August 30, 2015

Click on WORD or PDF for full content




Pickerhead grew up in the fifties, a Yankee fan. Then to perform penance, allegiance was switched to the Chicago Cubs. But, this is a happy year. Five Thirty Eight blog found a way to measure fan enthusiasm and Cub fans are in the lead.

Baseball teams have a way of dragging their fans’ moods with their fortunes on the field. It’s no fun to root for a perpetually losing team, especially if its performance seems unlikely to improve. Conversely, an unexpected contender has a way of lifting one’s spirits.

But wins and losses are much easier to measure than happiness. We do have a proxy, though: the masses at Reddit. I scraped comments from each team’s subreddit on the website and determined how happy their comments were. To do that I used sentiment analysis, collecting the words used by each fan base to determine their overall level of joy. More positive words (“win,” “wow,” “wonderful”) point to a happier fan base, and more negative words (“unimpressed,” “miserable,” “wrong”) suggest the opposite.

Here are some highlights of what I found; …

… Every fan base lost some of its happiness from the preseason, save one: the Chicago Cubs, who increased their sentiment score by a bit. The Cubs have not only been contenders in the crowded National League Central, they have also seen a number of top prospects called up, most notably Kris Bryant (but also Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber). Not only are the Cubs contending a little earlier than expected — the future is even brighter. …




Scientific American describes coyote hunts in NY City.

Three wildlife biologists swat at the forest undergrowth, still soaked from the morning’s summer thunderstorm, trekking deep into the woods until they find what they are looking for: a camera tied to a tree. They had set it up weeks ago to spy on the coyotes. A plane suddenly flies overhead, interrupting the tranquil hush of the forest. This is a New York City park, after all.

The camera traps are one of several methods the Gotham Coyote Project is using to track coyotes as they migrate into New York City, along with citizen science sightings, scat collection and now environmental DNA surveys. Mark Weckel, co-founder of the project, which is affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), estimates that at least 20 coyotes live in the city, most of them in the Bronx. But the wily animal is slowly claiming territory in Queens and Manhattan, as numerous news outlets reported this spring, ranging as far south as Battery Park at the tip of Lower Manhattan.

The spread of coyotes into New York City and other urban areas across the U.S. is the latest chapter in their impressive success story, says wildlife specialist Stan Gehrt of The Ohio State University, who has studied Chicago’s coyotes for more than 12 years. …




The NY Times reports half of social psychology studies are flawed.

The past several years have been bruising ones for the credibility of the social sciences. A star social psychologist was caught fabricating data, leading to more than 50 retracted papers. A top journal published a study supporting the existence of ESP that was widely criticized. The journal Science pulled a political science paper on the effect of gay canvassers on voters’ behavior because of concerns about faked data.

Now, a painstaking yearslong effort to reproduce 100 studies published in three leading psychology journals has found that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested. The analysis was done by research psychologists, many of whom volunteered their time to double-check what they considered important work. Their conclusions, reported Thursday in the journal Science, have confirmed the worst fears of scientists who have long worried that the field needed a strong correction.

The vetted studies were considered part of the core knowledge by which scientists understand the dynamics of personality, relationships, learning and memory. Therapists and educators rely on such findings to help guide decisions, and the fact that so many of the studies were called into question could sow doubt in the scientific underpinnings of their work.

“I think we knew or suspected that the literature had problems, but to see it so clearly, on such a large scale — it’s unprecedented,” said Jelte Wicherts, an associate professor in the department of methodology and statistics at TilburgUniversity in the Netherlands. …

… The project began in 2011, when a University of Virginia psychologist decided to find out whether suspect science was a widespread problem. He and his team recruited more than 250 researchers, identified the 100 studies published in 2008, and rigorously redid the experiments in close collaboration with the original authors.

The new analysis, called the Reproducibility Project, found no evidence of fraud or that any original study was definitively false. Rather, it concluded that the evidence for most published findings was not nearly as strong as originally claimed. …




More on this important subject from Scientific American.

Investigators across five continents reported that they were able to replicate only about 40 percent of the results from 100 previously published studies in cognitive and social psychology, in a study described today in the influential journal Science. The massive collaboration, called the Reproducibility Project: Psychology, could serve as a model for examining reproducibility of research in other fields, and a similar effort to scrutinize studies in cancer biology is already underway.

