Posts in Category: Reviews – Articles and Books etc.

IDA and the media

Big big fuzz about IDA, today. See here for a rather sensationalistic article on SkyNews or here for one slightly more critical on BBC. I cannot really judge on the importance of the discovery itself; sure enough I can say that the words “missing link” mean nothing at all and I am glad that at least have been left out of the paper. No doubt, though, that IDA is being sold as “the missing link that is proving Darwin was right” — even the name, Darwiniun Masillae, seems to have been chosen for the very same reason.

Now, what really strikes me is the mediatic event that was created around this discovery. Big fanfare presentation in NYC, with opening words of  the city Major; a book, scheduled to appear on amazon on the same day; BBC documentary; a website dedicated with videos, interviews and everything else. Is this appropriate? Not sure.

This is what the authors say about the mediatic event:

The scientific publication of Ida has been carefully timed so that the film, book and website can be launched at the same time. The scientists see this as a new way of presenting science for the 21st century, where a major scientific find becomes available to everyone, wherever they are in the world at the same time. Ida connects to us all, and we can all share in understanding her.

As Jørn Hurum explains, ‘I really like the idea that it’s now possible for people to look at the website or to see the film or read the book at the same time as the scientists read the scientific paper. You can get many different levels of understanding, but you get out the important messages in different ways at the same time. Humans are not special – we’re related deep in time to more primitive mammals. And the best way to tell this story is Ida, and this, I hope, will be the message that will come out.’

The explanation is plausible after all: times are changing and why not use new means for communicating Science? At least authors are pretty coherent: kudos to them, for instance for having picked PLoS ONE for publishing their paper and for advocating OA. From the PLoS Blog:

We asked Dr Hurum about the factors that influenced his decision to publish the article in PLoS ONE.
“Choosing PLoS ONE as the venue for publication was easy,” he explained. “First of all the journal is Open Access. I am paid by the taxpayers of Norway to do research and outreach from The Natural History Museum in Oslo. Why should a large publishing group then own my research and sell it in pay per view or expensive subscriptions to interested people around the world? I feel this is not moral when they have not supported my research at all but wants to make money on my several years of work without any compensation.”
“Secondly PLoS ONE’s lack of restrictions on the length of manuscripts and the number of figures attracted us; we wanted to publish a full anatomical description with lots of illustrations. In other journals this would have been impossible or the page charges would have been enormous.”
“Thirdly, PLoS ONE is the quickest way to publish a large work in the world!”

I still have to decide on whether this was a bit too much. We all know regular media tend to shoot pretty high every time but seems this time is a bit different.

Edit: when the news hits the google doodle you know it is a big deal.

WolframAlpha (only the screencast for now)

Here, an impressive demo of what it promises to be the next big thing on the Internet. Wolfram Alpha is been created by [[Stephen Wolfram]], creator of [[Mathematica]] and it is supposed to become available starting from May 2010. It seems like it could be an amazing example of data mining technology and could prove very useful for bridging technical knowledge to every day curiosities.
And here, a review of a first public demo run.

EDIT [2009/05/17]. Seems the service is online starting from yesterday. You can calculate things like Normality of 37%HCl or your exact age in seconds.

Free unmissable Windows software that will make your computer life easier.

Whatever your job, there is a good chance you’ll spend lots of time sitting in front of a computer. If you do lots of data analysis, as I do lately, then you’ll find yourself in front of the monitor for most of the day. I’ll use this and the following few posts to introduce some softwares that are going to dramatically improve your productivity – and make your digital life easier. Web is full of list with dozens of best freeware software so I have no intention of making just another one; rather I will suggest one software per category. If you know of something better feel free to leave a comment to this post. I’ll start with this post with some more general softwares, useful to anyone. In the next one I will talk of more scientific-oriented softwares.

All In The Mind

Natasha MitchellAll In The Mind is a wonderful Radio program broadcasted weekly on ABC National Radio in Australia. You can listen at the radio show live if you live in that part of the world or simply download the mp3 files and listen at them from your computer. On the website you can also find transcript of the transmission, in case your english is not excellent and you need some sort of subtitles. The program is also reachable through iTunes so that automatic downloading from week to week is possible in an automatic way. Whatever your choice, I do recommend you hook on it since All in The Mind is one of the best science program you’ll ever experience. All in The Mind describes itself as

a program about the mind, brain and behaviour. From dreaming to depression, addiction to artificial intelligence, consciousness to coma, psychoanalysis to psychopathy, free will to forgetting – All in the Mind explores the human condition through the mind’s eye.

Natasha Mitchell is leading the discussions always in a brillant way; she is not just an ordinary science journalist being actually a scientist herself having studied ingeneering and gone through a PhD in engineering. We all know it is not straight forward to talk about science to non scientists but at the same time we are all well aware of how important this is. All in The Mind really does a good job such that contents are not only enjoyable to non experts but to scientists too. All programs focus on one topic, of course: the mistery of the human mind. It may sound reductive but I believe we got enough material to talk about!