Archive for March, 2012


March 31, 2012 7 comments


There are few sectors of society that are virtually defined by their blatant willingness to manipulate literature and images for their personal gain;  among them, totalitarian regimes, self-righteous celebrities, sensationalist journalists, and, perhaps most surprisingly, scientists. 

The photo above is an image of dust, taken under a Scanning Electron Microscope. For as amazing as these instruments are (sometimes capable of magnifying images 500,000 times), they are unable to render images in color. That only happens when we humans go in and artificially add color to them, à la Photoshop.

To be fair, this particular image doesn’t come from a site that proclaims any photographic verisimilitude, and it especially does not consider itself an authority on science. It’s one of those ad-cluttered tabloid wannabes that would have bombarded you with a deluge of pop-ups a few years ago . But it’s not as if they’re unique in their deception–ever since they figured out how to print biology books in color, they’ve been doing this–just Google “microbiology textbooks” for a generous selection of schoolbooks with motley amoeba and microphages unapologetically plastered on their covers. Some are more self-conscious, it seems:  they’ll write “colored image” in small print, as if that alone excuses it. 

Call me persnickety if you must, but when we as a society have come to regard photographs as having some sort of inherent truth to them, as being able to testify impartially to those things that would otherwise elude our observation, there is some sort of ethics to be observed when publishing them. Some would say that this sort of image doctoring does not compare to the likes of Stalin, since its intent does is not to deceive, but rather to entertain. But that sort of argument presents us with a sort of philosophical:  is a lie not a lie if it’s not meant to be a lie? And is this colored dust a lie in the first place? 

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Statistics Can Be Tricky

March 31, 2012 2 comments

Hi everyone! In this post I’d like to talk about Simpson’s Paradox. This wikipedia article might be helpful if you want to know more about this:’s_paradox

What is Simpson’s Paradox? In my paraphrase, that means a paradox when the decision making is reversed if the data is observed more carefully. Consider this real life example which I took from wikipedia about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the United States. Overall, a larger fraction of Republican legislators voted in favor of the Act than Democrats. However, when the congressional delegations from the northern and southern States are considered separately, a larger fraction of Democrats voted in favor of the act in both regions.

House Democrat Republican
Northern 94% (145/154) 85% (138/162)
Southern 7% (7/94) 0% (0/10)
Both 61% (152/248) 80% (138/172)


We discussed this in Statistics 1 class and all professional statisticians know about this, I suppose. What then can we make out of this knowledge? Well, at least we can be more careful if we read statistical reports on news or wherever. Coming back to the earlier example, if I am the journalist and given that data, I have two options to present the news if I want to influence the public in a certain way (biased towards Democrat or Republican). And as far as I know, statisticians and journalists do this thing all the time, i.e. to take the data in a certain way and use it to support certain opinion/thought/say/claim/whatever.

Another common issue regarding statistics which my engineering professor always mentioned in class is about significance. I’m sure we’ve seen articles saying something like, “Chocolate lovers have lower risk of getting heart attack” or “Contrary to popular belief, [a product or anything] is actually [the new claim]”. Often times they would mention that a study have been done in a university, this number of participants have taken part in the study, and the result shows that it is significant for the new claim to be correct. But, sometimes they do not tell you what the significance level is. Normally the significance level is denoted by Greek alphabet alpha. Common values are 1%, 5%, and 10%. Different conclusion can be made when using different significance level, i.e. claim A is significant when using 10% significance level, but not the case when 1% significance level is being used. Again, statistics can be tricky and we should be a little more careful!

dispatchers suffer from PTSD

March 31, 2012 2 comments



The article “Emergency dispatchers suffer from symptoms of PTSD hits one main point: people are able to experience the significant level of emotional stress at work even when they are not physically damaged or involved in the traumatic situation. An article presents the statistics on the commonly identified worst calls that are most likely to provoke the stressful situation for 911 dispatchers. Usually we think that people who go to such a stressful job are supposed to know from the beginning the stress that they are going to face with. Usually those people are very stress stable; barely anything can make their heart to speed up. However, that is not usually the case. The dispatchers are still humans; therefore, they are vulnerable as humans are. According with the article, the worst calls that are most likely to cause the post-traumatic stress disorders are death of a child, suicidal phone calls, shooting involving officers and incidents that involve unexpected death of an adult.  In fact, in case of an accident, we all think about psychological and physical conditions of people directly involved in it, leaving behind people who are not directly involved but still think and help during the accident. The research made helps us better understand the risks associated with emergency jobs and, probably, to improve working conditions of those people.

