If you want to extract a woman’s phone number, then picking the right soundtrack for the attempt will significantly increase your chances of scoring. That’s according to French psychologists, who found that an “average-looking man” doubled his chances of success when the object of his desire had been softened up with a “romantic ballad”, as [...]
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The weather is abominable. We started out the day with thick, slushy, wet clumps of snow coming down with rain, and now we've got fierce winds and an icy fog of blowing blizzardy stuff everywhere. So I fixed myself a dinner of baked salmon and washed it down with Fire Rock Pale Ale.
If I close my eyes and turn up the music loud to drown out the howling winds, I can almost — almost — imagine it's Hawaii.Read the comments on this post...
“A repeated measures 2 x 2 factorial design using a psychophysical experimental methodology was performed to quantify the effect of shaft design (straight and bent shaft) and shoveling technique (forward and backward progression) on heart rate, perceived exertion, productivity, trunk kinematics and load kinetics. Ten male subjects performed four 8-min trials of snow shoveling on a paved asphalt surface. The most notable finding was significantly less trunk flexion with the bent shaft (41.4 degrees ) than with the straight shaft design (49.2 degrees ). The study results led to a recommendation of a bent-shaft shovel for the purpose of reducing trunk flexion. In the absence of any strong positive evidence and due to poor subjective response to backward progression while shoveling, this technique was not recommended”
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No?it’s silly research!
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: I scream! You scream! We all scream?from ice-cream headaches.
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Impact of wet underwear ...
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The journal Nature has selected optogenetics as its "Method of the Year", and it certainly is cool. But what really impressed me is this video, which explains the technique. It doesn't talk down to the viewer, it doesn't overhype, it doesn't rely on telling you how it will cure cancer (it doesn't), it just explains and shows how you can use light pulses to trigger changes in electrical activity in cells. Well done!
Time to open the thirtieth door in the advent calendar. Until the New Year, I'll be opening a door onto a different landscape from somewhere in the solar system. Where in the solar system is this ridged crater? Click to enlarge >Door 30The outer ring of this crater is 715 kilometers in diameter. Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / Smithsonian Institution / Carnegie Institution of Washington Here's how the MESSENGER team describes the Rembrandt impact ....
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People keep sending me this link to an article by Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker: The Decline Effect and the Scientific Method, which has the subheadings of "The Truth Wears Off" and "Is there something wrong with the scientific method?" Some of my correspondents sound rather distraught, like they're concerned that science is breaking down and collapsing; a few, creationists mainly, are crowing over it and telling me they knew we couldn't know anything all along (but then, how did they know…no, let's not dive down that rabbit hole).
I read it. I was unimpressed with the overselling of the flaws in the science, but actually quite impressed with the article as an example of psychological manipulation.
The problem described is straightforward: many statistical results from scientific studies that showed great significance early in the analysis are less and less robust in later studies. For instance, a pharmaceutical company may release a new drug with great fanfare that showed extremely promising results in clinical trials, and then later, when numbers from its use in the general public trickle back, shows much smaller effects. Or a scientific observation of mate choice in swallows may first show a clear preference for symmetry, but as time passes and more species are examined or the same species is re-examined, the effect seems to fade.
This isn't surprising at all. It's what we expect, and there are many very good reasons for the shift.
Regression to the mean: As the number of data points increases, we expect the average values to regress to the true mean…and since often the initial work is done on the basis of promising early results, we expect more data to even out a fortuitously significant early outcome.
The file drawer effect: Results that are not significant are hard to publish, and end up stashed away in a cabinet. However, as a result becomes established, contrary results become more interesting and publishable.
Investigator bias: It's difficult to maintain scientific dispassion. We'd all love to see our hypotheses validated, so we tend to consciously or unconsciously select reseults that favor our views.
Commercial bias: Drug companies want to make money. They can make money off a placebo if there is some statistical support for it; there is certainly a bias towards exploiting statistical outliers for profit.
Population variance: Success in a well-defined subset of the population may lead to a bit of creep: if the drug helps this group with well-defined symptoms, maybe we should try it on this other group with marginal symptoms. And it doesn't…but those numbers will still be used in estimating its overall efficacy.
Simple chance: This is a hard one to get across to people, I've found. But if something is significant at the p=0.05 level, that still means that 1 in 20 experiments with a completely useless drug will still exhibit a significant effect.
