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  • Feature

    Shayan Oveis Gharan finds the shortest route to success

    Shayan Oveis Gharan, 30Theoretical computer scientistUniversity of Washington

    It’s a problem that sounds simple, but the best minds in mathematics have puzzled over it for generations: A salesman wants to hawk his wares in several cities and return home when he’s done. If he’s only visiting a handful of places, it’s easy for him to schedule his visits to create the shortest round-...

    09/21/2016 - 11:04 Computing, Numbers
  • Screentime

    Website tests predictive powers of the hive mind

    As the saying goes, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” The website aims to make this challenging task easier by harnessing collective wisdom.

    Metaculus solicits answers to questions about the future — on topics spanning science, politics and economics — and combines these predictions to infer the likely outcomes. Will 2016 be the hottest year...

    07/26/2016 - 06:00 Numbers, Science & Society
  • Context

    Courts’ use of statistics should be put on trial

    The Rev. Thomas Bayes was, as the honorific the Rev. suggests, a clergyman. Too bad he wasn’t a lawyer. Maybe if he had been, lawyers today wouldn't be so reluctant to enlist his mathematical insights in the pursuit of justice.

    In many sorts of court cases, from whether talcum powder causes ovarian cancer to The People v. O.J. Simpson, statistics play (or ought to play) a vital role in...

    06/20/2016 - 11:00 Numbers, Science & Society
  • News

    New technique produces real randomness

    Ask a computer to pick a random number and you’ll probably get a response that isn’t completely unpredictable. Because they are deterministic automatons, computers struggle to generate numbers that are truly random. But a new advance on a method known as a randomness extractor makes it easier for machines to roll the dice, generating truly random numbers by harvesting randomness from the...

    05/27/2016 - 11:09 Computing, Numbers
  • Reviews & Previews

    Despite misuses, statistics still has solid foundation

    The Seven Pillars of Statistical WisdomStephen M. StiglerHarvard Univ., $22.95

    In many realms of science today, “statistical wisdom” seems to be in short supply. Misuse of statistics in scientific research has contributed substantially to the widespread “reproducibility crisis” afflicting many fields (SN: 4/2/16, p. 8; SN: 1/24/15, p. 20). Recently the American Statistical...

    05/15/2016 - 09:00 Numbers
  • Context

    Claude Shannon’s information theory built the foundation for the digital era

    Before anybody even had a computer, Claude Shannon figured out how to make computers worth having.

    As an electrical engineering graduate student at MIT, Shannon played around with a “differential analyzer,” a crude forerunner to computers. But for his master’s thesis, he was more concerned with relays and switches in electrical circuits, the sorts of things found in telephone exchange...

    04/28/2016 - 17:42 Numbers, History of Science
  • Science Ticker

    Math models predict mysterious monarch navigation

    Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) use their internal clock and the sun to guide them 4,000 kilometers south on their annual fall migration from eastern North America to central Mexico. Scientists have struggled to determine how butterfly brains combine visual cues from the sun with molecular timekeeping in their antennae to make the epic journey.

    A new mathematical model can...

    04/15/2016 - 06:00 Animals, Numbers
  • News

    Mathematicians find a peculiar pattern in primes

    Prime numbers, divisible only by 1 and themselves, hate to repeat themselves. They prefer not to mimic the final digit of the preceding prime, mathematicians have discovered.

    “It is really, really bizarre,” says Stanford University postdoctoral researcher Robert Lemke Oliver, who, with Stanford number theorist Kannan Soundararajan, discovered this unusual prime predilection. “We are...

    03/18/2016 - 15:58 Numbers
  • Context

    Experts issue warning on problems with P values

    Here’s a good idea for the next presidential candidate debate: They can insult each other about their ignorance of statistics.

    Actually, it’s a pertinent topic for political office seekers, as public opinion polls use statistical methods to measure the electorate’s support (or lack thereof) for a particular candidate. But such polls are notoriously unreliable, as Hillary Clinton found...

    03/11/2016 - 10:30 Numbers, Science & Society
  • Feature

    Science puzzles no longer so puzzling

    In 2015, researchers solved some head-scratching and mind-bending puzzles.

    Radio dinner

    A class of odd radio bursts first detected by the Parkes telescope years ago came from an advanced civilization — if advanced means people on Earth so eager for a microwaved meal they open the oven before the beep. Whenever a nearby microwave was opened mid-cooking, the scope picked up the odd bursts,...

    12/28/2015 - 07:00 Science & Society, Astronomy, Chemistry, Numbers