Lies, damned lies, and public trust

When I was a child, my grandfather blew my mind with a bit of basic probability and statistics. If you play the lottery, he explained, you might as well just play the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Your chance of winning will be exactly the same as with any other particular combination of numbers. I was astonished and incredulous at first, but then I thought it through, and had to admit, of course, that he was right.

Now, years later, I am not so sure anymore.

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A thousand private Brexits

So, last week, the citizens of the UK voted in favour of Brexit. This is bound to have far-reaching and long-term consequences, but at the moment, it is very hard to see what will happen and even what will happen next. Will there be another referendum about Brexit? Should there be? While the country debates the possibility of another vote, in a way it is already happening. Around the country, thousands of people are facing a second Brexit referendum of their own: Should we stay or should we go?

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Extracurricular Failures

Years ago, I wrote a little column about how in academia, we tend to speak only about our successes and remain very silent about our failures, and I suggested that people compile and publish their “CV of Failures”. I was delighted to see the idea taken up by Princeton Professor Johannes Haushofer, who published his CV of failures and thereby sparked a discussion on the topic on social media.

For myself, I haven’t been brave enough to publish my own CV of Failures, but I thought I could make a start by compiling the “Extracurricular Activities” section of it. Or at least, the top five.

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The Invisible Woman

It’s International Women’s Day, and like on so many other days, I have been thinking about superpowers (one of my favourite topics). In particular, about invisibility. Because it can be an awesome superpower, and it can also be devastating, and all this has a lot to do with women in science. But let me explain.  Continue reading

What’s in a name?

When I was a postdoc, my university had a biology reading course for undergraduates. It was structured as a small seminar, and any postdoc or faculty member could choose a topic and lead a discussion group, provided enough students showed up. Excited, I wrote up a proposal on one of my favourite topics and handed it in. Time passed. Zero undergraduates signed up. Zero. I talked to the professor overseeing the course about possible reasons. “Maybe,” she said, “you should have chosen a sexier title.” I was astonished. How is “Computational Models in Biology and Biochemistry” not sexy enough?

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For the sake of honour

Last month my Alma Mater, the University of Salzburg in Austria did something remarkable: They revoked the Honorary Doctorate they had awarded to Konrad Lorenz in 1983.

For those who don’t  know, Konrad Lorenz was a scientist who studied animal behaviour, especially in greylag geese. He is particularly famous for studying how their young form attachments to the first moving thing they encounter in their lives. This is why you will find a lot  of pictures of Lorenz followed around by a gaggle of adorable goslings.

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