February 10, 2004

Statistically Speaking

Arnold Kling has forgotten more about statistics than Iíll ever know. He teaches the subject in school.

In his latest Tech Central Station column he applies statistical analysis to both the infamous Florida recount and regime-change in Iraq. Iím not even sure what this has to do with statistics in the first place, which shows you how much I know about it. But still this discussion is pretty interesting. Hereís a novel way (to me) of looking at the problem:

In the case of Iraq, the unknown quantity is whether, if left alone, Saddam Hussein's regime would have eventually killed Americans or blackmailed our leaders with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Ultimately, that is the unknown parameter about which we are concerned.

Next, let us describe Type I and Type II errors. A Type I error would be to back down from confronting Iraq and subsequently suffer a WMD attack. A type II error would be to invade Iraq when in fact we would not have been hit with WMD even if we left the regime alone.

The consequences of a Type I error -- an attack on Americans using WMD -- would go beyond even the death and destruction that would be involved. The response, in terms of military action and domestic security, would be very costly, both in terms of lives and in terms of compromises to our freedom and privacy.

The consequences of a Type II error would include loss of lives during the war and its aftermath. Also, we are left with a significant responsibility in helping Iraqis rebuild their state. By the same token, one could argue that a Type II error has benefits, such as ending the mass murders committed by the Hussein regime and giving Iraqis an opportunity to establish a better government.

We will never know the unknown parameter -- what the Hussein regime would have done vis-a-vis weapons of mass destruction had we not invaded. However, the failure to find weapons stockpiles increases the probability that we committed a Type II error and reduces the probability that by backing down we would have committed a Type I error.

The short version, of course, is that itís better to overestimate danger than underestimate it . Underestimation can lead to another 9-11 or worse. At least overestimation can lead to a net positive Ė the removal of a filthy regime.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 10, 2004 09:28 PM
Comments

In short, prudence is a positive quality.

Posted by: spc67 at February 10, 2004 09:58 PM

In short, invade everywhere. Who knows? They might be a threat.

Posted by: Mithras at February 10, 2004 10:09 PM

Argh its a Snake, Snake, a Snake, ooooh its a Snake

Kling just makes a big bogey man argument, this is nothing more than Kling making the imminent threat argument all over again.

"Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

So when we make the bogeyman dangerous enough, anything is justified. He has bioweapons! He has a dirty bomb! He has planes! He has a nuke! He has a death star!

And yet your types insist that Bush never said imminent.

Anyway, Kling? Boring, repetive argument.

Posted by: anne.elk at February 10, 2004 10:18 PM

Mithras,

No. "Invade everywhere" is not the short version. Kling's logic does not tell us to invade Canada, Belgium, Japan, India, Chile, Antarctica, etc.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 10, 2004 10:26 PM

Michael,

In case you missed it, here's The Daily Show reporting on the President on Meet the Press (taken from a link in the CalPundit comments.)

Posted by: anne.elk at February 10, 2004 10:41 PM

Anne,

I did see it. And it is excruciating.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 10, 2004 10:51 PM

Kling's article was excellent.

I do know my statistics, and it never occurred to me to apply it as he does to the problems at hand (even though his approach is perfectly sensible and should have been obvious).

Thanks for bring it to our attention.

Posted by: DennisThePeasant at February 11, 2004 04:26 AM

The article was idiotic. Bush was not using probablistic decision-making here. He had "no doubt." That haad nothing to do with statistics and everything to do with faith.

Posted by: praktike at February 11, 2004 04:48 AM

I found the article to be an example of the worst tendencies of intellectuals - to dress up a simple notion in the jargon of science or math in an effort to make the argument sound more weighty than it is.
Statistics, for the average folk, is a great black box of arcane, but somehow very profound insight, that spews out an answer that is hard to challange. Of course, the article does not even really make a statistical argument, it just uses the terminology of statstics to describe a simple attitude.
The simple attitude is "respond aggressivly to your fears". If you can construct a hypothetical scenario in which great damage might occur, then go ahead and crush it now.

