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Showing posts from February, 2012

Academics should be blogging? No.

"blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now" The London School of Economics and Political Science states in one of their, yes, Blogs . It is wrong. The arguments just seem so right: "faster communication of scientific results", "rapid interaction with colleagues" "responsibility to give back results to the public". All nice, all cuddly and warm, all good. But wrong. It might be true for scientoid babble. But this is not how science works.  Scientists usually follow scientific methods to obtain results. They devise, for example, experiments to measure a quantity while keeping the boundary-conditions in a defined range. They do discuss their aims, problems, techniques, preliminary results with colleagues - they talk about deviations and errors, successes and failures. But they don't do that wikipedia-style by asking anybody for an opinion . Scientific discussion needs a set

Understanding is an evolutionary advantage

Already in the 30's of the last century it was observed that an injured fish can trigger a fright-reaction in the members of his school. Nobody really understood why or how this was communicated but it was speculated that some substance must be released that instills fear in others. That substance was adequately called "Schreckstoff" (german for 'fear-stuff'). And, indeed, injecting skin-samples of an injured fish (well, how could he then *not* be injured?) into water, scared the §$%* out of the otherwise relaxed co-fishes. Up to now the chemistry behind that reaction was unclear. Suresh Jesuthasan of the National University of Singapore and coworkers have isolated one component (the glycosaminoglycan (GAG) chondroitin) from Zebrafish that turns out to be important as messenger . While the evolutionary advantage of Schreckstoff for the survival of the school is obvious (run!) the fate of the injured fish is sealed when he is left alone - showing that evolu

If Brad Pitt is a Zebrafish then Angelina Jolie is not

Two Zebrafish on a date. Foto from IGB, Eva-Maria Cyr You are probably not among those who subscribe to the newsletter of the "Leibniz-Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries" (IGB) - but you probably should. Their recent press-release (in german) is a real eye-opener - it has potential to completely change my bar-life. Scientists at IGB devised an experiment code-named wedding-planner in which they check which male Zebrafish get's lucky on a date. The result is nothing short of stunning. If the girl-fish gets to chose between a number of differently attractive guys she does not go for the most attractive stud but the second-best looking. Reproducibly. The reason is, they found in a monogamous setup, that the super-guy tends to bully the female zebralette into submission, which kind of spoils the party. Quite reminiscent of what we observe amongst humanoids. Too bad that neither Zebrafish nor those brawny bar-peacocks have enough brains to re

The software that will earn you admiration, gratitude, and real money

Electronic media once seemed destined to reduce the use of paper. This certainly environmentally attractive idea is proven wrong daily in any office or home trash-bin. It simply doesn't work. We seem to need the paper. This impression of paper-crave is  backed-up by studies  that show an ever-increasing paper-production (and accordingly -consumption). We are doing ok reading a book on kindle, pad or laptop. It is fine for the subway ride to work. It works for leisurely reading a finished text. But if you have to thumb through a financial report of your institution or the first draft of a thesis of one of your students, you want to have it printed out. On paper. You rummage for a pencil. We need the haptic of paper, we want to spread the sheets all over the table, jump from page to page, change the order, scribble,… Why can't we stop printing what we see on our screens? Correcting, annotating, highlighting seems just more natural when done with pencil on a sheet. The eve

Justin Bieber falsely correlates with Influenza

Just now we got aware of a scientific paper by Aron Culotta (2010) evaluating data from The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Influenza Like Illnesses (ILI) and specific influenza-related keyphrases on twitter (flu, cough, headache, sore throat...). The correlation of twitter-based predictions of ILI-devlopment (after a training-phase to optimize the algorithm) with real data is amazing, giving proof to the concept of data-mining from social-media streams . While for a variety of analyzed phrases the results were comparably good, there is a word of caution from the authors  These results show extremely strong correlations for all queries except for fever, which appears frequently  in ļ¬gurative phrases such as “I’ve got Bieber fever”. Besides the beauty of the demonstrated algorithms the paper gives a helpful overview of fundamental literature in this young field.

Pasta - e basta!

As you keep asking: this is my pasta. Handmade by me. Photographed by me. Eaten by me. Alone. Let's forget what we just learned (it is the carbohydrates, not the fat that makes us (them) fat. Wonderfully explained in the infographic of the day on fastcodesign ). Pasta is not bad for you at all! The unrivaled Maria Popova from just circulated a breathtaking review of 'Pasta by Design' - an extremely ambitious and obviously beautifully illustrated book analyzing with rigor the geometrical shapes of almost 100 different types of pasta. (and I was proud of being able to identify eight!) Most importantly it is stated already in the introduction that pasta is made of durum wheat flour and water. Pasta!, um, Basta! The designers would never even attempt to touch any of these egg-infested derivatives or supposedly ecological or healthy experiments with rye or spelt flour (yes, I had to look this one up). To the trained cook and passionate g