Archive for 'News about research'

Randomness As a Tool to Produce More Women Leaders

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Further fodder for using randomness to make choices that are traditionally made by other, judgment-based methods:

goodallWomen have to enter the leadership race to win: Using random selection to increase the supply of women into senior positions,” Amanda H. Goodall [pictured here] and Margit Osterloh, 2015. The authors, at Cass Business School, City University, London and the University of Zürich, explicitly build on the work of 2010 Ig Nobel management prize winners Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda, and Cesare Garofalo:

“The supply of women into senior management has changed little despite well intentioned efforts. We argue that the biggest effect is from supply-side factors that inhibit females’ decision to enter competitions: Women are under-confident about winning, men are over-confident; women are more risk averse than men in some settings; and, most importantly, women shy away from competition. In order to change the conditions under which this is the case, this paper proposes a radical idea. It is to use a particular form of random selection of candidates to increase the supply of women into management positions. We argue that selective randomness would encourage women to enter tournaments; offer women ‘rejection insurance’; ensure equality over time; raise the standard of candidates; reduce homophily to improve diversity of people and ideas; and lessen ‘the chosen one’ factor. We also demonstrate, using Jensen’s inequality from applied mathematics, that random selection can improve organizational efficiency….

“Random processing, which includes screening to filter out inappropriate candidates, can in principle be used in many settings to correct and improve different kinds of procedures.18 Zeitoun, Osterloh and Frey (2014) propose developing a corporate governance model using random selection procedures to appoint stakeholder representatives to corporate boards. Pluchino, Rapisarda and Garofalo (2011) suggest using partial random selection as a promotion strategy that protects again the Peter Principle.”

Sonifications in the control room

Friday, April 17th, 2015

Those whose work involves monitoring highly complex industrial procedues sometimes have difficulty attending to several concurrent processes (at the same time). To this end :

85094_webComputer scientists at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interactive Technology (CITEC) at Bielefeld University and the University of Vienna have developed a method that allows control room staff to monitor several processes at the same time”

Their answer, in a word, is ‘sonification’. The scientists, whose paper ‘A Sonification System for Process Monitoring as Secondary Task’  is published in Proceedings of the 5th IEEE Conference on Cognitive Infocommunication,
provide a sonificated example of what it might be like to work in such a control room. [mp4 format] Further research is required though say the investigators :

“First pre-tests suggest that with the developed system, users are indeed able to infer states and the need to intervene, however, whether it improves performance over visual-only and simple auditory-warning based systems in a significant manner still has to be proven.”

Housework affects fertility (in Finland)

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Miettinen Anneli wwwAnneli Miettinen and colleagues at the Population Research Institute, Väestöliitto, Finland, have, perhaps for the first time, performed a study to examine whether housework might be linked in some way to (in)fertility. Results of their enquiries, published in the May 2015 issue of the journal Acta Sociologica :

“[…] show that women’s housework hours were negatively associated with the likelihood of having children at all parities. Men’s contribution to domestic tasks, measured in relative terms, had no impact on childbearing.”

See: ‘Women’s housework decreases fertility : Evidence from a longitudinal study among Finnish couples’


A rectal foreign body in a 65 million year-old Danish sea urchin

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Since David B. Busch and James R. Starling, won the 1995 Ig Nobel Literature prize for their deeply penetrating 1986 research report, “Rectal foreign bodies: Case Reports and a Comprehensive Review of the World’s Literature” the body of literature on the subject and the number of cases has increased considerably. By 2012, no less than 589 reports on these inconveniences have been published. All cases, however, refer to humans. But now a paper has come to our attention that details the first documented case of a rectal foreign body in a 65 million year-old sea urchin from Denmark.

Close up anus sea urchinJesper Milan, Bo W. Rasmussen and Lothar H. Vallon of Geomuseum Faxe and Natural History Museum of Denmark report ‘An unusual taphocoenosis of a sea urchin and a rectally inserted turriform gastropod from the lowermost Paleocene of Stevns Klint, Denmark’ in New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin 67 (2015): 231-234:

A specimen of the common irregular echinoid Echinocorys sulcata (Goldfuss, 1826), recovered from the lowermost Paleocene Stevns Klint Formation, at Stevns Klint, Denmark, is of note in revealing a perfect external mold of the turriform gastropod Cerithiella fenestrata (Ravn, 1902) in the anal opening. The gastropod penetrated over a length of 21 mm perpendicularly into the echinoid test, and impressions in the surrounding matrix show the gastropod to have protruded over a length of 8 mm out of the test, being tightly lodged in the periproctal opening. It is assumed that this unusual combination resulted from the activities of bioturbators which, by chance, pushed the empty gastropod shell into the anal opening of the test of the dead echinoid, although other, more colorful, explanations cannot be excluded.

When asked about the significance of this discovery, Jesper Milàn answered by e-mail:

… it might be of some comfort for the unfortunate people who had to take the long walk to the doctor, to know it has happened to sea urchins long before any humans were present on the planet.

The images below illustrate the remarkable fossil association, where A is the sea urchin, B close-up of the anal opening showing the imprint of the gastropod shell, C silicone cast of the imprint, and E transparent CT-image of the sea urchin showing the orientation of the shell.

Milàn et al - Echinoid with snail - Fig 3 color

BONUS: Jesper Milàn (co)authored two recent papers that detail the discovery of vertebrate coprolites (fossil droppings) near the Danish shell-in-sea-urchin and elsewhere in Europe.

Of Sketchy Perception in a Monty Python Sketch

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Not noticing something that’s right before your eyes? Happens all the time. The phenomenon fueled the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize-winning invisible-gorilla research of Americans Chris Chabris and Dan Simons. Now, two researchers in the UK point to a stark example in a Monty Python sketch:

And now for something completely different: Inattentional blindness during a Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch,” Richard Wiseman and Caroline Watt, i-Perception (2015) volume 6, pages 38–40. The authors, at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Edinburgh, explain:

Perceptual science has frequently benefited from studying illusions created outside of academia. Here, we describe a striking, but little-known, example of inattentional blindness from the British comedy series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Viewers fail to attend to several highly incongruous characters in the sketch, despite these characters being clearly visible onscreen. The sketch has the potential to be a valuable research and teaching resource, as well as providing a vivid illustration of how people often fail to see something completely different….

Despite widespread interest in inattentional blindness, most researchers are unaware that a striking example of the phenomenon appears in the British comedy series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Episode 12 of the second series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired in December 1970 contained a short sketch entitled “Ypres 1914—Abandoned.” This sketch takes place during the First World War, and begins with a close-up image of a harmonica being played by a British soldier (Eric Idle). The camera then slowly zooms out to reveal four soldiers (including John Cleese, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin) sitting in an army encampment. Standing behind them are several actors dressed in a series of highly incongruous costumes, including that of a nun wearing a large white hat (Graham Chapman), a sheikh, and a Greek Orthodox priest….

Here’s the Monty Python sketch itself, with an added layer of meaning (a narrator, speaking in Polish):