Thursday, March 5, 2015

Walkabout Wednesday: I mean Thursday!

I'm a bit late this week. A busy couple of weeks of talks on the road, and a couple days of illness to seal the deal. All's good now!

My Health

I hate stretching, so the idea that it might not be helpful for workouts was good news. I'm still going to do it though, because I really like the flexibility I'm achieving after doing yoga for ~5 years. 

I've seen a 'meme' that said there are too many people counting calories and not enough people counting chemicals. Here is a reason to worry about some more widespread chemicals. What is also interesting to me is the mechanism: emulsifiers disturb the community of bacteria in your gut leading to increased inflammation. Those bugs are more important than you think! But, experiment done in mice, so don't panic yet.

In the gluten department, another small sample, short duration, double blind placebo controlled diet study found that gluten DOES affect a range of "intestinal and extra-intestinal symptoms". 2 studies for, one study against, so, hmm. Hard to say, but these sorts of self reported symptoms are going to be very variable, so hard to detect small effects. 4.4 g/day is about as much wheat protein as you'd find in a packet of ramen noodles, so a pretty small dose.

Eating meat = increased risk of cancer! Or does it? There are correlations between meat eating and death, but correlation does not equal causation, as this article nicely points out.

It turns out that our paleolithic ancestors may have eaten wheat before they farmed it. That's a pretty cool demonstration of the reach of trading networks in pre-historical days. However, even if it pushes the date of using wheat back a couple thousand years for that particular population it isn't really changing the perspective that our physiology had a much longer period of adaptation to a diet without wheat. Once again, anthropology proves that Homo sapiens sapiens will eat whatever the h*** they can get their hands on. Much like deer, come to think of it.

And as long as we're talking about wheat, Jason Fung posted a new article about modern wheat and how it differs from what those Britons were eating 10,000 years ago. The short answer is, it produces way more and is way less healthy. Surprise! Profits again.

Your Education

Nature has a new "statistics for biologists" collection -- all the articles, editorials, comments, news & views etc they've ever published on the topic in one place. It's a pretty cool resource. I haven't finished rooting around in it yet, but I liked this quote from the 2nd piece by David Vaux:
... there would be fewer sloppy papers if every author, reviewer and editor understood statistical concepts such as standard deviation, standard error of the mean (s.e.m.), sampling error and the difference between replicate and independent data.

Yes! Finally, independent confirmation of my decision to focus on just those things as the essential take-away statistics skills for my undergraduates. Yes, it's a low bar.

I'm really lousy at field ecology, but SOMEONE has to collect the data. Ideally, they know what species they're looking at, but increasingly that's not the case. The article is from the UK, but the same trends are present here and probably everywhere.

I may have just read the best ever application of network analysis. Essentially they used data on where faculty at different universities did their doctorates, and then used the resulting network (universities as nodes and individuals as edges) to identify a ranking of American research universities based on who hires whose PhD's as faculty. Way cool. Why does this matter for your education? Well, if you're a PhD student interested in an academic career, where your university falls on this ranking dramatically affects where you might get a job. Only 9 to 14% of faculty get jobs above the level of their doctorate. They don't say where UNL falls, but it isn't in the top 60 in the three disciplines they checked, business, history, and computing science.

Couple the above observation with the increasing glut of PhDs in temporary teaching and research positions, and it's worth asking why anyone would want to do a PhD. (cool PhD comics in that blog post, btw). I've decided not to supervise PhD's any more for these reasons, among others related to funding structures in my unit and the kind of qualifications I can give people. In any case I've got my hands full teaching other people's students how to do statistics.

Our environment

One of my pet peeves is public support for building in floodplains and on coastlines. This is a great picture of why its a bad idea. We should stop subsidizing this activity sooner rather than later. 


  1. Great wrap-up as always, Drew. I'm not sure if the problem is at my end or yours, but most of your text from "In the gluten department, ..." to "2nd piece by Dave Vaux" is in an unreadable colour on my screen, though I can access it by highlighting it.

    You no longer supervise PhDs?! I'd be very interested in reading a longer post about this, if you're up for writing it.

  2. Thanks! Error was on my end, rogue HTML code from copying a quote, should be fixed now.

    I am thinking about expanding on that comment, as it seems to have attracted some attention ...