September 08, 2014

10:59 AM | Reverse-engineering the college admissions process
I just finished reading a fascinating article from Bloomberg BusinessWeek about a man who claims to have  reverse-engineered the admission processes at Ivy League colleges (hat tip Jan Zilinsky). His name is Steven Ma, and as befits an ex-hedge funder, he has built an algorithm of sorts to work well with both the admission algorithms at […]

September 07, 2014

1:42 PM | The more uncertain we are, the more careful we should be
It is a staple of apologists for the chemical and fossil fuel industries to say, "We have no proof that what you are talking about is dangerous." Let me restate that in probabilistic terms: "We are highly uncertain about the harm of what you are talking about."When stated in probabilistic terms, uncertainty about harm becomes much more alarming. Nassim Nicholas Taleb has added to a working paper which I discussed last week entitled "The Precautionary Principle: Fragility and Black Swans from […]

September 06, 2014

1:34 PM | Aunt Pythia gives it up for Polly
Dearest readers. Dearest, dearest readers. Aunt Pythia was just about to crack open her dog-eared google doc of questions when she happened across this Ask Polly column which blew her away (hat tip Julie Steele). It’s entitled Ask Polly: Why Don’t the Men I Date Ever Truly Love Me? and it’s just about the best advice Aunt […]

September 05, 2014

2:58 PM | Your morning longread: a court judgment on the Deepwater Horizon disaster
I know that you've always wanted to understand the physics, chemistry, engineering and operations of deepwater oil drilling and U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier is here to help. Here's a 153-page judgment of where exactly the Deepwater Horizon/Gulf oil spill began to go really wrong, including technical diagrams, internal e-mails and even an apportioning of blame. It's obviously too large to summarize well, but here's a couple relevant portions: On page 53, an interesting […]
11:04 AM | Friday morning reading
I’m very gratified to say that my Lede Program for data journalism at Columbia is over, or at least the summer program is (some students go on to take Computer Science classes in the Fall). My adorable and brilliant students gave final presentations on Tuesday and then we had a celebration Tuesday night at my […]
10:02 AM | A week of links
Links this week: Two pieces on diet. First, an excellent article on how the poisons in vegetables might be making you stronger. Second, a new study in the fat-carb wars. Andrew Gelman on the strength of statistical evidence. Two excellent podcasts. Gregory Clark on social mobility (and the genetics behind it) and Paul Sabin on […]

September 04, 2014

11:25 PM | Why STEM is TE: inflation-adjusted wages edition
Many of you have read Michael Teitelbaum's article about the lack of a STEM shortage. I've actually purchased and mostly read his book, "Falling Behind?" Naturally, I enjoyed it, but I found it a bit weak in spots. Here's a link to a YouTube video of an Economic Policy Institute colloquy between Dr. Teitelbaum and number of prominent scholars about the book and science/technology workforces issues in general, including a very interesting critique of the book by Jonathan Rothwell, a research […]
5:34 PM | Methanol "tornado" experiment goes awry
Courtesy of my local TV news habit, I heard about a science experiment that sent a few kids to the hospital in Reno, NV. Here's the report from the Reno Gazette-Journal:A science experiment went awry at the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum, creating a chemical flash that injured up to 13 Wednesday in Reno, officials said. Of those 13, eight children and an adult were transported to Renown Regional Medical Center, the city said in a statement. Primary injuries include minor burns and […]
3:29 PM | Daily Pump Trap: 9/4/14 edition
Good morning! A few of the positions posted on C&EN Jobs in the last week:Skokie, IL: It isn't often that you see corporate lab manager positions, but this appears to be one from LanzaTech. They want a B.S. in chemistry (advanced degree preferred) and 10+ years experience in the laboratory. I think this could be a great position for the right person.Cambridge, MA: I think this is the first time that I've seen the term "Data Scientist" show up for a pharmaceutical company - Novartis, in […]
11:25 AM | Student evaluations: very noisy data
I’ve been sent this recent New York Times article by a few people (thanks!). It’s called Grading Teachers, With Data From Class, and it’s about how standardized tests are showing themselves to be inadequate to evaluate teachers, so a Silicon Valley-backed education startup called Panorama is stepping into the mix with a data collection process focused […]
9:47 AM | The biology of boom and bust
John Coates’s excellent The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings and the Biology of Boom and Bust tells the story of the effect of hormones on decision making in finance. By the end of the book, the idea that traders are rational calculating machines driven by their brains is torn apart. As Coates shows, the divide […]

September 03, 2014

9:00 PM | Chemical Education Foundation wishes to highlight working chemists
From the inbox, a chance to get famous!: The Chemical Educational Foundation (CEF) ( is looking for chemists to use in You Be The Chemist Challenge marketing pieces and events for this year’s “careers in chemistry” theme. (The Challenge is an academic competition for grade 5-8 students that focuses on chemistry and its real-world applications.) For example, we might feature a few chemists on a periodic table poster to distribute to schools. We are looking […]
8:59 PM | A good article that makes me irritated
From the inbox, an interesting article from Nature's news section by Ewan Callaway about a Ph.D. organic chemist from the Schreiber lab who has gone onto finance: [Soroosh] Shambayati was born in Iran, attended school in Sweden, and then won a scholarship to study chemistry and mathematics at a university in Los Angeles. As an undergraduate, he was drawn to science for its pursuit of objective truth and the opportunity for discovery. A PhD was the obvious next step, and he found a perfect […]
10:54 AM | Guest Post: Bring Back The Slide Rule!
This is a guest post by Gary Cornell, a mathematician, writer, publisher, and recent founder of StemForums. I was was having a wonderful ramen lunch with the mathbabe and, as is all too common when two broad minded Ph.D.’s in math get together, we started talking about the horrible state math education is in for […]

September 02, 2014

3:54 PM | Distributional Economic Health
I am pushing an unusual way of considering economic health. I call it “distributional thinking.” It requires that you not aggregate everything into one statistic, but rather take a few samples from different parts of the distribution and consider things from those different perspectives. So instead of saying “things are great because the economy has expanded at […]
2:45 PM | Ivory Filter Flask: 9/2/14 edition
Good morning! A few of the academically-related positions posted on C&EN:Cambridge, MA: MIT is searching for a professor of chemistry, preferably at the assistant professor level. Focus for the position: "...the areas of inorganic, organic or physical chemistry, broadly defined."Bellingham, WA: Western Washington University is looking for an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry:Applicants with experimental or theoretical/computational research interests are encouraged to apply, as are […]
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