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  • feedwordpress 08:01:10 on 2018/11/04 Permalink
    Tags: , cell, fringe science, , Micrographia, microscope, , , research, Robert Hooke, ,   

    “Science is a process”*… 

     

    klee

    Paul Klee, “The Bounds of the Intellect,” 1927 (detail)

     

    When my grandfather died last fall, it fell to my sisters and me to sort through the books and papers in his home in East Tennessee. My grandfather was a nuclear physicist, my grandmother a mathematician, and among their novels and magazines were reams of scientific publications. In the wood-paneled study, we passed around great sheaves of papers for sorting, filling the air with dust.

    My youngest sister put a pile of yellowing papers in front of me, and I started to leaf through the typewritten letters and scholarly articles. Then my eyes fell on the words fundamental breakthroughspectacular, and revolutionary. Letters from some of the biggest names in physics fell out of the folders, in correspondence going back to 1979.

    In this stack, I found, was evidence of a mystery. My grandfather had a theory, one that he believed to be among the most important work of his career. And it had never been published…

    The remarkable– and illuminating– story of Veronique (Nikki) Greenwood’s quest to determine whether her grandfather was “a genius or a crackpot”: “My Grandfather Thought He Solved a Cosmic Mystery.”

    * T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution

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    As we note that the history of science is, effectively, the history of the instruments developed to help us “see” things smaller, larger, smaller, farther, or outside our human sensory range, we might recall that it was on this date in 1664 that natural philosopher, architect and pioneer of the Scientific Revolution Robert Hooke showed an advance copy of his book Micrographia— a chronicle of Hooke’s observations through various lens– to members of the Royal Society.  The volume (which coined the word “cell” in a biological context) went on to become the first scientific best-seller, and inspired broad interest in the new science of microscopy.

    source: Cal Tech

    Note that the image above is of an edition of Micrographia dated 1665.  Indeed, while (per the above) the text was previewed to the Royal Society in 1664 (to wit the letter, verso), the book wasn’t published until September, 1665.  Note too that Micrographia is in English (while most scientific books of that time were still in Latin)– a fact that no doubt contributed to its best-seller status.

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:03 on 2018/10/02 Permalink
    Tags: camel, , , , Ig Nobel, research, ,   

    “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose”*… 

     

    colonoscopy

    Akira Horiuchi, winner of this year’s Ig Nobel for medical education, demonstrates his self-colonoscopy technique during this year’s award ceremony

     

    From workplace voodoo dolls and self-inflicted colonoscopies to cannibalistic diets and using roller coasters to pass kidney stones, here are the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel Prizes.

    It’s that time of year again, when some of the strangest science gets its turn to shine. To be clear, the Ig Nobel Prizes aren’t meant to diminish or demean scientific work, nor do they recognize dubious or bad science. Rather, it’s an opportunity to highlight some of the weirder work that gets done in research labs around the world, or scientific work that, quite frankly, is fucking hilarious. The tagline from the group behind the Ig Nobel Prize, Improbable Research, says it best: “Research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.”…

    More on the ceremony at “Solo Colonoscopies, Cannibal Calories, and More 2018 Ig Nobel Prize Winners.”  See the complete, official run-down of laureates and their work at “The 2018 Ig Nobel Prize Winners.”

    * Zora Neale Hurston

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    As we pursue knowledge, we might recall that t was on this date in 1721 that The Boston Globe announced the arrival of the first camel to the United States: “Just arrived from Africa, a very large Camel being above Seven Foot high, and Twelve Foot long, and is the first of its Kind ever brought into America to be seen at the bottom of Cold Lane where daily Attendance is given.”

    The first commercial importation of a number of camels into the U.S. was made in 1856  for military purposes (in the desert West), following an appropriation of $30,000 made by Congress in 1855.

    camel source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:27 on 2016/10/26 Permalink
    Tags: Donora, , , Ig Nobel Prize, killer smog, research, , , Tim Harford, , Undercover Economist   

    “The curious mind embraces science; the gifted and sensitive, the arts; the practical, business; the leftover becomes an economist”*… 

     

    Nobel-winning economist Eric Maskin delivers a 24/7 lecture, in which he explains his research in 24 seconds, then in seven words [source]

     

    Congratulations are in order to Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmstrom, winners on 10 October of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. Even though economics is not a full-fledged Nobel Prize, it has been earned by some splendid social scientists over the years — including a number of people who are not economists at all, from Herbert Simon and John Nash to Daniel Kahneman and Elinor Ostrom.

