Proven By Science

Mar 09


FT + Proven By Science4 comments • 353 views

“Twittering” – as Mark pointed out in the pub last week – is how the Romans described the sounds made by ghosts in the classical underworld: spectral interactions, grey and fleeting. The topic had come up after we claimed on air that a percentage of the micro-messages released into the Twitteric aether issued from the dead. We had in mind a phantom undernet of hauntings: the ouija board as the original microblog. The truth of ghost twitters turns out to be more mundane, but just as intriguing in its way.

According to a New York Times article, many of the celebrities who have made Twitter jump into the mainstream are – gasp! – employing ghost writers to compose their 140-character updates. Some are transparent about this – Britney’s vastly popular account is run by Team Britney – others are at least honest: “It’s just like how a designer would work” says Kanye West.


Mar 09

Me Hearties

Blog 7 + FT + Proven By SciencePost a comment • 138 views

As you might or might not know, I have another blog which focuses mostly on market research, social media and speculation about how the two fit together.

I’ve been really enjoying writing for it lately, and I think it’s got rather good. I try to do stuff that’s interesting whether or not you’re in the marketing loop. Some posts, I admit, are craven attempts to write in the punchily stupid style favoured by the modern business dude, but some of them I’m pleased with. Here’s a little digest of the best recent Blackbeard stuff:

Humanists and determinists battle for the soul of research.
The Twitterphant in the room
The “Bulworth Effect” and the limits of representativeness.
What we used to believe vs what we now believe about teh internets (this is part of a series called “Digital Colonists”)

Mar 09

Everything Starts With A Swastika

FT + Proven By Science + The Brown Wedge5 comments • 348 views

I’d like to propose a science historian’s version of Godwin’s Law: a historical conversation is over when a technology gets linked back to the Nazis in an effort to make it sound a bit sinister.

Actually it doesn’t have to be the Nazis. It could be Stalin, or the US military. The basic formula is the same:

“How many of the millions who use [x] every day of their lives realise that its story began in a secret research program in Nazi Germany…”

I spotted this pattern when I saw it three times in a couple of days.


Mar 09

Tweets In The Rear View Mirror May Appear More Numerous Than They Are

Blog 7 + FT + Proven By Science8 comments • 402 views

You may or may not be aware that I’ve been spending a fair bit of time on Twitter lately. This began as a work exercise – “what’s the point of this then?” – but has become something more as my enthusiasm has grown. And as my enthusiasm has grown my participation has grown.

This morning I realised I’d sent six posts to Twitter in an hour. Not many by some standards, but if you’re only following 20 people and one of them is me, it must seem like I’m absolutely caning it.

And that – together with this blog post on the fallacy that number of followers is a measurement of ‘influence’ – got me thinking about how we perceive audiences when writing online.


Mar 09


FT + Proven By Science3 comments • 278 views

Having spent a fair chunk of my blogging time yesterday talking about rating scales, this Financial Times piece came as an eye-opener.

“Practice does not help. Neither, surprisingly, does varying the gaps in the scale: it’s no easier to distinguish five sounds between “very loud” and “very quiet” than between “fairly loud” and “fairly quiet”. Some people have perfect pitch and can transcend these limits when it comes to musical tones, but there seem to be few other exceptions. No wonder so many reviews use a scale of one to five stars.”

If true this would not only explain why so many reviews use a scale of one to five stars, but why – when presented with a wider scale – reviewers tend to cluster in the middle or at one end of it.


