Understanding Science

I love Science. I think that sharing knowledge and testing ideas against the real world are great ways to find truth.

But, I think Science is really misunderstood. From the evolution-creationism “debate” to “are eggs good for you?”, Science really takes some learning and education to figure out what’s meaningful and what’s bullshit.

When you see something like “Scientists discover fat gene”, what does that really mean? The average person thinks “oh, fat is genetic”, but is that really true? Sometimes, news people report a headline that says “Scientists discover fat gene”, but what actually happened was that some PhD student noticed that people with a certain gene tend to be fat, and wrote a paper. Doesn’t mean it’s right — it means someone turned in their homework.

This is something that’s bugged me for a while. If I had millions of dollars, I would probably spend some of it helping do PR for Science. Key people like teachers, news reporters, and politicians should not be scientific experts, but should understand how to ask questions of scientists and how to make decisions based on scientific information, without being thrown off by bullshit.

The real problem is that this isn’t easy to do. I don’t think anyone’s really figured out how to make the knowledge quickly digestible. The goal should be to make the principles obvious and unambiguous.

I think this article does a very good job on how to evaluate scientific articles about health, which need to be very rigorous, because they can literally result in life-or-death decisions. A lot of the principles in it can be carried over to other scientific disciplines: http://www.badscience.net/2009/09/how-to-read-articles-about-health-by-dr-alicia-white/

This is a cool resource, but I don’t think it’s useful unless you already understand the point of journals and peer review: http://eigenfactor.org/map/

How to sort, Math-style.

Thanks to Corey for this.

This guy, Evan Miller, put together some proper Math to produce a better way for ordering things with positive and negative ratings. You know, things like music lists, movies, products, anything that gets rated.

Also, I see his site says he’s a PhD student in University of Chicago’s Economics program. That’s supposed to be a good school for econ. Seems bright, got some good-looking writings on his homepage.


I love Science.

I love Science. I don’t just love Science, I *fucking* love it. Maybe I’ll do a post on the Science sticks someday.

There’s a webcomic I particularly like, called XKCD.  It’s Science-y, Math-y, geek humor. Perfect for me.

One of the best is the following comic, good old #397. I love it because Feynman (one of the most significant scientific figures of the 20th century) shows up *as a zombie*, to defend the Mythbusters (who are awesome). On top of it, he makes a great point about Science, and Science in culture.

Zombie Feynman defends the Mythbusters

That, and I love the phrase “drag humanity out of the unscientific darkness”. Science!

Bayes, and the Mythical Viagra Spam

OK. I’ve been running a test where I’ve been attempting to gather Viagra spam into a Gmail mailbox, viagraspamtest@gmail.com

I started the test in mid-May, posting the email address to questionable and shady mailing lists, as well as linking the address in plain text on my blog.

And 6 weeks in, how is it going? Well…it’s not. There’s not even a hint of Viagra spam. Nothing in the spam folder, nothing in the Inbox. Just all legitimate mailings from newsletters.

Possibly, it takes time to get onto shady mailing lists. I imagine lists of emails get hacked and resold to spammers, but that it takes a while for a given email list to work its way down to the spammers.

Also possible — there’s no more Viagra spam. As in, spam mentioning Viagra by name. They are either advertising whole pharmacies, a class of drugs (blood pressure, E.D.), or the ad is in an image that gets embedded into the email.

Maybe I should retry this project with the word “pharmacy”. Viagra spam is *sooo* 2002, anyways.