Archive for Nature

the explanation why Science gets underfunded

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , on May 8, 2017 by xi'an

Paris-Dauphine in Nature

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2017 by xi'an

Since this is an event unlikely to occur that frequently, let me point out that Université Paris-Dauphine got a nominal mention in Nature of two weeks ago, through an article covering the recent Abel Prize of Yves Meyer and his work on wavelets through a collection of French institutions, including Paris-Dauphine where he was a professor in the maths department (CEREMADE) from 1985 till 1996. (Except for including a somewhat distantly related picture of an oscilloscope and a mention of the Higgs boson, the Nature article is quite nice!)

the incomprehensible challenge of poker

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2017 by xi'an

When reading in Nature about two deep learning algorithms winning at a version of poker within a few weeks of difference, I came back to my “usual” wonder about poker, as I cannot understand it as a game. (Although I can see the point, albeit dubious, in playing to win money.) And [definitely] correlatively do not understand the difficulty in building an AI that plays the game. [I know, I know nothing!]

no publication without confirmation

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , on March 15, 2017 by xi'an

“Our proposal is a new type of paper for animal studies (…) that incorporates an independent, statistically rigorous confirmation of a researcher’s central hypothesis.” (p.409)

A comment tribune in Nature of Feb 23, 2017, suggests running clinical trials in three stages towards meeting higher standards in statistical validation. The idea is to impose a preclinical trial run by an independent team following an initial research showing some potential for some new treatment. The three stages are thus (i) to generate hypotheses; (ii) to test hypotheses; (iii) to test broader application of hypotheses (p.410). While I am skeptical of the chances of this proposal reaching adoption (for various reasons, like, what would the incentive of the second team be [of the B team be?!], especially if the hypothesis is dis-proved, how would both teams share the authorship and presumably patenting rights of the final study?, and how could independence be certain were the B team contracted by the A team?), the statistical arguments put forward in the tribune are rather weak (in my opinion). Repeating experiments with a larger sample size and an hypothesis set a priori rather than cherry-picked is obviously positive, but moving from a p-value boundary of 0.05 to one of 0.01 and to a power of 80% is more a cosmetic than a foundational change. As Andrew and I pointed out in our PNAS discussion of Johnson two years ago.

“the earlier experiments would not need to be held to the same rigid standards.” (p.410)

The article contains a vignette on “the maths of predictive value” that makes intuitive sense but only superficially. First, “the positive predictive value is the probability that a positive result is truly positive” (p.411) A statement that implies a distribution of probability on the space of hypotheses, although I see no Bayesian hint throughout the paper. Second, this (ersatz of a) probability is computed by a ratio of the number of positive results under the hypothesis over the total number of positive results. Which does not make much sense outside a Bayesian framework and even then cannot be assessed experimentally or by simulation without defining a distribution of the output under both hypotheses. Simplistic pictures are the above are not necessarily meaningful. And Nature should certainly invest into a statistical editor!

Steve Fienberg’ obituary in Nature

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2017 by xi'an

“Stephen Fienberg was the ultimate public statistician.”

Robin Mejia from CMU published in the 23 Feb issue of Nature an obituary of Steve Fienberg that sums up beautifully Steve’s contributions to science and academia. I like the above quote very much, as indeed Steve was definitely involved in public policies, towards making those more rational and fair. I remember the time he came to Paris-Dauphine to give a seminar and talk on his assessment in a NAS committee on the polygraph (and my surprise at it being used at all in the US and even worse in judiciary issues). Similarly, I remember his involvement in making the US Census based on surveys rather than on an illusory exhaustive coverage of the entire US population. Including a paper in Nature about the importance of surveys. And his massive contributions to preserving privacy in surveys and databases, an issue in which he was a precursor (even though my colleagues at the French Census Bureau did not catch the opportunity when he spent a sabbatical in Paris in 2004). While it is such a sad circumstance that lead to statistics getting a rare entry in Nature, I am glad that Steve can also be remembered that way.

Nature snapshot

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on March 5, 2017 by xi'an

The recent issue of Nature, as of Jan 26, 2017!, contained a cartload of interesting review and coverage articles, from the latest version of the quantum computer D-Wave, with a paragraph on quantum annealing that reminded me of a recent arXiv paper I could not understand, seemingly turning the mathematical problem of multivariate optimisation into a truly physical process, to the continuing (Nature-wise) debate on how to oppose Trump, to the biases and shortcomings of policing software, with a mention of Lum and Isaac I discussed here a few months ago, to the unsuspected difficulty to publish a referee’s report when the publisher is Elsevier (unsuspected and unsurprising!)—although I know of colleagues and authors disapproving my publishing referee’s reports identified as such—, to an amazing picture of a bundle of neurons monitored simultaneously, to an entry in the career section on scientific computing and the importance of coding for young investigators, with R at the forefront!

sex, lies, & brain scans [not a book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , on February 11, 2017 by xi'an

“Sahakian and Gottwald discuss the problem of “reverse inference” regrettably late in the book.”

In the book review section of Nature [Jan 12, 2017 issue], there was a long coverage of the book sex. lies, & brain scans: How fMRI Reveals What Really Goes on in our Minds, by Barbara J. Sahakian and Julia Gottwald. While I have not read the book (which is not even yet out on amazon), I found some mentions of associating brain patterns with criminal behaviour quite puzzling: “neuroimaging will probably be an imperfect predictor of criminal behaviour”. Actually, much more than puzzling, both frightening with its Minority Report prospects [once again quoted as a movie rather than Philip K. Dick’s novel!], and bordering the irrational, for associating breaking rules with a brain pattern. Of course this is just an impression from reading a book review and the attempts may be restricted to psychological diseases rather than attempt at social engineering and brain policing, but if this is the case, as suggested by the review, it is downright scary!