Archive for 'Arts and science'

(Video of) A measure of improbability at NIST

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Here’s video of the colloquium talk I did a few days ago at NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in Gaithersburg Maryland.  The official description: “A Measure of Improbable Research — haphazardly selected samples of Ig Nobel Prize-winning and other research that makes people LAUGH then THINK”. The talk was  broadcast live to NIST facilities in Boulder, Colorado and Charleston, South Carolina. The event also featured Ig Nobel Prize winner Theo Gray, inventor of the 4-legged periodic table table, and Ted Doiron, the NIST scientist who co-authored (with his son, who at the time was a high school student) the only study ever performed to assess the metrology of complimentary small plastic rulers.

The MAFFIA mathematicians

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Sensing that some things simply don’t add up, certain mathematicians have banded together to alert the public. Their web site explains:

Mathematicians Against Fraudulent Financial and Investment Advice (MAFFIA)

This site was created out of growing concern with the usage of less-than-fully rigorous mathematical and statistical methodologies in the financial/investment world….

We are also concerned with the proliferation of quasi-mathematical investment advice and financial columns in the past few years, which appear to be based on sophisticated mathematics and statistics, but which, upon more rigorous analysis, are at best questionable. We encourage the reader to search the Internet for terms such as “stochastic oscillators,” “Fibonacci ratios,” “cycles,” “Elliot wave,” “Golden ratio,” “parabolic SAR,” “pivot point,” “momentum,” and others in the context of finance. Although such terms clearly evoke precise mathematical concepts, in fact, in almost all cases, their usage is at best scientifically unsound….

Our approach here is not one of confrontation, but instead one of research to better understand and mitigate these difficulties, education to assist other professionals in the field, together with unbiased testing and analysis. If you identify with our concerns, let us know and spread the word. Together we can make a difference.


One of their alerts takes the form of a paper:

Pseudo-Mathematics and Financial Charlatanism: The Effects of Backtest Overfitting on Out-of-Sample Performance,” David H.Bailey [pictured above], Jonathan M. Borwein, M. Lopez de Prado, and Qiji Zhu,  Notices of the AMS, vol. 61, no. 5, May 2014, pp. 458-71.

For an overview of this, see “The Dangerous Mathematical Con of Hedge Funds and Financial Advisers“, by Ryan Jacobs, in the Pacific Standard.

(HT Jennifer Ouellette)

BONUS (related, and also HT Jennifer Ouellette): Chris Holdgraf’s “how I learned to stop worrying and love errorbars

The further self-rejuvenation of Dr. Takasu, surgeon

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Dr. Katsuya Takasu M.D., Ph.D is an aesthetic surgeon at the Takasu Clinic, Nagoya, Japan. He has embarked on a personal journey to demonstrate commitment to aesthetic surgery ideals – by having ‘rejuvenative’ facial plastic surgery himself.


To document the project, Dr. Takasu, who is now 69, (see right hand top picture) has created three video presentations entitled “Further Rejuvenation of Myself” which can be viewed below.

“Unless We, aesthetic surgeons become good examples, patients are discouraged to visit our clinics.”

“Rejuvenation of aesthetic surgeons is more urgent a business than reconstruction of Japan’s economy.”

“I find it quite comical that most aesthetic surgeons look older than their patients.”

“I made a resolution. I will rejuvenate myself by 20 years in one year.”

“How do I cook this 55-year-old man?”

“All of us will age in appearance; however, I do believe that we can be a brand-new classic car, as long as we receive good maintenance service. As we rejuvenate our appearances, our mental ageing can be stopped. Now. Let’s have good maintenance surgeries.”

[Caution: these videos are not suitable for those who are squeamish about watching surgical procedures.]

Note: According to his Wikipedia entry, on August 2, 2011, Dr. Takasu together with his friend Mr. Koji Ishida (aged 71) established a Guinness World Record of most golf holes played by a pair in 12 hours (cart). The pair completed 261 holes at Kyowa Country Club, Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan.

BONUS: If you meet Dr. Takatsu, you can ask him to demonstrate his most famous patented invention:

Fat sucking apparatus.” U.S. Patent 5,236,414, Katsuya Takasu, issued August 17, 1993.