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Breaking Social Norms

March 30, 2012 8 comments


The other day in class we noticed a funny thing: almost all the database annotations were titled “Database Annotation: (Database Title).” It wasn’t in the instructions to title our annotations that way, yet we did it without talking to each other or deciding that was how every group should title their pages. Do you remember the first day of class when we had to introduce ourselves? By the end of the introductions everyone was following the pattern that had come up on how to introduce ourselves.

Why did this happen?

We all know that humans follow certain social norms that allow us to interact “properly” within the society we live in. But do we consciously realize how much they affect us on a daily basis?

One blog post I came across (titled The Cost of Social Norms) described social norms from a behavioral economics perspective. When is is appropriate to give money to people for things they have put effort into? As an example, the author, Dan Ariely, describes how a husband’s offer to give money to his mother-in-law for cooking Thanksgiving dinner is met  with gasps, embarrassment, and glares from other family members. With this example he compares how social and market norms interact in separate ways, and how “when social and market norms collide, trouble sets in.

Another aspect of social norms are trendsetters; who creates the social norms and trends? According to this article a question researchers ask is whether there is always a leader that sets or changes the norm, or whether norm change occurs organically over time, even in the absence of a strong leader. Fashion statements, apps, technology or colloquial language get spread in society enough to become social norms by being recognized by trendsetters and then spread through society by different group leaders who help to spread it.

What do you think of social norms, and how do you think they affect your life? How do you think social norms are created? Can social norms have negative effects on society, positive effects, or both?

The First Trip To the Moon: a Hoax?

March 29, 2012 3 comments

Inspired by the previous entry about the existence of aliens, I remembered a very interesting story. After my junior year of high school I went to Barcelona to study for a month over the summer. While I was there, I learned a wide range of information, mostly about the Spanish language. One day, however, while I was in the computer lab class, the teacher presented us with an activity about how America’s first mood landing was all a lie.

Having grown up in America, I was never faced with such questioning of American beliefs. Yet here, the teacher was telling us, and suggesting it’s validity, that the first mood landing was completely faked and that America never really landed on the moon. We simply filmed a video in a studio and photoshopped some pictures as a way to one up the Russians in the Cold War. As one of very few Americans, I was immediately taken aback and expected others to be as well. But the two other American’s and I were the only ones in shock. Evidently, all the other countries had presented their students with these opposing viewpoints. Either that or people just did not care.

Anyways, I found this to be incredibly interesting. The argument had plenty of valid points, and what seemed like a large amount of evidence. After simply typing this into google, I found a website devoted to this topic (with a United Kingdom domain name I’d like to add…again, American’s are not the ones doubting the moon landing). This website is 100% convinced that the first moon landing was all a hoax, and they provide many different approaches to explain this further. Check it out here:

What do you think? Are you convinced? Are all these people just a bunch of crazies?


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Shots Shots Shots of Creativity

March 28, 2012 8 comments

Drinking doesn’t only give you a buzz but apparently it boosts you creativity. Men who drank until they got tipsy could solve more problems demanding verbal resourcefulness in less time than sober men. Tricky word problems were solved faster by men that were tipsy but not drunk than sober men.

The study found that alcohol helps one find connections faster and easier between different ideas. The study is discussed in the article I read. You can find the article with the link below. This article didn’t really surprise me for several reasons. Most of the greatest minds were drunks or were on other types of drugs. Many brilliant authors were drunks and died at the age of 50.

From experience I can definitely agree that alcohol makes you also spill the truth. You can trust what  a drunk person says because of this reason. Also, some of my own favorite authors were drunks. For example, Hunter Thompson’s story Fear and Loathing in Last Vegas just shows how “creative”  he was. He literally makes you feel like you are the one on drugs because of his brilliant ideas and talent.

Psychologists believe that alcohol helps verbal creativity because it lowers our control over our thoughts. Researchers have also found that drunk people are less afraid to make mistakes which also boosts creativity and spontaneity.

Does anyone have any objection to this theory?



March 28, 2012 5 comments

Contemplating my perceptions of aliens, I always figured they are a figment of the imagination and it is impossible of something like ET to exist. Flipping through the science section of the NY Times, altered my assumption that aliens could potentially exist and people are very adamant in finding out. I came across this article called In Search of Life, Researchers Enlist Human Minds [], demonstrated that researchers have put in a lot of effort to identify evidence that aliens exist out in the universe and have now looked to human volunteers to participate in the research.

I am still perplexed that extraterrestrial investigators exist and believes with all their hearts that aliens exist.  Their research is pretty intense and takes a lot of effort and time commitment. The picture above of the satellites they use to search for life indicates the legitimacy of this research.  The image has me relate to shows like “Lost” and movies like “Signs,” which I believed to be fictional but clearly anything is really possible.  I just wanted another opinion on this rather than my own. Do you guys think aliens actually exist? Or have you known before that people have been researching this?

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