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  • Feature

    Year in review: Scientists tackle the irreproducibility problem

    Experimental results that don’t hold up to replication have caused consternation among scientists for years, especially in the life and social sciences (SN: 1/24/15, p. 20). In 2015 several research groups examining the issue reported on the magnitude of the irreproducibility problem. The news was not good.

    Results from only 35 of 97 psychology experiments published in three major...

    12/15/2015 - 07:00 Science & Society, Numbers
  • Feature

    Year in review: New algorithm quickly spots identical networks

    The fraternity of problems that confound computers has lost a prominent member. Computer scientist László Babai presented a new algorithm this year that efficiently tackles the graph isomorphism problem. It’s a type of problem that computers struggle to solve, even though a solution provided in advance is easily verified. Assuming it is confirmed, says Stanford theoretical computer...

    12/15/2015 - 06:16 Numbers, Computing
  • News

    New algorithm cracks graph problem

    A puzzle that has long flummoxed computers and the scientists who program them has suddenly become far more manageable.

    A new algorithm efficiently solves the graph isomorphism problem, computer scientist László Babai announced November 10 at a Combinatorics and Theoretical Computer Science seminar at the University of Chicago. The problem requires determining whether two separate sets...

    11/11/2015 - 16:53 Computing, Numbers
  • Context

    Happy Birthday to Boole, with 11001000 binary candles

    It’s almost time to celebrate George Boole’s 200th birthday. Or maybe we should call it Birthday No. 11001000.

    You might have a hard time converting that binary number to decimal in your head. But it would be a snap for computers, which store numbers and manipulate them exclusively as 1s and 0s. Of course, everybody knows that. But not so many know that you have Boole to blame. Or thank...

    10/30/2015 - 06:30 History of Science, Numbers
  • Context

    Unreliable science impairs its ability to serve society

    CHICAGO — Science’s power to benefit society depends on its reliability. You’re supposed to be able to take scientific results to the bank. Or to the clinic.

    But more and more these days you hear reports about how efforts to reproduce experimental findings frequently fail. Published scientific reports often aren’t the reliable guide to knowledge that they have customarily been taken to...

    10/28/2015 - 17:53 Science & Society, Numbers
  • News

    Light mimics hotel with limitless vacancies

    A mind-bogglingly large hotel has provided inspiration for expanding the data-carrying capacity of light.

    A new technique that manipulates the twistiness of light is the optical equivalent of a mathematician’s thought experiment for creating more space in a hotel with an infinite number of rooms. In research published in the Oct. 16 Physical Review Letters, physicists tripled the degree...

    10/26/2015 - 14:00 Quantum Physics, Numbers
  • News

    83-year-old math problem solved

    It took more than 80 years, but a problem posed by a mathematician who delighted in concocting tricky ones has finally been solved.

    UCLA mathematician Terence Tao has produced a solution to the Erdős discrepancy problem, named after the enigmatic Hungarian numbers wizard Paul Erdős. Tao’s proof, posted online September 18 at, shows that the difference (or discrepancy) between...

    09/25/2015 - 15:32 Numbers
  • News

    Short memory can be good strategy

    In some competitive situations, it pays to have a short memory. 

    Banking on recent trends can be a winning strategy when everyone else is stuck in the past, a study to appear in Physical Review E demonstrates. Researchers used game theory to determine how to maximize the payout in a basic game and found that there’s a limit to the effectiveness of relying on prior results to predict...

    09/14/2015 - 17:25 Science & Society, Numbers
  • Context

    Evidence-based medicine lacks solid supporting evidence

    For millennia, medicine was more art than science.

    From at least the time of Hippocrates in ancient Greece, physicians were taught to use their intuition, based on their experience.

    “For it is by the same symptoms in all cases that you will know the diseases,” he wrote. “He who would make accurate forecasts as to those who will recover, and those who will die … must understand all...

    09/14/2015 - 06:00 Numbers, Science & Society
  • Context

    Top 10 ways to save science from its statistical self

    Second of two parts (read part 1)

    Statistics is to science as steroids are to baseball. Addictive poison. But at least baseball has attempted to remedy the problem. Science remains mostly in denial.

    True, not all uses of statistics in science are evil, just as steroids are sometimes appropriate medicines. But one particular use of statistics — testing null hypotheses — deserves the...

    07/10/2015 - 09:00 Numbers, Science & Society