Archive for January, 2011

Kitchen pantry science – fun experiments to do at home

Several months ago I watched a neat demonstration by kitchen-pantry scientist Liz Heinecke on how to write secret messages.  All you need are cranberries, water, baking soda and some paper as detailed here.  Liz, a mother of three, provides many fun experiments (“simple recipes for real science”) to try at home.  I think it’s a great way to get kids interested in science.  However, be forewarned, she’s got a masters degree in bacteriology so some of her ideas might grow on you. ; )

This reminded me of a parent who worked as a microbiologist for the FDA. She did a show-and-tell for a Cub Scout den that I led 20 years ago.  One of her items collected from FDA was a can of vichyssoise (leek-potato-onion soup traditionally served cold).  It had been tested positive for botulism.  We were told that if opened, this container of bacteria could sicken all of the inhabitants of New York City.  After hearing this, I vowed to always boil canned soup.

Science can be as easy as baking.  I want to encourage parents to open up their kitchen cabinets, stir up some science with their kids, and feed those hungry minds.

— Liz Heinecke, kitchen-pantry scientist


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Statistics-driven scientific methods slammed again

This December 13 article published by The New Yorker adds fuel to fire for deemphasizing significance testing as the criterion for accepting purported advancements in science.  It’s well worth reading for anyone with a stake in statistics, despite raking over the same coals seen in this March 27 Science News article, which I discussed in a previous blog.*

“A lot of extraordinary scientific data are nothing but noise.”

– Jonah Lehrer, author of “The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method”

Evidently much of the bad science stems from “significance-chasers” – those who hunt out findings that pass the generally-accepted p-value of 5% for hypothesis testing.  Unfortunately a statistically-significant outcome from an badly-designed experiment is of no value whatsoever.

PS. I credit blogger William Briggs for bringing this article to my attention.  His attitude is provided succinctly by this assertion: “Scientists are too damn certain of themselves.”

*Misuse of statistics calls into question the credibility of science March 28, 2010.


Favorite posts from three rings in the 2010 carnival of management blogs

For this year’s Annual Management Improvement Blog Carnival, hosted by John Hunter,* I am picking the best posts from three blogs:

  • Seth Godin’s Blog (this fellow is a real character — very stimulating!)
  • Lean is Good (focus on statistical guru W. Edwards Deming appeals to me)
  • Flowing Data (theme is “visualization and statistics”: graphs and numbers — what a wonderful combo!)

See us hosts and the blogs we’ve chosen to review at this site coordinated by John.

Seth Godin has much to offer for entrepreneurs and professional workers trying to contend with this increasingly high-tech world.  This past year Godin published the very timely book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? .  The 2010 blog from Seth Grodin that stands out for me is:

  • The Levy flight, which provides the mathematical-underpinning for foraging behavior by animals and humans – seeking sustenance in the form of food and information; respectively.  Sharks hunt by this random method punctuated by long forays in a particular direction as reported here by Discovery News.  Browsers of internet presumably behave in a similar manner – occasionally delving deeply into a given website.  Knowing this, model-builders can provide more accurate simulations of consumer behavior.  Grodin is astute to recognize this.

My pick from last year’s Lean is Good blog is this one written by Bryan Zeigler:

  • Goalpost Quality – Taguchi Losses and SPC provides a simple, but compelling vision for improving quality – think of your specification range as “V” – not a goal post.  From my years working on manufacturing improvement, I can attest to the corrosive nature of settling for output that squeaks by the customer requirements.

Of the three blogs featured here, my favorite by far is Flowing Data, written by UCLA Statistics graduate student Nathan Yau.  The charts it presents can be truly amazing, such as this one that details the extremely-fascinating 2010 movie Inception.  However, here’s my favorite chart presented by Flowing Data this past year:

  • Where Bars Trump Grocery Stores highlights Wisconsin as the place to party hearty.  Being just over the border in a State that’s bonkers against beer,** I say thank goodness for more liberality about liquor.  The graphic tells the story.

That’s it for this year’s best of the Carnival of management blogs that I sampled.  Take a Levy Flight for yourself and see if you can hunt out one that strikes your fancy.

*For background on John Hunter and his Carnival, see this post from last year

** See this blog by Andrew Zimmern about Stupid Beer Laws in Minnesota

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Smooth sliding for 2011

Here’s  hoping you enjoy smooth sliding in 2011 like I did recently outside my front door.

Happy New Year!

– Mark

PS. Kudos for my daughter Emily for this production.

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