Category Archives: Science/Medicine

The Friendship Paradox Explained

Steven Strogatz explains why “Our friends are typically more popular than we are.”

Short version: If they are friends with the likes of us, they’re friends with lots of people. (Presumably, the people who are really unpopular have no friends at all, so we’re not friends with them?)

This also explains what we would have to call the Gym Paradox,

… imagine going to the gym. When you look around, does it seem that just about everybody there is in better shape than you are? Well, you’re probably right. But that’s inevitable and nothing to feel ashamed of. If you’re an average gym member, that’s exactly what you should expect to see, because the people sweating and grunting around you are not average. They’re the types who spend time at the gym, which is why you’re seeing them there in the first place. The couch potatoes are snoozing at home where you can’t count them. In other words, your sample of the gym’s membership is not representative. It’s biased toward gym rats.

(Actually, the gym I go to is biased towards undergraduates, and if they’re not in better shape than I am then something is Not Right With The World.)

And the there’s what I call the Falling Tree in the Forest paradox:

This is also why people experience airplanes, restaurants, parks and beaches to be more crowded than the averages would suggest. When they’re empty, nobody’s there to notice.

Strogatz’s essay has lots more goodies, and also some math for those who fancy such delicacies.

Posted in Science/Medicine | Leave a comment

Petition White House for Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

Michael Carroll sends this worthy request, for a small piece of activism that anyone (13+ years old)1 reading this can help with:

After years of work on promoting policy change to make federally-funded research available on the Internet, and after winning the battle to implement a public access policy at NIH, it has become clear that being on the right side of the issue is necessary but not sufficient. We’ve had the meetings, done the hearings, replied to the requests for information.

But we’re opposed in our work by a small set of publishers who profit enormously from the existing system, even though there is no evidence that the NIH policy has had any measurable impact on their business models. They can – and do – outspend those of us who have chosen to make a huge part of our daily work the expansion of access to knowledge. This puts the idea of access at a disadvantage. We know there is a serious debate about the extension of public access to taxpayer funded research going on right now in the White House, but we also know that we need more than our current approaches to get that extension made into federal policy.

The best approach that we have yet to try is to make a broad public appeal for support, straight to the people. The Obama Administration has created a web platform to petition the White House directly called We The People. Any petition receiving more than 25,000 digital signatures is placed on the desk of the President’s Chief of Staff and must be integrated into policy and political discussions. But there’s a catch – a petition only has 30 days to gather the required number of signatures to qualify.

We can get 25,000 signatures. And if we not only get 25,000, but an order of magnitude more, we can change the debate happening right now.

Here’s the text of the petition (complying with an 800 word cap):

WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:

Require free, timely access over the Internet to journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.

We believe in the power of the Internet to foster innovation, research, and education. Requiring the published results of taxpayer-funded research to be posted on the Internet in human and machine readable form would provide access to patients and caregivers, students and their teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and other taxpayers who paid for the research. Expanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our investment in scientific research.

The highly successful Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health proves that this can be done without disrupting the research process, and we urge President Obama to act now to implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research.

To sign the petition you:

Looks like a good cause to me. The petition will be open for signature for 30 days, but don’t delay — you might forget.


  1. Oddly, the Terms of Participation for the White House’s online petition site say only that you have to be at last 13 years old. They do not say that participation is limited to US citizens and permanent residents. []
Posted in Law: IP, Politics, Science/Medicine | 3 Comments

Causality Is Just a Point of View

Quantum decision affects results of measurements taken earlier in time:

Due to the 104-meter fiber-optic cable, Victor’s measurements occurred at least 14 billionths of a second after those of Alice and Bob, precluding the idea that the setting of the BiSA caused the polarization results to change. While comparatively few photons made it all the way through every step of the experiment, this is due to the difficulty of measurements with so few photons, rather than a problem with the results. 

Ma et al. found to a high degree of confidence that when Victor selected entanglement, Alice and Bob found correlated photon polarizations. This didn’t happen when Victor left the photons alone.

Suffice it to say that facile explanations about information passing between Alice’s and Bob’s photons lead to violations of causality, since Alice and Bob perform their polarization measurement before Victor makes his choice about whether to entangle his photons or not. (Similarly, if you think that all the photons come from a single laser source, they must be correlated from the start, and you must answer how they “know” what Victor is going to do before he does it.) 

The picture certainly looks like future events influence the past, a view any right-minded physicist would reject. …

Nevertheless, this experiment provides a realization of one of the fundamental paradoxes of quantum mechanics: that measurements taken at different points in space and time appear to affect each other, even though there is no mechanism that allows information to travel between them.

My brain hurts.

(Note that Alice, Bob, and Victor are not actual people but mechanisms.)

Posted in Science/Medicine | 3 Comments

Wind Map

This Wind Map of the US is almost perfect. It just needs a dot for Miami.

(via Slashdot, Wind Map of US Will Blow You Away)

Posted in Science/Medicine | 1 Comment

A Modest Proposal (Drug Tests Edition)

Perhaps it is time to subject investment bankers and derivatives traders to routine random drug tests. It’s widely believed that many of them use cocaine (although meth use may be rising), and I read that drug use on Wall Street is a real problem, although of course it has also beem rampant for a long time. The health of the economy is too important to be left in the hands of potentially drug-addled brains.

After all if it’s necessary to drug test welfare applicants and unemployed people seeking job training (who have the same 2% positive rate as found on Wall St) and high school football players, it is all the more important to drug test the masters of finance given the enormous effect that their work has on others.

Or, perhaps, we should agree to only drug test people armed with weapons or holding security clearances?

Posted in 99%, Econ & Money: Mortgage Mess, Science/Medicine | 5 Comments

I Knew It!

Confirmation of what I always believed: fly a plane, catch a cold. Of course, this year I have managed to have a nasty one without going anywhere.

(Spotted via SFDB.)

Posted in Science/Medicine | Leave a comment

Run For Your Lives!

Homeopathic leak threatens catastrophe:

An accidental release of highly dilute homeopathic waste from a research institute in Swindon has led to calls for the centre to be shut down. Plant operators have admitted responsibility for massive safety blunders after a spilled drop of an enormously dilute test product was cleaned by a caretaker, and in complete disregard of all safety procedures, allowed to enter the water system after he emptied his mop bucket down the drain.

And as we all know, the more dilute it gets, the more powerful it gets…

Next to the Plant are seven abandoned Fire Engines – exposed to such dangerously low concentrations of homeopathic contamination that they can never be used again – they will eventually be entombed in concrete where they lie.

Local Fire Chief, Boutros-Boutros Jones gave a frank account of the current situation; ‘We have to accept that we’ve lost the battle locally, two water treatment works may never be safe to use again, but the fight to contain this and prevent further dilution is still on. Clearly if this reaches the sea, it’s game over.’

It never ceases to amaze me when I visit there just how popular homeopathic remedies are in France.

Posted in Completely Different, Science/Medicine | 1 Comment