The New York Times’ Gary Greenberg asks “What if the Placebo Effect Isn’t a Trick?” and gets some interesting answers. Along the way, he tells the interesting history of the placebo and how it has become a standard in FDA=approved clinical trials. My only question for the FDA is this: if someone were to attempt to certify a placebo effect, what would you compare it to?
Tip from Drudge, who, like a blind squirrel, occasionally finds a fresh nut, and never leaves a permalink.
At the Better Explained blog, Kalid Azad hits another home run with An Interactive Guide to the Fourier Transform.
Here’s a plain-English metaphor:
- What does the Fourier Transform do? Given a smoothie, it finds the recipe.
- How? Run the smoothie through filters to extract each ingredient.
- Why? Recipes are easier to analyze, compare, and modify than the smoothie itself.
- How do we get the smoothie back? Blend the ingredients.
Here’s the “math English” version of the above:
- The Fourier Transform takes a time-based pattern, measures every possible cycle, and returns the overall “cycle recipe” (the amplitude, offset, & rotation speed for every cycle that was found).
Tip from Kotke, who has a cool Fourier Transform video.
Want to save the planet? How about starting by saving the birds. Here’s a Pareto graph that gives a strong hint of where to start:
That’s right, get the cat population under control. Eradicate feral cat colonies, and euthanize cat collections (oh, and institutionalize obsessive cat ladies). The whole country needs to grow up and get that “cute little kitty” lie out of their heads, and replace it with something more realistic, like “bird murderer.”
Tip from Bird Note, by way of Sarah Hoyt at the Instapundit.
Update: One Dallas suburb is infested with feral cats, protected by a well-connected cat lady.
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.
…is the tagline I’d use to describe Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds’ The Medusa Chronicles, the startling sequel to Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “A Meeting with Medusa.”
Baxter and Reynolds are up to their usual tricks of piling wonder atop wonder in their usual over-the-top scenarios, while cleverly maintaining Clarke’s style and tone, AND sneaking in episodes strongly reminiscent of 2001, A Space Odyssey. An added bonus is the introduction of a “new physics” based on the Mach Principle, which is still puzzling serious researchers today.
…local physical laws must be shaped by the large-scale structures of the universe. And it is meaningless to talk of the behaviour of an object in isolation, without relation to the rest of the universe. This was 90’s insight. From that beginning, 90, and a group of others, developed a new kind of physics–from first principles, based only on observation and philosophy. (The Medusa Chronicles, p. 99)
On a day that I’m overbooked, running around campus doing minor, but essential chores, and feeling a bit grumpy about the whole academic enterprise, I stumble upon a jewel like this:
Not in a gallery or the administration building, but in a hallway between classrooms. Where thousands of students, and the odd faculty member, can marvel at what talents sometimes pop up where we least expect them.
I’m neck deep in Andrea Wulf‘s biography of Alexander von Humboldt, and it’s absolutely riveting. Von Humboldt was some kind of scientific maniac, who caught the interest of everyone from Goethe to Thomas Jefferson to Simon Bolivar. Von Humboldt was arguably the first naturalist to think ecologically, as well as one of the earliest abolitionists. He didn’t get to go everywhere, and he didn’t get to meet everyone, but damn close.