Articles to 2012-07-06

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First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

Witztum et al. is the primary source behind the Bible Code. As far as I can tell it has since been refuted by reproducing similar results from other works of literature. Rips, the main author, is a distinguished mathematician but no statistician. The referees chosen by Statistical Science were though, and they’d have preferred to be able to reject the manuscript but could not find a reason to do so.

While quite interesting if unsurprising in itself, Morgan et al.’s result is completely irrelevant in practice. First their whole measured effect is less than one sigma of the natural background variation, thus any one measurement is diagnostically meaningless. Secondly even a long time series of routine measurements and changes therein means nothing, as long as the drivers of the natural variation aren’t known and controlled for. And thirdly all they examined was the healthy reaction of fully functional body systems to a change in external circumstance. What medicine is interested in is a pathological change in bone buildup. One can’t just assume these changes in bone formation and calcium retention to be entirely quantitative with no qualitative change e.g. in isotope fractionation at all.

Should you inadvertently find yourself in the path of an oncoming high-speed train, don’t be unduly concerned. As Dickerson et al. explain, the change in the train’s momentum will be negligibly small and thus the force too will be far too small to hurt you. When I first saw this result quoted in a daily newspaper I regarded it as a misrepresentation by some clueless journalist, but here it is in black and white in the primary source. I can only hope this is another of those practical jokes physicists keep playing on journal editors.

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