Weekly Roundup

IKEA is now implicated in the ever-widening European horse meat scandal (summarized in this infographic). The furniture retailer/low-cost cafeteria removed ground meat items from their menus in Europe and some parts of Asia. These include stuffed cabbage, veal burgers, wiener sausages, and their famous meatballs. The scandal has prompted calls to shorten food supply chains, as well as raised the question, why don’t more people knowingly eat horse meat?

Fish labeling has also come under recent scrutiny: last week’s study by Oceana, a conservation group, revealed that a third of 1,215 samples of fish purchased throughout the United States were mislabeled (see map). Sushi bars and vendors of snapper and tuna were among the worst offenders. Oceana’s study confirms results from 2004, as well as a  2008 high-school student project.

The Harper government’s rebuttal of last September’s report ranking Canada 55th in freedom of information (behind Mongolia) took 150 days to be released by the Treasury Board under the Access to Information Act. The same act is the focus of a new investigation over whether the muzzling of Canadian federal scientists is illegal; Rick Mercer feels pretty strongly about the issue.…

Weekly Roundup

A massive meteor entered the atmosphere last Friday and exploded over Chelyabinsk in central Russia, injuring over a thousand people and causing damage to thousands of buildings thanks to glass-shattering shockwaves.

With a diameter of 55 feet and weighing ten thousand tons, it’s the largest such object to collide with Earth in over a century.

Collectively, the multiple eyewitness videos, many from dashboard cameras, broke viral video records for rate of viewer growth over the weekend.

According to NASA, this fireball was not related to the predicted asteroid flyby on the same day (which you can observe in this time-lapse video). Google removed its Doodle for the asteroid out of respect for those injured by the meteor.

The Chelyabinsk meteor explosion has prompted “vindicated” scientists to argue for greater asteroid detection programs, a Russian politician to claim a cover-up of US weapons testing, and meteorite hunters to scour the Urals for valuable fragments (some of which may be for sale on eBay).

Big. Bad. Big data?

A few days ago Nassim N. Taleb wrote an opinion piece for Wired claiming that we should “Be aware of the big errors of big data.” If you haven’t heard about it, “big data” is becoming a buzz term in the media and sciences, particularly social sciences, for the scientific strategy of gathering massive amounts of data and then processing it with statistical tools. Taleb paints a picture of big data as being extremely manipulable, so much so that scientists can not resist the urge to employ it uncritically in support of their favorite theories:…

Weekly Roundup

It turns out we won’t be hit with an asteroid on the day after Valentines’, so our roundup can proceed apace.

Scientists at the University of Leicester announced that they have identified the remains of King Richard III, based in part on DNA from a living Canadian descendent.

Mars vs Venus? Nope, we’re all Earthlings around here… A new study by Carothers and Reis suggests that many “gender-specific” personality traits (assertiveness, empathy, “desire to have sex with multiple partners” and even “interest in science”) overlap to such an extent that predicting someone’s gender based on traits alone is impossible (via Buzzfeed).

Speaking of “interest in science,” the “stereotype threat” of “innate differences” may be responsible for the United States, Canada, and other countries bucking the worldwide trend of 15-year-old girls outperforming boys in a science test administered by the OECD (published in a New York Times interactive graph). So avoid stereotypes, even if (like the European Commission) you have good intentions.

Interview with James Collier of the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective

James H. Collier is the editor of Social Epistemology as well as the editor of the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective. In 2010 SE produced a special issue on the future of academic publishing, and the SERRC is in many ways enacting one possible future. It is a kind of hybrid journal-blog that interacts very closely with the Social Epistemology journal. In light of many recent discussions over the role of blogs in academia here and elsewhere, I was very excited when Jim agreed to answer some interview questions here on The Bubble Chamber. I was even more excited when he wrote back with such deep and thoughtful replies.…

Can you predict the weather?

All of my friends raise an eyebrow when they hear that I’m a member of a competitive weather forecasting team. What is a weather forecasting team? And what possible qualifications could I have as a philosopher allow me to predict the weather?

This is the first year that the University of Toronto has had a forecasting team. Started by graduate students studying atmospheric physics, the team competes in the WxChallenge, a North American collegiate forecasting competition against approximately 60 other North American Universities. The competition involves predicting the high temperature, low temperature, highest sustained wind-speed, and precipitation, for a particular observation station 24 hours in advance. The next day predictions are compared to the observations made at the station; the higher the discrepancy the more points a forecaster earns. The few thousand forecasters that compete are then ranked according to these points and the top 64 will go into a head-to-head forecasting tournament at the end of the season. To add some variety, the weather station changes every two weeks which continually presents forecasters with new challenges.…

Weekly Roundup

Iran claims to have sent a monkey into space, although some have expressed doubts.

A recent review of anthropological literature has found that polyandry (one wife, multiple husbands) is more common than what you’d hear about in anthropology 101, perhaps because “Western male anthropologists had a hard time ‘believing’ in polyandry.”

Did you overdo it at the Superbowl buffet? It’s not the end of the world: the nutritional labels on many foods are inaccurate. Well, unprocessed foods, anyway. If you prefer chips and pork rinds, you might need help overcoming mindless eating. (via Jezebel)

Shermer, Isopp, and the ‘Liberal War on Science’

Last week Bernhard Isopp dissected science writer, noted “skeptic”, and purported science historian Michael Shermer‘s claim that there is a “liberal war on science“. Shermer’s article is so simplistic that I have trouble believing that Shermer has ever read any history of science, let alone that he could be called a historian of science. Bernhard does a good job of refuting Shermer’s implied argument that assenting to the claims of scientists demonstrates rationality while failing to due so implies some sort of ideological bias. However, Shermer goes wrong on a much more basic level: whether or not there is a “war on science” has very little to due with assent.…