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Posts Tagged ‘scientific method

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”*…

 

A New Orleans levee, lit from above [source]

400,000 years ago, humans and Neanderthals discovered fire. This ignited a relationship between people and photons that changed the course of mankind—and continues to evolve to this day…

* Martin Luther King, Jr.

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As we remove our sunglasses, we might spare a thought for Roger Bacon; he died on this date in 1292.  A philosopher and Franciscan friar, Bacon was one of the first to propose mathematics and experimentation as appropriate methods of science.  Working in mathematics, astronomy, physics, alchemy, and languages, he was particularly impactful in optics: he elucidated the principles of refraction, reflection, and spherical aberration, and described spectacles, which soon thereafter came into use. He developed many mathematical results concerning lenses, proposed mechanically propelled ships, carriages, and flying machines, and used a camera obscura to observe eclipses of the Sun.  And he was the first European give a detailed description of the process of making gunpowder.

He began his career at Oxford, then lectured for a time at Paris, where his skills as a pedagogue earned him the title Doctor Mirabilis, or “wonderful teacher.”  He stopped teaching when he became a Franciscan.  But his scientific work continued, despite his Order’s restrictions on activity and publication, as Bacon enjoyed the protection and patronage of Pope Clement…  until, on Clement’s death, he was placed under house arrest in Oxford, where he continued his studies, but was unable to publish and communicate with fellow investigators.

Statue of Roger Bacon in the Oxford University Museum

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Written by LW

June 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it… Anything is possible on a train”*…

 

Remember when Google Street View only allowed you to explore streets? Since its launch in 2007, the service has been expanded to include things like coral reefs, hiking trails and the Amazon River. In its latest “off-road” adventure, however, Google Maps has thought smaller – it’s used miniaturized Street View cameras to visually map a model railroad.

The li’l railway in question is actually the world’s largest such exhibit, and it’s much more than just trains and tracks. Located in the city of Hamburg, Miniatur Wunderland spans 1,300 square meters (13,993 sq ft), recreating a number of European and American attractions at a scale of 1:87. It’s full of moving bits and pieces, along with 230,000 miniature inhabitants.

Previously, however, visitors had to view most of it from above, as if they were in an airplane. With the new Street View option, they’re now able to explore its various roads and parks as if they were right down in there…

Ans so one can: wander through the Lilliputian landscape (and check out the video tour) at “Google Maps gives the Street View treatment to world’s largest model railroad.”

* Paul Theroux

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As we get small, we might light a birthday candle for Sir Francis Bacon– English Renaissance philosopher, lawyer, linguist, composer, mathematician, geometer, musician, poet, painter, astronomer, classicist, philosopher, historian, theologian, architect, father of modern science (The Baconian– aka The Scientific– Method), and patron of modern democracy, whom some allege was the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I of England… but who was in any event born on this date in 1561.

Bacon (whose Essays were, in a fashion, the first “management book” in English) was, in Alexander Pope’s words, “the greatest genius that England, or perhaps any country, ever produced.”  He probably did not actually write the plays attributed to Shakespeare (as a thin, but long, line of enthusiasts, including Mark Twain and Friedrich Nietzsche, believed).   But Bacon did observe, in a discussion of sedition that’s as timely today as ever, that “the remedy is worse than the disease.”

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If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled*…

 

Whatever may be said in favour of the Victorians, it is pretty generally admitted that few of them were to be trusted within reach of a trowel and a pile of bricks.    -Summer Moonshine

From The Drone’s Club the ever-applicable Random Wodehouse Quote Generator

I suppose I’m one of those fellows my father always warned me against.   – Heavy Weather

[via friend KMc; illustration above from Klaus Joynson]

* from Code of the Woosters

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As we leave it to Jeeves, we might light a birthday candle for Sir Francis Bacon– English Renaissance philosopher, lawyer, linguist, composer, mathematician, geometer, musician, poet, painter, astronomer, classicist, philosopher, historian, theologian, architect, father of modern science (The Baconian– aka The Scientific– Method), and patron of modern democracy, whom some allege was the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I of England… but who was in any event born on this date in 1561.

