Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Scientific Method

May-Britt Moser
Nobel Prize in
Physiology /Medicine
On the Galt’s Gulch Online discussion board, I went around with one of my Objectivist comrades on whether or not publication is required. I understand the “Crusoe Concept” – you do not need other people to engage in reasoned discovery.  That is why I assert that “publication” begins with your own notebook. More to the point, it should not end there. Sir Robert Boyle argued for publicity as the avenue of replication over 350 years ago in The Sceptical Chymist.

However you formulate it, the goal is to discover truth. It requires curiosity, insight, and bravery – the willingness to be wrong.  Richard P. Feynman was adamant about not fooling yourself. His commencement address, Cargo Cult Science, is a classic admonition against creating pseudo-science.

These statements of the scientific method show a range of expression, from astute to concrete-bound.  Some are from universities, others are from technology businesses, and the rest are from interested amateurs. It is most succinctly stated in three steps by the biology department of the University of Cincinnati.  The last presentation from an environmental action group is a bit on the "Zen" side, but can be useful as a guide. 

"Science Buddies" 
§  Ask a Question
§  Do Background Research
§  Construct a Hypothesis
§  Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
§  Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
§  Communicate Your Results

University of Rochester (New York)
Marie Curie
Nobel Prizes in
Physics (1903)
Chemistry (1911)
1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

University of California Riverside
 1. Observe some aspect of the universe.
2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.
3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.
4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.

Clermont College, University of Cincinnati
  • Observe 
  • Question 
  • Test

  • Hypothesis
  • Experimentation
  • Refine the Idea
  • Experimentation
  • Final Statement

Carol W. Greider (L) and Elizabeth H. Blackburn (R)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2014
From Norman Wilson Edmund, the founder of Edmund Scientific, arguably the premier mail order retailer of scientific supplies to the general public.
Steps or Stages of the Scientific Method
1. Curious Observation
2. Is There a Problem?
3. Goals & Planning
4. Search, Explore, & Gather the Evidence
5. Generate Creative & Logical Alternative Solutions
6. Evaluate the Evidence
7. Make the Educated Guess (Hypothesis)
8. Challenge the Hypothesis
9. Reach a Conclusion
10. Suspend Judgment
11.Take Action
Supporting Ingredients
 12. Creative, Non-Logical, Logical & Technical Methods
 13. Procedural Principals & Theories
 14. Attributes & Thinking Skills
Edmund Scientific Corporation was a company based in Barrington, New Jersey, USA that specialized in supplying surplus optics and other items via its mail order catalog and Factory Store. During four decades from the 1940's to the 1970's Edmund Scientific was virtually unique in its offerings to scientific hobbyists.
-- Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Scientific_Corporation
Southeastern Louisiana University 
1. identification of problem
2. hypothesis
3. deductive reasoning- decide on procedure: what would be observed if hypothesis was true? how can it be tested?
4. data collection and analysis
5. derive conclusion: never prove a hypothesis-- confirm or fail to confirm
Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin
Nobel Prize in Chemistry

From the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair
  • Be curious, choose a limited subject, ask a question; identify or originate/define a problem. It is important that this question be a 'testable' question - one in which data is taken and used to find the answer. A testable question can further be identified as one in which one or more variables can be identified and tested to see the impact of that variable on the original set of conditions. The question should not merely be an 'information' question where the answer is obtainable through literature research.
  • Review published materials related to your problem or question. This is called background research.
  • Evaluate possible solutions and guess why you think it will happen (hypothesis).
  • Experimental design (procedure). In designing the experiment, it is critical that only one variable - a condition that may effect the results of the experiment - is changed at a time. This makes the experiment a 'controlled' experiment.
  • Challenge and test your hypothesis through your procedure of experimentation (data collection) and analysis of your data. Use graphs to help see patterns in the data.
  • Draw conclusions based on empirical evidence from the experiment.
  • Prepare your report and exhibit.
  • Review and discuss the findings with peer group/ professional scientists
  • New question(s)may arise from your discussions.

National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis 
  • Make a guess.  Hypothesis.
  • Take a look.  Observations.
  • Write it down. Data.
  • Make it a picture.  Graphs.
  • Decide what it means. Conclusions.



Saturday, March 26, 2016

Beware: Honda Cares

From the IntentionalPrivacy blog of Laurel Marotta: "In the meantime, my husband had taken our 2005 Honda into the same Austin, Texas, dealership to get it inspected because the power steering was making a noise. They resealed the power steering pump, and replaced the valve cover gasket and the cam plug. When he picked the car up and drove away, the engine light came on. He took it back and they charged him another $65 to tell him that an additional $670 was needed to replace the spark plugs and the induction coils. He went to an auto parts store and picked up four spark plugs for $52. When he pulled out the spark plugs, he found two springs under one of the spark plugs and none under one of the others."