Given the undoubted fact that china has many nukes, that it has a population four times larger than ours, that it will almost certainly by a serious competitor of ours in the decades to come, the invasion had best begin now. Dont want to be making any type I errors, do we?

Posted by: tano at February 11, 2004 05:16 AM

praktike is correct. Bush is a dumb monkey. He is also an evil mastermind. Thanks for contributing, good luck in the elections!

Posted by: ex-democrat at February 11, 2004 05:16 AM

Leading up to the war a few people attempted to pursuade us that Iraq was not a threat and had no WMD. Most people, however, believed they were a threat and believed they had WMD. By most people I mean: Tom Daschle, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, the anit-war crowd, GWB & Administration, Tony Blair, Kofi Annan, etc., etc.

Saddam had identified himself as a threat to us. He had a history of delivering on his threats. And the best intelligence available - now proven to be an overestimate or just plain wrong - corroborated the conventional wisdom on Iraq.

So, if:

a. Intelligence gathering and reporting are agreed to be an inexact science

then

b. Isn't it most prudent, and shouldn't it be expected, that any errors be in the form of 'overestimation', i.e.; Type II?

I don't suggest that we should abandon our efforts to make Intel 100% accurate, or that we should go off half cocked deposing 'threats' around the world. But if we are to err we should do it in the direction of safety and security.

That is what GWB and the Coalition of the Willing did in going into Iraq. It is also part of the reason we have not gone into Iran, N. Korea, or Syria.

Posted by: steve at February 11, 2004 05:18 AM

Tano-

With all due respect, it does appear from your post that you do not understand either statistics or the point being made. You are correct in saying the article doesn't contain a "statistical argument" (I'm not quite sure what that is, though). What Kling discussing has more to do with the methodologies of utilizing data correctly, which is very much in the realm of statistics. If I am correct, it seems to invalidate, at least to me, the points your are trying to make.

Posted by: DennisThePeasant at February 11, 2004 05:50 AM

tano, tano, Kling's MAIN point is that ERRORS will occur. Say it: erorrs will happen.
Now, which errors are worse? which are more probable? HOW should we make decisions?

Look at Clinton's decision in 1998: invade Iraq, or not. Type I error, wrong no-attack; result, WTC attack against US. If, instead, he had attacked, he'd be looking at a Type II error, wrong attack, no WMDs there.

Don't you think Clinton was wrong to not attack? I do -- if he had attacked, I'm pretty certain that the WTC would still be standing. Likely with Pres. Al, and most Dems supporting a good nation-building in Iraq, and most Reps complaining about how it's too expensive.

But let's say you disagree, that you're glad Clinton didn't attack. If with the WTC planes there had ALSO been an anthrax attack, so that 30 000 people died, would you think not attacking a mistake? Is there any number of US Americans killed that would make you think it was a mistake to not attack?

In fact, tano, making decisions under uncertainty is hugely important, and really difficult, but most intellectuals follow YOUR lead and try to trivialize or over-simplify it. Sound bites make lousy arguments.

My own favorite T I and T II errors were only just mentioned by Kling, the justice system. EVERY justice system has both errors: wrongly punishing non-guilty people AND wrongly letting the guilty go. And virtually every real change in the system to reduce one error leads to an increase in the other error: more protection of the innocent means more guilty go free; more crooks go to jail mean more innocent do, too.

Trade-offs. Value judgments. But thanks to tano type pea-brains, the public political discussions don't even come close to examining these issues in a rational way.

Posted by: Tom Grey at February 11, 2004 07:23 AM

Kling's arguments are bogus, because they look at only two extreme choices. A third choice would be to continue UN sanctions and inspections, which (surprise) actually did the job that they were supposed to.

Michael J.'s assertion that "at least overestimation can lead to a net positive – the removal of a filthy regime" is also bogus -- looking at the end result of an action while minimizing the costs of that action is faulty reasoning. And bad accounting.

