His Last Bow

The late Michael Crichton was a colossus among popular novelists, and spun off movies as quick as I make wisecracks:  The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Jurassic Park, etc.  He was also an insightful social commentator, with observations like his Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect.

Turns out he left a literary lagniappe in his papers, the historical western novel Dragon Teeth.  (Read the review for a skeptical take on posthumous novels.)

DragonTeeth

The Introduction:

As he appears in an early photograph, William Johnson is a handsome young man with a crooked smile and a naive grin.  A study in slouching indifference, he lounges against a Gothic building.  He is a tall fellow, but his height appears irrelevant to his presentation of himself.  The photograph is dated “New Haven, 1875,” and was apparently taken after he had left home to begin studies as an undergraduate at Yale College.

A later photograph, marked “Cheyenne, Wyoming, 1876,” shows Johnson quite differently.  His mouth is framed by a full mustache; his body is harder and enlarged by use; his jaw is set; he stands confidently with shoulders squared and feet wide–and ankle-deep in mud.  Clearly visible is a peculiar scar on his upper lip, which in later years he claimed was the result of an Indian attack.

It only gets better, as our hero gets embroiled in the famous Cope-Marsh dinosaur rivalry in a truly Wild West.   I found this one on the Barnes and Noble discount table, hardback cheaper than paperback.  Read it!

 

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Science is getting exciting!

Five very interesting articles recently popped up on the web, suggesting that current science is much more interesting than the average Joe might think:

    • At FiveThirtyEight*, Christie Aschwanden’s Science Isn’t Broken gives a great exposition on scientific fraud, p-hacking, and why science is much more difficult than most folks realize.
    • Robert Matthews, writing in UAE’s The National, says Lone researchers with radical ideas may hold the keys to science’s unanswered questions.  One of those “loners” is “Eleonora Troja, an astronomer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center who studies X-rays, had hoped for years to detect the light from a neutron-star merger, but many people thought she was dreaming.”  
    • FiveThirtyEight’s Rebecca Boyle,  in Two Stars Slammed Into Each Other And Solved Half Of Astronomy’s Problems. What Comes Next?, describes that dream coming true and a revolution in astronomy that occurred in just 3 weeks this past August.
    • In The Serial-Killer Detector, the New Yorker’s Alec Wilkinson tells the story of Thomas Hargrove’s one-man Big Data project to categorize and analyze murders in the United States (751,785 since 1976) with the goal of tracking down serial killers.  From the description, is appears Hargrove has done yeoman’s work combining Small N and Big Data techniques with great success. “Hargrove thinks … that there are probably around two thousand serial killers at large in the U.S.”  Yikes!
    • Want to get in on the action?  At ScienceAlert.com, Mike McRae tells how Now You Can Build Your Very Own Muon Detector For Less Than $100, and possibly contribute to a Big Data project supporting stellar astronomy.

*ESPN’s website that analyzes sport statistics, election polling, and (apparently) anything else that catches their analysts’ eyes.

 

When all you have is a hammer…

…everything looks like a nail.

Daniel Lakens, the 20% Statistician, takes a rare but easy shot at statisticians and null hypothesis significance testing.

Our statistics education turns a blind eye to training people how to ask a good question. After a brief explanation of what a mean is, and a pit-stop at the normal distribution, we jump through as many tests as we can fit in the number of weeks we are teaching. We are training students to perform tests, but not to ask questions

He defines

…the Statisticians’ Fallacy: Statisticians who tell you ‘what you really want to know’, instead of explaining how to ask one specific kind of question from your data.

My favorite is the two-tailed test of the difference of two means, which can provide evidence that the two are different, but not that they are (nearly) the same.  My runners up are goodness-of-fit tests, which do no such thing.  Sometimes I feel like I’m selling the researcher’s version of Snake Oil, rather than teaching sound data analysis and interpretation.

Lakens closes with an excellent addendum, a reference to David Hand’s Deconstructing Statistical Questions,  which goes into much more detail.

A Tinned Oyster Treat

Some time ago, I promised I’d report on my attempts at recipes from Barbara-Jo McIntosh’s Tin Fish Gourmet.  As usual, I didn’t read the cookbook so much as fixed recipes, but as more of a guide.  So I combined elements from two different recipes, “Christmas Eve Oysters” (p 82) and “Shrimp and Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes” (p 133).  The result is delicious.

TinFishGourmet

So here’s my first offering: Oyster-Stuffed Tomatoes.

  • 8 Campari tomatoes
  • one mushroom
  • one green onion
  • one tablespoon capers
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • one 3 1/2 oz can smoked oysters

With a paring knife, cut off the tops of the tomatoes, removing the stem.  Then use a melon baller to scoop out most of the flesh of the tomatoes (save this for your soup or sauce stock).  Dice the mushroom to pea size, and slice the green onion finely.  Mix mushroom, onion, capers, cheese, and oysters in a bowl, using the oil from the tinned oysters to moisten the mixture.  Spoon mixture into the tomatoes.  Place stuffed tomatoes in a shallow, foil-lined pan, and broil for 10 minutes.  Serve immediately.

My wife’s only complaint was that the tomatoes should have been bigger, with more stuffing.