Archive for 'Arts and science'

Algorithm predicts winner of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election

Monday, November 16th, 2015

In predicting the winner of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Eric Schulman and Daniel Debowy again demonstrate the power of statistics — and demonstrate that the power of statistics can be divorced from other qualities of statistics. They created an algorithm (in other words: a mathematical recipe) that accurately, thoughtlessly produces a possibly-meaningless prediction that’s based entirely on genuine facts.

Schulman and Debowy have prepared a new study, called “WHO WILL WIN THE 2016 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION?” They have also created a related Facebook page, for everyone who would like to analyze or bloviate.


Here are key snippets of the new study:

The Annals of Improbable Research U.S. Presidential Election Algorithm (Debowy and Schulman 2003) correctly predicted the outcome of the 2004, 2008, and 2012 United States presidential elections. Now that the 2016 campaign for U.S. President has officially started, we apply our proven algorithm to 22 potential Republican candidates and 14 potential Democratic candidates for this election.

ABSTRACT. Our 2003 algorithm for determining the winners of United States presidential elections correctly ascertained the winner of each of the 56 U.S. presidential elections between 1789 and 2000 and correctly predicted the winners of the 2004, 2008, and 2012 U.S. presidential elections. In this paper we apply the algorithm to 22 potential Republican candidates and 14 potential Democratic candidates for the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Republican candidate with the highest presidential electability is James R. Perry, who suspended his campaign on September 11, 2015. Two Democratic candidates are tied with the highest electability: Lincoln D. Chafee, who ended his campaign on October 23, 2015, and Edmund G. Brown, Jr., who has not declared that he is running.

Discovery: The park bench

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

A discovery about park benches leaps from a press release from the University of Sheffield:

Researchers in the University’s Department of Landscape and the London-based think tank, found that sitting on benches allows people to spend longer outside

The press release goes on to explain that this property of benches  “is both beneficial for mental health and allows people to connect with others in their community.” Further details of the research appear in a study called “Benches for everyone,” by Radhika Bynon and Clare Rishbeth, published by The Young Foundation.


Here’s a snippet from that paper:

Fitz, a teenager, sitting up on the back of the benches with his friends said “if you spent longer than a week in Woolwich, yeah, you would see so much stuff, you’d just see everything”. By observing difference in this way, people spoke about how they develop an awareness of a broader range of behaviours and activities, helping to engender greater tolerance. This high-density location also plays host to a wide network of ‘loose ties’, flexibly accommodating the churn of neighbourhood population change, and allowing participation and a sense of belonging without making demands.

(Thanks to investigator John Pullin for bringing this to our attention.)

An impractical joke for a small community of scientists

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

One newly published brain research paper is obviously a joke intended for the small community of scientists who use FMRI equipment. And it’s a good example of how a joke meant for insiders can be difficult or impossible (or at least take hours and hours of excited exposition) to explain to anyone else.

If you are not of that community, and you have days or weeks to devote to listening to someone’s explanation of why this joke might be funny, ask an fMRI researcher to explain this to you:

Soeren_1ab6ca452cJournal Impact Factor Shapes Scientists’ Reward Signal in the Prospect of Publication,” Frieder Michel Paulus, Lena Rademacher, Theo Alexander Jose Schäfer, Laura Müller-Pinzler, Sören Krach [pictured here], PLoS ONE, November 10, 201510(11): e0142537. (Thanks to Chris Gunter for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the University of Lübeck,, Germany, write:

“The incentive structure of a scientist’s life is increasingly mimicking economic principles. While intensely criticized, the journal impact factor (JIF) has taken a role as the new currency for scientists. Successful goal-directed behavior in academia thus requires knowledge about the JIF. Using functional neuroimaging we examined how the JIF, as a powerful incentive in academia, has shaped the behavior of scientists and the reward signal in the striatum. We demonstrate that the reward signal in the nucleus accumbens increases with higher JIF during the anticipation of a publication and found a positive correlation with the personal publication record (pJIF) supporting the notion that scientists have incorporated the predominant reward principle of the scientific community in their reward system.”

Here’s further severely deadpan detail from the study:


BONUS: Deeply deadpan humor in a paper published in 2005.

Exploding-whale day: the 45th anniversary

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

Today, reportedly, is the 45th anniversary of the famous exploding whale. The event was documented in this KATU television report, in 1970:

The announcer summarized, firsthand, the fallout: “However, everyone on the scene was covered with small particle of dead whale.”

Now, people have built an entire business, or at least a web site, on the memory of that explosion.

Question and answer: Lisa’s eight years of hiccups

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

ITV’s This Morning program presented, on November 12, 2015, a medical mystery: a woman named Lisa who says she has suffered hiccups for all of the past eight years. Ig Nobel Prize winner Dr. Francis Fesmire discovered, years ago, an answer which may be unknown to the This Morning response team: digital rectal massage.


ITV says:

today Dr Dawn Harper and Dr Ranj Singh are here… with our live case study Lisa Graves, who hasn’t been able to stop hiccupping for eight years after they began following the birth of daughter Emily in 2008. Can Dr Dawn and Dr Ranj help the woman who has had the hiccups for over eight years?

Dr. Fesmire was awarded the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize for medicine, for his medical case report “Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage” [Annals of Emergency Medicine, vol. 17, no. 8, August 1988 p. 872].

Sad to say, Dr. Fesmire died in 2014, and so is not available to appear on the This Morning program and save the day. We hope some kind soul will alert the This Morning doctors so that they can supply appropriate advice, and perhaps corresponding medical services, to Lisa Graves.