Of course, given the hyperbolic reaction by the right-wing (and newly right-wing) these days, this will probably be interpreted to mean that I was sleeping with Hussein on weekends.

Posted by: Stu at February 11, 2004 08:23 AM

Thank you, Tom Grey, for bringing some sanity to these comments. It seems to me that folks like Mithras ("invade everywhere") and anne.elk ("And yet your types insist that Bush never said imminent.") are simply uninterested in a rational discussion.

Posted by: Michael Hall at February 11, 2004 08:38 AM

"Don't you think Clinton was wrong to not attack? I do -- if he had attacked, I'm pretty certain that the WTC would still be standing."

And this speculation is what you base the rest of your discussion on? Why would this be so? Because O.B.L. would have been too scared by the Iraq invasion to do anything? Because it would have somehow removed the "rationale" for the attacks?

Posted by: Stu at February 11, 2004 08:52 AM

Stu: your third choice is really no more than a variant of the Type I error mentioned in the piece. With the recent reporting of the corruption of the UN Oil for Food program it would seem that the UN policing of Iraq would (had) fail(ed).

Posted by: steve at February 11, 2004 08:55 AM

I found Mr. Klings use of the Type I & Type II errors an interesting twist, on a subject that I thought only applied to mathmatical data. It would be interesting to find out if Harvards business school uses this approach in teaching critical business decisions.

Oh, I tried to find a book labled "Statistics for the Willfully Ignorant" but the best I could come up with is [url=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0764554239/qid=1076518249/sr=1-9/ref=sr_1_9/103-1839802-5916648?v=glance&s=books]Here.[/url] So Stu do us a favor and spend the $13.99, and learn about the classification of Type I & Type II errors. Even your vaunted UN route, would fall into either a Type I & II errors.

On a side note, anne.elk posts are beginning to convince me that Ken was onto something with the Bush's commando bit. I am beginning to think that Anne.elk and Mithra just might be a memebers of Bush's "Stupid-Evil-Genius-Commando" Squad. I hope you two are being paid well, cause quite frankly your doing a bang up job!

Posted by: HamOnRye at February 11, 2004 09:01 AM

Stu-

Here is Kling's hypothesis:

In the case of Iraq, THE UNKNOWN QUANTITY is whether, IF LEFT ALONE, Saddam Hussein's regime would have eventually killed Americans or blackmailed our leaders with weapons of mass destruction.

That is a testable hypothesis. It is not an 'argument'. There is a difference.

I do not presume to speak for Kling, but I would suspect he did not include your third alternative, continued weapons inspections, because there was no way the verify the accuracy (reliability) of the inspection process except, as Christopher Hitchens and others have argued, after-the-fact (of an invasion of Iraq). If the result of an alternative presented cannot be verified as to accuracy, then the hypothesis is rendered untestable, and therefore useless. I suspect that was why he excluded your third alternative from his hypothesis.

Beyond that, what you claim to be "bad accounting" is neither accounting nor bad. Accounting is a process, and as with all processes, it has value only to the extent that it can reliably produce information that can be verified as accurate. The result of the process is the only thing that matters, because there is no inherent value to the process itself.

In the case of an accounting process, the only people interested in the process are the accountants, and that is only because if the process fails in producing reliable, accurate information (i.e. accounting data), they will get a quick, involuntary re-introduction to the job market. The end result of the accounting "process" is the production of accounting data (i.e. results)...there is no value to accounting to anyone unless results are produced. Believe me, I've been a C.P.A. for 20 years. It is not something you do for a hobby.

Finally, as to your claim that minimized costs invalidate the result, that claim is an unsupported value judgement. There are circumstances where a level of cost could call into question the worth of a particular result, but you would need to define the parameters you would use to do so. You do not. In fact, you don't even define what "minimizing the costs" actually means, either outright or in relation to the result.

