the latest Significance: Astrostats, black swans, and pregnant drivers [and zombies]
Reading Significance is always an enjoyable moment, when I can find time to skim through the articles (before my wife gets hold of it!). This time, I lost my copy between my office and home, and borrowed it from Tom Nichols at Warwick with four mornings to read it during breakfast. This December issue is definitely interesting, as it contains several introduction articles on astro- and cosmo-statistics! One thing I had not noticed before is how a large fraction of the papers is written by authors of books, giving a quick entry or interview about their book. For instance, I found out that Roberto Trotta had written a general public book called the Edge of the Sky (All You Need to Know About the All-There-Is) which exposes the fundamentals of cosmology through the 1000 most common words in the English Language.. So Universe is replaced with All-There-Is! I can understand and to some extent applaud the intention, but it nonetheless makes for a painful read, judging from the excerpt, when researcher and telescope are not part of the accepted vocabulary. Reading the corresponding article in Significance let me a bit bemused at the reason provided for the existence of a multiverse, i.e., of multiple replicas of our universe, all with different conditions: multiplying the universes makes our more likely, while it sounds almost impossible on its own! This sounds like a very frequentist argument… and I am not even certain it would convince a frequentist. The other articles in this special astrostatistics section were of a more statistical nature, from estimating the number of galaxies to the chances of a big asteroid impact. Even though I found the graphical representation of the meteorite impacts in the past century because of the impact drawing in the background. However, when I checked the link to Carlo Zapponi’s website, I found the picture was a still of a neat animation of meteorites falling since the first report.
“Taleb himself, once described as a philosopher, now self-identifies as a statistician. And, intrinsically, anti-fragility and statistical thinking are interrelated.” T. Bendell
Two rather superfluous [in my opinion] articles dealt with a regression of zombie google entries associated with each U.S. state—written by Daniel Zelterman, in connection with his chapter in the book Mathematical Modelling of Zombies), where I discovered the unexpected name of Mark Girolami [as a writer, not as a zombie cyclist!]—and something about X’mas crackers I have read further than the title. Yet another entry related with a book was Tony Bendell’s discussion of his recent book on Building anti-fragile organisations, written in the wake of Taleb’s book. Antifragile. (Reviewed by Larry Wasserman on the now defunct Normal Deviate.)
And I have not mentioned pregnant drivers yet: one entry was by two Canadian epidemiologists who studied the accident rate of pregnant women and concluded at an increased risk during pregnancy. I did not read the original paper so cannot make an informed comment, but still wonder at the possible impact of a higher tendency for pregnant women to be sent to hospital in case of a minor car accident. There could also be other confounding factors, like an increased mileage during pregnancy (certainly when compared with immediately after). And, since the study covers only women who completed their pregnancy and were still alive one year later, it excludes those who had severe or fatal crashes before starting a pregnancy or during their pregnancy. Another possible caveat is that, due to the rather limited length of the study, there may be an impact of the years of observation on the observed rise. This data is taken from Ontario, where Winter may be rather fierce!, and corrections for both seasonality and general number of crashes should have been considered.