Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Archive for March, 2013

Evidence, WMD, and the Iraq War: Reflections on Tony Blair and Colin Powell

With the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, it’s an appropriate time to comment on two elements of the public discussion of the war, in the US and the UK, that puzzle me.

  1. The insistence, particularly among lefties who supported the war then and have reconsidered the matter since then, that everyone thought Saddam Hussein had active nuclear and chemical programs. At the time, I strongly opposed the war — because I thought it was an inappropriate distraction from Afghanistan, I didn’t like the way it was being ginned up, the WMD argument didn’t seem to me sufficiently important relative to the trouble it was likely to stir up –but I had every anticipation that the US military would march in and would find the missing nuclear program, and that this would be waved in the face of everyone who was still legitimately skeptical. I assumed there was a lot of secret information that more or less proved to anyone entitled to see it that this work was going on. It seemed more likely than not, until… Until Colin Powell’s speech to the UN. I found that speech astonishing. My thought was, surely they are pulling out all of the most convincing bits from their secret dossier, and that’s it? (more…)

Statisticians of the World, Unite!

You have nothing to lose but your Markov chains!

From “A Brief History of Britain 1066-1485”, by Nicholas Vincent:

Finally, as in all modern debates from which statistics and the spirit of Karl Marx are never far distant, it has been argued that, by 1200, Philip of France was far richer than the King of England and therefore ideally placed to seize the Plantagenet lands.

Statisticians or Stakhanovites? You decide…

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