Nature tackles the “reproducibility problem” – trying to find out why some WRONG things get published as being RIGHT, but also how exactly scientists get so good at fooling themselves: Reflecting today on how it happened, [statistician Andrew] Gelman traces his error back to the natural fallibility of the human brain: “The results seemed perfectly reasonable,” he says. “Lots of times with these kinds of coding errors you get results that are just ridiculous. So you know something’s got to be wrong and you go back and search until you find the problem. If nothing seems wrong, it’s easier to miss it.” This is the big problem in science that no one is talking about: even an honest person is a master of self-deception. Our brains evolved long ago on the African savannah, where jumping to plausible conclusions about the location of ripe fruit or the presence of a predator was a matter of survival. […]
This is one of a whole deck of… well, they’re practically a technological tarot, really. They’re playing cards illustrating concepts in engineering. (The two of diamonds is also beautiful, though some might prefer the human figures in cards like the seven of clubs.)
They were originally collected by William Barclay Parsons, the chief engineer of the New York City subway. He was on the library board from 1911 to 1932, when he died. More importantly, he also donated a set of mechanics pla…
The one carries oxygen around, the other keeps the system clean. They’re teeny tiny.
Image from the Electron Microscopy Facility at The National Cancer Institute at Frederick (NCI-Frederick).
SOURCE:Based on “Lasers used to levitate glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum”, Science Daily, 7 Sep 2015, as used in the post “A laser levitating glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum..”
ABSTRACT: I really wanted to use “A laser levitating nanodiamonds in a vacuum” as a lyric, because it’s got such a great rhythm, but no, it didn’t happen.
Musically, things fell together well – I came up with chords on a guitar, and t…
ARTIST: grant, featuring Sebastian Balfour. (Originally by Harry Nilsson.)
SOURCE: It doesn’t have a research source. It’s a penitential cover of a haunting song by Harry Nilsson that Three Dog Night turned into a prog anthem, which Aimee Mann turned into stunning reclamation project. Nilsson still wins.
ABSTRACT: I’ve been a penitential cover* behind for months and months. I first had the idea of doing this song in something like this way …
I like the desert in Nevada already because of the sense of perspective – such wide, flat spaces (wider and flatter even than Florida’s water-level wet prairies), sometimes flanked by mountains just big enough to provide a frame of reference. This is how small you are. This is how far you have to go.
That’s the ideal landscape for this kind of project. How big are we really? How far away is the place next door?
This far away. …
Laboratory Equipment has sad news for those of us who like straight, simple, elegant communication. It appears that scientific articles with abstracts packed with (unnecessary and obfuscatory) jargon are cited more often: The study, published in PLoS Computational Biology, suggests that most general writing rules are not as effective in scientific publications, which may reflect the influence of online search upon how science is discovered and consumed today. “What I think is funny is there’s this disconnect between what you’d like to read, and what scientists actually cite,” said Stefano Allesina, senior author of the study. “It’s very suggestive that we should not trust writing tips we take for granted.” During a seminar for incoming graduate students on how to write effective abstracts, Allesina wondered whether there was hard evidence for the “rules” that were taught. So Allesina and Cody Weinberger, a University of Chicago undergraduate, gathered hundreds of writing suggestions from scientific literature and […]
That, according to Nature, is the call issued by ecologist Stephen Heard, who wants researchers to keep their prose whimsical, funny, elegant and moving: In a guest post on the Tree of Life blog, Heard wrote that “style and beauty are not incompatible with scientific writing” and offered a few examples to make the point. One of these is a 2011 article in which Matthew Rockman, an evolutionary biologist at New York University in New York City, uses the nineteenth-century California gold rush as an extended metaphor for the ongoing hunt for meaningful gene variants in the human genome. Rockman wrote: “The shiny (Mendelian) nuggets are rapidly being collected, and ever larger teams of researchers with ever more powerful technologies are now probing whole genomes to find their quarry.” … [Isabelle Côté, a marine ecologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, ]says that some of her own attempts at whimsy have been quashed by […]
This is from Salon, so not exactly science reportage here, but still: In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”
Scientific American (via Nature) has more about Rush Holt’s eight-term Congressional career, and his new gig as CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): Is it distressing that science funding has been slashed in recent years? It’s not just science funding. In Congress, the public understanding of science has slipped in recent years and the way science is integrated into public policy has deteriorated somewhat so there is a lot of work to be done. This is not just communication and education but also making sure scientists understand the importance of integrating their work into public policy. Why has that slippage taken place? For a variety of reasons, some of which go back to the fact that for 50 years now in schools we have been teaching science primarily for future scientists rather than for every future member of society and every future citizen. …. In the current political climate of […]
Nature breaks the news to behaviorists – and this is more important than it might seem – that fish don’t really think mirrors are uninvited strangers: “There’s been a very long history of using a mirror as it’s just so handy,” says Robert Elwood, an animal-behaviour researcher at Queen’s University in Belfast, UK. Using a mirror radically simplifies aggression experiments, cutting down the number of animals required and providing the animal being observed with an ‘opponent’ perfectly matched in terms of size and weight. But in a study just published in Animal Behaviour, Elwood and his team add to evidence that many mirror studies are flawed. The researchers looked at how convict cichlid fish (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) reacted both to mirrors and to real fish of their own species. This species prefers to display their right side in aggression displays, which means that they end up alongside each other in a head-to-tail configuration. It is impossible […]
Washington Post reveals a secret scientific conspiracy to sneak as many Bob Dylan lyrics into publications as possible: While writing an article about intestinal gasses 17 years ago, Karolinska Institute researchers John Lundberg and Eddie Weitzberg couldn’t resist a punny title: “Nitric Oxide and inflammation: The answer is blowing in the wind”. Thus began their descent down the slippery slope of Bob Dylan call-outs. While the two men never put lyrics into their peer-reviewed studies, The Local Sweden reports, they started a personal tradition of getting as many Dylan quotes as possible into everything else they wrote — articles about other peoples’ work, editorials, book introductions, and so on. Soon, the pun ring doubled in size. … A fifth scientist joined the group when his article “Tangled up in blue: Molecular cardiology in the postmolecular era” hit the stands. Now, the researchers say, they have a running bet: Whoever can sneak in the most references […]
Click to embiggen An illustration illustrating illustration. This is how standardized maps are made. These are the standards. From The preparation of illustrations for reports of the United States Geological survey, with brief descriptions of processes of reproduction, by John L. Ridgway, a meta-illustrator.
