Eric’s Enlightenment for Friday, June 5, 2015

  1. Christian Robert provides a gentle introduction to the Metropolis-Hastings algorithm with accompanying R codes.  (Hat Tip: David Campbell)
  2. John Sall demonstrates how to perform discriminant analysis in JMP, especially for data sets with many variables.
  3. Using machine learning instead of human judgment may improve the selection of job candidates.  This article also includes an excerpt from a New York Times article about how the Milwaukee Bucks used facial recognition as one justification to choose Jabari Parker over Dante Exum.  (Hat Tip: Tyler Cowen)
  4. “A hospital at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center has a robot filling prescriptions.”

Eric’s Enlightenment for Thursday, June 4, 2015

  1. IBM explains how Watson the computer answered the Final Jeopardy question against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.  (In a question about American airports, Watson’s answer was “What is Toronto???”  It’s not as ridiculous as you think, and Watson didn’t wager a lot of money for this answer – so it still won by a wide margin.)
  2. Two views on how to reform FIFA by Nate Silver and  – this is an interesting opportunity to apply good principles of institutional design and political economy.
  3. How blind people navigate the Internet.
  4. The Replication Network – a web site devoted to the study of replications in economics.
  5. Cryptochromes and particularly the molecule flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) that forms part of the cryptochrome, are thought to be responsible for magnetoreception, the ability of some animals to navigate in Earth’s magnetic field.  Joshua Beardmore et al. have developed a microscope that can detect the magnetic properties of FAD – some very cool work on radical pair chemistry!

Eric’s Enlightenment for Wednesday, June 3, 2015

  1. Jodi Beggs uses the Rule of 70 to explain why small differences in GDP growth rates have large ramifications.
  2. Rick Wicklin illustrates the importance of choosing bin widths carefully when plotting histograms.
  3. Shana Kelley et al. have developed an electrochemical sensor for detecting selected mutated nucleic acids (i.e. cancer markers in DNA!).  “The sensor comprises gold electrical leads deposited on a silicon wafer, with palladium nano-electrodes.”
  4. Rhett Allain provides a very detailed and analytical critique of Mjölnir (Thor’s hammer) – specifically, its unrealistic centre of mass.  This is an impressive exercise in physics!
  5. Congratulations to the Career Services Centre at Simon Fraser University for winning TalentEgg’s Special Award for Innovation by a Career Centre!  I was fortunate to volunteer there as a career advisor for 5 years, and it was a wonderful place to learn, grow and give back to the community. My career has benefited greatly from that experience, and it is a pleasure to continue my involvement as a guest blogger for its official blog, The Career Services Informer. Way to go, everyone!

Eric’s Enlightenment for Tuesday, June 2, 2015

  1. How Lucas Duplan raised $30 million for his start-up, Clinkle, and lost almost its entire executive team (including Chi-Chao Chang) and most of its staff – a very detailed account.
  2. Peter Brown writes a nice chronicle of Fermat’s Last Theorem and how Andrew Wiles’ proof for it almost collapsed (but ultimately prevailed).
  3. Following her recent blog post on the changing dynamics between economists and the media in Canada, Frances Woolley provides 4 suggestions for journalists to improve their coverage of economics in the media.  As always when you read Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, read the comments – this is the most respectful and productive comments community in the econoblogosphere that I have encountered.
  4. Some very important and practical applications of hydrogels: contact lenses, insulin delivery for diabetics, and reconstructive tissue.
  5. The Big Bang Theory (the TV show) has started a scholarship endowment fund for STEM students at UCLA!