Statistical fishing: I hate this one, and I see it all the time. The planned experiment revealed no significant results, so the data is pored over and any significant correlation is seized upon and published as if it was intended. See previous explanation. If the data set is complex enough, you'll always find a correlation somewhere, purely by chance.
Here's the thing about Lehrer's article: he's a smart guy, he knows this stuff. He touches on every single one of these explanations, and then some. In fact, the structure of the article is that it is a whole series of explanations of those sorts. Here's phenomenon 1, and here's explanation 1 for that result. But here's phenomenon 2, and explanation 1 doesn't work…but here's explanation 2. But now look at phenomenon 3! Explanation 2 doesn't fit! Oh, but here's explanation 3. And on and on. It's all right there, and Lehrer has explained it.
But that's where the psychological dimension comes into play. Look at the loaded language in the article: scientists are "disturbed," "depressed," and "troubled." The issues are presented as a crisis for all of science; the titles (which I hope were picked by an editor, not Lehrer) emphasize that science isn't working, when nothing in the article backs that up. The conclusion goes from a reasonable suggestion to complete bullshit.
Such anomalies demonstrate the slipperiness of empiricism. Although many scientific ideas generate conflicting results and suffer from falling effect sizes, they continue to get cited in the textbooks and drive standard medical practice. Why? Because these ideas seem true. Because they make sense. Because we can't bear to let them go. And this is why the decline effect is so troubling. Not because it reveals the human fallibility of science, in which data are tweaked and beliefs shape perceptions. (Such shortcomings aren't surprising, at least for scientists.) And not because it reveals that many of our most exciting theories are fleeting fads and will soon be rejected. (That idea has been around since Thomas Kuhn.) The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything. We like to pretend that our experiments define the truth for us. But that's often not the case. Just because an idea is true doesn't mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn't mean it's true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to believe.
I've highlighted the part that is true. Yes, science is hard. Especially when you are dealing with extremely complex phenomena with multiple variables, it can be extremely difficult to demonstrate the validity of a hypothesis (I detest the word "prove" in science, which we don't do, and we know it; Lehrer should, too). What the decline effect demonstrates, when it occurs, is that just maybe the original hypothesis was wrong. This shouldn't be disturbing, depressing, or troubling at all, except, as we see in his article, when we have scientists who have an emotional or profit-making attachment to an idea.
That's all this fuss is really saying. Sometimes hypotheses are shown to be wrong, and sometimes if the support for the hypothesis is built on weak evidence or a highly derived interpretation of a complex data set, it may take a long time for the correct answer to emerge. So? This is not a failure of science, unless you're somehow expecting instant gratification on everything, or confirmation of every cherished idea.
But those last few sentences, where Lehrer dribbles off into a delusion of subjectivity and essentially throws up his hands and surrenders himself to ignorance, is unjustifiable. Early in any scientific career, one should learn a couple of general rules: science is never about absolute certainty, and the absence of black & white binary results is not evidence against it; you don't get to choose what you want to believe, but instead only accept provisionally a result; and when you've got a positive result, the proper response is not to claim that you've proved something, but instead to focus more tightly, scrutinize more strictly, and test, test, test ever more deeply. It's unfortunate that Lehrer has tainted his story with all that unwarranted breast-beating, because as a summary of why science can be hard to do, and of the institutional flaws in doing science, it's quite good.
But science works. That's all that counts. One could whine that we still haven't "proven" cell theory, but who cares? Cell and molecular biologists have found it a sufficiently robust platform to dive ever deeper into how life works, constantly pushing the boundaries of uncertainty.Read the comments on this post...
I've just posted my annual roundup of significant images from planetary exploration in 2010. I make no claims for these being the "best of 2010" -- the images are selected more to mark significant events in 2010, though I confess some are just chosen because they're spectacular. And anyway, this is space exploration; I think all the images are spectacular. If you are a Planetary Society member, this article expands upon the "Year in Pictures" ....
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It's just a few more days until the start of the new year. To celebrate, here's a look back at some of the best of NASA's image of the day gallery from 2010. Clicking on each picture will take you back to the original image where you can learn more about the subject and download a higher resolution photo. Happy New Year!
[Space shuttle Endeavor is silhouetted against the Earth's atmosphere as it prepares to dock with the International Space Station on Feb. 9. Photo credit: NASA.]
