Friday Links (one day late, 2020-10-10)

I’m Back. Monday Links

The last few months have been incredibly busy (hopefully, results should start appearing in print over the next few months). I’ll start writing again now.

A few links on recent(ish) anti-science victories in Europe:

  1. Philae went all the way to a comet, then quickly died because Europeans are afraid of “radiation”. The Americans would still be getting data from that probe as it would be nuclear powered (using a very safe type of nuclear fuel).
  2. Another victory from a coalition of environmental groups, including Greenpeace: The European Commission scrapped the position of scientific advisor. The environmentalists called the position of science advisor corporate lobbying!

American bonus: Anti-GMO activists take vitamins out of breakfast cereal.

Tuesday Links

Posting today from the lovely KU Leuven campus (yes, this link points to the actual building where I’m sitting in now!).

  1. From Megan McArdle on why very invasive surgery works better than less invasive surgery:

    Patients may prefer percutaneous coronary intervention — also known as angioplasty — to a coronary bypass because it doesn’t involve cracking your chest open and grafting things onto your heart. But bypass patients seem to have better long-term outcomes, even though both methods increase blood flow to the heart muscle. […]

    A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests a possible answer: Bypass works better precisely because it’s more invasive. The very scale of the treatment makes people more likely to change their post-operative behavior in ways that enhance their long-term chances of survival

The original paper states that

We find that CABG patients are 12 percentage points more likely to quit smoking in the one-year period immediately surrounding their procedure than PCI patients, a result that is robust to numerous alternative specifications

  1. I have in the past criticized nutricional sciences, but this is excellent scientific behaviour

    In one of the best examples of science working, a researcher who provided key evidence of (non-celiac disease) gluten sensitivity recently published follow-up papers that show the opposite.


    For a follow-up paper, 37 self-identified gluten-sensitive patients were tested […]

    The subjects cycled through high-gluten, low-gluten, and no-gluten (placebo) diets, without knowing which diet plan they were on at any given time. In the end, all of the treatment diets — even the placebo diet — caused pain, bloating, nausea, and gas to a similar degree. It didn’t matter if the diet contained gluten.

One of the most insidious things about some of the health fads is that because of psychological effects, they do “work.”

3. Python San Sebastian will have a keynote talk & tutorial by your truly (it’s not up on the website yet, but it will be).


Thursday Links

Lazy August links:

  1. Ray, the parking robot:

    [T]he system could work fine without any human oversight, but the airport is having an employee on hand in case travelers have questions about how to use the new option.

  2. OKCupid experiments on human being! But because they don’t publish in scientific journals and do it just for fun and profit, that’s totally OK (unlike the facebook study, which was unethical because they published).

Friday links

  1. A last link on the facebook saga makes the observation that if facebook just includes some randomness in all decisions of what to show on the stream (which they might do just to improve their service), then any study which leverages this is a randomized observational study. And observational studies have much reduced ethical thresholds.

  2. An excellent summary of what is known about SSRIs. I really liked both the conversion of effect size to weight loss numbers and the discussion of how, whilst people can agree on the data, it gets very hairy when you start to use words such as “moderate depression” or “severe depression” to describe different numeric results.

  3. Some people who make more money than I do, can activate your DNA. Obviously, they are skeptical of ENCODE claims. This guy’s biography is perfect:

    Toby Alexander, is a coach, speaker, seminar leader and author. He is a leading expert in a variety of fields including energy medicine, emotional mastery, peak mental strategies for optimal performance, 15th dimensional physics, futures and forex trading, SAP, remote viewing, and distant healing.

  4. Next week, I’ll be in Lisbon for LxMLS 2014. Contact me if you want to get in touch there.

Saturday Links

1. Bioimage informatics conferences in Leuven and in Oporto

2. BBC Horizon 1977-1978 on the introduction of computers The only thing that is outdated about this documentary are the fashions. Mike Cooley, an union leader claims:

It may be necessary for individual nation-states to make clear decisions about what kind of development and society they want, and, if necessary, be prepared to protect themselves from the ruthless introduction of this kind of equipment [automation using computers] by the multinational corporations.

