Archive for 'Arts and science'

Ellipsis in English Literature

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Dr. Anne Toner, of the Faculty of English at Trinity College Cambridge, UK, studies varieties of incompleteness in literary works. She has recently published a book which focusses on a particular incompleteness signifier: Ellipsis in English Literature : Signs of Omission. The publisher notes :

Anne.TonerAnne Toner provides an original account of the history of ellipsis marks – dots, dashes and asterisks – in English literary writing. Highlighting ever-renewing interest in these forms of non-completion in literature, Toner demonstrates how writers have striven to get closer to the hesitancies and interruptions of spoken language, the indeterminacies of thought, and the successive or fragmented nature of experience by means of these textual symbols.”

Improbable would have liked to have provided more detail about the work, but our attempts to contact both the author and the publisher met with little if any success …
Questions [optional]
• What is the plural form of ‘Ellipsis’ ? Ellipsises or Ellipses?
• Is there a significant difference between three dots . . . and the triple dot glyph ?
• What is the function of the ‘mid-line’ ellipsis ?
• What happens when an ellipsis ends a sentence, is the correct form … . ?

Pigeons as Trained Observers in the War on Cancer

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Pigeons may be as good as some bad radiologists, in some ways, maybe, suggests this new study:

Pigeons (Columba livia) as Trainable Observers of Pathology and Radiology Breast Cancer Images,” Richard M. Levenson, Elizabeth A. Krupinski, Victor M. Navarro, and Edward A. Wasserman, PLoS ONE, 10(11): e0141357. (Thanks to Ig Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Oberzaucher for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at University of California Davis, the University of Iowa, and Emory University, report:

pigeon radiology

“We report here that pigeons (Columba livia)—which share many visual system properties with humans—can serve as promising surrogate observers of medical images, a capability not previously documented. The birds proved to have a remarkable ability to distinguish benign from malignant human breast histopathology after training with differential food reinforcement; even more importantly, the pigeons were able to generalize what they had learned when confronted with novel image sets. The birds’ histological accuracy, like that of humans, was modestly affected by the presence or absence of color as well as by degrees of image compression, but these impacts could be ameliorated with further training. Turning to radiology, the birds proved to be similarly capable of detecting cancer-relevant microcalcifications on mammogram images. However, when given a different (and for humans quite difficult) task—namely, classification of suspicious mammographic densities (masses)—the pigeons proved to be capable only of image memorization and were unable to successfully generalize when shown novel examples.”

BONUS: The 1995 Ig Nobel Prize for psychology was awarded to Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto, and Masumi Wakita, of Keio University, for their success in training pigeons to discriminate between the paintings of Picasso and those of Monet. [details of that research are in the study “Pigeons’ Discrimination of Paintings by Monet and Picasso,” Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, vol. 63, 1995, pp. 165-174.]

BONUS: Surgical pathology and bird-watching

UPDATE (thanks to Tom Levenson): Video that accompanies the study:

BONUS: Kinect and pigeon behavior, with another look at the video of B.F. Skinner explaining how he trains pigeons:

Podcast #38: Color preference in the insane, with frozen mammoth

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Color preference in the insane, the red sweat of the hippopotamus, the question of whether The Explorer’s Club served a dinner of thawed, roast woolley mammoth, and how surgeons handle pop-up surprises — all of these turn up in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

LISTEN TO IT! …or click on the “Venetian blinds” icon — at the lower right corner here — to select whichever week’s episode you want to hear:

SUBSCRIBE on, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler or the shadowy Bruce Petschek perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, on the CBS web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

Supper: Data Karaoke

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Karaoke has penetrated to so many levels of society that it has reached even the some of the scientists who present data at scientific conferences. This study, by Supper, tells how that came about:

Data Karaoke: Sensory and Bodily Skills in Conference Presentations,” Alexandra Supper, [pictured here], Volume 24, Issue 4, 2015, pages 436-457. (Thanks to Tom Gill for bringing this to our attention.) The author, at Maastricht University, explains:

supper“At the International Conference on Auditory Display (ICAD), an interdisciplinary conference dedicated to sonification and the use of non-speech sound to represent information, presenters make use of a variety of bodily skills and representations that appeal to the senses of their audience… The practice of ‘data karaoke’, in which researchers mimic the sound of a sonification with their own voice, is particularly instructive…

“To make sense of data karaoke, we have to understand the institutional and intellectual environment in which this peculiar practice has emerged; but conversely, an understanding of data karaoke can help us throw new light on epistemological debates about the hierarchy of the senses: data karaoke is a multisensory skill engaging the whole body of the sonification researcher, and thus calls into question the dominant epistemological discourse within the ICAD community, in which the different sensory modalities are framed as competitors.”

BONUS: Here’s a twist on that: video of Stephen Barrass of the University of Canberra talking about his “Hypertension Singing Bowl“. Barrass says:  “The Hypertension Singing Bowl is an Acoustic Sonification shaped by a year of blood pressure data that has been 3D printed in stainless steel so that it rings…. The resulting Hypertension singing bowl is a meditative contemplation on the dataset that is a reminder to live a healthy lifestyle, and a poetic alternative to generic graphic plots of the Quantified Self.”

An authoritative answer to the coffee/health question

Monday, November 16th, 2015

A question may be difficult (or impossible) to really answer, but that difficulty does not prevent authoritative people from supplying authoritative answers.

A November 16, 2015 press release brews up a new authoritative answer to the question “Is drinking coffee good or bad for your health”:

Moderate coffee drinking may lower risk of premature death

Boston, MA – People who drink about three to five cups of coffee a day may be less likely to die prematurely from some illnesses than those who don’t drink or drink less coffee, according to a new study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers and colleagues….

“Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation,” said first author Ming Ding, a doctoral student in the Department of Nutrition. “That could explain some of our findings. However, more studies are needed to investigate the biological mechanisms producing these effects.”

HuThe study is: “Association of Coffee Consumption with Total and Cause-specific Mortality in Three Large Prospective Cohorts,” Ming Ding, Ambika Satija, Shilpa N. Bhupathiraju, Yang Hu, Qi Sun, Walter Willett, Rob M. van Dam, Frank B. Hu [pictured here], Circulation, online November 16, 2015.

The authors and their institution made a video to inform the public that the coffee question has now been answered:

BONUS ACTIVITY: Read the entire press release, and also the entire study. Count the number of times you see the words “may” or “could“.

BONUS BONUS ACTIVITY: Read several press accounts of this study. For each press account, count the number of times you see the words “may” or “could“. Perhaps begin with these two news reports: “Drink up, coffee’s good for you. (Even decaf!)” and “Coffee could literally be a lifesaver“.

EXTRA BONUS BONUS ACTIVITY, FOR EXTREMELY NERDY READERS ONLY: In the space of one minute (60 seconds), list five reasons why it is difficult or impossible to find the real answer to the question “Is drinking coffee good or bad for your health?”