Feb 09

Not With Your Gloves Tarquin

FT + Proven By Science2 comments • 182 views

In Crouch End yesterday (this will become important) I saw a small child gleefully playing in the snow after being let out of school. The poor nipper was possibly upset that his primary school had not been closed by an inch of snow, but he was making up for it afterwards by pelting friends and the occasional passer-by with snowballs. I beamed on with thoroughly appropriate adult bonhomie*. Until I saw his friend who was pelting him back using this:

Yes, the Sno-baller (check the Wicked spelling of the device to give it that extra edge of cool).
According to the website where it can be purchased at a pinch for £8.95 for that one day a year IF YOU ARE LUCKY fun, the Sno-baller has all these great features:


Jan 09

BBC Planetomorphosizing Bollocks

FT + Proven By Science1 comment • 224 views

In the old days on FT, when we had a regular science column, we mostly used to post links to the BBC News website and be snarky about their rubbish sicence reporting. WHY DID WE EVER STOP?

Look at the following paragraph regarding the growth of the planet Jupiter taken from the BBC News Science and Environment page (it is bad enough science has to share with environment and is hived off from Technology but…)
“The planet Jupiter must have gained mass fast during its infancy, according to astronomers.”

(I know, to me that’s a sentence but on the Beeb website its a paragraph. In bold.) Anyway that sentence is the justification for the following headline for the article:



Nov 08


FT + Proven By Science + The Brown Wedge//Post a comment • 399 views

Each face is made of approximately 150 million tiny carbon nanotubes

Sep 08

I Know What It Means To Work Hadron Machines

Proven By Science6 comments • 224 views

With so much stuff whizzing around the internets, accelerating barely-humorous* claims of big bangs, and all-devouring black holes zapping around one way, and conspiracy nuts spiralling out of control going the other way and throwing out like actual death threats to physicists, what does the resulting explosion of uninformed daftness tell us about the small-scale fabric of culture itself? Follow the tracks of the memes as they galvanise those around them and work backwards to the source…

Pop cultural candidate #1 has to be Dan Brown’s ‘Angels and Demons’ which features a finished LHC (as did Brown imitating ‘Decipher’ by Stel Pavlou). I have not read it, but it sounds particularly bonkers — I look forward to the forthcoming film. CERN even have a page for A&D fans explaining the reality. But that (appears) to be largely about a large bomb — it’s not the source of end-of-world-ism.

It’s got a sort of negative echo of Y2K about it all — those who know that there is little (i.e nothing) to worry about, are actually going out of their way to stress that this is the case, as it might lose them funding. The Y2K fear and uncertainty was, by contrast, a great source of cash.

It also feels like — finally an end of the world i can relate to! A bang not a whimper! A Statham/Cage blockbuster firecracker of doomscience instead of the media drip-feed namby-pamby melting ice caps and ‘won’t someone think of the polar bears’ editorials. Like boiling frogs, we can only get agitated when the threat is instant but fictional, not incremental and more likely.


Sep 08

Comics as an instructional medium

Proven By Science + The Brown Wedge4 comments • 131 views

I remember talking to comics giant Will Eisner a long time ago (1990 or so, I guess) about his experiences while working for the US army. He would produce instruction materials for soldiers in comic form. Every few years, a new boss decided he didn’t like that medium for such a purpose, and a new study was commissioned to prove that text and illustrations was the better approach – and every time it showed the exact opposite, that in fact comics were the best way to pass on information and instruction.

This point hasn’t been picked up an awful lot, but now we have as high a profile use of that idea as I’ve ever seen. Google has just launched a new browser, which looks pretty impressive. To explain it, they brought in the perfect choice for the job: Scott McCloud (who I happened to cover in the context of his great comic Zot! a few weeks back)(and he even responded!). I assume his Understanding Comics, a comic explanation of the medium, showed them how useful this approach was. He’s produced a lovely, clear and highly readable comic explaining and promoting it, explaining new features and elements of its internal architecture superbly. I have no idea if Chrome is as good as this makes it sound – new computer software is never bug free, and the potential problems from browser bugs can be huge, though it sounds as if they have taken sensible decisions to minimise the hazards – and this isn’t any kind of endorsement of the browser, which I haven’t tried, just an expression of delight that they chose this method, and the perfect person to execute it. I can’t imagine how many people will see this, but I hope it inspires others.