You Are Not So Smart
Humans and other animals

How we naturally think vs. the scientific method

In the most recent You Are Not So Smart podcast, host David McRaney broadcasts a 2014 lecture he gave at DragonCon about ‘just-so stories’, contrasting how we naturally think with the more formal scientific method.

“Throughout all of our history we kept falling into this giant hole of stupid, and the only way we could climb out of that hole was to create a tool by which we could do that climbing. That tool is of course the scientific method. Without it we get into a lot of trouble, because this is the way we naturally think:

“You have a emotion or an intuition and then you form a biased conclusion (I’m sure you’ve seen this on Facebook before). Then you seek supporting evidence through motivated reasoning, you stop when you think you’ve found enough evidence. That’s actually called in psychology the ‘make-sense stopping rule’. You only question the disconfirmatory evidence; everything else passes through. You argue for your conclusion with logical fallacies and then you feel smug. And then you repeat all that if you get challenged and you avoid all challenges.

“The unnatural way we think is that you have an emotion or intuition, but then you form a hypothesis and you have observation and experimentation to see if it confirms your hypothesis. Then you disconfirm it and if you disconfirm it well enough you can let other people replicate what you’ve done then you debate and you argue and everybody gets together and then based off everything you’ve learned you can form a theory and then you can feel smug.”

I’ve been perfectly guilty of this behaviour myself.

See also: How to sound smart in your TEDx talk

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Artist rendering of New Horizon over Pluto

On July 14, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly past Pluto, and we will map that distant world and its moons for the first time.

The New Horizons team plans to assign names to the features on the maps of Pluto and its large moon Charon, once we have seen them in sharp detail this summer.

At the Our Pluto site you can suggest your ideas for names and vote for your favourites. The ballot closes on 7th April 2015, so get in there quickly!

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Shape of things to come

Help name the new places NASA will discover on Pluto and Charon!

At the Our Pluto site you can suggest names for the features that will soon be discovered by NASA’s New Horizons probe.

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William Smith's Geological Map of England and Wales

‘A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales, with part of Scotland; exhibiting the collieries and mines, the marshes and fen lands originally overflowed by the sea, and the varieties of soil according to the variations in the substrata, illustrated by the most descriptive names’

A first edition copy of one of the most significant maps in the history of science has been rediscovered in time for an important anniversary.

Tucked away in a leather sleeve case, the mislaid artefact was last seen roughly 40 or 50 years ago. Smith spent the better part of 15 years collecting the information needed to compile the map. It is said he covered about 10,000 miles a year on foot, on horse and in carriage, cataloguing the locations of all the formations that make up the geology of the three home nations.

The roughly 1.8m by 2.5m map is made up of 15 sheets.

The outline of the geography and the strata were printed from copper plate engravings, but the detail was finished by hand with watercolours.

The lower edge of a formation is saturated and then the paint is made to fade back to the high edge. It is this colouring technique, combined with the tendency of many of England’s rocks to dip to the south or southeast, that gives Smith’s map its iconic look.

Further information

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Craft and creativity

Seminal William ‘Strata’ Smith geology map rediscovered

“This map, produced by William Smith, is acknowledged as the first geological map of a country ever produced. Although there were ‘geological’ maps in existence before this, these invariably only identified rocks by types and are therefore more accurately described as ‘mineralogical’ maps. Smith’s innovation was to attempt to classify rocks according to age and manner of deposition – that is stratigraphically.”

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Britain has a long history of invasions: over the past two millennia, various armies from the Romans to the Anglo-Saxons conquered the bulk of the British Isles. A new genetic analysis of the country has revealed which invading force had the greatest impact on its DNA.
The Verge: Genetic map of the UK shows which invasions created Britain’s DNA

Nature: The results throw new light on several aspects of the peopling of Britain. For instance the genetic contribution to southeastern England from Anglo-Saxon migrations is under half, suggesting significant pre-Roman but post-Mesolithic population movement from the European continent. The data also reveal that non-Saxon regions contain genetically differentiated subgroups rather than a general ‘Celtic’ population.

Humans and other animals

Genetic map of the UK shows which invasions created Britain’s DNA

“Peter Donnelly and colleagues use such data from a selected geographically diverse sample of more than 2,000 individuals from the United Kingdom to reveal remarkable concordance between genetic clusters and geography.” — Nature

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The Wellcome Image Awards 2015: Showcasing the best in science imaging talent and techniques, this year’s Wellcome Image Awards winners include: a scanning electron micrograph of a greenfly’s eye; a clinical photograph of an elderly woman’s curved spine; an illustration of pollen grains; a confocal micrograph showing drug-carrying particles in the lungs of a mouse; and a picture that shows the intricacies of a paediatric multi-sensory unit.

“The breath-taking riches of the imagery that science generates are so important in telling stories about research and helping us to understand often abstract concepts. It’s not just about imaging the very small either. It’s about understanding life, death, sex, and disease: the cornerstones of drama and art.”
Adam Rutherford, scientist and judge for the Wellcome Image Awards

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Light-based media

Wellcome Image Awards 2015: The art behind the science of life, death, sex, and disease

The Wellcome Image Awards showcase the best in science imaging talent and techniques. “This year’s selection of winning images is not only beautiful, they bring to life an incredible array of innovative imaging techniques, and hint at stories and ideas that go beyond the visual.” — Catherine Draycott, head of Wellcome Images

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