vrijdag 23 mei 2014

Why Balkan Priests Need Some Basic Statistics

A reflection on statistics and the ignorance of Balkan priests

One of the first lessons you learn in a basic statistics course is that "a correlation is not necessary a causation". When you find a significant relationship between two variables, it does not automatically entail that there is a causal connection between the two. For instance, researchers found a significant relation between the number of storks nesting in the city and the number of babies born in the city. Is this evidence for the Stork Theory? Do storks deliver babies? Not really, a third variable caused the seeming relation between storks and nests. It turned out that the city under investigation (Copenhagen, Denmark) expanded which resulted in more nesting places for the storks and more people (and babies) in the city.

Now why this statistical lesson? It seems that religious leaders in the Balkan have not quite grasped the concepts of correlation and causation which I just illustrated. Several church leaders have claimed that the recent floods in the Balkan where a "divine punishment" for the Eurovision contest victory of Conchita Wurst. One of the leaders, Patriarch Amfilohije, said that "God sent the rains as a reminder that people should not join the wild side." So, these priests see a direct causation between the floods and the victory of Conchita Wurst? I guess basic statistics (let alone science) is part of the religious education of these priests...

woensdag 7 mei 2014

Species Spotlight: Pheasant-tailed Jacana

The bird in this Species Spotlight wasn't really selected at random. I came across its generic name (Hydrophasianus) during my work. It means "water pheasant", so I was curious to see what this birds looks like. And it turns out to be a beauty!

So, here is the Pheasant-tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus)!

As you can derive from its name, this bird belongs to the Jacana-family. These waterbirds are quite special because of their breeding system, in which a female has multiple males (polyandry).

vrijdag 2 mei 2014

Hanging the Monkey

A reflection on the monkey hangers of Hartlepool

While reading the book The Accidental Species by Henry Gee, I came across an interesting story. During the Napoleonic wars, a French ship was wrecked of the coast of Hartlepool. The only survivor was a monkey, supposedly wearing a French uniform as amusement for the crew. The people of Hartlepool captured the monkey and held a trial on the beach. They had never seen a Frenchman or a monkey, and because the monkey was unable to answer any of their questions, he was seen as a French spy. The animal was being found guilty, sentenced to death and hanged on the beach.

Drawing of the Hartlepool Monkey

An alternative theory is that it was not a monkey, but a young boy. In those times the term powder-monkey was used for children on warships that prepared the cannons with gunpowder.