Eric’s Enlightenment for Monday, June 1, 2015

  1. A comprehensive graphic of public perceptions about chemistry in the United Kingdom – compiled by the Royal Society of Chemistry.  (Hat Tip: Neil Smithers)
  2. Qing Ke et al. compiled a list of “sleeping beauties” in science – articles that were not appreciated at the time of publication and required much passage in time before becoming popular in the scientific community.  (Unfortunately, that original article is gated by subscription.)  As reported in, “the longest sleeper in the top 15 is a statistics paper from Karl Pearson, entitled, ‘On lines and planes of closest fit to systems of points in space‘.  Published in Philosophical Magazine in 1901, this paper awoke only in 2002.”  Out of those top 15 sleeping beauties, 7 were in chemistry.  A full pre-published version of Ke et al.’s paper can be found on arXiv.
  3. What would the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer look like if the Montreal Protocol was never enacted to ban halocarbon refrigerants, solvents, and aerosol-can propellants?  Using simulations, Martyn Chipperfield et al. “found that the Antarctic ozone hole would have grown by an additional 40% by 2013.”
  4. Jan Hoffman on new challenges in mental health for university students: “Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students, though depression, too, is on the rise. More than half of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern, according to a recent study of more than 100,000 students nationwide by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.”

Eric’s Enlightenment for Friday, May 29, 2015

  1. P2N3: An aromatic ion made of just phosphorous and nitrogen.  (Yes, aromaticity can be entirely inorganic!)
  2. Using 3-D printing and plastics to make prosthetics.
  3. David Beckwroth and Scott Sumner talk at length about reforming monetary policy with NGDP targeting in this video interview/seminar.
  4. Anky Lai gives a nice introduction to PROC TABULATE (PDF document) – an alternative to PROC FREQ and PROC MEANS in SAS.  Check out her awesome code samples for generating nicely formatted tables and exporting them conveniently into spreadsheets in Excel!

Eric’s Enlightenment for Thursday, May 28, 2015

  1. How long-distance romantic relationships differ from proximate romantic relationships – Mona Chalabi answers a reader’s question.  Be sure to read toward the end about what happens to long-distance romantic relationships after geographical unification.
  2. Joel Shurkin reports on new research that elucidated the traffic engineering ingenuity of ants.  In particular, speed increases with more ants travelling on the same path.  Here is the original paper by Hönicke et al.
  3. It turns out that John Nash had a mostly unknown intellectual breakthrough that has only become public since 2012.  He “proposed a form of possible encryption used decades later by the NSA based on computational complexity theory”.
  4. John Bohannon published a flawed (but real) study in a fake journal to claim that eating chocolate can help you to lose weight.  With some help in spreading the word about this study, many journalists were fooled into running brash headlines about this exciting but badly obtained finding.

Soon we were in the Daily Star, the Irish Examiner, Cosmopolitan’s German website, the Times of India, both the German and Indian site of the Huffington Post, and even television news in Texas and an Australian morning talk show.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Wednesday, May 27, 2015

  1. Why do humans get schizophrenia, but other animals don’t?
  2. At Marginal Revolution, Ramez Naam recently argued that CRISPR (with all of the limitations in some recent research) should not be feared in two blog posts – Part 1 and Part 2.
  3. Ecological fallacies and exception fallacies – two common mistakes in reasoning, statistics and scientific research.
  4. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are the most effective contraceptives, so why is their usage so low?  Shefali Luthra reports that – at least for teenage girls – pediatricians were not trained to insert them in their education.  Maddie Oatman finds more complicated reasons for women in general.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Tuesday, May 26, 2015

  1. Frances Woolley on the changing dynamics in the relationship between economists and the media in Canada over the past 8 years.
  2. The unintended consequences of labour policies that are meant to be friendly for parents and families – a nice account of many examples by Claire Cain Miller.
  3. FanGraphs explains batting average on balls in play (BABIP) in great detail.
  4. How Neil Bartlett discovered compounds that contain noble gases.  (Yes – they can react!)  He began his research at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (my hometown).  He also discovered a compound in which oxygen is a positively charged ion.  Very cool stuff!

