Archive for 'Arts and science'

A look back at the opening of the Improbable Research European Bureau

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

It’s exciting to look back, every now and again, at the opening of Improbable Research’s European Bureau, in 2006.

Is science that seems crazy crazy?

Monday, June 29th, 2015

The news is awash today with the question: Is scientific research that makes people laugh bad or is it good, or what?

Shirley Wang, in the Wall Street Journal, explores the general question, under the headline “Science Wants to Know: Can Worms Swim?” It begins:

Can worms learn to swim? And why do some people see the face of Jesus on their toast?

Science is filled with research that can appear wacky or silly, obvious or trivial. Some topics elicit concern from both inside and outside the scientific community about whether they answer important questions or waste time and taxpayer money.

But sometimes the seemingly oddest studies add meaningfully to scientific knowledge, provoke a new direction for inquiry or spur a different way of understanding a phenomenon. Predicting what research will be significant can be difficult. It may not become apparent for years or even decades.

As the money from the government to support and conduct research gets tighter, scientists and funding agencies say it’s increasingly difficult to get any grants, particularly for high-risk research. More big grants go to researchers who have already tested out their methods and can show data suggesting their proposed experiments will work, they say….

Also today, Kelly Servick reports, in the journal Science, on a specific research program that achieved “Sorting cells through levitation” It begins:

What looks like a row of drifting gumdrops could hold a wealth of information for both clinical researchers and bench scientists. A team of bioengineers and geneticists has designed a device that can suspend a single living cell between magnets and measure its density based on how high it floats. Such measurements could be used to sort different types of cells—to distinguish cancerous cells from healthy ones, for example—or to measure how cells change when exposed to drugs.

A demonstration of the approach, published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is “pretty amazing stuff that could be a game changer for a lot of things if true,” says John Minna, a cancer biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Researchers have used magnets before to levitate whole creatures, such as living frogs—a bizarre demonstration that won its author an Ig Nobel Prize….

BONUS: Here’s detail, including video, on that cell levitation research.

BONUS: Here’s now-historical video of the Ig Nobel Prize-winning magnetically levitated frog:

Leadership and Gardening – an update

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Following on from our Improbable note about Leadership via Gardening, may we also draw attention to the work of Dr. Thorsten Grahn (of Regent University, Virginia Beach, US) who not only considers the analogies between gardening and organizational leadership but is also one of the very few organizational observers to have examined the leadership implications of artificial flowers. See: Artificial Flowers are Beautiful, but Do Not Grow.

Paper_flowers_in_vaseThere are many good reasons to prefer artificial flowers to natural ones. The good ones look extremely pretty. Even after a month in a vase they are still in full bloom, the leaves have not gone limp and they require no water, no sunshine and no nutrition to keep looking pretty. They will never die.

Artificial flowers only have one disadvantage: they do not grow! They stay the same forever. They will never die, but only, because they never lived.

Sometimes leaders wish their staff would behave like wonderful artificial flowers. However, soon they would discover that there is no more growth, no more flexibility and no more adaptation to a changing environment. In fact, no more change at all.

Organizations need living people who want to grow, and not people, who want to keep the status quo. The leadership must treat the people as living plants that need much care, but in the long run they will always outshine the ‘artificial flowers’ in the organization.“

[photo courtesy Tom Harpel @ Wikipedia]


Fock: Performance of Candlestick Analysis

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

A researcher named Fock, together with some colleagues, throws water on a financial investment practice called “candlestick analysis”:

Performance of Candlestick Analysis on Intraday Futures Data,” J. Henning Fock, et. al., Journal of Derivatives, Fall 2005, Vol. 13, No. 1: pp. 28-40. The authors write:

“Many practitioners use technical trading in derivatives markets, especially futures. Academic researchers, by contrast, consider “charting” to be without merit… Fock, Klein, and Zwergel put one very popular charting technique, the “candlestick” method, to the test. They start by developing specific criteria for a set of basic candlestick patterns, and then measure predictive performance with intraday data from two major futures, the DAX stock index contract, and the Bund interest rate future. And guess what? The academics are right! The authors find no evidence of predictive ability from candlestick patterns alone, or in combination with other common technical indicators, like momentum.”

BONUS: A web site called The Swing Trading Guide gives these examples of candlestick patterns:

Preference peculiarities: Curves good – or angles bad?

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Serpentine_lines_from_William_Hogarths_The_Analysis_of_BeautyIn 1753 (or thereabouts) William Hogarth published his study into ‘The analysis of Beauty’ (“Written with a view of fixing the fluctuating ideas of taste.”) He was particularly interested in the ‘Perfect Curve’. For Hogarth, number 4 hit the spot.

Scroll forward to April 2015 for another study about curves, which asks whether peoples’ apparent preference for curvaceous things could perhaps stem from a dislike of angular things? Perhaps corners are dangerous? The research paper  ‘Do observers like curvature or do they dislike angularity?’ is scheduled for publication in the British Journal of Psychology.

hole-in-roadA series of four experimental investigations looked at:
● Curvature Articulation and Complexity
● Curvature and Peripersonal Space [see photo of a ‘hole’ in the road]
● Curvature and Pleasantness
● Curvature and Approach Behaviour

– showing that the mysterious attraction of the curve is probably still worthy of further research.

The authors conclude that:

“Most people prefer curved stimuli to angular stimuli. In our data, this effect was clear in all four experiments, including when lines were presented through an aperture and therefore did not form closed shapes. Moreover, our data suggest that the preference for curvature is not a by-product of a negative response to angularity. We conclude that the curvature effect is likely to be caused by intrinsic characteristics of the stimuli, rather than what they might signal. “

Note: Co-Author Marco Bertamini also looks into holes, both curvy and angular, like the one shown above.

Also see: (regarding roundness and angularity) ‘Artistotle’s pebble hunch — upheld’