Statistics

In Which We Answer The Pressing Question: Is Science Growing Stupider?

I was asked this question the other day: “Is science becoming stupider?”

I was forced to answer this way: “Boy, howdy! Science will be lucky to reach stupid the end of the next decade if it starts studying full time right now.”

Yes, it was I who asked the question of myself. But that doesn’t make the answer any less true or important.

And I can prove it. Using the peer-reviewed scientific paper “Rising temperatures erode human sleep globally” in One Earth by Kelton Minor (which sounds like the name of a the dimmer of a binary star) and some others.

Here’s the Summary, with my emphasis and paragraphifications:

Ambient temperatures are rising worldwide, with the greatest increases recorded at night. Concurrently, the prevalence of insufficient sleep is rising in many populations. Yet it remains unclear whether warmer-than-average temperatures causally impact objective measures of sleep globally.

Here, we link billions of repeated sleep measurements from sleep-tracking wristbands comprising over 7 million sleep records (n = 47,628) across 68 countries to local daily meteorological data. Controlling for individual, seasonal, and time-varying confounds, increased temperature shortens sleep primarily through delayed onset, increasing the probability of insufficient sleep.

The temperature effect on sleep loss is substantially larger for residents from lower-income countries and older adults, and females are affected more than males.

Those in hotter regions experience comparably more sleep loss per degree of warming, suggesting limited adaptation.

By 2099, suboptimal temperatures may erode 50–58 h of sleep per person-year, with climate change producing geographic inequalities that scale with future emissions.

Wow! Fifty eight hours of lost sleep in a year! And women and minorities hardest hit!

“Say, Briggs, before you get too excited. How many days in a year?”

Same as always, a bit more than 365.

“So, worst case scenario, how much sleep will be lost on average daily per person?”

Let’s see. That’s 58 hours divided by 365.25, which is 0.158-something hours a day.

“How many minutes is that?”

Easy: 0.158 hours * 60 minutes/hour = 9 minutes. A day. Roughly. Or 8 if the 50 hours figure is correct.

“Dude. Even if global warming terrorizes us all, in the absolute most horrible scenario they can think of, and of course people forget they have air conditioning and fans, they might lose a full nine minutes of sleep a day in 2099? And they wouldn’t be able to figure out a way to get that back? The temperature would act like an alarm bell or something?”

It’s science!

Come to think on it, the number 58 is even screwier than we thought. Seems that most of the warming that is coming in global warming—it will get here any year now—will happen in higher latitudes in winter (northern and southern hemispheres), where an extra degree or two might be nice, especially in the winter. Might help some folks sleep better.

On the other hand, maybe Minor binary thought of that. I don’t have access to the paper, so I can’t tell. (Science is best done by restricting papers to academic faculty.)

But I do have access to the news report on the paper, in which Minor binary has some quotes.

Minor binary: “In order to make informed climate policy decisions moving forward, we need to better account for the full spectrum of plausible future climate impacts extending from today’s societal greenhouse gas emissions choices.”

He could have said, “We need to figure what’s going to happen”, which is equivalent, but doesn’t sound nearly scientific enough.

This struck me:

To conduct their study, the researchers used anonymized global data collected from sleep-tracking wristbands…

Measures from these types of wristbands, the authors explained, had previously been shown to align with other independent measures of wakefulness and sleep.

Say what? Sounds like we’re in the realm of the epidemiologist fallacy. It’s like they didn’t measure sleep, but some kind of number from wrist band which is correlated with sleep.

Then, surely, came wee p-values. I’ll let readers confirm that.

If I’m right about both the epidemiologist fallacy and the p-values, it means that the conclusion is far too certain. For if we “integrate out” the uncertainty due to the correlation, which is not the actual sleep measurement, and then we look at it predictively, instead of by wee p-values, then that 9 minutes will fall even more. Or be a heck of a lot more uncertain.

And even if I’m wrong about the epidemiologist fallacy and the p-values, it’s still only a lousy nine minutes a day.

On average.

Good grief.

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Categories: Statistics

21 replies »

  1. Your question should be “Are scientists getting stupider?” Science is a methodology. How people make use of it varies according to their talents and training. You might as well ask “Is Art getting ugly.” rather than “Are artists making ugly things.”

  2. I could use another 9 minutes of wakefulness. Then I can finish making a set of wings and practice flying like a hummingbird. The Stupid — it’s in the air these days.

  3. Dammit Bob, that’s the stupidest comment I ever saw — except for my comments — it’s rhetoric ya right-brained hockey puck. Sheesh. Scientists…

    Who’s next?!?!

  4. But, women and minorities are always cold; how would this really affect them?

    (It is best to sleep as cold as possible, somewhere in the realm of 64-66F)

  5. Briggs

    Hate to be the one to call you out.

    Rising temperatures do not remove the seasonal component of heat outside say the 30th parallels, so let’s triple the 10 minutes to 30 over the summer months.

    As our old Norwegian farmer/neighbor used to say: “When the wife sleeps nude, it’s good for the corn (or was that the stalk?).”

    Question for the scientists: Why didn’t you just examine siesta habits?