Bacon (whose Essays were, in a fashion, the first “management book” in English) was, in Alexander Pope’s words, “the greatest genius that England, or perhaps any country, ever produced.”  He probably did not actually write the plays attributed to Shakespeare (as a thin, but long, line of enthusiasts, including Mark Twain and Friedrich Nietzsche, believed).   But Bacon did observe, in a discussion of sedition that’s as timely today as ever, that “the remedy is worse than the disease.”

 source

 

Written by LW

January 22, 2013 at 1:01 am

The life of trees…

 

Bristlecone pine rings: they are so fine and dense that over a century of life can be embodied in a single inch of wood

The oldest of the living bristlecone pines were saplings when the pyramids were raised.  The most ancient, called Methuselah, is estimated to be more than 4,800 years old.  As Ross Andersen explains in Aeon, their rings tell tales of climates past… and hold portents of climates to come.

The burning of books and libraries has perhaps fallen out of fashion, but if you look closely, you will find its spirit survives in another distinctly human activity, one as old as civilisation itself: the destruction of forests. Trees and forests are repositories of time; to destroy them is to destroy an irreplaceable record of the Earth’s past. Over this past century of unprecendented deforestation, a tiny cadre of scientists has roamed the world’s remaining woodlands, searching for trees with long memories, trees that promise science a new window into antiquity. To find a tree’s memories, you have to look past its leaves and even its bark; you have to go deep into its trunk, where the chronicles of its long life lie, secreted away like a library’s lost scrolls. This spring, I journeyed to the high, dry mountains of California to visit an ancient forest, a place as dense with history as Alexandria. A place where the heat of a dangerous fire is starting to rise…

Deforestation began in prehistoric times, but it was not always as brutal or efficient as it is today. Our primate ancestors practised a kind of deforestation by migration, trading the treetops for terra firma and the forests for open plains. Humans are a different story. Anthropologists suspect we have been cutting down trees for as long as we have been around, mostly to harvest raw material for shelter and fire, but also to construct crude bridges to cross rivers into new landscapes. For a time, our tree-felling was no match for the regenerative power of forests. Indeed, today’s indigenous forest peoples demonstrate the human capacity to live within a forest’s natural limits. But over the past 5,000-10,000 years, our fast-growing civilisations have developed the technology to clear trees faster than they can grow back. In that short time — a slim fraction of the forests’ tenure on Earth — we have managed to destroy more than half of them. And we are getting better at it…

Mankind’s newest deforestation “tool”– climate change:

In 2005, a researcher from Arizona’s tree-ring lab named Matthew Salzer noticed an unusual trend in the most recent stretch of bristlecone tree rings. Over the past half century, bristlecones near the tree line have grown faster than in any 50-year period of the past 3,700 years, a shift that portends ‘an environmental change unprecedented in millennia,’ according to Salzer. As temperatures along the peaks warm, the bristlecones are fattening up, adding thick rings in every spring season. Initially there was hope that the trend was local to the White Mountains, but Salzer and his colleagues have found the same string of fat rings — the same warming — in three separate bristlecone habitats in the western US. This might sound like good news for the trees, but it most assuredly is not. Indeed, the thick new rings might be a prophecy of sorts, a foretelling of the trees’ extinction…

Over the course of 400 million years, trees built up a fertile new layer on the Earth’s surface, a layer that incubated entirely new ecologies, including those that gave rise to our ancestors. But now it is humans who spread out over the planet, coating its surface in cities and farms, clearing away the very trees that enabled our origins. This forest, like so many others, has become an intersection in time, a place where narratives of geologic grandeur are colliding. A place to put your ear to the ground, a place to confirm that even here, in the most ancient of groves, if you listen closely, you can hear the roar of the coming Anthropocene.

Read this moving story in its entirety at Aeon.

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As we ponder pruning our purchases, we might say both hello and goodbye to Sir Thomas Browne; he was born on this date in 1605, and died on this date in 1682.  A devout Christian doctor (author of Religio Medici [The Religion of a Physician]), Browne was also a follower of Francis Bacon, an adherent of the Baconian dedication to enquiry, and as a consequence, a keen observer of (and writer about) the natural world… thus an early partisan in what we now call the Scientific Revolution.

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Dumb and dumber…

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Readers will recall a recent lament that a plurality of Americans disbelieve evolution, believing instead that God created humans in materially their present form about 10,000 years ago.

It is perhaps some consolation that, as Reuters reports, we have some company:

Does the sun revolve around the Earth? One in every three Russians thinks so, a spokeswoman for state pollster VsTIOM said on Friday.

In a survey released this week, 32 percent of Russians believed the Earth was the center of the Solar system; 55 percent that all radioactivity is man-made; and 29 percent that the first humans lived when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth.

