Archive for November 2013

#  Catastrophic Insect Loss →

November 29th, 2013 at 17:34 // In Worth Knowing 

You’ve probably, by now, heard that bees are disappearing. It turns out, the monarch butterfly is too:

[The migrating butterflies] began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.

The article goes onto articulate the problem more thoroughly, though there’s no clear an simple solution to any of it. This wasn’t an issue I’d thought about recently, though its obviousness makes saying that a bit embarrassing:

Farm fields are not the only problem. Around the world people have replaced diverse natural habitat with the biological deserts that are roads, parking lots and bluegrass lawns. Meanwhile, the plants people choose for their yards are appealing for showy colors or shapes, not for their ecological role.


#  Tips for Healthy Science Skepticism →

November 27th, 2013 at 10:25 // In Worth Reading 

It’s a bit of an old saw here by now, but I think there’s a lot of “science”, especially as reported to popular culture that’s utterly bogus. In the guise of helping politicians, the Nature blog has a good piece about how to be intelligently skeptical of scientific claims. This is “publication bias” looms large in my mind:

Because studies that report ‘statistically significant’ results are more likely to be written up and published, the scientific literature tends to give an exaggerated picture of the magnitude of problems or the effectiveness of solutions.

The list does go much deeper, too. Here’s a harder issue I’d nearly forgotten about (my last experience with sample size significance is nearing a decade ago):

Effect size matters. Small responses are less likely to be detected. A study with many replicates might result in a statistically significant result but have a small effect size (and so, perhaps, be unimportant). The importance of an effect size is a biological, physical or social question, and not a statistical one. In the 1990s, the editor of the US journal Epidemiology asked authors to stop using statistical significance in submitted manuscripts because authors were routinely misinterpreting the meaning of significance tests, resulting in ineffective or misguided recommendations for public-health policy.

(via The Browser)

#  Every Nuke Test Ever →

November 25th, 2013 at 17:41 // In Worth Watching 

Well, actually this video which is posted on YouTube some fifteen years after it was created around 1998, doesn’t have an nuclear explosions in the last 15 years. Still, I’m a sucker for maps and history, and this is a member of both of those sets. I learned that France did a lot of their nuclear testing in Africa, which I’d never thought of.

The poster’s description:

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project’s “Trinity” test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May of 1998.

(via a retweet from Ian Landsman)


#  Gladwell’s Fairy Tales →

November 23rd, 2013 at 17:20 // In Worth Reading 

Malcolm Gladwell seems to have ever more detractors, but his success and appeal is undeniable. I appreciated John Gray’s explanation of that appeal, most strongly manifest in his latest book:

Pretending to present daringly counterintuitive views to his readers, he actually strengthens the hold on them of a view of things that they have long taken for granted. This is, perhaps, the essence of the genre that Gladwell has pioneered: while reinforcing beliefs that everyone avows, he evokes in the reader a satisfying sensation of intellectual non-conformity.

(via The Browser)

#  Why Bike Theft →

November 21st, 2013 at 17:43 // In Worth Knowing 

I read this essay over the summer, but then forgot about it until I saw a tweet from Paul Ford. It’s an interesting consideration of the economics of bike theft. The heart of the issue, as you may already recognize, is this:

For all practical purposes, stealing a bike is risk-free crime.  It turns out there is a near zero chance you will be caught stealing a bike (see here) and if you are, the consequences are minimal.

#  The Coach Who Never Punts →

November 19th, 2013 at 18:23 // In Worth Watching 

Without telling anyone I sold this blog to Grantland, and now I’m only going to link to their videos. Hope you don’t mind.

I kid, but two-in-a-row is something I’d typically avoid. But I have two and so you’re going to go watch a video about a coach of a small private Arkansas high school called Pulaski Academy whose strategy is to never — with very very few exceptions — punt away the football. He credits the strategy, along with his unconventional almost-all-onside-kick strategy, with allowing his small school to win so many state championships.

(via kottke)

#  The Schedule-Making Couple →

November 17th, 2013 at 18:44 // In Worth Watching 

A nice little feature about the couple who made, by hand, Major League Baseball’s schedule for almost 25 years. Pleasant watching.

(via The Talk Show)

#  Joburg’s Slum Tower →

November 15th, 2013 at 19:40 // In Worth Watching 

This isn’t the only such building to ever have existed in the world, but this short film about erstwhile fate of Johannesburg’s Ponte Tower — constructed for luxary in the wrong part of town immediately before a period of white flight — is well-shot and compelling.

(via Reddit, though don’t miss the image linked in the parent post)

#  Greatest Inventions Since the Wheel →

November 13th, 2013 at 21:14 // In Worth Knowing 

The list isn’t mind blowing, but it is interesting, as is the article that proceeds it. I valued their starting with this point:

Some questions you ask because you want the right answer. Others are valuable because no answer is right; the payoff comes from the range of attempts.

(via kottke)

#  The Magic of Sagan’s “Cosmos” →

November 11th, 2013 at 11:03 // In Worth Reading 

I think this very point is not only true of the old televisions series — which I recommend even as many of the special effects themselves are laughable and some of the science today out-of-date — but all of Carl Sagan’s work. He truly was a unique figure with unique things to say.

Whereas radio kids represent the “get practical” approach to science education and motivation, Sagan kids represent the “life, the universe and everything” strategy. Such a strategy taps into one’s “spiritual” or “religious” brain, getting at one’s romantic desire to figure out “what it all means” and “why there is anything…at all.” That’s the kind of motivation that can redirect a life into a science.

And this is what Sagan’s Cosmos had in spades.

(via a retweet from Alan Jacobs)