Evidence that Synthetic Marijuana May Be More Dangerous then Real

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

We are hoping to discover the significance, if any, of the publication date of this medical paper:

Smoking synthetic marijuana leads to self-mutilation requiring bilateral amputations,” K.A. Meijer, R.R. Russo and D.V. Adhvaryu, Orthopedics, vol. 37, no. 4, April 1,  2014, pp. e391-4. (Thanks to investigator Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention.) The authors report:

“Synthetic cannabinoids have become a worldwide epidemic because they provide a sometimes legal, easily accessible, and presumably safe alternative to marijuana. Recently published reports have linked acute psychosis, myocardial infarctions, convulsions, self-harm, and even terrorist organizations to these designer substances. This case report outlines the first reported case of Black Diamond, a synthetic cannabis, leading to a self-inflicted burn to the bilateral upper extremities requiring a transradial amputation of the right arm and a toe transfer procedure of the left hand after loss of all digits. The patient presented to the emergency department with self-inflicted fourth-degree burns to the bilateral hands and forearms with second-degree burns of the face, for a total body surface area of 14.5%. The patient was found by firefighters with his hands aflame on his kitchen stove. With no previous medical or psychiatric history and collateral information to confirm the patient’s mental status prior to use of Black Diamond, the patient’s acute psychotic episode was attributed to Black Diamond. After multiple procedures and a lengthy recovery, the patient completed his post-graduate education and entered the professional world.”

Where that (scientifical/business) jargon, much of it, came from

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

“They did develop distinctive, pseudo-scientific language to pitch themselves to clients…”, explains Emma Green as she rough-sketches a history of modern business jargon, in The Atlantic. (Thanks to Mariette DiChristina for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS: The Jargon Opera premiered as part of the 2002 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The opera concludes with the song “Harmonious Misunderstanding”. Here are the lyrics to that song:

[MUSIC: Arne's "Rule, Britannia"]

They say that better understanding
Would… make us thrive.
But if we knew what others truly want,
We might not wish them to stay alive.
Mis-under-standing may be the thing
That lets us survive.
True understanding… turns people rather shrill.
It really, really, really, makes them want to kill!

Hail to jargon!
‘Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo’nious!

The Mid-East hag-gl-ing for peace is
Go-ing to fail
‘Till open, clear communication ceases,
As at Harvard, or even Yale.
The trick to dick-er-ing is to fudge on ev’ry detail.
Mis-under-standing… that’s mutu’lly assured
Some-how lets any major diff’rence be endured.

Hail to jargon!
‘Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo’nious!

The his-to-ry of every nation
Hither and yon,
Is basic’ly a simple compilation
Of how babble defeated brawn.
All armies get exhausted, but jargon just jabbers on.
Jargon is better… than anything around.
It makes your en-e-my suspect his mind’s unsound.

Hail to jargon!
‘Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo’nious!

The Klingons often fired a phaser
At Captain Kirk.
But Kirk was such a powerful re-phraser
His words made all of them berserk.
The Klingons always fled because they thought, “He’s such a jerk.”
Jargon is better… than anything in space.
It tri-umphs over a con-vention-al arms race.

Hail to jargon!
‘Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo’nious!

Harmo-ni-ous misunderstanding –
That’s what we need.
Our leaders must use jargon in demanding
We pretend they know how to lead.
Our children must learn jargon before we teach them to read.
True understanding… makes people rather ill –
They’d really, really, really, rather lis-ten to swill!

Hail to jargon!
‘Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo’nious!

Hail to jargon!
‘Tis so eu-pho-ni-ous!
Jar-gon makes misunderstanding harmo’nious!!

This video shows a spirited, very British performance of the song “Rule Britannia” with its original words. You might enjoy playing the recording whilst you yourself sing the new lyrics at your highest volume:

BONUS: Here’s video of the entire 2002 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. This video begins with the special pre-ceremony concert by the Dresden Dolls:

(The song “Harmonious Misunderstanding” was performed near the end of the ceremony, at about the 1:20 mark in the video.)