Archive for 'News about research'

Podcast #18: Personal space at the beach

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Personal spacing at the beach, pseudostupidity, and other things, turn up  in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

Click on the “Venetian blinds” icon — at the lower right corner here — to select whichever week’s episode you want to hear:

SUBSCRIBE on or iTunes, to get a new episode every week, free.
[NEWS: Soon, the podcast will also be available on Spotify.]

This week, Marc Abrahams tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler 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, both on the new CBS web site, and on iTunes (and soon, also on Spotify).

A generator of lyrics and music from academic papers

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

“This work attempts to create lyrics from academic papers and appropriate melodies to go with them. We believe this system can also be modified to use different initial data sources, be it text sources for the lyrics or music sources for the music style. We chose academic papers as input due to their diversity and availability. Furthermore, due to their usual seriousness, it was our opinion that it would be amusing, not only for readers but also for authors, to see these works in a different light.”

The SMUG: Scientific Music Generator has been developed by Marco Scirea, Gabriella A. B. Barros, and Noor Shaker of the Center for Computer Games Research, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and Julian Togelius at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, New York University, US.

TRY IT: You can try it yourself, online, and hear the delights of such music.

The paper provides a sample which SMUG generated from Darwin’s ‘On the origin of species by means of natural selection’SMUG-music

“Bul let tins first ar gu ments na tu re an is an same thus hist re ca pi tu la tion con tro ver sial ahh p man in ha bi tants”

Their paper is presented today at ICCC 2015: The Sixth International Conference on Computational Creativity, Park City, Utah, US, June 29 – July 2, 2015. The conference programme, including papers on AI cocktail generation, AI computer-aided humour and AI automatic painting, can be found here.

UPDATE: The authors have kindly alerted us to the existence of an online version of SMUG. Improbable has uploaded the paper ‘Frictional Coefficient under Banana Skin’ (by the winners of the 2014 Ig Nobel physics prize, Kibyyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai) The paper is now available as a lyrical and musical rendition.

Upload your paper of choice (in .pdf format) here.

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:

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’