3. New face of biology? Outsource wetlab work, keep analysis in house? For many studies this makes way more sense than the often proposed opposite (do wetlab in house, outsource analysis to the cloud).

Friday Links

1. Medical rituals

If it were discovered tomorrow that potatoes cured cancer, then people wouldn’t “suppress” this “natural” remedy. Two years from now there would be an ultrapurified potato extract called POTAXOR™®© that was, on closer examination, physically and chemically identical to mashed potatoes. But these mashed potatoes would be mashed in a giant centrifuge by scientists with five Ph. Ds each. Any time someone got cancer, their doctor would prescribe POTAXOR™®© and charge $6,000 per dose, and the patient would get better, and the thought of just going out and eating a potato would never occur to anybody. Not to the doctor, who doesn’t want to sound like the idiot who tells her cancer patients to eat potatoes. Not to the FDA, who doesn’t know whether potatoes might be contaminated with lead or potato fungus or ketchup or God-knows-what. And certainly not to the patient. They would have to pay 60 cents for a potato at the supermarket, but if they have a good enough insurance the POTAXOR™®© is free!

I remember a speaker from a pharmaceutical company once saying:

We do not charge for the pills. With a few exceptions, pills go for a few cents each. However, the little foldable paper insert with small print listing all the side-effects and some other information? That cost a billion dollars or more. We charge for that.

2. More Slate Start Codex, from a completely unrelated post about people behaving like caricatures, we have this gem:

why don’t whales get cancer more often?

I mean, think about it. Cancer results from a series of mutations occurring by chance in a single cell. So over a given time period, the cancer rate of an organism should be proportional to the number of cells in that organism. If a whale is a thousand times bigger than a person, it should have a thousand times more cells and therefore get cancer a thousand times more often. […]

I don’t know which of the various proposed solutions to this puzzle is true but the most hilarious is no doubt Nagy, Victor and Cropper (2007). […] [T]he theory is that whales survive because they are so big that their cancers get cancer and die.

  1. Congratulations to the scikit-image team for the publication of their software paper

Friday Links

  1. Building Machine Learning Systems with Python (in Korean)

2. Microwaved water kills plants

also recently popular:

crystals of water reflect emotions

What are people thinking when they believe this? I mean, how do they think water works?

(How do they think reality works?)

3. Interesting profile of a Nobel Laureate

4. Forward and reverse modeling

I think there should have been more discussion of “approximation” in there (the author claims that physics-based models are infallible or would point at fundamental new discoveries in physics; but physics-based models with approximate computations need not be infallible)

Friday Links

1. ASCII Delimited text. I somehow did not know about this.

2. The evidence for “salt is bad for your health” is pretty shaky. I’ll say it again: the science of nutrition is very shaky and given that this is what most people hear of as science, the credibility of science as a whole suffers.

3. On Phineas Cage, the famous “metal-rod-through-the-head patient”

Recent historical work, however, suggests that much of the canonical Gage story is hogwash, a mélange of scientific prejudice, artistic license, and outright fabrication.

Friday Links

  1. Building a better painkiller.

    In 1915, for example, Roche introduced a drug called Pantopon, which was also made from the opium poppy. It was said to be less addictive than morphine because it contained multiple compounds from the plant, which was supposed to be safer because it was more “natural.” It wasn’t.


    In fact, the basis for the initial claim about OxyContin’s reduced addiction potential wasn’t actually wrong: The drug was a long-acting medication that was delivered slowly and steadily to the brain.

    Unfortunately, recreational users almost immediately figured out how to defeat its time-release mechanism by crushing the pills, which then delivered a quick, massive dose when snorted, eaten, or injected.


    The current version of OxyContin [..] contains substances that turn it into a gel if people try to dissolve it, which makes the drug almost impossible to get into a syringe. The tablets are also far more difficult to grind up small enough to defeat the time-release mechanism by snorting or swallowing a crushed pill.

(It is opportune to point out that persisten pain is a major health problem and we should be careful about taking needed medication away from people who suffer. Radley Balko has a good series on this).

2. Scientists may feel that the science is settled, but perhaps we should teach the controversy