Archive for 'News about research'

False Steps: Activity Monitors’ Mistakes

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Washing and drying dishes may not be quite the same thing as taking steps with your legs — but to some machines, sometimes it is. A step-by-step investigation suggests that the electromechanical fitness trackers, which track how many steps people take, can vary considerably in what they count as a step. Details are in this report:

When a Step Is Not a Step! Specificity Analysis of Five Physical Activity Monitors,” Sandra O’Connell, Gearóid Ó Laighin, and Leo R. Quinlan, PLoS ONE, vol. 12, no. 1, 2017: e0169616.

The authors, at NUI Galway, Ireland, write:

As step count is one of the most utilized measures for quantifying physical activity it is important that activity-monitoring devices be both sensitive and specific in recording actual steps taken and disregard non-stepping body movements. The objective of this study was to assess the specificity of five activity monitors during a variety of prescribed non-stepping activities. …

Methods — Participants wore five activity monitors simultaneously for a variety of prescribed activities including deskwork, taking an elevator, taking a bus journey, automobile driving, washing and drying dishes; functional reaching task; indoor cycling; outdoor cycling; and indoor rowing. Each task was carried out for either a specific duration of time or over a specific distance. Activity monitors tested were the ActivPAL micro™, NL-2000™ pedometer, Withings Smart Activity Monitor Tracker (Pulse O2)™, Fitbit One™ and Jawbone UP™. Participants were video-recorded while carrying out the prescribed activities and the false positive step count registered on each activity monitor was obtained and compared to the video.

Results — All activity monitors registered a significant number of false positive steps per minute… The Withings™ activity performed best, registering a significant number of false positive steps per minute during the outdoor cycling activity only. The Jawbone™ registered a significant number of false positive steps during the functional reaching task and while washing and drying dishes.

(Thanks to Neil Martin for bringing this to our attention.)

BONUS (possibly related): Martha Stewart’s step-by-step advice for how to wash dishes.

The Lure of Horse-Computer Interaction : an ethographic approach

Monday, January 16th, 2017

habitDr Steve North and colleagues at the University of Nottingham, UK have developed a new study-area methodology, and have coined a new word for it : “Ethographology“ (derived from ‘ethnographic’ and ‘ethology’).

“The ethnographic elements of ethographology describe practices, reasons, cultures, and competencies. By way of contrast, the ethology components of ethographology are more concerned with behaviors, purposes, species, and strategies. Some advantages to ethographology as a methodology are: allowing narratives to be compared, reducing observer bias, and generalization of results across studies.”

Details can be found in Dr North’s paper ‘Do androids dream of electric steeds? The allure of horse-computer interaction.’ ACM Interactions, 23 (2). pp. 50-53. 2016.

More information on Horse-Computer Interaction can be examined in ‘HABIT: Horse Automated Behaviour Identification Tool – A Position Paper’ (from which the photo above is taken)

Coming soon : Dog-Multiscreen Interaction

Least Interesting Units: a new concept for enhancing one’s academic career opportunities

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

dr-cabboletfotoIn these days where ‘Publish or Perish’ pressures are rife in academia, scholars who wish to enhance their career opportunities might want to turn to the work of Marcoen J.T.F. Cabbolet, who is a research affiliate at the Free University of Brussels. In a new paper for the journal Science and Engineering Ethics he suggests the liberal application of Least Interesting Units (LIUs) in research – in other words the importance of prioritising investigations that are only just interesting enough to pursue.
He presents the concept in the form of a maxim :-

“Maxim 6. A researcher should pursue as many LIUs as possible.”

with the observation that :

“[…] this maxim yields an enhanced career perspective in the current `publish-or-perish’ world that academia has become.”

See:The Least Interesting Unit: A New Concept for Enhancing One’s Academic Career Opportunities’ in : Science and Engineering Ethics December 2016, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp 1837–1841.

It should be emphasised however, that although Dr. Cabbolet suggests this as a viable strategy, he doesn’t necessarily regard it as ethical behaviour :

“[…] giving up on the grand ideas is not just a defeatist attitude, it also harms science itself. Of course, most of the grand ideas turn out to be wrong or not feasible, but it is precisely these rare cases where such ideas led to tangible results that have virtually completely determined the entire historical development of science. And even if such a grand idea turns out to be wrong, it can still remain useful. Taking this view, while a certain number of LIUs is not necessarily a bad thing, scientific progress would be undermined if fulfilling Maxim 6 would become the new norm in science.”

A full copy of the paper may be found here.


And Now, a Needle in the Rectum (podcast #97)

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

What do doctors do when they find a needle in a patient’s rectum? A research study explores that very question, and we explore that study, in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

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

This week, Marc Abrahams discusses a published oh-look-there’s-a-needle-in-this-patient’s-rectum study. Yale/MIT/Harvard biomedical researcher Chris Cotsapas lends his voice, and his scientific expertise, and his opinions —with dramatic readings from a research study you may have overlooked.

For more info about what we discuss this week, go explore:

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).

When a monkey loved a deer…

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Love has always been difficult to define exactly. A newly published study adds nuance, or at least data, to the concept. The study is:

Interspecies sexual behaviour between a male Japanese macaque and female sika deer,” Marie Pelé, Alexandre Bonnefoy, Masaki Shimada, and Cédric Sueur, Primates, epub January 2017. The authors, in Strasbourg, France and Uenohara, Japan, report:

“Interspecies sexual behaviour or ‘reproductive interference’ has been reported across a wide range of animal taxa. However, most of these occurrences were observed in phylogenetically close species… Only one scientific study has reported this phenomenon, describing sexual harassment of king penguins by an Antarctic fur seal. This is the first article to report mating behaviour between a male Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata yakui) and female sika deer (Cervus nippon yakushimae) on Yakushima Island, Japan. Although Japanese macaques are known to ride deer, this individual showed clearly sexual behaviour towards several female deer, some of which tried to escape whilst others accepted the mount.”

Here’s pictorial detail from the study:

The penguin/seal study, mentioned above, is: de Bruyn PN, Tosh CA, Bester MN (2008) “Sexual harassment of a king penguin by an Antarctic fur seal,” Journal of Ethology, 26:295–297.)

(Thanks to Reto Schneider for bringing this to our attention.)