    Yet this week I would rather discuss a different prize: the Ig Nobel prize for economics. The Ig Nobels are an enormously silly affair: they have been awarded for a study of dinosaur gaits that involved attaching weighted sticks to chickens (the biology prize), for studying stinky feet (medicine) and for figuring out why shower curtains tend to billow inwards when you’re taking a shower (physics).

    But one of the Ig Nobel’s charms is that this ridiculous research might actually tell us something about the world. David Dunning and Justin Kruger received an Ig Nobel prize in psychology for their discovery that incompetent people rarely realise they are incompetent; the Dunning-Kruger effect is now widely cited. Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith won an Ig Nobel in physics for their discovery that hair and string have a tendency to become tangled — potentially an important line of research in understanding the structure of DNA. Most famously, Andre Geim’s Ig Nobel in physics for levitating a live frog was promptly followed by a proper Nobel Prize in the same subject for the discovery of graphene.

    A whimsical curiosity about the world is something to be encouraged. No wonder that the credo of the Ig Nobel prizes is that they should make you laugh, then make you think…

    The Undercover Economist (Tim Harford) on “The Ig Nobel prizes in Economics – in praise of ridiculous research.”

    * Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

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    As we prepare our entries for the Golden Fleece Award, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that residents of Donora, PA went to bed as usual, not knowing that a suffocating cloud of industrial gases would descend upon them during the night.  The cloud, a poisonous mix of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and metal dust, came from the smokestacks of the local zinc smelter where most of the town worked. Over the next five days, twenty residents died and half the town’s population – 7000 people – needed medical attention for their difficulty breathing.  The Donora tragedy shocked the nation and marked a turning point in the national dialogue about industrial pollution and its effect on health.

    A Donora street at noon, October 29, 1948

    source

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:51 on 2016/09/29 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , research, ,   

    “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”*… 

     

    We’ve looked before at the methodological problems that beset (too) much science, and at the work of John Ioannidis, who’s done more than anyone else to uncover them (see here and here).  Ioannidis is back…  and the news is troubling:

    Over the past decade, scientists have increasingly become ashamed at the failings of their own profession: due to a lack of self-policing and quality control, a large proportion of studies have not been replicable, scientific frauds have flourished for years without being caught, and the pressure to publish novel findings—instead of simply good science—has become the commanding mantra. In what might be one of the worst such failings, a new study suggests that even systematic reviews and meta-analyses—typically considered the highest form of scientific evidence—are now in doubt.

    The study comes from a single author: John Ioannidis, a highly respected researcher at Stanford University, who has built his reputation showing other scientists what they get wrong. In his latest work, Ioannidis contends that “the large majority of produced systematic reviews and meta-analyses are unnecessary, misleading, or conflicted.”

     Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are statistically rigorous studies that synthesize the scientific literature on a given topic. If you aren’t a scientist or a policymaker, you may have never heard of them. But you have almost certainly been affected by them.

    If you’ve ever taken a medicine for any ailment, you’ve likely been given the prescription based on systematic reviews of evidence for that medication. If you’ve ever been advised to use a standing desk to improve your health, it’s because experts used meta-analyses of past studies to make that recommendation. And government policies increasingly rely on conclusions stemming from evidence found in such reviews. “We put a lot of weight and trust on them to understand what we know and how to make decisions,” Ioannidis says…

    More at “The man who made scientists question themselves has just exposed huge flaws in evidence used to give drug prescriptions.” See also “The Inevitable Evolution of Bad Science” and “Trouble at the Lab.”

    And lest we think “hard scientists” alone in their misery, consider the plight of economists: “The Emperor’s New Paunch.”

    *Daniel J. Boorstin

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    As we check, check, and check again, we might send disingenuous birthday greetings to Trofim Denisovich Lysenko; he was born on this date in 1898.  A Soviet biologist and agronomist, he believed the Mendelian theory of heredity to be wrong, and developed his own, allowing for “soft inheritance”– the heretability of learned behavior. (He believed that in one generation of a hybridized crop, the desired individual could be selected and mated again and continue to produce the same desired product, without worrying about separation/segregation in future breeds.–he assumed that after a lifetime of developing (acquiring) the best set of traits to survive, those must be passed down to the next generation.)

