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Archive for 'Ig Nobel'

Dead Salmon Spirit: Can You Not Tell Cats from Covid-19?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

[NOTE: The paper was retracted, as described below—here is an updated link to a copy of it.]

In the spirit of the Ig Nobel Prize-winning dead salmon study (and subsequent studies that went looking for fishy things) comes this new study about Covid-19, cat images, and some limitations of technology:

Can Your AI Differentiate Cats from Covid-19? Sample Efficient Uncertainty Estimation for Deep Learning Safety,” Ankur Mallick, Chaitanya Dwivedi, Bhavya Kailkhura, Gauri Joshi, and T. Yong-Jin Han, a paper presented at the ICML 2020 Workshop on Uncertainty and Robustness in Deep Learning. The authors, at Carnegie Mellon University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, explain:

Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) are known to make highly overconfident predictions on Out-of-Distribution data…. In this work, we show that even state-of-the-art BNNs and Ensemble models tend to make overconfident predictions when the amount of training data is insufficient….

We demonstrate the usefulness of the proposed approach on a real-world application of COVID-19 diagnosis from chest X-Rays by (a) highlighting surprising failures of existing techniques, and (b) achieving superior uncertainty quantification as compared to state-of-the-art.

UPDATE (June 17, 2020): One of the study’s authors sent us a note that says:

  • that their study is NOT about “Covid-19, cat images, and some limitations of technology”
  • that the paper, which says on its first page “Presented at the ICML 2020 Workshop on Uncertainty and Robustness in Deep Learning”, was not presented at the ICML 2020 Workshop on Uncertainty and Robustness in Deep Learning
  • that their study “has been retracted”

Cindy and Angel Explain the Ig Nobel Prizes

Monday, June 15th, 2020

This is perhaps the most charming fan video we have ever seen about the Ig Nobel Prizes:

The personality of rocks at the Bergamo, Italy, Science Pre-Festival

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

The Bergamo Science Festival this year has a pre-festival which includes:

“a competition created in collaboration with the Caffi Museum, dedicated to rocks and minerals and conducted on the BergamoScienza Instagram profile. Two rocks will be presented by a geologist each week. The aim is to reproduce the study that won the IgNobel prize for economics 2016, in which the emotions that some rocks transmitted to the public were studied.”

It will be streamed online.

With Patience and Spit, in the Art Museum

Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

With patience and spit” is the headline in the German magazine Monopol, about the application of Ig Nobel Prize-winning knowledge to the cleaning of a historic painting. Marcus Boxler reports, in Monopol:

A highlight of the Mannheim art gallery collection is currently being cleaned up: The oil painting “The execution of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico” by Édouard Manet is being cleaned thoroughly – with a rather unexpected household remedy…

Katrin Radermacher, head of the restoration department, works with medical face mask and rubber gloves on the painting “The execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico”…

Special saliva treatment? What at first sounds like a joke is, according to Radermacher, a “completely sensible and sensible method”, provided the processed material allows it. “The saliva is perfectly suitable because it contains special enzymes that break up surface contamination,” explains the Mannheim restorer.

Three Portuguese scientists have researched exactly this curious and outdated method and in 2018 received the so-called “Ig Nobel Prize” for chemistry – a kind of satirical anti-Nobel Prize for (scientifically serious) research results that “first make you laugh and then make you smile.” Stimulate thinking “….

UPDATE: The North Carolina Museum of Art made a nice video showing how they used spit to clean one of their most prized statues. (Thanks to Polly Freeman Lyman for bringing this to our attention.)

Read the rest of this entry »

fMRI Brain Research: The Dead Salmon Has Lots of Company

Friday, June 5th, 2020

Quite a lot of brain research uses the technique called fMRI—and now quite a lot of research shows that fMRI brain research fairly often leads to nonsense or bewilderment.

A New Study Turns Up Much Nothingness

A new study tries to sum up the situation: “What Is the Test-Retest Reliability of Common Task-Functional MRI Measures? New Empirical Evidence and a Meta-Analysis,” Maxwell L. Elliott, Annchen R. Knodt, David Ireland, Meriwether L. Morris, Richie Poulton, Sandhya Ramrakha, Maria L. Sison, Terrie E. Moffitt, Avshalom Caspi, and Ahmad R. Hariri, Psychological Science, epub 2020.

The authors, at Duke University, the University of Otago, and King’s College London, explain:

“Identifying brain biomarkers of disease risk is a growing priority in neuroscience…. Measuring brain activity using task functional MRI (fMRI) is a major focus of biomarker development; however, the reliability of task fMRI has not been systematically evaluated. We present converging evidence demonstrating poor reliability of task-fMRI measures….
Collectively, these findings demonstrate that common task-fMRI measures are not currently suitable for brain biomarker discovery or for individual-differences research.”

(Thanks to Edward Tufte for bringing this to our attention.)

Legacy of the Dead Salmon

The 2012 Ig Nobel Prize for neuroscience was awarded to Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford, for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.

They documented their research, in the study “Neural Correlates of Interspecies Perspective Taking in the Post-Mortem Atlantic Salmon: An Argument For Multiple Comparisons Correction,” Craig M. Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael B. Miller, and George L. Wolford, Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1-5. They first presented that work in poster form at a conference in 2009.

That paper drew outrage from many neuroscientists, as did the awarding of that Ig Nobel Prize. Many other neuroscientists were pleased, though. Among them was Bethany Brookshire, then blogging under the pen name “Scicurious”, for Scientific American. Brookshire’s report about that Ig Nobel Prize began:

IgNobel Prize in Neuroscience: The dead salmon study

I have to say that I am incredibly pleased that this study won the Ignobel. Not just because it’s a really fun study, but also because it really is one of those studies that makes you laugh, and then makes you THINK. And in the case of this study in particular, it has changed a lot about how we think about making corrections in fMRI, and may have actually really affected the way the data are published. And so, I present to you: the dead salmon study….

Building on the Foundation of the Dead Salmon

The new, 2020 “What Is the Test-Retest Reliability…” study is drawing favorable attention from many neurosciences. It builds on the knowledge found by the dead salmon study. Duke University issued a proud press release about it, though for whatever reason did not mention the dead salmon. The press release begins:

Duke researcher questions 15 years of his own work with a reexamination of functional MRI data


There’s one thing most everyone agrees on: fMRI studies produce pretty pictures.

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