Posted by: DennisThePeasant at February 11, 2004 10:01 AM

Steve: "With the recent reporting of the corruption of the UN Oil for Food program it would seem that the UN policing of Iraq would (had) fail(ed)."

The evidence is in. Iraq had no WMD. That was the intention of the UN inspections. Therefore they worked. As Powell indicated in a speech in 2001.

Dennis: "In the case of Iraq, THE UNKNOWN QUANTITY is whether, IF LEFT ALONE, Saddam Hussein's regime would have eventually killed Americans or blackmailed our leaders with weapons of mass destruction.

That is a testable hypothesis. It is not an 'argument'. There is a difference."

If this is that actual hypothesis, then it's purely hypothetical, and has little relevance to the current situation. Hussein wasn't being left alone.

Posted by: Stu at February 11, 2004 10:13 AM

No, Stu, he wasn't being left alone, but he would have been. Do you really think we'd have kept up the sanctions/no-fly-zone routine up indefinitely? The trend was in the direction of letting them drop. The Russians, the Germans and the French were leaning on us to do that.

We were hearing all about how sanctions were starving and killing innocents in Iraq, and it had become clear that sanctions are only effective if a government actually has a conscience about its people's suffering. Otherwise you wind up with, well, poor people and huge palaces with solid gold toilets.

It was a reasonable (and wrong) view that if we weren't going to finish the bastard off once and for all, we ought to quit with the inconclusive half-measures. That seems to be where Powell was going with "smart sanctions." (Remember them?)

So the question is, would he have acquired WMD if we'd left him alone (which I think we would have done from sheer weariness)?

And, Dennis, I disagree that ours is a testable hypothesis. Because we headed off that eventuality, we'll never know. Just as if we'd gone into Afghanistan, routed the Taliban and driven out al Qaeda in 1998 instead of launching cruise missiles, we might never have found out how right we were to do so.

Posted by: JPS at February 11, 2004 11:00 AM

Tom Grey,
Well, thanks for all the insults and mischaracterizations. I see you are a great examplar of the rational argument.

The fact that we live in an uncertain world is not a novel insight. The fact that we need to make decisions in an uncertain world is not a novel insight. The fact that these decisions have consequences is not a novel insight. The fact that cost-benefit analyses can be mistakenly weighted on one side or the other is not a novel insight.

Statistical arguements, and statistical logic uses rational criteria for the analysis of problems that can be quantified, and that are of a scale where the quanifications need be generalized. Rational humans have made decisions in the midst of uncertainty, and have had well developed theories of error long before the rise of statistics. The only reason to use the jargon of statistics (statistical error types) is to try to falsely buttress an argument with regards to an inherintly unstatistical problem.

Decisions regarding war and peace are not statistical. Speaking of them as if they are is neither rational nor honest. IF taken seriously, one would tend to ignore a lot of factors that are not quantifiable. Done for rhetorical purposes, it is simply an invalid appeal to the authority of mathematics.

Your analysis of Clinton's decision is a good example of the dangers of following an inapporpriate method of analysis. People tend to be so transfixed by their wonderful formula,, they forget to analyze their background assumptions. For example, I find your argument totally ridiculous. There is no reason whatsoever to assume that an attack on Iraq would have affected bin Laden's decision to attack on 9/11. If there would have been any effect, it may well have been the opposite - for an American occupation of Iraq at that time would have simply reinforced the percieved need to strike America. Our presence in Saudi Arabia was itself a majpor motivation for his attack.

Posted by: tano at February 11, 2004 11:31 AM

"So the question is, would he have acquired WMD if we'd left him alone (which I think we would have done from sheer weariness)?"

Anyone can "what-if" all day to support their hypothesis. I could suggest that if sanctions lasted any longer, perhaps Hussein would have been overthrown. Then you'd say "Are you kidding," and then I'd say "Well, it looks like part of his military structure was already deceiving him," then you'd say...