    In many way Lysenko’s theories recall Lamarck’s “organic evolution” and its concept of “soft evolution” (the passage of learned traits), though Lysenko denied any connection. He followed I. V. Michurin’s fanciful idea that plants could be forced to adapt to any environmental conditions, for example converting summer wheat to winter wheat by storing the seeds in ice.  With Stalin’s support for two decades, he actively obstructed the course of Soviet biology and caused the imprisonment and death of many of the country’s eminent biologists who disagreed with him.

    Interestingly, some current research suggests that heretable learning– or a semblance of it– may in fact be happening, by virtue of epigenetics… though nothing vaguely resembling Lysenko’s theory.

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:40 on 2015/01/23 Permalink
    Tags: , Peacham, research, , sewage, , The Rose, Titus Andronicus,   

    “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die”*… 

     

    Further to Wednesday’s almanac entry on America’s first independent municipal sewer system

    Sometime in mid to late January, researchers from MIT plan to gather around a manhole on Portland Street in East Cambridge, dressed in plastic disposable biohazard coats and gloves. Each hour over the next 24, working in teams of two over four-hour shifts, they’ll sink a tube into the muck and pump one to two liters of sewage water into a plastic container. The container will be put into a cooler and taken to the nearby lab at MIT run by Eric Alm, a computational microbiologist. Alm’s lab will analyze all 24 of these sludgy samples to see what viruses and bacteria they hold; meanwhile, a vial of each sample will be sent to another lab to be analyzed for biomarkers (molecular or cellular flags for things like diseases and drugs, legal and illegal ).

    These researchers—who include architects, computational biologists, designers, electrical and mechanical engineers, geneticists, and microbiologists—will be testing an idea that’s attracting interest around the world: namely, that sewage can tell us important things about the people who excrete it. Already, research has shown that sewage can reveal illicit drug usage, the presence of influenza, the poliovirus and other pathogens, and the state of community health. So far, however, none of this has been tested in our local waste systems, other than some proof-of-concept sampling done in Boston. That has led to this first formal effort by scientists and public health officials to get a sewage snapshot of the people of Cambridge…

    Get to the bottom at “What does Cambridge sewage say about residents? MIT plans to find out.”

    * Mel Brooks

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    As we hold our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1594 that Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus was first performed (by Sussex’s Men at The Rose).  Titus‘s premiere is the first performance of a Shakespeare play of which there is precise record (though confident deduction dates other plays’ performances earlier); it was recorded in Philip Henslowe‘s diary.  It is also the only Shakespeare play for which a contemporary illustration survives, the work of a drawing master named Henry Peacham.

    The Peacham drawing (c.1595)

     source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:18 on 2014/08/15 Permalink
    Tags: , fishy, , , research, , , , , ,   

    “Smell was our first sense… We think because we smelled”* 

     

    Lisa Wade, in Pacific Standard:

    Earlier this year I reviewed a study that found that, simply by changing the weight of an object in hand, psychologists can manipulate how seriously a person takes an issue. In other words, when holding something heavy, matters seem heavy. Or, concerns seem weightier when one is weighed down.

    Thanks to an email from University of Southern California professor Norbert Schwarz, I was introduced to a whole series of studies on what psychologists call metaphorical effects. These are instances in which a metaphor commonly used to describe a psychological state or social reality can, in turn, induce that state or reality. So, for example, holding a warm cup of coffee makes people feel warmly toward each other (here), getting the cold shoulder makes people feel cold (here), people placed in a high location seem to be high in a hierarchy (here), and cleaning one’s hands makes a person feel morally clean (here).

    Schwarz was the co-author, with Spike W.S. Lee, on another example of a metaphorical effect. They wanted to know if smelling something fishy made people suspicious. It did.

    Read the noisome news in full at “Smelling Something Fishy Makes People More Suspicious.”

    * Lyall Watson (in Jacobson’s Organ)

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    As we hold our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” opened in the Ctaskills in New York State.  The organizers of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair– or Woodstock, as it is remembered– had hoped to sell 50,000 tickets; but by the week before the event, had moved 186,000.  A last-minute change of venue presented them with a hard choice: hastily erect more/stronger fences and install additional security on the new site (the famous Yasgur’s Farm) or offer the event for free.  The night before the event, with attendees already arriving in huge numbers, the promoters cut the fence.  Ultimately an estimated 400,000 people enjoyed a (somewhat rainy) weekend of performances from 32 acts.  It was, as Rolling Stone opined, a defining moment in Rock and Roll.

    source

     

     
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