  6. I seriously advise the author of the paper to wear a hat for the sake of his own health.

    He is most certanly taking too much sun on the top of his head. And science (and also cookery) says that heat coagulates the tissues of the brain. After being cooked, neurons behave in an unpredictable, unprecedented way.

  7. My daughter gave me a ‘FitBit’ watch last Birthday.

    It links to my cell phone which links to their server, which takes the GPS, accelorometer, and optical pulse rate data from the watch and MODELS it into ‘data’ about my heart rate, Calorie consumption, ‘steps’, and ‘sleep time’.

    I just took it off the charger and put it on my wrist. It reports I have taken ’40 steps’ and burned 560 Calories so far and I have not got out of my chair!

    Have to chuckle when I come across a study where someone uses bought ‘data’ from one of these watch companies and calculates p values to 3 digits with it.

  8. WHOA! OH SHIT! BREAKING NEWS!!! THIS JUST IN!!!!

    Rising number of barking dogs erode human sleep globally

    Ambient noise caused by dogs is rising worldwide, with the greatest increases recorded at night. Concurrently, the prevalence of insufficient sleep is rising in many populations. Yet it remains unclear whether greater-than-average pet ownership causally impacts objective measures of sleep globally.

    Here, we link billions of repeated sleep measurements from sleep-tracking wristbands comprising over 7 million sleep records (n = 47,628) across 68 countries to local daily dog-barking data. Controlling for individual, seasonal, and time-varying confounds, increased barking and whining shortens sleep primarily through sudden awakening, increasing the probability of insufficient sleep.

    The barking effect on sleep loss is substantially larger for residents from lower-income countries and older adults, and females are affected more than males.

    Those in regions with stray-dog leniency and animal shelters and kennels experience comparably more sleep loss per number of dog, suggesting limited adaptation.

    By 2099, suboptimal dog levels may erode 50–58 h of sleep per person-year, with pet-ownership producing geographic inequalities that scale with future dog reproduction.

    “The dogs may also be barking more to warn owners due to increased criminal activity that may be correlated with government solutions. We just don’t know…,”remarked one expert before he was placed on temporary leave with suspended pay, pending further inquiry for daring to raise such a question.

    PLEASE SOMEBODY CONTACT THE U.N.!!!! SEND MONEY!!!!

  9. This will be reported on NPR. NPR listeners will buy into it without question, then keep voting “to fight the climate emergency”. They’ll put smug, self-righteous signs in their yards.

  10. If sleep is been lost I would like to see the breakdown between city and country areas.

    I suggest poor building codes in highly populated areas is to blame…especially associated with soundproofing, nothing to do with temperatures.

  11. I believe there’s an error – you wrote “Science”, but I think you meant “PolySci”?

    It would be helpful if a billionaire funded research on all the ways Climate Change benefits humanity, with women (whatever they are) and minorities benefited most. Maybe Elon Musk? Oh, wait – Musk makes billions off Climate Alarmism, probably need a different billionaire, one who isn’t in bed with them. How about . . . give me a second, I’m still thinking . . . I’ll have to get back to you on that.

  12. Yes.

    1 – The larger the group (of people), the lower the average IQ. So more scientists –> greater average stupidity.

    2 – the more science publications, the lower the average quality. So more science –> greater average stupidity.

    Both reflect the nature of the averaging process regardless of metric.

    3 – and the sillygistic conclusion? the smarter someone is, the more likely that person is to be lonely.

  13. On-Selling “your” (anonymized) Bio-metric Devices Data; like on-selling “your” DNA Sequencing Data; like on-selling “your” SmartPhone Location Data; like on-selling “your” Internet Browsing Data – Churns Fresh Butter for the Silicon Valley Sourdough Bread Bakers.

  14. My wife has a Fitbit. It supposedly measures her sleep. At its best, it kinda sorta gets it right, but it’s more of a useless gadget than anything else. To think someone would do a study based on this thing is ludicrous – but it’s Science so….

  15. Yes, these days most “scientists” are dumb as doorknobs. But I’m not losing any sleep over it. btw, there are 101101101 binary days in a year — which is a numerical palindrome! Will wonders never cease?

  16. Uncle Mike – that factoid seems oddly random. It got me wondering, though, how much of a coincidence this really is. If you approximate the number of palindromic binary numbers there are between 0 and N as 2*sqrt(N), the the density of palindromes in the vicinity of 365 is about 5.2%, so about 1 in every 19 binary numbers around 365 is a palindrome. If we were talking P-values here, it wouldn’t make the wee cutoff. But this might make a good starting point for a counter-intuitive bar bet, assuming a pub location near the math and computer science building in a university town.

    Another interesting factoid – if you use a different base than binary, the number of palindromes between 0 and N isn’t dramatically different. (Although the local spacing of palindromes isn’t as uniformly distributed with increasing base number, and seems to have more of a dependency on whether the number of digits is even or odd. There is a curious scallop shape in a plot of the palindrome distribution that probably has an obvious explanation, but I’m not seeing it).

    This exercise reminds me of Martin’s Gardner’s Mathematical Recreations column in Scientific American, back when it was worth reading.

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