Ahem. Point being, you can prove anything if you make conjecture equivalent to fact. But it ain't so. So let's stick to facts and not conjecture. No WMD due to sanctions and inspections, so they worked.

"It was a reasonable (and wrong) view that if we weren't going to finish the bastard off once and for all, we ought to quit with the inconclusive half-measures."

Hey, I agree. I think that Hussein should have been overthrown. No argument from me. But the way it was done sucked. Here are the costs:

- World opinion is polarized, and it's going to take a lot of time and effort to unpolarize it;

- The current status of the invasion pretty much sucks, and has proved the point that these kinds of things cannot be accomplished without global support;

- The financial costs of this intervention are massive, and the US taxpayer will have to pay the majority of costs associated with liberating the Iraqi people (and if they weren't willing to take the risks to liberate themsleves, why would you guys want to pay for it with your money and blood?);

- The world isn't any safer because of this, and the US certainly isn't.

- It's obviously time for the UN charter to change in a way that would allow for humanitarian intervention, and they seem willing to entertain suggestions to such an end. What a great time for the US to influence this process, but they've turned their backs on it.

- And for all the suppositions I read here that Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan are next (by people who won't be risking life and limb to do so), it's pretty likely that both Bush and Blair are going to be deposed in their next repective elections because of the backlash against this mess. What of the grand democratization schemes then?

Posted by: Stu at February 11, 2004 12:09 PM

The evidence is in. Iraq had no WMD. That was the intention of the UN inspections. Therefore they worked.

This argument is so famous, it has name in Latin. It's called, "Post hoc ergo propter hoc. "

Let's say I smoke a pack of cigarettes a day. But I also take a vitamin pill everyday so I don't get cancer. I don't have cancer yet. Clearly my vitamin pills are working. So why should I quit smoking? In fact, why should I even go on checking to make sure that I don't have cancer, since it's obvious that the vitamins work? (And, BTW, the test is notorious for giving false negative readings anyway.) I'm confident I won't get cancer. Ooooh. Cancer! Cancer! I'm so scared! But even if I do, I can always quit then.

***********

1. Inspections were often miserable failures. Blix gave Iraq a clean bill of health just before Desert Storm, and it turned out that Saddam had a thriving nuclear weapons program. Even Blix last year admitted that inspections were only useful if Saddam cooperated.

2. Saddam had a long history of non-cooperation with inspections, in spite of sanctions.

3. There would have been no inspections last year without the military build-up, and the maintaining that threat indefinitely would have been impossible. Only a fool would believe that Saddam would willingly consent to on-going inspections indefinitely without such a threat (that we could maintain only temporarily).

4. The sanctions were mercilessly punishing the Iraqi people. There was tremendous pressure from the Left, and from influencial interested parties such as the French, to end sanctions as quickly as possible. It's been proven beyond all doubt that Saddam intended to wait until the inspections and sanctions were abandoned under this pressure so that he could resume arming himself. (Anyone who doesn't think Saddam would do something as dastardly as that is dumb enough to want to sleep with him on weekends.)

5. Even if sanctions were kept up (at great cost to the Iraqi citizens), they weren't working well. Saddam was manipulating Oil for Food to continue to enrich himself, while he let his people starve. And why not? They provided great grist for the anti-sanction propaganda mill that the Left dutify ran for him.

6. In the meantime, he was circumventing the sanctions constantly with the help of other nations who refused to honor them, including Kim Jong-Il, who was arranging to sell him forbidden missiles, that Saddam paid dearly for, with Oil-for-Food money, missiles that would only have been useful for delivering WMD's across long distances.

7. The absence of large stockpiles of WMD's, in hindsight, reveal that we could have kept Saddam boxed in for a little while longer perhaps. The Iraqis would have gone on suffering, and the breakdown of the sanctions and inspections were inevitable, and we would have had to intervene eventually. In hindsight, we had time to keep trying to get the UN on board, but there was no way of being sure before the invasion. (See all of the above.)