Eric’s Enlightenment for Monday, May 25, 2015

  1. A plant called thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) can detect sounds that are made by caterpillars that feed on its leaves.  In response, it mounts a defense by producing glucosinolates and anthocyanins – cool research by Heidi Appel and Reginald Croft!
  2. Economists offer 10 pieces of data-driven advice for university graduates about succeeding in today’s job market.
  3. Very nice and in-depth interview with Claudia Goldin on labour economics and education, especially in terms of differences between men and women.
  4. I was very sad to learn of the deaths of John Nash and Alicia Lopez-Harrison de Lardé.  Here is a nice obituary by Benjamin Morris, with examples of non-cooperative games and Nash equilibria from soccer, football, basketball and rock-paper-scissors.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Friday, May 22, 2015

  1. John Urschel (academically published mathematician and NFL football player) uses logistic regression, expected value and variance to anticipate that the new farther distance for the extra-point conversion will not reduce its use in the NFL.
  2. John Ioannidis is widely known for his 2005 paper “Why most published research findings are false“.  In 2014, he wrote another paper on the same topic called “How to Make More Published Research True“.
  3. Yoshitaka Fujii holds the record for the number of retractions of academic publications for a single author: 183 papers, or “roughly 7 percent of all retracted papers between 1980 and 2011”.
  4. The chemistry of why bread stales, and how to slow retrogradation.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Thursday, May 21, 2015 – A Special Edition on the Mental Health of Chemistry Graduate Students

Today, combining

  • my passion for chemistry,
  • my experienced knowledge of university culture in North America,
  • and my deep concern for mental health issues,

The Chemical Statistician will feature a collection of writing about the struggles that graduate students in chemistry face during their studies, and how those struggles affect their mental health.  This is a special edition of Eric’s Enlightenment.

  1. Chemjobber began a dialogue with Vinylogous about mental health and graduate studies in chemistry in 2013.  It started with this blog post as Part 1, containing reflections of Chemjobber’s own experience and thoughts on general issues on this subject.
  2. In Part 2 of their dialogue, Vinylogous responds to Chemjobber with a very detailed post on his conjectures of why graduate studies in chemistry is so hard on a student’s mental health.
  3. In Part 3 of their dialogue, Chemjobber responds to some of Vinylogous’ main points and addresses possible solutions to mental health challenges for chemistry graduate students.  He/She also begins to answer the question “Is a graduate degree in chemistry worth the sacrifice?”.
  4. In Part 4 of their dialogue, Vinylogous examines some alternative issues in this subject, including possible benefits of chemistry graduate studies for mental health, how some research supervisors aggravate mental health problems, and differences between sub-fields of chemistry.
  5. Finally, in Part 5, Chemjobber concludes this discussion by trying to answer some of the key questions that this dialogue generated and summarizes some of the key points that they learned.
  6. I am surprised that I never learned about this sad story during my studies as a chemistry student: Jason Altom was an accomplished and well-liked doctoral student in chemistry at Harvard University, yet he committed suicide at age 26, citing excessive pressure from abusive research advisers, including his supervisor, Nobel Laureate Elias Corey.  Notably, his suicide notes contained policy recommendations on how academic departments can better protect their students.

The dialogue between Chemjobber and Vinylogous was very productive, with many other chemistry bloggers adding valuable perspectives in their own blog posts.  I highly encourage you to read those articles, too.

I also highly recommend you to read the comments in all 5 blog posts – they add great diversity to the perspectives and experiences about this complicated topic.

Here are some key quotations that I gathered from these articles:

Chemjobber – in Part 1 of the dialogue with Vinylogous.

After weeks and weeks of long hours and frustration in the lab in either my 2nd or 3rd year of graduate school, I remember walking into my apartment bathroom, smashing the mirror with my fist and sitting on the edge of the bathtub. I seem to recall yelling at the top of my lungs “What am I going to do!?!?” about whatever reaction sequence of my total synthesis that simply was not going anywhere.