“It’s really quite amazing,” spokeswoman Olga Kamenchuk said of the survey that polled 1,600 people across Russia’s regions in January, with a 3.4-percent margin of error.

As we pause, dumbstruck, we might wish a grateful Happy Birthday to Galileo Galilei, the physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who, with Francis Bacon, pioneered the Scientific Method; he was born on this date in 1564.  It was Galileo’s observations that gave conclusive support to Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of the solar system.

Leoni’s portrait of Galileo (source)

 

Playing the odds…

A P value is the probability of an observed (or more extreme) result arising only from chance.

It’s science’s dirtiest secret: The “scientific method” of testing hypotheses by statistical analysis stands on a flimsy foundation. Statistical tests are supposed to guide scientists in judging whether an experimental result reflects some real effect or is merely a random fluke, but the standard methods mix mutually inconsistent philosophies and offer no meaningful basis for making such decisions. Even when performed correctly, statistical tests are widely misunderstood and frequently misinterpreted. As a result, countless conclusions in the scientific literature are erroneous, and tests of medical dangers or treatments are often contradictory and confusing.

Replicating a result helps establish its validity more securely, but the common tactic of combining numerous studies into one analysis, while sound in principle, is seldom conducted properly in practice.

Experts in the math of probability and statistics are well aware of these problems and have for decades expressed concern about them in major journals. Over the years, hundreds of published papers have warned that science’s love affair with statistics has spawned countless illegitimate findings. In fact, if you believe what you read in the scientific literature, you shouldn’t believe what you read in the scientific literature.

“There is increasing concern,” declared epidemiologist John Ioannidis in a highly cited 2005 paper in PLoS Medicine, “that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims.”

Ioannidis claimed to prove that more than half of published findings are false, but his analysis came under fire for statistical shortcomings of its own. “It may be true, but he didn’t prove it,” says biostatistician Steven Goodman of the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. On the other hand, says Goodman, the basic message stands. “There are more false claims made in the medical literature than anybody appreciates,” he says. “There’s no question about that.”

Nobody contends that all of science is wrong, or that it hasn’t compiled an impressive array of truths about the natural world. Still, any single scientific study alone is quite likely to be incorrect, thanks largely to the fact that the standard statistical system for drawing conclusions is, in essence, illogical. “A lot of scientists don’t understand statistics,” says Goodman. “And they don’t understand statistics because the statistics don’t make sense”…

What’s one to make of the stream of “eat this,” “avoid that” studies surfacing nearly daily?  It’s an odds-on bet that readers will find out in the complete Science News story, “Odds Are, It’s Wrong.”

As we tell Monty that we’ll take what’s behind Door #2, we might recall that it was on this date in 1905 that Albert Einstein kicked off  “Annus Mirabilis” with the publication of the first of his four epoch-making papers in Annalen der Physik— this one, proposing energy “quanta”– thus kicking off the year in which he reinvented physics and our understanding of reality.

The second of those papers, on Brownian motion, was the very first work of “statistical physics.”

Einstein, dressed for the patent office, 1905

Happy Náw-Rúz! This date in 1844 was the first day of the first year of the Bahai calendar.

Management tools for tough times…

A manager’s lot has always been a hard one; but in these troubled times, aggravated by the challenge of motivating a work force that’s fearful and confused, it’s downright daunting.

So praise be to the good folks at Sloshspot (“for partiers, bar-goers, bar-owners, bartenders, and anyone who likes to party”)– they’ve just made available Hunter S. Thompson Motivational Posters.

See them all here.

As we get in touch with our inner gonzo, we might light a birthday candle for Sir Francis Bacon– English Renaissance philosopher, lawyer, linguist, composer, mathematician, geometer, musician, poet, painter, astronomer, classicist, philosopher, historian, theologian, architect, father of modern science (The Baconian– aka The Scientific– Method), and patron of modern democracy, whom some allege was the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I of England… but who was in any event born on this date in 1561.

Bacon (whose Essays were, in a fashion, the first “management book” in English) was, in Alexander Pope’s words, “the greatest genius that England, or perhaps any country, ever produced.”  He probably did not actually write the plays attributed to Shakespeare (as a thin, but long, line of scholars and observers, including Mark Twain and Friedrich Nietzsche, believed).   But Bacon did observe, in a discussion of sedition that’s as timely today as ever, that “the remedy is worse than the disease.”

Sir Francis Bacon

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