Richard Feynman is one of the greatest scientific minds, and what I love about him, aside from his brilliance, is his perspective on why we perform science. I’ve been reading the compilation of short works of Feynman titled The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, and I recently came across a section that really hit home with me.
- 1 in 3 scientists admit to using questionable research practices
- 1 in 50 admits falsifying or fabricating data outright
- Among biomedical researcher trainees at UC-San Diego, 81% said they would modify or fabricate results to win a grant or publish a paper
This is obvious disturbing, and worth highlighting to try and root these things out. Science is about finding the truth – no matter what it is – and as more businesses start using data science in order to drive business outcomes, we need to make sure that science is about being honest – with the truth and with ourselves.
The scientific method was developed to provide the best way to figure out what the truth is, given the data we’ve got. It doesn’t make perfect decisions (no method can), but it’s the best method available.
Real scientists (the ones not highlighted in Jen’s research) care about what the data is actually saying and discovering the truth. When someone cares about something else other than the truth (money, celebrity, fame, etc.), then bad science is what you get. Of course, when there are people involved, sometimes the truth isn’t the top priority.
Great infographic, Jen! You can find it here…
I really like Stephen Wolfram’s book A New Kind of Science (or NKS for short) – on how simple computational programs can create amazingly complex things. I’m also really enamored with the iPad (I’ve written about it before a number of times…).
Now, two of my favorite things are coming together – Wolfram’s NKS is now available on the iPad. It’s available at Apple’s iTunes store for $9.99 – far less than the hardback version and certainly much lighter!… (Hmmm… Two things coming together – kind of like chocolate and peanut butter in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup…)
I haven’t purchased an iPad yet, but now I’m really excited to think about possibly maybe starting to look into getting one… (or at least window shopping for one…)
Read more about A New Kind of Science for the iPad on Stephen Wolfram’s blog here…
It’s almost like a cosmic hurricane warning signal… From Bad Astronomy: “So, what’s the deal with Betelgeuse? What is it, will it explode, and if so, when?”
The constellation Orion’s biggest star is Betelgeuse (pronounced “beetle-juice”), a red supergiant, and it’s one of the brightest stars in the sky – that’s the “what”.
Will it explode? Well, according to some observers, the star is not round, and it’s getting smaller. This could be the signs of Betelgeuse heading toward a supernova phase, but it also could be explained away by large sunspots that fool our observations.
Bad Astronomy seems to think that this is likely an astronomical doomsday rumor. It may be interesting only because it’s close to the 2012 doomsday date that is the end of the Mayan calendar. But read the Bad Astronomy article for yourself to get the best information on the topic.
Recent discovery of a new supernova may lead to questions about dark matter theory. Science aficionados know that there appears to be more gravitational attraction than can be explained by the matter that we can see. So, in order for the extra gravity to be there, it’s been theorized that there must be extra matter that we can’t see – in other words, “dark matter“.
However, this new supernova discovery may shine some light on the darkness. Apparently, this supernova is spewing calcuim and titanium, and while most reports are focusing on the calcium, it is thought that the much heavier element titanium is the interesting part. This titanium, which is radioactive and emits positrons as it decays, could be the source of what had previously been attributed to dark matter particles colliding. If these types of supernovae are creating such an abundance of radioactive heavy elements in the universe, this could help explain the supposed dark matter signatures.
I love to read, and I especially love to read nonfiction books that help me understand how the world works. So, I’m going to be providing reviews of some of the books that I’ve been reading lately, and let you in on why I like (or don’t like) them and what I’m learning.
Recently I picked up a copy of The Perfect Swarm by Len Fisher, Ph.D., which focuses on the science of complexity in everyday life Dr. Fisher has also written books on game theory in real life (Rock, Paper, Scissors) and the optimal way to dunk a doughnut (aptly named How to Dunk a Doughnut). It turns out that Fisher was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for the dunking donut work – the award is usually reserved for work that just plain bad, but Fisher has apparently turned his lemon into lemonade…
In The Perfect Swarm, Fisher describes how bees, ants, locusts, and fish use swarm intelligence to guide group movements and to help in the search for food. Humans use swarm intelligence as well, and Fisher describes multiple interesting ways that we can take advantage of these concepts to make better judgments in everyday life. Here’s just some of the interesting concepts and principles that come out of his analysis of complexity:
- To move a group in the direction you want (for example, within a company), lead from the inside, but take care not to let other members of the group know what you are doing. Just head in the direction that you want to go, and leave it to the laws of the swarm to do the rest.
- If you are in a crowd in a dangerous situation, use a mixed strategy for escape; follow the crowd 60 percent of the time, and spend the other 40 percent searching out escape routes on your own.
- If you want to persuade a large group of people, or even start a craze, don’t rely on persuading someone with influence to pass the message on. It is far better to try for a critical mass of early adopters – people who will take the idea or product up after a single exposure.
- When confronted with a mass of data that you need to use as the basis of a decision, furst use Benford’s Law to check that the data haven’t been faked.
- Avoid the perils of groupthink by escaping temporarily from the group environment, doing some independent thinking, and committing yourself to the conclusions of that thinking before returning to the group.
- Spread your bets evenly. Instead of choosing one alternative over another, allocate your resources equally to each.
And here’s a really interesting one – especially if you are hiring someone in your company:
- If you want to give yourself the best chance of choosing the very best option in a situation that doesn’t allow you to go back to the options that you have rejected, look at 37 percent of those available, then choose the next one that is better than any of them. This will give you a 1 in 3 chance of finding the best option, and a very high chance of finding one in the top few percent.
I am incredibly interested in systems that have simple rules yet create complex behavior. The world can be modeled as a system using simple rules, and Fisher is quite effective in showing us some interesting and useful things that come from looking at these systems. It’s a good read, interesting to understand the concepts he’s getting across, and, I would say, worth the time. You can pick up a copy of The Perfect Swarm here…
Stephen Wolfram recently gave a talk about his efforts to understand the universe around us through computation. He’s the CEO and founder of Wolfram Research, creator of Mathematica, and author of A New Kind of Science. Wolfram recently launches his computational knowledge engine, Wolfram|Alpha (I wrote a post about its launch some time back…).
Here’s the video of his talk, given at a recent TED conference…
Watch and learn!
Last week, Nancy Atkinson posted on Universe Today that astronomers are now understanding why they’ve missed 90% of the observable galaxies, and, with new tools, are now able to see them.
Here’s a paragraph from Atkinson’s article:
“Astronomers have long known that many surveys of distant galaxies miss 90% of their targets, but they didn’t know why. Now, astronomers have determined that a large fraction of galaxies whose light took 10 billion years to reach us have gone undiscovered. This was found with an extremely deep survey using two of the four giant 8.2-meter telescopes that make up ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and a unique custom-built filter. The survey also helped uncover some of the faintest galaxies ever found at this early stage of the Universe.”
You can read the Universe Today article here…
Element 112 has an official name – Copernicium – named after the 16th-century Polish scientist Nicholas Copernicus, who first theorized that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Copernicium’s periodic element symbol is Cn.
While the name was announced some time back, it became official only recently.
Wonder how this would look in the periodic table of periodic tables?…
Read the Los Angeles Times article about Copernicium and the other most recently named elements here…