8. So we erred on the side of caution, and as a result, we have removed one of the worst criminals in the history of mankind from a position of power over some of the most vital natural resources in world, not to mention a suffering populace, in one of the most volatile regions in the world, and made way for a fledgling democacy in the process. Whoops! [tears hair, beats chest with remorse]

Posted by: Browning at February 11, 2004 12:17 PM

Stu, you've given me so much to argue with, but time is short and I'll have to limit myself to this:

"So let's stick to facts and not conjecture. No WMD due to sanctions and inspections, so they worked."

Two questions: How do you know? And (in good faith, leave GWB out of it) how would you have known, to an acceptable certainty, if you were the one making the call?

Kling's analysis is a too-cute way of making the commonsense point that Michael has made better: If I'm wrong, we can live with it. If you're wrong there is a much worse catastrophe with no potential upside.

So to win this argument, Stu, you have to be awfully damn sure that you were NEVER going to be proven wrong, and I don't know how you can know that. You can tell me to stick to facts instead of conjecture, but your "facts" are only clear in retrospect. The man who might lose a city if he waits too long, doesn't have that luxury. (Insert Mithras' first comment, and Michael's rejoinder, here.)

Posted by: JPS at February 11, 2004 12:25 PM

Sorry, Browning. You said it better, first.

Posted by: JPS at February 11, 2004 12:26 PM

"This argument is so famous, it has name in Latin. It's called, "Post hoc ergo propter hoc."

I have a phrase I use whenever anyone throws latin at me: "Semper in excrementum, sole profundum qui variat."

"Inspections were often miserable failures. Blix gave Iraq a clean bill of health just before Desert Storm, and it turned out that Saddam had a thriving nuclear weapons program."

Are you sure? I thought that Blix didn't join UNSCOM until 2000, and that UN inpsections were authorized only after cessation of hostilities in 1991, and didn't begin until a month or so after that? Could you give me a source?

Posted by: Stu at February 11, 2004 12:50 PM

JPS
My irritation at the "too cute" (I would say wholly inappropriate) resort to statistical formalism is that it diverts the discussion from the level at which the divergences really occur - the assumptions.
You seem to claim that the potential downside of inaction is catastrophic, and the potential downside of action is acceptable. But these assumptions are not necessarily valid.

Potential catastrophes can be imagined in just about any situation. There needs to be some assessment of the real likelihood of the catastrophe. Given the military containment of Iraq, the sanctions, the presence of inspectors, the goals and dreams of Saddam (not at all the same as bin LAdens), I see no reason to view the liklihood of catastrophe as anything but minimal.

I think we can also question the costs of action. We now have a good chunk of our military tied down in Iraq, and we have spent 200 billion dollars with considerable more to come. How prepared are we to deal with other military challanges that might arise? What if china decides to invade Taiwan tomorrow - are we in a position to deal with that? Or if the Serbs go back on a rampage - as they may well do after their upcoming election. Or both happen?

I think a case can be made that we have invested heavily to suppress a minimal threat and exposed ourselves to far graver ones. Whether you agree or not, these are the issues needing discussion - not wasting a lot of time trying to rehash deriviate subjects in an inappropriate jargon.

Posted by: tano at February 11, 2004 01:05 PM

It's a mistake to associate me with Mithras -- I am constantly pleased and amazed with how well Mithras states his case.

Posted by: anne.elk at February 11, 2004 01:15 PM

Stu,

It was when Blix was was head of IAEA. Here's a source. Sixth graf is the money graf.

Blix, 71, was the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997 and oversaw inspections of Iraq's nuclear program with mixed success. [snip] Despite regular inspections by the IAEA under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iraq was able to develop a comprehensive nuclear weapons program that went completely undetected until after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. - LA Times

Note that France, Russia and China are the ones who nixed Kofi Annan's and the coalition nations' recommendation for the chief inspector, and insisted on Blix, despite his shoddy record. Hmmm...

