Statistics > Pundits

"This is a map of the United States, with the spatial distortion reflecting the population sizes of different counties and the relative contribution of electoral college votes."

Along with President Obama, statistician Nate Silver emerged triumphant on election night, after calculating a 90% chance of victory for Obama and correctly predicting the outcome of every state.  Chad Orzel allays suspicions of witchcraft on Uncertain Principles, writing that “statisticians have been refining the process of public opinion polling for something like a hundred years.”  Silver’s projections for Obama reached a low point in the weeks after the first debate, dipping to nearly 60%.  Still, Silver’s odds offered some refreshing realism in a mediasphere dedicated to hyping the closeness and uncertainty of the race.  Orzel concludes that Silver’s work is “a reminder that the vast majority of what you see on political blogs and cable chat shows is ultimately pretty unimportant.”  Meanwhile, on Built on Facts, Matt Springer wants “to be the guy who sounds the sad trombone and pours just a little cold water on his well-deserved celebration.”

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United Against the Axe

House Republicans are pushing a bill that would cut funding for the National Institutes of Health by $1.6 billion, over five percent. Isis the Scientist issues a call to action, saying “Whether you are a scientist, a student, or a member of the public interested in the future of science, I join with Dr. Talman in asking you to call your Congressional Representatives and ask them to oppose HR1.” DrugMonkey offers a cheat sheet full of facts, figures, and talking points so we can know what we’re talking about when we contact our representatives. Orac calls the savings “minimal and symbolic” compared to federal expenditures on defense and entitlements. PZ Myers agrees with Paul Krugman that Republican willingness to gut science spending while refusing “to touch anything that might cause immediate pain to the electorate” amounts to cooking our seed corn and eating the future. And Steinn Sigurðsson lists all the other scientific agencies facing cuts on Dynamics of Cats. So let your congresspeople know that while HR 1 may be fine with creationists, geocentrists, and alembic-succussing sorcerers, those who care about the future of science know that tax dollars should be spent on research.

Galileo, Knowledge and Power

i-e82f1ec1f4938cdd9ac9a6a96a9f9aae-galbuzz.jpgGalileo transformed Western knowledge, but the Catholic Church vehemently opposed his “heretical” heliocentric observations. Inspired by author Thomas Dixon, ScienceBloggers debate whether the Church’s beef with Galileo was motivated by political power or by the competing principles of science and religion. On EvolutionBlog, Jason Rosenhouse writes that while the conflict was “played out in the political arena,” it was actually ideological in nature since it pitted the Pope’s “privileged relationship with God” against science’s popular means to knowledge. On The Questionable Authority, Mike Dunford warns that “the Galileo affair was almost irreducibly complex,” but adds that when one group tries to impose its worldview on another, it’s essentially a political action. Finally, Coturnix goes a step further on A Blog Around The Clock, asserting that “every conflict is a political conflict,” and “some conflicts are also superficially about facts about the world.” Power dynamics notwithstanding, one thing’s for sure: Galileo and his telescope changed the way even Popes look at the heavens.

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World AIDS Day

i-888f669f656d9aa842b1723719695d19-aidsbuzz.jpgIn the nearly thirty years since AIDS was first diagnosed, the disease has killed tens of millions of people, and more than 33 million are currently infected with HIV worldwide. Although recent UN reports show the number of new infections is falling, AIDS remains a major global issue. So take some time today for a retroviral education on ERV. New vaccine research suggests that inoculating cells with a gene that produces a protein found in HIV’s envelope can “prime” the immune system to start recognizing the invader. Refuting bigots, ERV also says that “HIV/AIDS research does not only benefit HIV/AIDS patients. Our understanding of the human immune system and cell biology has increased exponentially because of HIV/AIDS research.” Of course, not everyone takes such a scientific view, and Ed Brayton reports on Dispatches From the Culture Wars that “Uganda is currently considering an incredibly brutal anti-gay law” which includes putting individuals infected with HIV to death. So in the face of the pandemic, speak up, get tested, be safe, observe a moment of silence, and learn all you can.

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The Climate Scandal That Wasn’t

i-9cb1dad898ac903573f92e4f175e89a5-climebuzz.jpgLast week, hackers pulled a data heist on the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, releasing thousands of stolen documents and emails that purportedly exposed a scientific conspiracy to fabricate evidence of global warming. Climate change skeptics dug into the data with forks and knives, choosing the choicest morsels as evidence of fraud. But ScienceBloggers are unimpressed by the stunt. On A Few Things Ill Considered, Coby Beck places tongue in cheek, rejoicing that the Greenland ice sheet is now refreezing. On Deltoid, Tim Lambert reports that NASA is being sued by the Competitive Enterprise Institute for scientist Gavin Schmidt’s activities on the RealClimate blog, where he “makes it perfectly clear that the claims of scientific malpractice are without foundation.” On Stoat, William M. Connolley debunks some of the supposed instances of hanky-panky, writing that “everyone with any sense seems to have got the right answer by now.” James Hrynyshyn on The Island of Doubt calls the stolen data “just plain banal” and “bereft of the context required to understand them in any meaningful way.” Hrynyshyn also presents some new projections from The Copenhagen Diagnosis, which show that global carbon dioxide emissions were 40% higher in 2008 than in 1990, and that by 2100, sea levels may rise by as much as two meters.

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House Passes Health Care Bill

i-a74d1fb7c0344a4332446d69d44d2924-health.jpgAfter hours of deliberation late into Saturday night, the US House of Representatives passed the long-awaited health care reform bill. While many Americans are elated at the new bill’s passing, others are questioning the controversial amendment added that prohibits insurance coverage for abortions. Ed Brayton from Dispatches from the Culture Wars examines the compromise many Democratic Representatives made with Catholic bishops local to their constituencies in adding this amendment. Later on, Ed also criticizes what he calls “unruly behavior” exhibited by some House Republicans to delay the passing of the bill. On Effect Measure, Revere expressed disappointment and outrage at what he calls a “neutered industry-friendly cup of weak tea with a Draconian anti-choice amendment,” emphatically stating, “a woman’s right to choose is not negotiable.”

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