[This Hubble photo of the Carina Nebula taken in April shows a dense area of newborn stars. Photo credit: NASA/ESA/M. Livio/Hubble 20th Anniversary Team.]
[NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman takes a self portrait during a spacewalk in May as part of the STS-132 mission. The International Space Station and Earth can be seen in the reflection of his visor. Photo credit: NASA.]
[This photo of Saturn's silhouette was taken by the Cassini probe on Feb. 13. In this image, the Sun is behind Saturn, illuminating the planet's uppermost atmosphere and the Sun-facing side of its rings. Photo credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.]
[A twisting solar prominence occurring during a March 30 eruption on the Sun is captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly. Photo Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA.]
[Astronauts Michael Good (left) and Garrett Reisman peek inside the rear windows of Space Shuttle Atlantis' flight deck during their third STS-132 spacewalk in May. Photo credit: NASA]
[A Hungarian stream turned red with toxic sludge is seen by a NASA satellite. On Oct. 4, an accident occurred at an aluminum oxide plant in western Hungary, spilling toxic red sludge that pooled over 6 feet deep in places, killing at least four people instantly. Photo credit: NASA.]
[A total lunar eclipse is seen on the morning of the winter solstice, Dec. 21, the first time the two events have happened on the same day in over 300 years. A lunar eclipse happens when the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon, blocking sunlight from illuminating the Moon's surface. Photo credit: NASA.]
[This Hubble image shows an unusual spiral surrounding the dying star LL Pegasi. Scientists think LL Pegasi's orbit with its binary star companion is responsible for the spiral shape. Photo credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble/R. Sahai, JPL.]
[Hurricane Celia was captured over the Pacific Ocean by NASA's Aqua satellite on June 24. Just five minutes after this photo was taken, the storm was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane thanks to its sustained winds of 135 mph. The storm's well-defined eye is an indicator of its strength. Photo credit: NASA.]
[This Common Extensible Cryogenic Engine (CECE) is seen completing its final hot-fire test this summer. The engine is capable of deep throttling, or precise throttling down to allow a smooth and controlled landing. Deep throttling engines could allow spacecraft to land on unfamiliar surfaces like those on asteroids or other planets. Photo credit: NASA]
[The flat anvil dome of a cumulonimbus cloud is seen over Africa. Cumulonimbus clouds bring heavy precipitation, lightning, hail, strong winds and tornadoes. Photo credit: NASA.]
[This false-color image of the Islands of the Four Mountains, snow-capped volcanoes in Alaska's Aleutian Island chain, was taken by NASA's Terra satellite in August. Mt. Cleveland, the active volcano in the center of the image, can be seen spewing a light plume of ash and gas. Photo credit: NASA.]
[This infrared photo from the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory shows the dust cloud next to the Rosette Nebula, a "stellar nursery," located about 5,000 light-years from earth in the constellation Monoceros. Photo credit: ESA/PACS & SPIRE Consortium/HOBYS Key Programme Consortia.]
[The Florida peninsula at night as seen by the crew of the International Space Station on Dec. 28, 2010. Photo credit: NASA.]
[Space Shuttle Endeavour is seen on launchpad 39-A two days before its Feb. 8 launch. Endeavour is currently scheduled to be the orbiter to make the final shuttle launch on April 1 before NASA's shuttle fleet is retired. One more flight, however, may be added after Endeavour's April launch, which would make Atlantis the last orbiter to fly. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.]
[These two lasers originating from facilities at the Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory at the Goddard Space Flight Center keep track of orbiting satellites. These two lasers are tracking a satellite orbiting the Moon. Photo credit: NASA.]
[The space shuttle crew of STS-133 hams it up during a break in launch countdown training. Space Shuttle Discovery was first scheduled to launch on Nov. 1 but has been delayed several times due to technical problems and once for weather. The current launch date for the second-to-last space shuttle mission is scheduled for Feb. 3. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett.]
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Ready for the New Year? It's going to be an exciting one. Those of you who are reading this and who are going to New Year's Eve parties and who are geeky enough to bring up your interest in space in casual conversation may well hear comments like "how do you feel about the end of the space program?" I get that a lot. There's a couple of ways you could reply to such a comment, but my favorite way is to tell people that, contrary to what seems ....
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This week's image: Be sure to vote for your favorite caption!
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