There's also an Latin name for your "counter-argument" to the first Latin name I gave you. It's called "non sequitur."

Posted by: Browning at February 11, 2004 01:18 PM

Michael, you should just give up trying to convince people that the Iraq war was justified and a good decision.

Accept that people's minds have been made up -- and no matter what evidence, theories, thoughts and statements are made, the people against the war will jeer at them while the people who were in favor will hold them up as further proof, etc., etc., etc.

I constantly am amazed at the so-called liberals who sneer at the liberation of Iraq. Sure there are difficulties but no one but a political opportunist, partisan hack or blind fool would expect a society to be changed overnight.

It seems they only wish for failure, they only see the problems and they only seek to show contempt for the process.

Posted by: Anne at February 11, 2004 01:55 PM

"I constantly am amazed at the so-called liberals who sneer at the liberation of Iraq. Sure there are difficulties but no one but a political opportunist, partisan hack or blind fool would expect a society to be changed overnight."

Who's "sneering" and "jeering"? The discussion on this in this comments section has been thoughful and lively. And I think most people from the left and the right agree that Hussein was a dangerous thug that is better behind bars than running a country.

But at the moment, Iraq looks to be heading toward a Lebanon-style civil war, and the US adminsitration seems to be preparing for a bug-out. That to me seems a little bit more than a "difficulty", and it's what a great number of people on the left have been worried about since before the invasion.

I, for one, hope with all my heart that Iraq develops into a successful multi-ethnic secular democracy, and if it does, then I'll certainly give Bush his due, as I had to do with (some) of Nixon's diplomacy triumphs. But I fear that the way that this invasion was done was wrong, wrong, wrong, and it's not going to end well.

Posted by: Stu at February 11, 2004 02:19 PM

Thank you Tano, for pointing out the utter emptiness of Kling's "analysis." All he is saying is "better safe than sorry" and dressing it up all purty with pseudotechnical jargon.

And Dennis, you may be a bang-up CPA and know all about accounting, but you seem to be a bit mixed-up about what constitutes a "testable hypothesis." I think you have it confused with what we doctors call a "very, very small possibility."

Posted by: Smokey at February 11, 2004 03:46 PM

Tano & Smokey-

Please re-read Kling's article outside the prism of your beliefs as to the necessity or morality of the war. I believe it is about the process of rational decision making within the context of the whether to go to war with Iraq over the threat of WMD. In that sense I think it is excellent, as I have said.

I never took the article to be a justification of the war itself, and for the very reasons you cite. But I don't think Kling even pretends to be offering the true complexity of the situation. So to an extent, I think you are missing Kling's real point, which is the question "What constitutes rational decision making?" Maybe I'm wrong on that, but I don't think so.

For me the only point of interest regarding WMD is not whether we have or have not found them. The point of interest is whether to decision to go to war was justified by the data available at the time of the decision, and whether the decision was arrived at rationally.

And Smokey, I am aware of the difference between a testable hypothesis and an opinion, which is what your "very, very small possibility" is. On that point I am not confused.

Posted by: DennisThePeasant at February 11, 2004 07:08 PM

The hypothesis, "Hussein can give WMD to al Qaeda and thereby kill thousands of Americans" was a testable one, alright. We preferred not to test it but instead to change the situation to make the hypothesis permanently false.

Posted by: Jim at February 11, 2004 07:31 PM

Smokey, it's ludicrous to claim that there was only "a very, very small chance" that Saddam would re-acquire WMD's and either use them to deter the international community from interfering in his openly stated megalomaniacal ambitions, or even setting in motion a terrorist attack.

Even most opponents to the war acknowledged that they believed Saddam had some WMD's. And I'll go out on a limb and say that even the few who were willing to bet he didn't were still fools. If you tell me that I should bet my house on the chance that I can draw on an inside straight, and I wisely disagree, and then after the hand is played you demonstrate that I could have drawn the right card if I'd listened to your bad advice, that doesn't make you a better poker player than me. And I still have my house at the end of the hand.