I can easily say that was one of the darkest periods of my time in graduate school. I am not sure if I was depressed — I’m a synthetic chemist, not a clinical psychologist. Close to ten years later, it’s mostly an unpleasant memory, with little recall of the details that set me off. But I can remember sitting on that bathtub edge, the deep despair of a project that wasn’t going well and the feeling that my entire life was an utter failure. Now, of course, I don’t feel that way at all. I can leave my work at work (mostly, anyway), and my self-worth is not entirely reliant on the yield of my last reaction. But there was a lot of pain in between then and now.

Vinylogous – in Part 2 of the dialogue with Chemjobber.

At one point during my previous degree, when I was doing research, taking classes, and teaching, my advisor told me frankly that my productivity needed to increase. It needed to double. At that point I already felt that I was at my absolutely limit in what I could accomplish in a week. At that point, I had nowhere near enough data for a paper and barely enough for a mediocre conference poster. Weekends had been given up, as had hobbies. When I mentioned to my advisor the many demands on my time, his response was short: “Sometimes you need to prioritize what’s important to you.” (The subtext: stop caring about class and teaching and hobbies). It was an existential moment. I managed somehow to increase my productivity and my efficiency, and within a year or so I had three first-author manuscripts. I defended my M.S. and graduated, moving to another (higher tier) school for a Ph.D. But I left with a pre-conditioned bitterness towards graduate work.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Wednesday, May 20, 2015

  1. A common but bad criticism of basketball analytics is that statistics cannot capture the effect of teamwork when assessing the value of a player.  Dan Rosenbaum wrote a great article on how adjusted plus/minus accomplishes this goal.
  2. Citing Dan’s work above, Neil Paine used adjusted plus/minus (APM) to show why Jason Collins was one of the top defensive centres in the NBA and the most underrated player of the last 15 years of his career.  When Neil mentions regularized APM (RAPM) in the third-to-last paragraph, he calls it a Bayesian version of APM.  Most statisticians are more familiar with the term ridge regression, which is one type of regression that penalizes the inclusion of too many redundant predictors.  Make sure to check out that great plot of actual RAPM vs. expected PER at the bottom of the article.
  3. In a 33-page article that was published on 2015-05-14 in Physical Review Letters, only the first 9 pages describes the research done for the article; the other 24 pages were used to list its 5,514 authors – setting a record for the largest known number of authors for a single research article.  Hyperauthorship is common in physics, but not – apparently – in biology.  (Hat Tip: Tyler Cowen)
  4. Brandon Findlay explains why methanol/water mixtures make great cooling baths.  He wrote a very thorough follow-up blog post on how to make them, and he includes photos to aid the demonstration.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Tuesday, May 19, 2015

  1. Melanie Bailey leads a team of scientists in developing a fingerprint test for cocaine use.  It “is based on surface mass spectrometry.  It desorbs molecules from fingerprints and detects not only cocaine but also its two metabolites, benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine, showing that the drug has been ingested, rather than only touched”.
  2. 7 non-anglophone countries where anglophone university students can earn post-secondary degrees in English for free.
  3. Paul Romer criticizes economic growth theorists for committing “mathiness” – the use of words and symbols that “leaves ample room for slippage between statements in natural versus formal language and between statements with theoretical as opposed to empirical content”.  He supplements this paper with a nice blog post, and he responds to Noah Smith and Brad DeLong in a follow-up blog post.
  4. A randomized trial (n = 2538) of 4 different programs concludes that reward-based financial incentives work well in motivating smokers to quit smoking.  (Paying people to stop smoking works!)  Hat Tip: Alex Tabarrok.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Thursday, May 14, 2015

  1. Alcohol kills more people worldwide than HIV, AIDS, violence and tuberculosis combined.
  2. Some crystals don’t recrystallize after heating and cooling, but form amorphous supercooled liquids.  Modifying the molecular structure of diketopyrrolopyrrole using shear forces can induce this type of behaviour.  Here is a video demonstration.  Here is the original paper.
  3. How pyrex was born out of an accident in cooking spongecake 100 years ago.  (Hat Tip: Lauren Wolf)
  4. Check out David Campbell’s graduate statistical computing course at SFU.  It dives into some cool topics in his research that are not always covered in statistical computing, like approximate Bayesian computation and many computational Bayesian methods.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Wednesday, May 13, 2015

