Science and Technology links (October 27th, 2017)

A well-known tech company, Snapchat, has posted some art pieces throughout the world as augmented reality artifacts. You can only see the art through their software using mobile devices.

Older people frequently become frail. They lose so much muscle mass that they have difficulties moving around. There is no medical therapy for this crippling condition right now. Researchers at the University of Miami have completed a stage 2 trial showing that a stem-cell therapy is safe and can significantly reduce frailty.

The famous mathematician Timothy Gowers has written an opinion piece called The end of an error? He suggests that, in many fields, we would be better off ending the practice of formal peer review for research articles. I would add something to Gowers’ excellent piece: if we were to abolish formal peer review, we would probably get fewer papers in many instances because the practice of “counting papers” would make no sense. I am a blogger. Nobody assesses my work as a blogger by how many blog posts I write. That would be stupid because I can easily write 10,000 blog posts per day if I want… We often get a lot of junk because people scoring points merely for publishing papers… make it trivial to publish papers and people will have to compete on quality instead of volume.

Last week, I reported on a New York Times article about a famous researcher called Cuddy who had promoted the idea that “power poses” could change how you think. We now know that the science behind it was wrong and unreproducible. I found it fascinating to re-read a 2014 article from the same New York times:

Ms. Cuddy has more than 20 fieldwork studies and collaborations in development. At the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering, computer scientists at the Game Innovation Lab are developing video games to see if power posing before exams reduces math anxiety. Ms. Cuddy’s team is collaborating with a Tufts Medical School professor to see whether the technique can prevent new surgeons from becoming too anxious and “choking” during ophthalmology procedures. An economist is assessing power posing as a tool to help impoverished women in Nairobi make better financial decisions.

Contrast this with a just-released research article. A randomized controlled study of power posing before public speaking exposure for social anxiety disorder:

No evidence for augmentative effects. (…) Power posing (compared to submissive posing/rest) did not result in changes in testosterone. (…) Power posing (compared to submissive posing/rest) did not result in changes in cortisol or fear during an exposure. (…) Power posing (compared to submissive posing/rest) did not facilitate exposure therapy outcomes for social anxiety disorder.

(Note: as I made clear earlier, I do not expect that Cuddy was dishonest. She probably fooled herself.)

There is some evidence that workers get more creative as they grow older. I certainly know a lot of elderly scholars who are can give younger scholars a run for their money.

Is free-for-the-student higher education a good thing? Maybe not:

Our analysis shows that, since England’s move from a free higher education system to a high-fee, high-aid system, university enrolment has increased substantially.

CAPTCHAs were introduced at the turn of the century to distinguish human beings from automated scripts, in a kind of reverse Turing test where human beings must prove that they are human beings. According to a Science article, the text-based ones have been definitively broken so that machines can pass them.

Our bodies keep track of our age, but we don’t know how exactly. One theory states that the hypothalamus is a central clock. By rejuvenating the hypothalamus of old mice, researchers found that the mice lived longer:

In conclusion, ageing speed is substantially controlled by hypothalamic stem cells, partially through the release of exosomal miRNAs.

Wal-Mart launches shelf-scanning robots in about 40 stores.

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