The Guardian polls scientists to get their favorite (and corniest) science jokes: ? A weed scientist goes into a shop. He asks: “Hey, you got any of that inhibitor of 3-phosphoshikimate-carboxyvinyl transferase? Shopkeeper: “You mean Roundup?” Scientist: “Yeah, that’s it. I can never remember that dang name.” Made up by and first told by me. John A Pickett, scientific leader of chemical ecology, Rothamsted Research … ? After sex, one behaviourist turned to another behaviourist and said, “That was great for you, but how was it for me?” It’s an oldie. I came across it in the late 1980s in a book by cognitive science legend Philip Johnson-Laird. Behaviourism was a movement in psychology that put the scientific observation of behaviour above theorising about unobservables like thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Johnson-Laird was one of my teachers at Cambridge, and he was using the joke to comment on the “cognitive revolution” that had overthrown behaviourism and […]
You might have seen on BBC and elsewhere that India launched a rocket to Mars. But have you seen the Quartz article on just how inexpensively they managed to do it?: Christened Mangalyaan, or Mars vehicle, the rocket is part of a scientific mission that cost a grand total of Rs 4.5 billion, or $73 million. In terms of the space business, that’s a bargain. By contrast, NASA’s next Mars mission will cost $671 million and do the same thing as India’s craft: orbit the red planet collecting data. The secret to India’s low-budget space program is a simple one: operating within constraints and without luxuries. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) adapts what technology it can, strips out costs wherever it can and is staffed with modestly-paid yet incredibly hard-working scientists, explains the Economic Times. It is willing to take more risks, for example by building just one physical model of its craft compared […]
PhysOrg is sending out the call, as the Pentagon prepares to team up with brain-tech DIYers: […A]t the Maker Faire in New York, a new low-cost EEG recording front end was debuted at DARPA’s booth. Known as OpenBCI, the device can process eight channels of high quality EEG data, and interface it to popular platforms like Arduino. Arduinos are ideal devices because there is a huge developer community that provides, among other things, “shields” which plug right in to the Arduino boards to add functionality. An Arduino is also easy to program with an intuitive language that does not require tedious assembly-level knowledge. Furthermore, additional analysis functions are provided by increasing popular Processing software development environment. DARPA program manager William Casebeer said that his goal was to return next year to the Maker meeting with a device that costs under $30. Other low cost projects they are funding include 3D printed electrodes by a startup […]
Ever since the Buckyball story broke big last year, Rice University chemist Rick Smalley has been getting the phone calls. Rick, they say, this is Jamie in Minnesota, and I saw this article. I just wanted you to know that I’ve dreamed about this molecule and now I can see it. And Smalley, whose job it is in a sense to dream about molecules, finds himself talking to a complete stranger about the one he discovered by accident. Officially, the molecule is called buckminsterfullerene, in honor of the eccentric futurist-inventor R. Buckminster Fuller, and it fascinates not only the Jamies of this world, but the Paul Chus as well…. Ride easy, Jim.
FT.com introduces us to the genteel, cultured Fabiola Gianotti – accomplished pianist, paleontologist’s daughter, coffee enthusiast, trained classicist… and the kind of person who hunts the Higgs boson: Nature is her ultimate inspiration, Gianotti says, and she explains how she inherited her love of it from her father, an Italian micropaleontologist. His work meant the family was mainly based in busy cities, first Rome and later Milan, but he ensured his young daughter was taken on excursions to the great outdoors at every opportunity. “I remember very long walks in the mountains, where we stopped at every step to admire a little plant or a little butterfly,” she says. An ammonite fossil, well known for displaying nature’s Fibonacci code, sits on her coffee table, a strong reminder of those times with her father, as well as a clue to guests that this is the home not just of a scientist but of a modern Renaissance […]
Slate has printed his controversial plan to live up to the promise of gene science without the industrial agriculture downside: The GMO story has become mired in the eco-wrecking narrative of industrial agriculture, and that is too bad for those who understand the real risks of climate change and discern our desperate need for innovation. And while the blue-sky hype of a genetically secured food supply has not become a reality, there have been a few breakthroughs. Even as climate change has increased the prevalence of many plant diseases, the new science can take credit for genetic inoculations that saved Hawaii’s papaya business. It’s also led to flood-resistant rice, created by Pamela Ronald of the University of California–Davis. Of course, the party-line foodie dare not say anything positive about GMOs, at risk of being labeled a stooge of the foodopolists. And it’s true: Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, and Pioneer are not interested in GMO innovations that […]
Nature bemoans the fact that America’s technological prowess is on the wane – and it’s getting really obvious that our science fleet has seen better days: “The community is deeply concerned that the ability to go to sea will be significantly reduced in the next decade, as research ships are retired or laid up,” says Mark Abbott, dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University in Corvallis. The average age of the ships is more than 23 years, and many are scheduled to retire in the coming years. … The more aged parts of the fleet lack features crucial for much research, such as the ability to stay exactly in position at sea.