Category Archives: Recommended

Recommended: How a Feel-Good AI Story Went Wrong in Flint

Building a great statistical model does no one any good if it doesn’t pay attention to non-statistical issues. This story talks about a machine learning model to identify which houses in Flint Michagan that were the best candidates for removal of lead pipes. The model worked fairly well, but came up against problems like individual city council members wanting to assure their constituents that enough was being done in their district. I’m not sure what the actual moral of this story is, but it does serve as a warning to be careful when you are modeling data in a contentous area. Continue reading

Recommended: Making women in science visible

This video was recommended by my niece, and it caught my eye for a more subtle theme, perhaps. Rachel Ignotofsky is a great believer that illustration makes difficult material more accessible. This supports an idea I’ve had for a while to develop a book of case studies in research ethics using a graphic novel format. Anyway, the video also emphasizes the importance of recognizing barriers of sexism, racism, and classism that many great women scientists have faced and overcome. This video is a fairly easy 15 minutes to listen to. Continue reading

Recommended: Congratulations on the Promotion. But Did Science Get a Demotion?

I am recommending this article, not because I agree with it, but because it reinforces a common theme: the struggle to get and keep funding is skewing research as much as or more than conflicts caused by direct financial support. Like many of the previous articles on the topic, I find this article to be rife with speculation and lacking any empirical data to support the issue. I outlined similar concerns on my website back in 2005. Recently, the belief that obtaining a government grant somehow taints your credibility has led to a purge of good scientists from many EPA advisory panels.

I think this article offers bad advice and bad conclusions. But please read this article and decide for yourself. Continue reading

Recommended: Convert PowerPoint Slides to xaringan (remark.js) Slides

I have been constructing most of my recent presentations to R Markdown. This includes presentations that have little or no R code in them. I like using R Markdown because you are manipulating simple text files. This makes it easy to use version control, among other things.

There’s a new package, which I have not tried yet, that will do a direct translation of a PowerPoint file into R Markdown. It uses a presentation format (xaringan) that I personally do not like, but it should be pretty easy to switch from xaringan to a different format like ioslides. The package owner warns that you will probably have to tweak the resulting R Markdown code to get it perfect, but the package should do “get you about 90% of the way there for about 80% of use cases.” That’s still a huge time savings. Continue reading

Recommended: In UC’s battle with the world’s largest scientific publisher, the future of information is at stake

The University of California (UC) is in the midst of a difficult negotiation with Reed Elsevier, a major publisher of research journals. The dispute relates to the traditional model of publishing where the author writes for a journal for free and the journal sells subscriptions to individuals and libraries. A newer publication model is Open Source, where the author pays a fee to get the article published, and then the article is made available for free to any and all readers. The UC library wants a large reduction in subscription fees and is threatening to cancel the Elsevier subscription and rely solely on open source journals. The issues are complicated and this article lays out both sides carefully. Continue reading

Recommended: Standardized Mortality Ratio

I was at a talk where mortality rates were presented in one column and  the standardized mortality ratio was presented in a different column. I was a bit confused; I could not remember how or why you calculate an SMR. It’s not because SMR calculations are complicated; it’s because my brain can’t remember things as well as it used to. So when I got back to my office, I searched for a web site with a simple tutorial on SMRs with a worked out example. This page popped up right away and I was impressed with the clarity of the writing style. Continue reading