Friday, March 09, 2007

Adjustments to Discovery Website Statistics Claims

Regular readers will remember that I have reproduced a couple of posts on the statistical claims of the Discovery documentary on the "Jesus Family Tomb" written by Joe D'Mello, The correct interpretation of Dr. Andrey Feuerverger's 1:600 odds calculation and The "Jesus Family Tomb" Statistics: Further Developments, the latter posted just 25 minutes before the documentary aired last Sunday. I now have an update to those earlier posts from Dr Joe D'Mello, who has continued his conversation with Dr Andrey Feuerverger. The latest post is available here in full as a PDF:

Discovery to Update Website Claims (PDF)

And I excerpt the major part of it here:
Date: Friday, March 9, 2007

I am pleased to state that as a result of several e-mail exchanges I have had with Dr. Andrey Feuerverger over the past few days, and a phone conversation with him this morning which confirmed our informal understanding reached by e-mail yesterday, he has agreed that the following two statements made on Discovery Channel’s website:
1. “A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.” (from

2. Dr. Andrey Feuerverger, professor of statistics & mathematics at the University of Toronto, has concluded a high statistical probability that The Talpiot tomb is the JESUS FAMILY TOMB. In a study, Feuerverger examined the cluster of names in the tomb …… Taking into account the chances that these names would be clustered together in a family tomb, this statistical study concludes that the odds – on the most conservative basis – are 600 to 1 in favor of this being the JESUS FAMILY TOMB. A statistical probability of 600 to 1 means that this conclusion works 599 times out of 600.
ARE NOT A CORRECT INTERPRETATION OF HIS STATISTICAL COMPUTATIONS. He has also confirmed for me that, at his urging, Discovery Channel has agreed to “undertake the required updates to their website”. As evidence of this, I have appended at the end of this message the relevant portions of the last few emails I exchanged with Dr. Feuerverger.

Dr. Feuerverger indicates that an accurate interpretation of his results are to be found at his recently updated “Tomb Computation” link on his University of Toronto website. Please note the following excerpts from that website:

A. It is not in the purview of statistics to conclude whether or not this tomb site is that of the New Testament family. Any such conclusion much more rightfully belongs to the purview of biblical historical scholars who are in a much better position to assess the assumptions entering into the computations.

B. The role of statistics here is primarily to attempt to assess the odds of an equally (or more) `compelling' cluster of names arising purely by chance under certain random sampling assumptions and under certain historical assumptions In this respect I now believe that I should not assert any conclusions connecting this tomb with any hypothetical one of the NT family.

C. The computations do not take into account families who could not afford ossuary burials or who did not have sufficient literacy to have their ossuaries inscribed, and does not take into account families living outside of the Jerusalem area.

I wish to thank Dr. Feuerverger immensely for his efforts to ensure that the viewing public receives the honest and truthful reporting they are entitled to! I also hope and trust that Discovery Channel will follow suit and retract these inaccuracies quickly. As I have stated before, my efforts were never aimed at defending Christianity, because I truly believe that all religions must and will eventually reconcile themselves with science and our God-given reason. It is not Christianity that is at stake here but the honest and enlightened use, application, and interpretation of science and reason. Discovery Channel’s unqualified assertions that the 600:1 odds are specifically associated with the tomb in question being that of the New Testament Jesus family are, in my opinion, untenable and inaccurate in light of the clarifications on Dr. Feuerverger’s website.

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