus
theory of motion. To that end, Greg has given me some reading
suggestions, and I have now secured them. Thanks, Greg.

I would like to share a segment from _Foundations of Modern
Physical Science_ by Gerald Holton. Addison-Wesley 1958, that
caught my eye as a parallel to the current agonizing over devils
bibliographies. Solomon says: There is nothing new under the sun.
Here goes:

10.3 The opposition to Galileo.

In his characteristic enthusiasm, Galileo thought that his
telescopic discoveries would make everyone see, _as with his own.
eyes,_ the absurdity of the assumptions that had been standing in
the way of a general acceptance of the Copernican system. But men
can believe only what they are ready to believe. The Scholastics,
in fighting the new Copernicans, felt convinced that they
themselves were surely "sticking to facts, " that the heliocentric
theory, in addition to its theological errors, was obviously false
and in contradiction with both sense-observation and common sense.
They had made Scholastic science their exclusive tool for
understanding facts, just as today most people depend for their
understanding of physical facts on their ability to visualize them
in terms of simple mechanical models operating according to
Newtonian laws.

But at the roots of the tragic position of the Scholastics was the
circumstance that the recognition of the Copernican system as even
a _possible_ theory would have had to be preceded by a most
far-reaching re-examination and re-evaluation of their personal
beliefs. It would have required them to do what is humanly almost
impossible: to discard their commonsense ideas, to seek new bases
for their old moral and theological doctrines, and to learn their
science anew. Of course this is what Galileo himself had done to an
amazing degree, and although we call him a genius for this very
reason, many of his contemporaries called him a fool, or worse.
Because they were satisfied with their science, the Scholastics
were for the most part oblivious to the possibility that coming
events would soon reveal the relative ineffectiveness of their
point of view in man's quest to understand nature.

Galileo's concrete observations meant little to them. The
Florentine astronomer Francesco Sizi argued in this manner why
there could not, must not be any satellites around Jupiter:

   There are seven windows in the head, two nostrils, two ears, two
   eyes and a mouth; so in the heavens there are two favorable
   stars, two unpropitious, two luminaries, and Mercury alone
   undecided and indifferent. From which and many other similar
   phenomena of nature such as the seven metals, etc., which it
   were tedious to enumerate, we gather that the number of planets
   is necessarily seven . . . Besides, the Jews and other ancient
   nations, as well as modern Europeans, have adopted the division
   of the week into seven days and have named them from the seven
   planets: now if we increase the number of planets, this whole
   system falls to the ground . . . Moreover, the satellite are
   invisible to the naked eye and therefore can have no influence
   on the earth and therefore would be useless and therefore do not

A year after making his telescopic discoveries, Galileo had to
write to Kepler:

   You are the first and almost the only person who, after a
   cursory investigation, has given entire credit to my statements
   . . . What do you say of the leading philosophers here to whom
   I have offered a thousand times of my own accord to show my
   studies, but who, with the lazy obstinacy of a serpent who has
   eaten his fill, have never consented to look at the planets, or
   moon or telescope?

However, before we too thoroughly condemn those "leading
philosophers' of an earlier day, we should note a forceful comment
on this point made by Sir Oliver Lodge in 1893:

   ... but I have met educated persons who, while they might laugh
at the men who refused to look through a telescope lest they should
learn something they did not like, yet also themselves commit the
very same folly... I am constrained to say this much: Take heed
lest some prophet, after having excite your indignation at the
follies and bigotry of a bygone generation, does not turn upon you
with the sentence _"Thou art the man."_

What is the difference between the scholastics to whom concrete
observations mean little and present day social scientists who have
no way of understanding control or any other "hard" science
phenomena and instead describe their fuzzy and trendy "theories" in
endless torrents of words of shifting meanings. None?

Any suggestions on stories of statistical miscarriages of public
policy or business practice will be much appreciated.

Best, Dag