On the passing of Hans Rosling

It would be remiss not to mention briefly the passing of Hans Rosling. Data needs storytellers and the world needs advocates for evidence-based decision making. We have lost one of the best.

For some insights into the man and his interesting (and at times challenging) life, I highly recommend this news feature. You can enjoy presentations at the Gapminder website: I’d start with the documentary The Joy of Stats.

Perhaps I should not be surprised or annoyed – but I am – at the lack of coverage this story received at news outlets, particularly in Australia. Aside from an obituary at Guardian Australia (not on the front page), I don’t believe the news featured at all in any other major Australian news publisher. Perhaps not unrelated, stories like this feature quite frequently.

I’m told that in Europe, this effort at the BBC was one of few major reports.

Maybe I live in a data science bubble, but I would think this is a person and an event “of note”. Thanks for the stories, Hans.

Poor reporting: the anti-freeze that wasn’t

Generally, I don’t cover “mainstream” science reporting, but this is too poor to let it pass.

Nature Genetics features a fascinating article about the properties of haemoglobin from the extinct woolly mammoth. Briefly, the researchers sequenced DNA encoding haemoglobin subunits from a sample of mammoth bone and compared it with that of modern elephants. They then altered the modern elephant DNA sequence to match that of the mammoth, expressed mammoth and elephant protein in E. coli and compared the oxygen affinity of each protein. Their conclusion: the amino acid substitutions in mammoth haemoglobin result in an enhanced ability to release oxygen to tissues at low temperature.

You will not find the words “anti-freeze” anywhere in the article. Bear that in mind, as we survey the reporting of this story by various news outlets:

Read the rest…

Slideshare FAIL

I enjoy a good joke. I’m not so politically-correct that I won’t laugh at the expense of others – remember I grew up in the UK, where bullying was part of the culture ;-), nor so po-faced that I can’t laugh at my own expense.

I do not enjoy April Fools. Jokes on this day are rarely, if ever, good jokes. Perhaps they were more fun when humans lived in small, isolated communities with little knowledge of the outside world and so could be fooled en masse by spaghetti trees. However, this is the 21st century, the age of information. We should be harder to fool, because we know more about the world.

Paradoxically, it’s the information age that enables the flood of tedious, blatantly false, time-wasting stories in our inboxes and feed readers every April 1st. You might even say that everyday is April 1st, somewhere on the Web. The elements of surprise and ignorance are gone. Perhaps it’s time to abandon this quaint custom.

Which brings me to Slideshare, who decided that it would be tremendously funny to (1) inflate users’ slide views by adding two zeroes and (2) inform their users by email. Read the rest…

Spreading the message, a few minds at a time

Given my passion for online science networking, it’s surprising that I’ve never given a talk on the subject [1]. So a big thank you to William who invited me over to his institute for an informal chat about the topic with a small group of staff.

I learned that:

  • A good quote from an internet guru goes down well
  • Everyone loves an xkcd cartoon
  • Many biologists still don’t know what an RSS feed is

My slides are embedded, below or visit Slideshare – best viewed full screen.

1. Oh wait, I work in a university
See the slides