Rain, Cricket, Probability, Victory, and You

September 26th, 2014

If you are fascinated by rain, cricket, probability and/or victory, give a glance to this study, which ties them all together:

Rain Rules for Limited Overs Cricket and Probabilities of Victory,” Ian Preston [pictured here] and Jonathan Thomas, The Statistician (Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series D), vol. 51, 2002, pp. 189-202. The authors, at University College London, explain:

“The paper discusses the properties of a rule for adjusting scores in limited overs cricket matches to preserve probabilities of victory across interruptions by rain. Such a rule is argued to be attractive on grounds of fairness, intelligibility and tactical neutrality. A comparison with other rules also offers a useful way of assessing the way in which the application of such rules will affect the fortunes of teams in rain-affected games. Simulations based on an estimated parameterization of hazards of dismissal and on numerical dynamic programming methods are used to compare a probability preserving rule with the now widely used Duckworth–Lewis method.”

BONUS: The Duckworth-Lewis Method

Potato-chip-sound-modifier Ig Nobel Prize winner profiled

September 25th, 2014

charles-sCharles Spence, 2008 Ig Nobel nutrition Prize winner (for electronically modifying the sound of a potato chip to make the person chewing the chip believe it to be crisper and fresher than it really is) profiled in The Guardian:

…How to make bug-eating acceptable to westerners is one of the many gustatory challenges that he and his team are tackling. Through his studies into how the senses interact to form our perception of flavour, Spence is quietly influencing what we eat and drink, from the output of food-industry giants (he sits on the scientific advisory board of PepsiCo and much of his lab’s work is funded by Unilever), to the menus of leading restaurants (he has collaborated with Heston Blumenthal for 12 years).

SpenceBookSpence and his peers have, through a line of scientific inquiry that is informally referred to as gastrophysics, studied in minute detail how we experience food and drink. Who we eat with; how food is arranged and described; the colour, texture and weight of plates and cutlery; background noise – all these things affect taste. Now he and his colleague Betina Piqueras-Fiszman have collated this knowledge into a book, The Perfect Meal, packed with insights that are fascinating to anyone in possession of an appetite. For example, the person in a group who orders first in a restaurant enjoys their food more.

The study that earned Spence and co-author Massimiliano Zampini their Ig Nobel Prize: “The Role of Auditory Cues in Modulating the Perceived Crispness and Staleness of Potato Chips,” Massimiliano Zampini and Charles Spence, Journal of Sensory Studies, vol. 19, October 2004,  pp. 347-63.

Comparative ‘iffiness’ of medical research articles

September 25th, 2014

If one could know for sure how iffy things are for English-speaking doctors compared to how iffy things are for French-speaking doctors, one might reach the same conclusions as are reached in this study:

The ‘iffiness’ of medical research articles —A comparison of English if and French si,” Shirley Carter-Thomas [pictured here], in Language and discipline perspectives on academic discourse, K. Flottum (Ed.) (2007) 150-175. The author, at Université Paris Diderot, explains:

“This paper will consider the functions of English if-clauses and French si-clauses in the medical research article from a cross-linguistic perspective. Such clauses are a frequent feature in research articles in both languages. The various prototypical functions these structures afford, related for example to the non-assertive value of the operator if/si in hypothesising, its logical value (“If X then Y”) and its conditional value specifying the conditions under which a certain claim or fact holds, make them a highly valuable resource in this particular research genre. This importance in the academic research world is also linked to their role as potential polyphonic operators, opening a space for negotiation. The researcher needs both to be cooperative towards peers, recognizing the contribution of others and delimiting the import of his specific research within the community research effort, and at the same time ‘competitive’, creating a new space for the research claims presented. By building, for example, on contrasts or on mutually acceptable assumptions (“If X if admitted…”), the researcher can summon (either explicitly or implicitly) different voices into the text, whilst forcefully negotiating his/her own research claims.”

Here’s a snippet:

Ig Nobel and Improbable talks, in Rotterdam Friday

September 25th, 2014

Wouter_de_Herder_Sultan_KosenComing mere days after the Nederlandse Ig Nobel Night (which happened September 20), there will be another Ig Nobel Event in The Netherlands.

On Friday, September 26, 2014 at 9:45 pm the New Horizons Festival at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam hosts our European Bureau Chief Kees Moeliker who will explain ‘How to win an Ig Nobel Prize?’ Kees will discuss the achievements of this years new Ig Nobel winners.

Kees invited two local researchers to join him, and present their passion for the improbable.

Professor Wouter de Herder (seen here, in the lab coat) will tell the story of ‘The Rotterdam Giant’ (not depicted here).

Dr. Erwin Kompanje will elaborate on the (possible) health benefits of wearing a Scottish Kilt.

All speakers are fluent in Dutch, and will use that language to great advantage.


New Horizons Festival 2014. Location: Onderwijscentrum, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, 9:45 – 10.25 pm. Tickets: here.

BONUS QUESTION: Will Dr. Kompanje wear kilts? Come and see!

Physics Buzz at the Ig (with sound and pix)

September 24th, 2014

The American Physical Society’s Physics Buzz blog visited the 24th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. The resulting podcast includes interviews with some of the winners. There are some nice accompanying photos, including these ones, reproduced here with Physics Buzz’s captions:


Natasha Rosenberg, aka “The Human Spotlight” illuminates the way for an Ig Noble aficionado before the ceremony.

kang and carol

University of Toronto neurologist Kang Lee accepts his team’s neuroscience prize from Nobel laureate Carol Greider, for studying why people claim they see Jesus in unexpected places.

jaroslav and sweetie poo

Sometimes speeches run long, like Jaroslav Flegr did when he accepted the public health prize for researching the dangers of cat ownership. The solution: Little Miss Sweetie-Poo is on hand to insist that the speaker “Please stop, I’m board!” [sic]

rich and frank and soylent

Wilczek enjoys a nice frosty glass of the food substitute Soylent. Fellow Nobel laureate Richard Roberts is having none of it.