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  • 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
  • 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