(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘research

“My fake plants died because I didn’t pretend to water them”*…

Your correspondent treasures Wikipedia, and uses it often. But as Marco Silva points out, it has its vulnerabilities…

“I read through Wikipedia a lot when I’m bored in class,” says Adam, aged 15, who studies photography and ICT at a school in Kent. One day last July, one of his teachers mentioned the online encyclopaedia’s entry about Alan MacMasters, who it said was a Scottish scientist from the late 1800s and had invented “the first electric bread toaster”.

At the top of the page was a picture of a man with a pronounced quiff and long sideburns, gazing contemplatively into the distance – apparently a relic of the 19th Century, the photograph appeared to have been torn at the bottom.

But Adam was suspicious. “It didn’t look like a normal photo,” he tells me. “It looked like it was edited.”

After he went home, he decided to post about his suspicions on a forum devoted to Wikipedia vandalism.

Until recently, if you had searched for “Alan MacMasters” on Wikipedia, you would have found the same article that Adam did. And who would have doubted it?

After all, like most Wikipedia articles, this one was peppered with references: news articles, books and websites that supposedly provided evidence of MacMasters’ life and legacy. As a result, lots of people accepted that MacMasters had been real.

More than a dozen books, published in various languages, named him as the inventor of the toaster. And, until recently, even the Scottish government’s Brand Scotland website listed the electric toaster as an example of the nation’s “innovative and inventive spirit”…

All the while, as the world got to know the supposed Scottish inventor, there was someone in London who could not avoid a smirk as the name “Alan MacMasters” popped up – again and again – on his screen…

For more than a decade, a prankster spun a web of deception about the inventor of the electric toaster: “Alan MacMasters: How the great online toaster hoax was exposed,” from @MarcoLSilva at @BBCNews.

* Mitch Hedberg

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As we consider the source’s source, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that Atari introduced its first product, Pong, which became the world’s first commercially successful video game. Indeed, Pong sparked the beginning of the video game industry, and positioned Atari as its leader (in both arcade and home video gaming) through the early 1980s.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 29, 2022 at 1:00 am

“If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research”*…

It’s that time of year again– a collection of researchers have received the 2022 Ig Nobel Prizes for work that (as the awarding body, Improbable Research, puts it) “first makes us laugh, then makes us think.” Hannah Devlin reports…

It is one of life’s overlooked arts: the optimal way to turn a knob. Now an investigation into this neglected question has been recognised with one of science’s most coveted accolades: an Ig Nobel prize.

After a series of lab-based trials, a team of Japanese industrial designers arrived at the central conclusion that the bigger the knob, the more fingers required to turn it.

The team is one of 10 to be recognised at this year’s Ig Nobel awards for research that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think” – not to be confused with the more heavyweight Nobel prize awards, coming up in Scandinavia next month.

Other awards at the virtual ceremony on Thursday evening include the physics prize for showing why ducklings swim in a line formation, and the economics prize for explaining, mathematically, why success most often goes not to the most talented people, but instead to the luckiest. An international collaboration won the peace prize for devising an algorithm to help gossipers decide when to tell the truth and when to lie.

The winners were presented with a three-dimensional paper gear featuring images of human teeth and a 10tn dollar bill from Zimbabwe, with eight bona fide Nobel laureates, including the British biochemist Sir Richard Roberts, on hand to distribute the prizes…

Great fun with great purpose: “Japanese professor wins Ig Nobel prize for study on knob turning,” from @hannahdev in @guardian. The full list of winners, with accounts of the their award-worthy efforts, is here.

* Albert Einstein

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As we chuckle… then cogitate, we might spare a thought for Ron Toomer; he died on this date in 2011.  Toomer began his career as an aeronautical engineer who contributed to the heat shields on NASA’s Apollo spacecraft.  But in 1965, he joined Arrow Development, an amusement park ride design company, where he became a legendary creator of steel roller coasters.  His first assignment was “The Run-Away Mine Train” (at Six Flags Over Texas), the first “mine train” ride, and the second steel roller coaster (after Arrow’s Matterhorn Ride at Disneyland).  Toomer went on to design 93 coasters worldwide, and was especially known for his creation of the first “inversion” coasters (he built the first coasters with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, loops).  In 2000, he was inducted in the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Hall of Fame as a “Living Legend.”

Toomer with his design model for “The Corkscrew,” the first three-inversion coaster

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“The Corkscrew” at Cedar Point Amusement Park, Ohio

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 26, 2022 at 1:00 am

“With my tongue in one cheek only, I’d suggest that had our palaeolithic ancestors discovered the peer-review dredger, we would be still sitting in caves”*…

As a format, “scholarly” scientific communications are slow, encourage hype, and are difficult to correct. Stuart Ritchie argues that a radical overhaul of publishing could make science better…

… Having been printed on paper since the very first scientific journal was inaugurated in 1665, the overwhelming majority of research is now submitted, reviewed and read online. During the pandemic, it was often devoured on social media, an essential part of the unfolding story of Covid-19. Hard copies of journals are increasingly viewed as curiosities – or not viewed at all.

But although the internet has transformed the way we read it, the overall system for how we publish science remains largely unchanged. We still have scientific papers; we still send them off to peer reviewers; we still have editors who give the ultimate thumbs up or down as to whether a paper is published in their journal.

