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Category Archive: Science

Jun 13 2014

One unvaccinated person can cause many people to become sick

This news report details a case study of how one unvaccinated two-year old triggered a measles outbreak that sickened 19 children and two adults in Minnesota.

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Jun 11 2014

Understanding causality

Recently we have had some studies showing the remarkable intelligence of crows as problem solvers and their ability to use tools. Given this information, it was thought that they would also be good at inferring causal relationships. But as often happens, we find that intelligence is not a simple thing and that success in one …

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Jun 10 2014

More scientists behaving badly

Science depends on its practitioners behaving ethically. This is important for three reasons. One is because scientists depend upon each other’s work and fraud in one area can really mess up the work of those who use those results. Another is because science has acquired a hard-won credibility with the public that has to be …

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Jun 10 2014

The obesity conundrum

America seems to be obsessed with the issue of obesity. Hardly a week goes by without this being mentioned as a serious public health crisis and that urgent measures need to be adopted to combat it. One can hardly blame people who do not fit into the perceived body-size norm for feeling beleaguered by society’s …

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Jun 09 2014

Computer passes Turing test for the first time?

[UPDATE: Other computer scientists are saying that the computer actually failed the test, and badly.] People who have interacted with Siri, the helpful guide on the iPhone, are usually impressed with her ability to carry on what seems like a normal conversation. But it is not hard to discover that you are talking to a …

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Jun 09 2014

The search for Little Albert

Scientific detective stories are a lot of fun. So I was intrigued by this article by Tom Bartlett in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a famous case in the history of psychology that is apparently well known to psychologists but was unknown to me. It has many of the elements that make for a …

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Jun 06 2014

Hurricane with female names are more destructive than those with male ones

It used to be the case that all hurricane names from 1953 to 1978 were female because hurricanes were ‘unpredictable’ just like women (!) but that kind of sexist stereotyping became unacceptable and they decided to alternate between male and female names.

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Jun 04 2014

The anti-vaccination craziness

In Ohio, there has been a disturbing rise this year in illnesses like measles that were once thought to have been defeated by vaccination programs. The Daily Show had a good segment about the dangers that the anti-vaccination movement is posing to all of us.

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Jun 03 2014

How a dishwasher works

A dishwasher is the most mysterious domestic appliance. You shut the door, turn it on, hear the sounds of sloshing water, and the dishes appear clean. I had assumed that it was something like a clothes washing machine in that it filled the container with water and then churned it around. But I noticed that …

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May 30 2014

The conjunction fallacy

Rob Brooks asks you to take a pop quiz: When Jack was young, he began inflicting harm on animals. It started with just pulling the wings off flies, but eventually progressed to torturing squirrels and stray cats in his neighbourhood. As an adult, Jack found that he did not get much thrill from harming animals, …

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