She was referring to the induction coils over the spark plugs. Obviously, the mechanic just jammed everything back together.  The car ran rough, to say the least. It did not take much to remove the induction coil covers and see, and fix, the problem.

We used to own Toyotas, two Camrys and a Celica. Our friends with Hondas kept bragging about the customer service of their dealerships.  So, when it came time to get a new car, Laurel bought the Civic. We got along with one car for about five years. After we got resettled here, Laurel bought a new Accord. Her problems with that car are on her blog. It is not so much the car - 10,000 or 15,000 parts are what they are - but that the dealership cannot fix a cybernetic problem. Under Texas law, she can declare the car a lemon. She will probably just do what she did with her Ford Escort: put a big yellow lemon decal on it.

Over the years, I have worked for several multinational corporations. All that matters is the local office. And all that matters in the local office is your supervisor. Honda service might be the finest in the world, but here it seems lacking.

For myself, when we first got married, I kept our Ford Pintos running. One of them we bought used with 25,000 miles on it; and put another 50,000 on.  But I gave up being a shade tree mechanic when everything went electronic. No more setting rotors, or gapping the spark plugs. (She rebuilt the carburetor.)  As it turns out, cars are still just 19th century technology, so I will not hesitate to do what I can under the hood.

Securing Your Viper Against Cylons
Not Invented Here
Welcome to the Future
Open Secrets

Monday, March 14, 2016

Convicted by a Hair: Laboratory Misconduct in the Courtroom

Science Magazine recently posted a self-quiz on forensics (see here). The results are important because so many of us know so little about what actually is, and is not, science. (I scored just over the median.) Most informative - and disturbing to me - were these two:

  • Twenty-six of 28 FBI hair analysts who were investigated provided testimony or submitted laboratory reports with “grossly exaggerated” data that often helped prosecutors.
  • Very small amounts of DNA can lead to false positives…. Analysts have picked up DNA transferred from one person to another by way of an object that both of them have touched, or from one piece of evidence to another when two items jostled against each other in an evidence bag.

On the upside, from that quiz, bite marks have been disallowed as evidence here in Texas. Unfortunately, tire tracks, shoe prints, lip prints, and repressed dreams were not part of that decision.

The Fallibility of Fingerprinting
Star of Wonder: Arguments over the Christmas Star
Austin Energy 2016 Regional Science Festival
Impossible Usually is Not

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Before Darwin

John Leonard Riddell (1807-1865) completed a bachelor's degree at Rensellaer Academy and was later granted a master's for his field work in botany. He earned doctorates in medicine from the Ohio Reformed Medical College (1834) and from the Medical College of Ohio (1836). He taught chemistry at the University of Louisiana (1839-1865) while at the same time he served as chief melter at the New Orleans Mint (1839-1848). Though loyal to the Union, he was the postmaster at New Orleans during the Confederacy.

“Marine and lacustrine beds of marly earth, formed unknown ages ago, are often met with, which, under the microscope, prove to consist, sometimes, wholly of the sileceous shells of diatomaceous animalcules, frequently bearing a precise resemblance to the living forms which now abound in all our stagnant waters.  But in the more conspicuous fossil remains occurring in the geological strata of different ages, important modifications of structure are apparent; certain species of animals and plants prevailing for a while, becoming extinct, and being succeeded by others of a modified type.

“Without unduly dwelling upon this subject, it is worthy to be remarked, that at least one great lesson may be learned from the study of these organic remains; especially from contemplating those of the more highly organized types, namely: That as we, in the brief day of our actual observation, have seen organic individuals begin and end their respective lives; organic varieties, as of fruit, &c., appear, flourish, and decay; and even organic species to become extinct, as the Dodo and the Irish Elk; so may we infer, from the inspection of the remains of successive extinct races of beings, that all species or kinds, as such, have begun their career, will flourish for, we know not how long, and will ultimately decay and disappear; their places to be supplied by modified species and kinds.

"The observed average duration of individual beings varies, from a few hours, as is exemplified in the minute world of life revealed by the microscope,--as in the Vorticella ramose, different species of Mucor, &c.,--to a few centuries, as is inferred to be exemplified in whales, elephants and forest trees. What naturalists call varieties, possess a duration extending, more or less well marked, through, perhaps four or five generations of individuals. Species, so called, have a much longer life. Concerning the average duration of species, nothing very reliable is known; perhaps a thousand successive individual generations might retain to the last, the essential specific characteristics. To pursue this subject further, by attempting to conjecture the duration of organic races and natural orders, would be profitless, inasmuch as mere conjecture would alone provide  us foundation to build upon. Nevertheless, a careful study of the organic remains which geological researches have brought to light, give strong color of truth to the general conclusion, that all organic matter is in a state of continued change; the progress of which, though often too slow for our direct appreciation, is, in the limitless flight of long successive ages, not the less certain.”