This system comes with big problems. Chief among them is the issue of publication bias: reviewers and editors are more likely to give a scientific paper a good write-up and publish it in their journal if it reports positive or exciting results. So scientists go to great lengths to hype up their studies, lean on their analyses so they produce “better” results, and sometimes even commit fraud in order to impress those all-important gatekeepers. This drastically distorts our view of what really went on.

There are some possible fixes that change the way journals work. Maybe the decision to publish could be made based only on the methodology of a study, rather than on its results (this is already happening to a modest extent in a few journals). Maybe scientists could just publish all their research by default, and journals would curate, rather than decide, which results get out into the world. But maybe we could go a step further, and get rid of scientific papers altogether…

A bold proposal: “The big idea: should we get rid of the scientific paper?,” from @StuartJRitchie in @guardian.

Apposite (if only in its critical posture): “The Two Paper Rule.” See also “In what sense is the science of science a science?” for context.

Zygmunt Bauman

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As we noodle on knowledge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1964 that AT&T connected the first Picturephone call (between Disneyland in California and the World’s Fair in New York). The device consisted of a telephone handset and a small, matching TV, which allowed telephone users to see each other in fuzzy video images as they carried on a conversation. It was commercially-released shortly thereafter (prices ranged from $16 to $27 for a three-minute call between special booths AT&T set up in New York, Washington, and Chicago), but didn’t catch on.

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“Teach Your Children”*…

Values around the world, graphed…

What’s more important for a child to be encouraged to learn: imagination, hard work or both?

And what do you value the most: family, work, friends, leisure, religion or politics?

These are questions asked by the World Values Survey, “a large non-commercial, cross-national, longitudinal investigation of human beliefs and values.” The comparative social survey polled 1,000-3,000 people in countries around the globe to get a consensus on where they stood on varying principles and ideals.

Anders Sundell, a political scientist at University of Gothenburg, scoured through the data and put the results on a line graph, with each country represented by a dot.

Many Nordic countries said they wanted to encourage children to learn imagination the most, with Sweden being the country to list hard work as the least important attribute. Guatemala and South Korea were the countries that overwhelmingly valued both imagination and hard work. Zimbabwe was the country that listed imagination as the least important quality.

Sundell also mapped the countries around the globe that valued family, work, friends, religion, leisure and politics the highest, e.g.:

Dive more deeply into the data at “The Countries That Value Family, Work, Friends, Leisure, Religion And Politics The Most, Visualized.”

Crosby, Stills & Nash (written by Graham Nash)

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As we compare cultures, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that Henry Hale Bliss, a 69-year-old local real estate dealer, was alighting from a south bound 8th Avenue trolley car when an electric-powered taxicab (Automobile No. 43) struck him. Bliss hit the pavement, crushing his head and chest. He was taken by ambulance to Roosevelt Hospital; but upon arrival the house surgeon, Dr. Marny, said his injuries were too severe to survive, and Bliss died from his sustained injuries the next morning… becoming the first recorded instance of a person being killed in a motor vehicle collision in the U. S.

Bliss in 1873 [source]

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…'”*…

It’s that time again: the IgNobel Prizes for 2021 have been awarded!

An experiment that hung rhinoceroses upside down to see what effect it had on the animals has been awarded one of this year’s Ig Nobel prizes.

Other recipients included teams that studied the bacteria in chewing gum stuck to pavements, and how to control cockroaches on submarines.

The ceremony couldn’t take place at its usual home of Harvard University in the US because of Covid restrictions. All the fun occurred online instead.

The science humour magazine, Annals of Improbable Research, says its Ig Nobel awards should first make you laugh but then make you think.

And the rhino study, which this year wins the award for transportation research, does exactly this. What could seem more daft than hanging 12 rhinos upside down for 10 minutes?

But wildlife veterinarian Robin Radcliffe, from Cornell University, and colleagues did exactly this in Namibia because they wanted to know if the health of the animals might be compromised when slung by their legs beneath a helicopter. It’s an activity that increasingly has been used in African conservation work to shift rhinos between areas of fragmented habitat.

However, no-one had done the basic investigation to check that the tranquillised animals’ heart and lung function coped with upside-down flying, said Robin. He told BBC News: “Namibia was the first country to take a step back and say, ‘hey, let’s study this and figure out, you know, is this a safe thing to do for rhinos?”

As has become customary with the Ig Nobels, the prizes on the night were handed out by real Nobel laureates, including Frances Arnold (chemistry, 2018), Carl Weiman (physics, 2001), and Eric Maskin (economics, 2007).

The winners got a trophy they had to assemble themselves from a PDF print-out and a cash prize in the form of a counterfeit 10 trillion dollar Zimbabwean banknote…

For more on the very real importance of the rhino research, and a complete list of other winners, e.g.,

Biology Prize: Susanne Schötz, for analysing variations in purring, chirping, chattering, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling, and other modes of cat-human communication.

… see “Upside-down rhino research wins Ig Nobel Prize.

* Isaac Asimov

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As we take our knowledge where we find it, we might might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that president John F. Kennedy gave what has become known as the “space speech.” Officially titled “the Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort,” it characterized space as a new frontier, in an attempt to win support for the Apollo program, the national effort to land a man on the Moon.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.

The full text of his speech (and video clips) are here.

Kennedy speaking at Rice

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 12, 2021 at 1:00 am

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