Sunday, August 09, 2009

2348 B.C.

The biologist PZ MEyers, (in)famous for his "New Atheist" blog Pharyngula, was part of a group from the Secular Students Alliance who visited the Creationist "Museum" in Kentucky. I will leave you to read about the experience on his blog, but I was struck by something Myers describes as "A little taste of strangeness": All ofthe dinosaur exhibits carry geological strata information on the fossils (Jurassic, Upper Cretatous, etc) but all of the fossils are listed as dating from "~2348 B.C."

Why 2348 B.C.? Well, just do a quick Google search. You will see that it is the date of the Great Flood, according to Bishop Ussher's dating system, which he published between 1642 and 1644. You will also see that the Internet is chockablock with Fundmentalist crap that carries that dating system - books, wall posters, websites, materials for home schooling, etc.

Just out of curiosity, what do we know of the world of 2348 B.C., when our Conservative Christian friends tell us the population of the earth was wiped out, with only 8 survivors? Here is what Wikipedia has:
Under "Significant Persons" -
Boy, those Egyptians and Sumerians came back in a hurry, especially considering Noah and his crew were on a mountain side in Armenia just 35 years before Pepi II takes the throne! And what about those Chinese, maintaining records despite the worldwide flood? However, to be fair there is a flood mentioned as occurring in the time of Emperor Yao. Probably there was a devastating flood during this period, or a few generations previously, the memory of which was handed down trough oral tradition and embroidered until it became the Great Flood of the Bible, along with several other similar legends. But no, the human population was not entirely wiped out in 2348 B.C., and neither were those poor dinosaurs.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Advice on writing research articles

Andrew Gelman has a good article called Advice on writing research articles - Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.

I am thinking about printing this out and giving it to my graduate (and maybe undergraduate) students. Here are his main items:

1. Start with the conclusions. Write a couple pages on what you've found and what you recommend. In writing these conclusions, you should also be writing some of the introduction, in that you'll need to give enough background so that general readers can understand what you're talking about and why they should care. But you want to start with the conclusions, because that will determine what sort of background information you'll need to give.

2. Now step back. What is the principal evidence for your conclusions? Make some graphs and pull out some key numbers that represent your research findings which back up your claims.

3. Back one more step, now. What are the methods and data you used to obtain your research findings.

4. Now go back and write the literature review and the introduction.

5. Moving forward one last time: go to your results and conclusions and give alternative explanations. Why might you be wrong? What are the limits of applicability of your findings? What future research would be appropriate to follow up on these loose ends?

6. Write the abstract. An easy way to start is to take the first sentence from each of the first five paragraphs of the article. This probably won't be quite right, but I bet it will be close to what you need.

7. Give the article to a friend, ask him or her to spend 15 minutes looking at it, then ask what they think your message was, and what evidence you have for it. Your friend should read the article as a potential consumer, not as a critic. You can find typos on your own time, but you need somebody else's eyes to get a sense of the message you're sending.