Real Science Sunday

What better way to spend a Sunday than watching some great videos that explain or treat science? Real Clear Science has you covered. I am particularly fond of the video of Schrodinger’s Cat. I am less fond of the Neil de Grasse Tyson’s response to the question of genetically modified foods. I think Tyson’s shows that expertise in one realm, astrophysics, does not transfer to other realms, biology. It’s my understanding, at least, that the kind of tinkering with the genome achieved through plant hybridization is different from that achieved through direct tweaking of genes. I’ve checked with biologists, and they say I’m right and Neil is wrong. Sigh. Neil, Neil, Neil.

A Laudable Failed Replication

Two scientists who previously had published about the possible cuing of memory by the presence of a partner have failed to replicate their own original results, which they had previously shared (data and all), and published their own failure to do so. This is science at its best.:

In an earlier study, coauthor Horton reported that the presence an individual who was associated with a previously learned object increased the speed at which the object was named. In other words, the partner’s presence served as an associative memory cue to enhance lexical processing. In a follow-up paper published this month in PLOS ONE, the researchers aimed to replicate these findings as a foundation upon which to further explore the mechanisms by which associative cuing facilitates naming. But to their surprise, a series of experiments modeled after the originals failed to replicate their prior results – the presence of the partner from the learning phase did not influence the speed of object naming.

Thank you, PLoS.

This Is What Happens

The Guardian has a translation of the Der Spiegel interview with Peter Piot who was a researcher at a lab in Antwerp when a pilot brought him a blood sample from a Belgian nun who had fallen mysteriously ill in Zaire. The title of the interview is misleading: Piot doesn’t claim to have discovered Ebola, only to have been part of a team, as well as a larger international effort, to understand what in fact the virus was.

The misleading title, misunderstanding the nature of science and scientific inquire, underlines something that Piot himself when asked Why did WHO [the World Health Organization] react so late?:

On the one hand, it was because their African regional office isn’t staffed with the most capable people but with political appointees. And the headquarters in Geneva suffered large budget cuts that had been agreed to by member states. The department for haemorrhagic fever and the one responsible for the management of epidemic emergencies were hit hard.

This is what happens when you politicize science, something usually accompanied by undermining science through de-funding the agencies that have made so much basic and applied research possible.

Imperial Measurements

rnelsonee offered the best explanation of the imperial measurement system I have ever read:

Imperial is similar to metric if you constrain yourself to one type of measurement. Like liquid volume uses power of 2 instead of 10:

1 dram x 2 ** 2 = 1 Tbsp
1 Tbsp x 2 = 1 fl oz
1 fl oz x 2 = 1 jig
1 jig x 2 = 1 gill
1 gill x 2 = 1 cup
1 cup x 2 = 1 pint
1 pint x 2 = 1 quart
1 quart x 2 ** 2 = 1 gallon

[The notation “2 ** 2″ should be read as “two squared [that is, 4] or “two to the second power.]

But then Imperial gets all weird because entire different scales get mixed together. For example, a mile isn’t a terrible unit – it’s just a thousand paces (hence miles), and is more intuitive/easier to measure (when walking) than km. I like the foot and inch (thumb size) as well, even though people obviously have different sized feet (but hey, it’s not like the meter is easy to recreate with no tools). But no one has any business mixing inches and miles (at least they didn’t 1,000 years ago) because you’d measure troop movements in miles and your dick in inches. It wasn’t until we started doing a lot of ‘extreme’ levels/measurements with physics that we needed metric to easily convert between the two scales.

Of course, this was after this:

from Josh Bazell's "The Wild Things"

from Josh Bazell’s “The Wild Things”

And then this:

Imperial versus Metric by Bar Graph

Imperial versus Metric by Bar Graph