In fact, common sense dictates that there was a vanishingly small chance that Saddam had unilaterally complied with the UN and failed to produce documentation to prove it in spite of the sanctions. The fact that he didn't have the stockpiles is actually a rather bizarre revelation for everyone, including most sensible and honest opponents of the war. Every explanation for this outcome is just plain strange.

Furthermore, I think we can dismiss out of hand the idea that Saddam was unlikely to have committed future acts of aggression and use WMD's as a deterrent. He'd openly claimed that he would, and his doing so would be perfectly in character. He said his ONLY mistake in invading Kuwait was that he didn't wait until he had a nuke before he did it. His big ambition in life was to be remembered as the Arab leader who stood up the West and squashed Israel. WMD's were certainly part of his game plan.

And, finally, the argument that Saddam was too much of an intelligent realist to ever indulge in WMD terrorism demonstrates nothing so much as a willful ignorance of Saddam. Saddam was frequently a self-destructive moron. He often committed hopelessly stupid acts of wanton destruction for no reason but revenge, and his strategy and tactics sucked rotten eggs. And, like many of America's nasty foes, he rather admired bin Laden's sucker punch on 9-11. It would not have been unlike him to try to top it, or get in on the second wave.

Posted by: Browning at February 11, 2004 07:50 PM

tano, thanks for getting more rational, too bad only insults to your type of initially simplistic argument encouraged you enough.

You are totally correct that war, invasion, etc are not statistic decisions -- statistics depends on "the law of large numbers". Flip a coin a hundred times, etc., what's the chance of heads? About 50%. And lots of great math to examine drawing to inside flushes, fair bets, good decisions, etc., based on statistics.

Look at the outcomes, for all decisions tob e considered, quantify the VALUE of the outcomes; consider the different PROBABILITIES of each outcome, which change according to the decision.
The expected value of a decision becomes the sum of the outcome Values * the prob. of that outcome.

The math, once learned, is a reasonable tool to examine other, one time decisions -- but then use Bayesian estimates of probabilites. [Among statisticians there are "religious" wars about Bayes & probability & frequency].

So: after Blix in Feb 03 says Saddam is not fully cooperting (less than 100%), decision. Attack, or not attack. Main variables, WMD kills Americans in the next 10 years; $USD cost of decision.

Estimates, before the attack:
Attack-A, costs $200 bil, chance of WMD killing 1000+ Americans is ?? maybe 1 in 1,000 (0.1%)

Not Attack, costs $30 bil, chance of WMD killing 1000+ Americans is ?? maybe 1 in 10 (10%);

In this analysis we are arguing over our guesses as to the probabilities. And there's no proof, nor can there be, about what the "true" probability is.

I'm really, really frightened of WMDs, and No. Korea & Iran & Lybia & Pakistan & Saudi Arabia.
You can see that in my 10% chance of becoming a WMD target. I assume the anti-war folk had much lower probabilites of the US being a target w/o attacking Iraq; "very very small", perhaps 1 in 100 or 1000.

But Smokey, what do you think the chance of No. Korea having a nuke is? (I think 99%) Thanks to Clinton & Carter, who thought their 94 deal made the chance of NK going nuke "very very small". BAD decision, then; or at least poor estimation of the likely outcomes.

You could alos add some other costs:
A--cost of American lives; cost of Iraqi lives; benefit of no Saddam -- quantify costs (really tough).

Not A--little cost in American lives in continuing or dropping the no fly zone; cost of Iraqi lives under Saddam; cost of Saddam staying (and winning against America, again, while "hiding his WMDs")

but this gets messier and messier. The honesty of math is that it forces users to quantify & document, in numbers. So disagreements are more clear. But the future can only be estimated.

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Viagra is used as needed, so you are not likely to miss a dose. If you miss a dose of Viagra, take the missed dose as soon as you remember. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and take the medicine at the next regularly scheduled time.

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