Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.
Arthur C. Clarke
When, however, the lay public rallies around an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion — the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.
(reblogged from Futility Closet)
In a paper published last week in PLoS Computational Biology, Sandve, Nekrutenko, Taylor and Hovig highlight the issue of replication across the computational sciences. The dependence on software libraries, APIs and toolchains, coupled with massive amounts of data, interdisciplinary approaches and the increasing complexity of the questions being asked are complicating replication efforts.
To address this, they present ten simple rules for reproducibility of computational research:
Rule 1: For Every Result, Keep Track of How It Was Produced
Rule 2: Avoid Manual Data Manipulation Steps
Rule 3: Archive the Exact Versions of All External Programs Used
Rule 4: Version Control All Custom Scripts
Rule 5: Record All Intermediate Results, When Possible in Standardized Formats
Rule 6: For Analyses That Include Randomness, Note Underlying Random Seeds
Rule 7: Always Store Raw Data behind Plots
Rule 8: Generate Hierarchical Analysis Output, Allowing Layers of Increasing Detail to Be Inspected
Rule 9: Connect Textual Statements to Underlying Results
Rule 10: Provide Public Access to Scripts, Runs, and Results
The rationale underpinning these rules clearly resonates with the work of the Software Sustainability Institute: better science through superior software. Based at the universities of Edinburgh, Manchester, Oxford and Southampton, it is a national facility for cultivating world-class research through software (for example, Software Carpentry). An article that caught my eye in July was the Recomputation Manifesto: computational experiments should be recomputable for all time. In light of the wider open data and open science agenda, should we also be thinking about open software and open computation?
Yesterday I spoke at the 2013 Winchester Science Festival, a fantastic weekend of science communication and science education with some excellent speakers. My talk was entitled “Computing: The Science of Nearly Everything” (slides), which attempted to reset the perception of computer science: highlighting the importance of computer science education (in particular the wide utility of programming) and how modern science and engineering increasingly leverages computation.
Précis: We have seen how computational techniques have moved on from assisting scientists in doing science, to transforming both how science is done and what science is done (also see this Royal Society report). Thus, perhaps we should value the increasingly cross-cutting and interdisciplinary field of computer science, as well as computational literacy from school through to postgraduate research skills training.
Next week I will be speaking at Digital 2013, a headline Welsh Government event highlighting the importance of the ICT sector in Wales. In preparation for the event, I was interviewed to discuss the “Digital 2013 Opportunity“, especially with the ongoing ICT review in Wales, as well as broader science, technology and innovation policy:
If, in some cataclysm, all scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence you will see an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.
The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol. I (1964)
Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers, you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it.
This is not yet a scientific age.
What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988)
Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.
Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
Brian Cox said something similar (even directly referring to Sagan) during his acceptance speech on receiving the Institute of Physics President’s Medal last night.
The key message is: if you’re scientifically literate the world looks very different to you.
I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. [...] I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose.
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999)