Archive for La Recherche

the ABC conjecture

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , on November 27, 2012 by xi'an

Both Pour la Science and La Recherche, two French science magazines, had an entry this month on the abc conjecture! However, ABC being a common accronym, it is alas unrelated with my research theme. The abc conjecture is a number theory conjecture that states that if a and b are integers with no common factor and a small number of prime dividers, this does not hold for c=a+b. This is the abc triplet. (More precisely, the conjecture states that the quality of the triplet abc:

q(a,b,c) = \log c / \log \text{rad}(abc)

is larger than 1+ε for a finite number of triplets abc.) A proof of the conjecture by Shinichi Mochizuki was recently proposed, hence the excitment in the community. In La Recherche, I read that this conjecture is associated with an interesting computing challenge, namely to find the exhaustive collection of triplets with a quality more than a given bound 1+ε.


Posted in Books, Kids, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2012 by xi'an

Today, I was reading in the science leaflet of Le Monde about a new magnitude in sequencing cancerous tumors (wrong link, I know…). This made me wonder whether the sequence of (hundreds of) mutations leading from a normal cell to a cancerous one could be reconstituted in the way a genealogy is. (This reminds me of another exciting genetic article I read in the Eurostar back from London on Thursday, in the Economist, about the colonization of Madagascar by 30 women from the Malay archipelago: “The island was one of the last places on Earth to be settled, receiving its earliest migrants in the middle of the first millennium AD…“)

As a double coincidence, I was reading La Recherche yesterday in the métro to Dauphine, which central theme this month is about heredity beyond genetics. (Double because this also connected with the meeting in London.) The keyword is epigenetics, namely the activation or inactivation of a gene and the hereditary transmission of this character w/o a genetic mutation. This is quite interesting as it implies the hereditability of some adopted traits, i.e. forces one to reconsider the nature versus nurture debate. (This sentence is another input due to Galton!) It also implies that a much faster rate of species differentiation due to environmental changes (than the purely genetic one) is possible, which may sound promising in the light of the fast climate changes we are currently facing. However, what I do not understand is why the journal included a paper on the consequences of epigenetics on the Darwinian theory of evolution and… intelligent design. Indeed, I do not see why the inclusion of different vectors in the hereditary process would contradict Darwin’s notion of natural selection. Or even why considering a scientific modification or replacement of the current Darwinian theory of evolution would be an issue. Charles Darwin wrote his book in 1859, prior to the start of genetics, and the immense advances made since then led to modifications and adjustments from his original views. Without involving any irrational belief in the process.

2012, Turing year

Posted in R, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , on January 3, 2012 by xi'an

Buying the special issue of La Recherche on “La révolution des mathématiques”, I discovered that this is the Alan Turing Year in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Turing‘s birth. The math department at the University of Leeds has a webpage on all the events connected with this celebration. From all over the World. (There is even a Turing relay in Cambridge, unfortunately it is not open to the general public… Unless you are attending the Isaac Newton Institute at the time.) Quite fitting a tribute. (Given Turing’s contributions to Bayesian analysis, as depicted e.g. in the theory that would not die, ISBA could have included a special session in the ISBA 2012 meeting in Kyoto. I will certainly dedicate the session I co-organise there on parallel computing to his memory.)

How quickly does randomness appear?

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on November 10, 2011 by xi'an

This was the [slightly off-key]  title of the math column in the November issue of La Recherche, in any case intriguing enough for me to buy this general public science magazine on the metro platform and to read it immediately while waiting for an uncertain train, thanks to the nth strike of the year on my train line… But this was the occasion for an exposition of the Metropolis algorithm in a general public journal! The column actually originated from a recently published paper by Persi Diaconis, Gilles Lebeaux, and Laurent Michel,  Geometric analysis for the Metropolis algorithm on Lipschitz domain, in Inventiones Mathematicae [one of the top pure math journals]. The column in La Recherche described the Metropolis algorithm (labelled there a random walk on Markov chains!), alluded to the use of MCMC methods in statistics, told the genesis of the paper [namely the  long-term invitation of Persi Diaconis in Nice a few years ago] and briefly explained the convergence result, namely the convergence of the Metropolis algorithm to the stationary measure at a geometric rate, with an application to the non-overlapping balls problem.

If you take a look at the paper, you will see it is a beautiful piece of mathematics, establishing a spectral gap on the Markov operator associated with the Metropolis algorithm and deducing a uniformly geometric convergence [in total variation] for most regular-and-bounded-support distributions. A far from trivial and fairly general result. La Recherche however fails to mention the whole corpus of MCMC convergence results obtained in the 1990’s and 2000’s, by many authors, incl. Richard Tweedie, Gareth Roberts, Jeff Rosenthal, Eric Moulines, Gersende Fort, Randal Douc, Kerrie Mengersen, and others…

Robin Ryder’s interview

Posted in Statistics, University life with tags , , , , on March 9, 2011 by xi'an

Robin Ryder—with whom I am sharing an office at CREST, and who is currently doing a postdoc on ABC methods—, got interviewed in the March issue of La Recherche. (The interviewer was Philippe Pajot who wrote “Parcours de mathématiciens”, reviewed in a recent post.) The interview is reproduced on Robin’s blog (in French) and gives in a few words the principles of Bayesian linguistics. This two-page interview also includes a few lines of a technical entry to MCMC (called Monte Carlo Markov chains rather than Markov chain Monte Carlo) that focus on the exploration of huge state-spaces associated with trees. Overall, a very good advertising for MCMC methods for the general public through the highly attractive story of the history of languages…