Central to the scientific method, experiments “must be reproducible,” says Gilbert Chin, a senior editor at Science. “That is, someone other than the original experimenter should be able to obtain the same findings by following the same experimental protocol.” The more readily a study can be replicated, the more trustworthy its results. But “there has been growing concern that reproducibility may be lower than expected or desired,” says corresponding author Brian Nosek, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia.

To address the problem, scientists across many disciplines established the Center for Open Science (COS) in Charlottesville, Va. The Reproducibility Project: Psychology, their first research initiative, began recruiting volunteers in 2011. They asked teams of researchers, totaling 270 collaborating authors, to choose from a pool of studies—all reflecting basic science and not requiring specialized samples or equipment—that appeared in 2008 in one of three respected psychology journals: Psychological Science; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; and Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. …



Last week we previewed the publication of the fourth volume of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now reviews are out, and for the most part, are favorable. We’ll start with the NY Times.

Fans of Stieg Larsson’s captivating odd couple of modern detective fiction — the genius punk hacker Lisbeth Salander and her sometime partner, the crusading investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist — will not be disappointed by the latest installment of their adventures, written not by their creator, Stieg Larsson (who died of a heart attack at the age of 50 in 2004), but by a Swedish journalist and author named David Lagercrantz. Though there are plenty of lumps in the novel along the way, Salander and Blomkvist have survived the authorship transition intact and are just as compelling as ever.

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” finds the pair drawn into the case of the enigmatic computer scientist Frans Balder: a prominent expert in artificial intelligence who’s become ensnared in a global intrigue involving the Swedish Security Police (Sapo), the Russian mob, Silicon Valley industrial spies and United States national security interests.

Mr. Lagercrantz’s efforts to connect unsavory doings in Sweden to machinations within America’s National Security Agency are strained and fuzzy — a bald attempt to capitalize on Edward J. Snowden’s revelations about the agency and the debate over its surveillance methods. But then, readers weren’t smitten by “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” because of its plotting (which relied heavily on straight-to-video serial-killer-movie clichés), its plausibility or Larsson’s anti-authoritarian politics. They were smitten with that novel and its two sequels — “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” — because of the fierce charm of Salander and Blomkvist, and their unlikely chemistry. And because Larsson was so adroit at conjuring a moody, noirish Sweden that turned the stereotype of a clean, bright Scandinavia (where people drive Volvos and buy Ikea furniture) back into a land of long winters, haunted by the ghosts of Strindberg and Bergman. …

… “Spider’s Web” is less bloody, less horror movie lurid than its predecessors. In other respects, Mr. Lagercrantz seems to have set about — quite nimbly, for the most part — channeling Larsson’s narrative style, mixing genre clichés with fresh, reportorial details, and plot twists reminiscent of sequences from Larsson’s novels with energetically researched descriptions of the wild, wild West that is the dark side of the Internet. Presumably, the N.S.A. has been dragged into the story partly as a means of paying homage to Larsson’s anti-authoritarianism and his dark view of state power (developed most fully in “Hornet’s Nest,” which grappled with political corruption in Sweden and the malfeasance of Sapo). …



The reviewer at the Washington Post was less taken with the whole enterprise. Even though reviews were mostly good, we’ll add that so we can be fair and balanced.

One of the great sagas of modern publishing began in Sweden in 2004 when a left-wing journalist delivered a ridiculously long manuscript to his publisher. The aspiring novelist, who died of a heart attack a few months later at the age of 50, was of course Stieg Larsson. His editor recognized the value of what he had written and also that it should be published as three related novels. She later said that when the first of the novels, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” appeared, she would have been happy if it had sold 10,000 copies. Instead, at last report, the three novels in Larsson’s Millennium trilogy have sold in excess of 80 million copies worldwide. Their success was richly deserved. The novels offer a strikingly intelligent, gripping, angry look at political and corporate corruption in Sweden and, by implication, throughout the Western world.

Like countless readers, I would welcome a fourth novel in the series that equaled the high standard set by Larsson, but “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is not that novel. Authorized by Larsson’s father and brother, who were his heirs, and written by Swedish writer David Lagercrantz, the new book brings back Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, the heroes and occasional lovers of the trilogy. It’s fitfully interesting, but more often the story is disjointed and annoying.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” started out as a conventional mystery about a missing girl. More than anything else, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is a novel about hacking. …