Scientists rise up against statistical significance

Finally a positive evolution in the mentality of scientists, towards more openness?

How do statistics so often lead scientists to deny differences that those not educated in statistics can plainly see? For several generations, researchers have been warned that a statistically non-significant result does not ‘prove’ the null hypothesis (the hypothesis that there is no difference between groups or no effect of a treatment on some measured outcome). Nor do statistically significant results ‘prove’ some other hypothesis. Such misconceptions have famously warped the literature with overstated claims and, less famously, led to claims of conflicts between studies where none exists.

Read full article in “Nature

Once more, new evidence about Parkinson and guts

The human body naturally forms a protein called alpha-synuclein which is found, among other places, in the brain in the endings of nerve cells. However, misfolded forms of this protein that clump together are linked to damage to nerve cells, a deterioration of the dopamine system and the development of problems with movement and speech – hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease.

The latest findings, which are based on studies in mice, back up a long-held theory that abnormally folded alpha-synuclein may start off in the gut and then spread to the brain via the vagus nerve – a bundle of fibres that starts in the brainstem and transports signals to and from many of the body’s organs, including the gut.

Full article on the Guardian

 

Cats know their names – but don’t really care!

“Cats are just as good as dogs at learning — they’re just not as keen to show their owners what they’ve learnt,” says John Bradshaw, a biologist at the University of Bristol, UK, who specializes in human–animal interactions.

The study took advantage of a technique known as ‘habituation–dishabituation’, commonly used in animal-behaviour studies. Atsuko Saito, a cognitive biologist at the University of Tokyo, and her colleagues visited 11 households with pet cats (Felis catus) and asked the owner to read a list of four nouns to their pet. These words were of the same length and rhythm as the cat’s name.

Full article on “nature“.

We may finally know what causes Alzheimer’s

 

 

If you bled when you brushed your teeth this morning, you might want to get that seen to. We may finally have found the long-elusive cause of Alzheimer’s disease: Porphyromonas gingivalis, the key bacteria in chronic gum disease.

That’s bad, as gum disease affects around a third of all people. But the good news is that a drug that blocks the main toxins of P. gingivalis is entering major clinical trials this year, and research published today shows it might stop and even reverse Alzheimer’s. There could even be a vaccine.

Read article on newscientist.

 

How do universities prepare for jobs that don’t yet exist?

Universities determine the future: they shape it through their research and prepare students for tomorrow’s jobs. But in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, it’s hard to know what the future will look like. Technological changes such as automation and artificial intelligence are expected to transform the employment landscape. The question is: will our education system keep up?

The answer matters because an estimated 65% of children entering primary schools today will work in jobs and functions that don’t currently exist, according to a recent Universities UK report. The research, which explores the “rapid pace of change and increasing complexity of work”, also warns that the UK isn’t even creating the workers that will be needed for the jobs that can be anticipated. By 2030, it will have a talent deficit of between 600,000 and 1.2 million workers in the financial and business sector, and technology, media and telecommunications sector.

University leaders would be “foolish” not to pay attention, says Lancaster University vice-chancellor Mark E Smith. “We look at the trends in the job market and the skills employers are looking for, and we listen to what employers are saying. We don’t want to be talking about yesterday’s problem.”

Read article on The Guardian.

 

AI – police wants it to stop violent crime before it happens

 

Police in the UK want to predict serious violent crime using artificial intelligence, New Scientist can reveal. The idea is that individuals flagged by the system will be offered interventions, such as counselling, to avert potential criminal behaviour.

However, one of the world’s leading data science institutes has expressed serious concerns about the project after seeing a redacted version of the proposals.

The system, called the National Data Analytics Solution (NDAS), uses a combination of AI and statistics to try to assess the risk of someone committing or becoming a victim of gun or knife crime, as well as the likelihood of someone falling victim to modern slavery.

West Midlands Police is leading the project and has until the end of March 2019 to produce a prototype.

Read article on NewScientist.

 

Prion Seeds Distribute throughout the Eyes of Patients

The findings are the latest to suggest that these universally fatal, if rare, diseases can be spread through the eyes.

We can get sick from prions in a few ways. Sometimes, people are born with mutations passed down in their family that increase the risk of developing a prion disease, including a form of CJD. Most commonly, as with people who have sCJD, the prions show up spontaneously, with the normally harmless prion protein changing into a misfolded form that makes nearby proteins misfold, too. But what’s especially terrifying about prions is that they can also be infectious, capable of spreading from person to person, or even animal to person.

It can take years, even decades, for the symptoms of a prion disease (such as dementia or muscle weakness) to show up, but once they do, it’s usually only a matter of months before death.

Full article here.

 

 

A sociologist becomes a geneticist and changes his mind

 

 

 

Conley describes his early academic work as “lefty sociology.” His Ph.D. thesis was on the black-white wealth gap and he dedicated his early career to studying the transmission of health and wealth between parents and children.

At N.Y.U., Conley kept getting into disagreements with geneticists, arguing that their methods were dangerously naïve. It seemed to him implausible that studying only twins — the gold standard of genetics research — was enough to teach us the difference between nature and nurture. But over time, he decided that it wasn’t enough to just argue.

Conley is an academic, and even within that tortured group he is something of a masochist. At that time he was a tenured professor, the kind of gig most people see as the endgame of an academic career, and yet he decided to go back and grind out another Ph.D., this time in genetics. He went into his program believing that our social environment is largely the cause of our outcomes, and that biology is usually the dependent variable.

By the end of his time, he says, the causal arrow in his mind had pretty much flipped the other way: “I tried to show for a range of outcomes that the genetic models were overstating the impact of genetics because of their crazy assumptions.” He sighs. “But I ended up showing that they’re right.”

Read full article on the New York Times.