Here’s Why Our Postwar “Long Peace” Is Fragile
Have mechanisms like democratization really fostered an enduring trend of peaceful co-existence, or is this just a statistical fluke—a normal interlude of relative calm before another global-scale conflagration?U.S. Postal Service / National Postal Museum / Bureau of Engraving and Printing / Wikicommons You could be forgiven for balking at the idea that our post-World War […]
The Deceptions of Luck
Nature makes chance, humans make luck.
Why Were the UK Election Polls So Wrong? A Statistical Mystery
Workers count votes at a polling place in Worcester, Mass.SuperStock via Getty Images Last Thursday the UK’s Conservative Party stomped to an electoral victory that fairly shocked the country. The Tories won a comfortable majority of seats in parliament, enabling them to govern the nation without a coalition partner. That result contrasted sharply with the […]
A Computer Program That Hacks Language & Exposes US Secrets
One of the most significant effects of the ongoing NSA surveillance scandal is that it drew so much attention to the massive secret, official world that’s grown up in the US since the 9/11 attacks. These clandestine operations have undergone a dramatic recent expansion, though there is of course a long history of clandestine activity […]
Why Everyone Thinks They’re Safer Than Average
It’s an odd quirk of the human mind that we tend to think we’re less likely to be affected a particular threat—be it the flu, a car accident, or a flood—than anyone else. Like the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average, this is a patent impossibility: Everyone can’t be […]
Science’s Significant Stats Problem
Researchers’ rituals for assessing probability may mislead as much as they enlighten.
Why it’s hard to recognize the unlikely.
The Marvelous, Bad Ideas That Are Worth $Billions
It’s well-known that statistics is a deceptively difficult topic to understand—at least, it’s well-known among people who’ve had some training about those deceptive difficulties. One concept, though, that seems to penetrate the barriers to statistical understanding is the normal distribution, the standard bell curve. Even if people don’t have the mathematical language to describe it, […]
What Earth Tells Us About Life, Intelligence & the Universe
Astrobiology, the study of life on other worlds, is one of the coolest sciences ever. From extremophile bacteria living miles underground and feeding off radioactivity to exoplanetary systems with bizarre head-spinning architectures, astrobiology includes some of the most amazing parts of the natural world. But for some hardened naysayers, Astrobiology’s glamour is tainted by that […]
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. And Death.
If you’ve ridden in a car piloted by a young or inexperienced driver lately, chances are you’ve had an unwelcome epiphany. When driving your own car every day, navigating familiar streets, the vehicle is an extension of your body and your home, a wee castle on wheels that protects you, obeys you, and gets you […]