Thursday, December 23, 2010

Kids are scientists

It's something of an article of faith in my family that children are natural scientists.  Yet another illustration is from a classroom of 8 year olds, who recently published in a professional scientific journal.  Yay!

In their case, it was a study of bees and how they identified food.  The full paper is here. A nice journalistic coverage is here.

They did have a professional scientist helping figure out things, and doing the writing, etc..  But the fundamental ideas came from the kids.

Off-blog and Happy New Year

I'm going to be (even more) off-blog into the New Year.  My apologies to William, who did have some good comments over in http://moregrumbinescience.blogspot.com/2010/11/verifying-forecasts-2.html that got hung up for a couple weeks as I hadn't been checking in, and hadn't told anybody about this.  I'll be checking in today for comments and to post them, but will be back to off-blog from the 24th through 3rd of January.

Not that this is major to anybody, but I'll mention that my cast came off 2 weeks ago and I've been doing physical therapy to rehabilitate the broken wrist.  Fingers are doing pretty well, the thumb is so so, and the wrist is awful -- compared to my hopes.  All are doing ok to pretty well compared to what you might expect for someone over 20 with this kind of break.  The therapy amounts to a second job -- about 2 hours a day, every day.  That's been one of the time sinks w.r.t. getting blogging.

I hope everybody is doing well, enjoying the season, and has a happy, healthy, 2011.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Evolving Thoughts

For a more philosophical take on science, and leaning to biology rather than climate for examples, you should take a look at John Wilkins' Evolving Thoughts.  John's a philosopher of science.  We've known each other electronically for about 20 years.

Some posts which struck me at the time to save for later:
Sausages and science (the practice of science isn't as pretty as I tend to paint)
It was 150 years ago tomorrow on the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwn's Origin.
Lazy Manager Theory (ok, aimed a bit older than I usually try, but having encountered managers, and now being one, sort of, I like this.)
Science eats its seed corn (I blog about the ideals of science; the realities are seldom as nice.)
Jorge Cham is following me (PhDcomics.com) Looks pretty much like my time line, though 350 messages in my in-box says 'weekend' more than 'vacation'.
Apes and evolution in the news
Linnaeus: The founder of databases
A code of conduct for effective rational discussion
Plagiarism, citations, and fact checking
John's own list of his better posts in 2009

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to make sanity checks

In late September, I wrote a note on whether Lake Superior still remembers the last ice age.  The answer was no (read that post for why).  But along the way I illustrated a simple sanity check that would have given the author I was responding to a heads up that he was seriously wrong.

The check I used was to compare volumes.  If something the volume of Lake Superior remembered conditions for 10,000 years, then something with 100,000 times the volume would (could/should/...) take 100,000 times as long to adjust.  The ocean is that much bigger, so would take that much longer.  Yet we know (sanity) that the ocean's circulation time is only a few hundred to a few thousand years. 

This doesn't prove that the original 10,000 year estimate was wrong.  That's not the purpose of a sanity check.  Rather, the sanity check alerts us to examine the system more carefully.  Maybe there's something fundamentally wrong about using volume for comparison, maybe there's something fundamentally wrong about what lead that author to saying 10,000 year memory for Lake Superior.  As we found out, it is the original claim of 10,000 years that was severely wrong.  (Turned out to be about 6 months.)

In the comments, though, there were some noting that my approach to sanity check wasn't right.  Or at least that I could have made a better estimate than I did.  Since I take sanity checking to be a heads up process rather than a proof, I'm not very concerned with whether I chose the most accurate (I did choose one of the simplest) method.  But it is worth its own discussion how you might make better estimates.