J. L. Riddell, M.D., Professor of Chemistry, Introductory Lecture, Delivered on November 18th, 1851, Before the Medical Class, University of Louisiana, New Orleans, “On Our Knowledge of Nature, the Natural Sciences, and certain Truths revealed by the Microscope.”


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The ANA National Money Show 2016

I attended the “National Money Show” of the American Numismatic Association from March 3 thru 5 in Dallas.  It was my first ANA convention since 2004.  I served as an Exhibit Judge for both “Geography” and “Best of Show.”  I also delivered a “Money Talks” presentation, “From Texas to the Moon With John Leonard Riddell" (a version on this blog here.)  Over all, the show was a waste of time for me, though I did manage to salvage the experience.  The failure point was the absence of the videographer for my lecture. These presentations are never well attended. My goal was to make a recording for the ANA Library. As it was, bringing my wife doubled the audience.

(These comments are based on posts to the ANA website, www.money.org, under Community/Forums.)

This was my first convention since Pittsburgh 2004. Before that, I made New York 2002, Ft. Lauderdale 2000, Cincinnati 1998, Cleveland 1997, Denver 1996, Detroit 1994 (the year I joined; and I lived in the area). And I write for The Numismatist. So, I know people; people know me. I also participate in online groups such as CoinTalk.com. Also, I have been an exhibit judge for the ANA as well as for the Michigan State Numismatic Society, so, again, working this show, I had some social context. 
Approaching the ANA convention
these were fans of "Walker/Stalker"
a zombie convention.

Getting closer....

Front of the line!!
(For the zombie convention.)
The upside for me was working as an Exhibit Judge. I spent the better part of the day carefully reading displays about the art and science of the forms and uses of money.  
Meanwhile, at the ANA Convention...
I also used the bourse floor to validate the new book on Netherlands Gold Ducats (reviewed on the ANA website here ). It is a nice book. But before I gave it any stronger reviews than I already have, I wanted to test it on the floor against actual coins. As it was, I found 10 ducats on the floor and condemned eight of them as unofficial. They were probably good gold of full weight, but they were misattributed.
A modern official restrike of the coin issued from
1556 to 1817 and then from 1817 to present.
And, although I am not a collector, I did find a couple of historical items for myself. One was a little 6-krajczar billon coin, struck for the Hungarian revolution of 1848-1849. The other was a little dinar of Maximilian II 1586 Kremnica Mint. All together I spent $25 on the pair. 
Zombie hunters.
(You don't get this with coin hunters.)
Meeting new people is always a part of any ANA convention. My wife and I had a good time at dinner with a couple of the other judges, Halbert Carmichael and Steve Ippolito. 

The guys at Banknote Central -- Diego Pamio, Julio Staude, and Alejandro Dutto - demoed their software for me. It seemed pretty powerful and anyone with a serious collection to manage, or any dealer with inventory to track, would be a likely customer.
My local coin guys showed up.
In the same vein, Christina Chow of Collectors.Com was nice enough to explain her company's business to me. In fact, she said that they might extend an opportunity to partner with Banknote Central.
With my favorite editor
Todd Pollock of BLUCC Photos took photographs of three of my purchases. His price was reasonable ($8 each) and I am looking forward to the images.

The best part of any numismatic convention is what you did not expect to learn. I was sitting at a table waiting for the dealer and the guy next to me was admiring a banknote. It was French Overseas Territories, a nice note with a fair price to go with it, but way beyond my interest. I asked him where it was from. Neither of us recognized the territory.  So, he googled it.  We both were even more puzzled. The note showed Africans and grass huts. "They're gonna be pretty cold in Newfoundland," I said. He googled it again and got the same answer.  

Aluminum but still pretty.
That night, in my room, I fired up my computer and read about St. Pierre et Miquelon. It is the only French Overseas Territory in North America.  Following the French-Indian Wars, it stayed with France. Over the years it changed hands as a result of this treaty or that. For some years, it apparently was unpopulated. During World War II, the official government was supposed to be under Vichy, but the people kicked them out and went Free French. The banknote series is intended for all of the territories in general, with the specific territory added as an overprint. Hence, the tropical theme for the very untropical St. Pierre et Miquelon. Then, I found a set of uncirculated 1F and 2F coins, which I added to my collection. The obverse features a woman with wings on her head. I have them from other French colonies with my set of Mercury numismatics.