Monday, October 22, 2012

Science on Trial

Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced today to six years in prison over the deadly earthquake that hit the town of  L'Aquila in 2009, and killed 309 people. A regional court found them guilty of multiple manslaughter.

The scientists convened a meeting of local residents after a number of smaller quakes had hit the town and then gave assurances that there was no indication that a major incident was likely. The court has held them to account for providing 'inexact, incomplete and contradictory' information about the danger of the tremors. This was compounded by accurate predictions of the disaster by local physicist, Giampaolo Giuliani. However, his predictions appear to be based on disputed tests.

The prediction of earthquakes remains a very inexact science and in many ways this court case has been seen as a trail of science itself and its inherent uncertainties. It may set a dangerous precident, since in future scientists may be unwilling to share their knowledge with the public for fear of being targeted in lawsuits.

Here is how the BBC reported the trial a year ago, prior to publication of the verdicts:

And here, a BBC World Service podcast I found which includes a short discussion on the trial, the verdicts and the possible effects on the reporting of scientific findings in Italy:

Science on Trial

Friday, October 19, 2012

Can Eating Chocolate Help You to Win a Nobel Prize?

Here's a nice example that shows that just because something correlates statistically it doesn't necessarily mean that a relationship actually exists. New York cardiologist Dr. Franz Messerli found a correlation between the consumption of chocolate and the number of Nobel Prizes awarded to a country. However, he doesn't claim that one is related to the other.

This shows that even correctly applied statistics can give false conclusions and perhaps that over-reliance on statistical trends can be flawed.

Chocolate Consumption and Nobel Prizes

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Mandelbrot Plot

Monday, October 8, 2012

Vandalising Art

Last week a man strolled into the Tate Modern Gallery in London and wrote a message (including his name) on a Mark Rothko painting. Vladamir Umanets is now waiting to be arrested, but in the meantime has contacted the BBC to explain his actions. He claims to be the founder of a new art movement which he calls 'yellowism'. He says he was making an artistic statement, and (comparing himself to Marcel Duchamp) that "Art allows us to take what someone's done and put a new message on it."

A BBC article that I read related to this story shows that it is not unusual for great works of art to be targeted by people usually intent on making either artistic or political statements. One of the most famous instances (although by no means the first) occurred at the Tate Gallery in 2000 when two performance artists, Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi, jumped onto Tracey Emin's Bed in their underpants and began a pillow fight, to applause from onlookers, before being removed by the gallery's security guards. They called their work Two Naked Men Jump Into Tracey's Bed.
Vandalism of Art