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 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 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 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 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 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 Tuesday, April 28, 2015

  1. On a yearly basis, the production of almonds in California uses more water than businesses and residences in San Francisco and Los Angeles combined.  Alex Tabarrok explains why.
  2. How patient well-being and patient satisfaction become conflicting objectives in hospitals – a case study of a well-intended policy with deadly consequences.  (HT: Frances Woolley – with a thought about academia.)
  3. Contrary to a long-held presumption about the stability of DNA in mature cells, Huimei Yu et al. show that neurons use DNA methylation to rewrite their DNA throughout each day.  This is done to adjust the brain to different activity levels as its function changes over time.
  4. Alex Yakubovitch provides a tutorial on regular expressions (patterns that define sets of strings) and how to use them in R.