The microscopic world is deeply unintuitive, in large part due to the incessant randomness of Brownian motion. I was reminded of this when a colleague (Ben McMorran) pointed me to the timely topic of face masks and the physics that governs how they work. (Ben is collecting readings on this subject to discuss with undergraduates.) … Continue reading Physics, Face Masks, and a Fun Exercise
Continuing our series of commentaries on Makin and Orban de Xivry’s article on common Statistical Mistakes, let’s look at #5: Small Samples. (Previous posts: #1-2, #3 , #4.) This issue is simple but profound, and its prevalence is, I’ll argue, tied to more fundamental problems with how we do science. The mistake: drawing conclusions from … Continue reading Comments on “Small Samples” — “Ten common statistical mistakes…” #5
Continuing our series — see here for Part 1, and Part 2 — let’s look at Makin and Orban de Xivry’s Statistical Mistake #4: Spurious Correlations. This one is easy to understand, though nonetheless common. The authors refer to situations like the one illustrated in their Figure 2, shown below, in which the correlation calculated … Continue reading Comments on “Ten common statistical mistakes…”: #4
Continuing from the first post in this series, let’s look at Makin and Orban de Xivry’s Statistical Mistake #3: Inflating the units of analysis. The issue: What is N? In other words, how many independent data points are there, for whatever statistical analysis one wants to do? N is often mistakenly made larger than it … Continue reading Comments on “Ten common statistical mistakes…”: #3
I’ve thought more about CRISPR and genome editing over the past year than ever before, ending up devoting a chapter to it in my upcoming popular science biophysics book. The ability to cut, paste, and edit strands of DNA inside living cells is truly amazing, an advance that deserves all the hype that it’s received … Continue reading CRISPR, the Nobel Prize, and the “Forgotten Man”
The steady stream of scientific articles with irreproducible results, shaky conclusions, and poor reasoning  is, thankfully, accompanied by attempts to do something about it. A few months ago, Tamar Makin and Jean-Jacques Orban de Xivry published an excellent short article called “Ten common statistical mistakes to watch out for when writing or reviewing a … Continue reading Comments on “Ten common statistical mistakes…”: #1 and #2
I recently finished reading Ray Monk’s Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, a thorough biography of the twentieth century philosopher. (Some entertaining comics about Wittgenstein’s philosophy are here, here, and here.) It’s an excellent book, diving into the life of a remarkable, strange, and intense person. Among other things, Wittgenstein refused any part of his … Continue reading Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alternative Careers, and Active Learning
What do I add to a first-year university physics class on simple harmonic motion? Anything? What’s the point of a class on simple harmonic motion? Why do first-year physics classes exist? I was thinking about these questions exactly six months ago, pre-pandemic, when I started writing a blog post that seems especially relevant now. I … Continue reading What’s the point of a first-year physics class?
On July 4, I finished a draft of the fourth and final part of Building Life, my popular-science book on biophysics. There’s still a lot to revise, based in part on comments from my editor and others on Parts 1-3 and, I’m sure, comments to come on Part 4, but nonetheless I’m delighted to say … Continue reading Book draft done!
Given that all university classes are currently being run on-line due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our science teaching journal club topics for the term are mostly focused on remote instruction. Last week’s article  was a 2019 study comparing different methods for preparing video-based short lectures. It was especially interesting for reasons that can be … Continue reading Two graphs about on-line learning