From Science

SSS Fight 13: Stigler’s Law


“Eponymy in science is the practice of affixing the names of scientists to what they have discovered or are believed to have discovered,’ as with Boyle’s Law, Halley’s comet, Fourier’s transform, Planck’s constant, the Rorschach test, the Gini coefficient, and the Thomas theorem”
–Richard K Merton, “The Thomas Theorem and The Matthew Effect”

There are a lot of scientific theories and discoveries that are named after the scientists that found them, too bad a lot of them did not deserve it.

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Talking About Mengele's Skull

(via Richard Helmer)


What you see is from an article over at Cabinet Magazine about the identification of Josef Mengele, Nazi Experimentalist, from his skeleton found in Brazil in 1985. It is a moving story of how science allowed the positive identification of one of the world’s most horrendous war criminals, and how science allowed many people’s minds, who had been scared that the skeleton was a fake, to be put to rest. It is also happens to be the story of the real beginning of the age of forensic science in criminal investigation and trials. Without the methods and techniques used, and explained cogently to the public, for this investigation forensic science would not be what it is today.

From the article:

Clyde Snow speaks of bones in a rather flamboyant manner. In the manner of a rhetorician employing the trope of prosopopoeia—the figure that artificially endows inanimate objects with a voice—he refers to skeletons as if they were both alive and speaking, and gifted with a special capacity for truthfulness: “Bones make good witnesses. Although they speak softly, they never lie and they never forget.”24






Using tables and formulas he had developed of the topography of skulls based on work with hundreds of them, Helmer enhanced the skull to add the thickness and shape of the face which had disappeared with death. Using thirty separate pins, each secured with clay to the surface of the skull and tipped with a white marker at the point where the skin would have been, he recreated the missing contours. This allowed him to compare the skull and the photographs “to the closest millimeter.”26

As Joyce and Stover tell the story, the pin-studded skull and the photos were then displayed side-by-side in front of

two high-resolution video cameras




Having satisfied himself, Helmer presented the work to his colleagues. “The pin-cushion skull came into focus on the television monitor with the photo superimposed onto it. The sight was unnerving. It took a moment for the eye and brain to process the peculiar image. They were seeing a human as no one in life could, as if the skin were a ghostly film.”28 The match was perfect. It was the image that would convince the public, a photograph wrapped over an object, an image of life over an image of death.29

[Original link via Radiolab]

If The Story is Good Enough They Will ALL Listen

One of the main reasons I got into podcasting was because I was interested in the stories behind mathematics. I have approached this in a few different ways with the podcasts. With Combinations and Permutations we cover a specific topic and in between the tangential conversational strands and crazy non sequiturs I try to make sure that the story of the topic, be it a mathematician, a problem, or a discipline, comes out. With Strongly Connected Components I am more than anything else there to find out the story of the person I am interviewing , the story of why they do and the story of what they do. The story has been the most important way of making humans understand the world around them for the longest time and I think it may be the way to once again make people engage with the sciences and mathematics, if we can make our story interesting enough people will pay attention again and, not only that, they will want to understand. I am not the only person who thinks this thankfully; Randy Olson, in The Scientist, recently wrote an article entitled Tell Me A Story of Science discussing this very topic. From the article:

But maybe you’ll say, “Storytelling is just for fiction.” Sorry, but that’s not true. This is a shortcoming of today’s science education—the failure to make scientists realize they are storytellers, every bit as much as novelists. They just don’t like to admit it, or really even think about it. They tend to think stories mean Star Wars and Harry Potter. The truth is, stories are as equally important in nonfiction as fiction. They are the way we understand our world.

4 Billion Dolalrs for Math and Science, I say Yes Please

There is more information available for the Obama Administrations “Race to the Top” to help better fund math and science education. The real kicker to this information is a pledge of over 4 billion dollars for this boost to math and science education. The money alone will not be enough but if used correctly and applied in inspired ways it really could help the USA regain some of its lost standing as an innovator and creator of science. From a ComputerWorld article on the “Race to the Top”:

Obama is seeking to improve math and science education through a number of initiatives, the largest of which is a $4.35 billion for the “Race to the Top” fund announced this month.

The money, which comes from the $787 billion stimulus, is designed to create incentives for schools that develop science, technology, and engineering and mathematics programs, known collectively as STEM subjects.

Among the things the White House will do to encourage students is to hold an annual science fair that will bring together winners of science fair contest nationally. Obama said students who design the best experiment, hardware or software deserve the same recognition that athletes receive. (ComputerWorld via IntMath)