Archive for ‘Science’

September 23, 2018

Belief Perseverance

Belief perseverance (also known as ‘conceptual conservatism’) is maintaining a belief despite new information that firmly contradicts it. Such beliefs may even be strengthened when others attempt to present evidence debunking them, a phenomenon known as the ‘backfire effect.’ For example, journalist Cari Romm, in a 2014 article in ‘The Atlantic,’ describes a study in which people concerned about the side effects of flu shots became less willing to receive them after being told that the vaccination was entirely safe.

Since rationality involves conceptual flexibility, belief perseverance is consistent with the view that human beings act at times in an irrational manner. Philosopher F.C.S. Schiller holds that belief perseverance ‘deserves to rank among the fundamental ‘laws’ of nature.’

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September 7, 2018

Leucism

Moby-Dick

Leucism [loo-kizm] is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in multiple types of pigment, not just melanin.

More common than a complete absence of pigment cells is localized or incomplete hypopigmentation, resulting in irregular patches of white on an animal that otherwise has normal coloring and patterning. This partial leucism is known as a ‘pied’ or ‘piebald’ effect; and the ratio of white to normal-colored skin can vary considerably not only between generations, but between different offspring from the same parents, and even between members of the same litter. This is notable in horses, cows, cats, dogs, the urban crow, and the ball python but is also found in many other species.

April 19, 2018

Falsifiability

The Logic of Scientific Discovery

A statement, hypothesis, or theory has falsifiability or refutability if there is the possibility of showing it to be false. It is falsifiable if it is possible to conceive an empirical observation which could refute it. For example, the universal generalization that All swans are white is falsifiable since it is logically possible to falsify it by observing a single swan that is not white.

The concern with falsifiability gained attention by way of philosopher of science Karl Popper’s scientific epistemology referred to as ‘falsificationism.’ Popper stresses the problem of ‘demarcation’—distinguishing the scientific from the unscientific—and makes falsifiability the demarcation criterion, such that what is unfalsifiable is classified as unscientific, and the practice of declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is pseudoscience.

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April 6, 2018

Chernoff Face

Chernoff

Chernoff faces, invented by American statistician Herman Chernoff in 1973, display multivariate data in the shape of a human face. The individual parts, such as eyes, ears, mouth and nose represent values of the variables by their shape, size, placement and orientation.

The idea behind using faces is that humans easily recognize faces and notice small changes without difficulty. Chernoff faces handle each variable differently. Because the features of the faces vary in perceived importance, the way in which variables are mapped to the features should be carefully chosen (e.g. eye size and eyebrow-slant have been found to carry significant weight). 

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March 12, 2018

Precognition

Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab

Precognition (Latin: ‘acquiring knowledge’), also called ‘prescience,’ ‘future vision,’ or ‘future sight’ is an alleged psychic ability to see events in the future.

As with other forms of extrasensory perception (ESP), there is no reliable scientific evidence that precognition is a real ability possessed by anyone and it is widely considered to be pseudoscience. Specifically, precognition appears to violate the principle that an effect cannot occur before its cause.

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November 30, 2017

Dick Proenneke

Dick Proenneke [pren-uh-kee] (1916 – 2003) was a self-educated naturalist who lived alone for nearly thirty years in the mountains of Alaska in a log cabin he had constructed by hand near the shore of Twin Lakes.

Proenneke hunted, fished, raised and gathered his own food, and also had supplies flown in occasionally. He documented his activities in journals and on film, and also recorded valuable meteorological and natural data. The journals and film were later used by others to write books and produce documentaries about his time in the wilderness.

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August 3, 2017

Nominative Determinism

Implicit egotism

Nominative [nom-uh-nuh-tivdeterminism [dih-tur-muh-niz-uhm] is the hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fit their names. The term was first used in the magazine ‘New Scientist’ in 1994, after its humorous ‘Feedback’ column noted several studies carried out by researchers with remarkably fitting surnames.

These included a book on polar explorations by Daniel Snowman and an article on urology by researchers named Splatt and Weedon. These and other examples led to light-hearted speculation that some sort of psychological effect was at work.

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May 22, 2017

Phenakistiscope

Joseph Plateau

The phenakistiscope [fen-uh-kiss-tuh-skohp] was the first widespread animation device that created a fluent illusion of motion. The phenakistiscope is regarded as one of the first forms of moving media entertainment that paved the way for the future motion picture and film industry. It is sometimes compared to GIF animation since both show a short continuous loop.

A phenakisticope usually comes in the form of a spinning cardboard disc attached vertically to a handle. Arrayed radially around the disc’s center are a series of pictures showing sequential phases of the animation. Small rectangular apertures are spaced evenly around the rim of the disc. The user would spin the disc and look through the moving slits at the images reflected in a mirror. The scanning of the slits across the reflected images keeps them from simply blurring together, so that the user can see a rapid succession of images that appear to be a single moving picture.

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May 5, 2017

McCollough Effect

Celeste McCollough

The McCollough effect is a phenomenon of human visual perception discovered by American psychologist Celeste McCollough in 1965 in which colorless gratings appear colored contingent on the orientation of the gratings. It is an aftereffect requiring a period of induction to produce it. For example, if someone alternately looks at a red horizontal grating and a green vertical grating for a few minutes, a black-and-white horizontal grating will then look greenish and a black-and-white vertical grating will then look pinkish.

The effect is remarkable because it is very long-lasting. McCollough originally reported that aftereffects may last for an hour or more, but they can persist much longer. A 1975 study found that 15 minutes of induction can lead to an effect lasting three and a half months.

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February 26, 2017

Contrarian

SuperFreakonomics

A contrarian is a person that takes up a contrary position, especially a position that is opposed to that of the majority, regardless of how unpopular it may be. A contrarian investing style is one that is based on identifying, and speculating against, movements in stock prices that reflect changes in the sentiments of the majority of investors.

Contrarian journalism is characterised by articles and books making counterintuitive claims, or attacking what is said to be the conventional wisdom (a phrase attributed to Canadian economist and diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith) on a given topic. A typical contrarian trope takes the form, ‘everything you know about topic X is wrong.’

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February 3, 2017

Prisoner’s Dilemma

reciprocal altruism

The prisoner’s dilemma (PD) is a paradox about co-operation. It shows why two ‘rational’ individuals might not co-operate, even if it seems in their best interests. It is studied in game theory.

In the classic example two people are arrested for a crime, and the police are uncertain which person committed the crime, and which person abetted the crime. If each remains silent, they are both soon released. If one betrays the other, the betrayer goes free, and the other is imprisoned for a long time. If each betrays the other, they both are held for a short time. No matter what happens, they will never see each other again.

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January 8, 2017

James Webb Space Telescope

jwst

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a space observatory under construction and scheduled to launch in 2018. It is a replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope which was launched in 1990. The telescope is named after James E. Webb, who was a director at NASA and created the Apollo moon program. It will have a main mirror that is 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) wide, seven times larger than Hubble. The main mirror is composed of 18 sections that fold together.

Once operational the observatory will be looking mostly in the infrared spectrum, but also in the red part of visible light. Images will be color coded for public viewing. Because heat is visible to infrared sensors, the JWST must be kept as cool as possible. It is protected by a large sunshield, the size of a tennis court, and will be placed in a special orbit around the sun, beyond the moon, at the second Lagrange point (L2), a place of stable gravity. This keeps it in the Earth’s shadow most of the time.