  1. James Trussel et al. used a Markov model to estimate the relative cost effectiveness of contraceptives in the United States from a payer’s perspective.  Did you know that 49% of the 6.4 million pregnancies each year in the United States are unintended?
  2. Jason Furman (Barack Obama’s Chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers) cites empirical research to find social programs that have produced measurable long-term benefits for children in the USA.  (My question for economists: How do you establish causality in such studies?)
  3. Alex Tabarrok blogs on the growing movement to give money directly to poor people in developing countries, especially in using mobile phones to do so.  He also talks about the use of analytics to evaluate charities.
  4. The organic chemistry and biochemistry of allergies (Hat Tip: Lauren Wolf).

Eric’s Enlightenment for Tuesday, May 12, 2015

  1. A great list of public data sets on GitHub – most are free.
  2. Is the 4% withdrawal rule still effective for determining how much you can spend to attain perpetual retirement?
  3. Jeff Leek compiled a great list of awesome things that people did in statistics in 2014.  Here is his list for 2013.  (Hat Tip: Cici Chen and R-Bloggers)
  4. A video demonstration of the triple point of tert-butyl alcohol.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Monday, May 11, 2015

  1. Benjamin Morris used statistics to assess the value of Dennis Rodman as a rebounder and as a basketball player in general – and wrote one of the most epic series of blog posts in sports analytics.  Contrary to popular opinion, he eloquently argued why Rodman was a better rebounder than Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.  In a digression in Part 1/4 (a), he used assist percentage to assess John Stockton’s greatness as a passer.
  2. I enjoy reading David Sherrill’s notes on quantum and computational chemistry.
  3. Read the first slide of this biostatistics lecture to learn how to calculate the concordance statistic (a.k.a. the C-statistic or the area under the receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) curve).
  4. Here are all of the videos of David Zetland’s lectures for his course on natural resource economics at Simon Fraser University.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Friday, May 8, 2015

  1. A nice set of tutorials on Microsoft Excel at OfficeTuts by Tomasz Decker.
  2. “We had proved that an assertion was indeed true in all of the difficult cases, but it turned out to be false in the simple case. We never bothered to check.”  Are mistakes in academic mathematics being effectively identified and corrected?  Vladimir Voevodsky (2002 Fields Medalist) published a major theorem in 1990, but Carlos Simpson found an error with the theorem in 1998.  It wasn’t until 2013 that Voevodsky finally became convinced that his theorem was wrong.  This motivated him to develop “proof assistants” – computer programs that help to prove mathematical theorems.
  3. Synthesizing artificial muscles from gold-plated onion skins
  4. Andrew Gelman debriefs his presentation to Princeton’s economics department about unbiasedness and econometrics.

Eric’s Enlightenment for Thursday, May 7, 2015

  1. “Across the United States, more than half a million kids are poisoned by lead each year…” – much of it due to lead being used in building houses.
  2. At a global business consulting company where 80-hour work weeks are normal, 31% of men and 11% of women examined in Erin Reid’s study “managed to achieve the benefits of a more moderate work schedule without explicitly asking for it“.  Surprisingly, they “received performance reviews that were as strong as their hyper-ambitious colleagues. For people who were good at faking it, there was no real damage done by their lighter workloads”.
  3. Tom Short’s very useful reference card of major and commonly used functions in R – only 4 pages!  In case that first link ever becomes severed, here is the PDF file.
  4. I offer my deepest condolences to Sheryl Sandberg for the recent death of her husband, Dave Goldberg.  I normally post only technical information on this blog, but Katie Hafner’s letter to Sheryl deserves much sharing, and it may help others who endure a similar tragedy.  It is very well written and full of practical and philosophical advice from her own experience in suddenly losing her first husband at an early age.