latest news

Distractions and amusements, with a sandwich and coffee.

Trance opera—Spente le Stelle
• be dramatic
• more quotes

On March 14th celebrate `\pi` Day. Hug `\pi`—find a way to do it.

For those who favour `\tau=2\pi` will have to postpone celebrations until July 26th. That's what you get for thinking that `\pi` is wrong. I sympathize with this position and have `\tau` day art too!

If you're not into details, you may opt to party on July 22nd, which is `\pi` approximation day (`\pi` ≈ 22/7). It's 20% more accurate that the official `\pi` day!

Finally, if you believe that `\pi = 3`, you should read why `\pi` is not equal to 3.

This year's `\pi` day art collection celebrates not only the digit but also one of the fundamental forces in nature: gravity.

In February of 2016, for the first time, gravitational waves were detected at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

The signal in the detector was sonified—a process by which any data can be encoded into sound to provide hints at patterns and structure that we might otherwise miss—and we finally heard what two black holes sound like. A buzz and chirp.

The art is featured in the Gravity of Pi article on the Scientific American SA Visual blog.

All the art was processed while listening to Roses by Coeur de Pirate, a brilliant female French-Canadian songwriter, who sounds like a mix of Patricia Kaas and Lhasa. The lyrics Oublie-moi (Forget me) are fitting with this year's theme of gravity.

Mais laisse-moi tomber, laisse-nous tomber

Laisse la nuit trembler en moi

Laisse-moi tomber, laisse nous tomber

Cette fois

But let me fall, let us fall

Let the night tremble in me

Let me fall, let us fall

This time

The number `\pi` appears in the fundamental equation of general relativity, which relates gravity (left side) to energy and momentum (right side).

`R_{\mu \nu} - \tfrac{1}{2} Rg_{\mu\nu} = 8 \pi G T_{\mu \nu}`

The reason why `\pi` appears has to do with the need to include the surface area of the sphere, `4 \pi r^2` in the mathematics. This is very nicely described in Sean Carrol's article Einstein and `\pi`.

Let's make the digits of `\pi` into masses, throw them into space, and watch gravity make them collide and orbit each other. Read about the details of the simulation and look at the posters.

As the number of digits is increased, more elaborate patterns arise. Here is one simulation using 100 digits.

How about 1000 digits? In this simulation the masses are similar and they all collide within the circle.

A forest of digits

Celebrate `\pi` Day (March 14th) and finally see the digits through the forest.

This year is full of botanical whimsy. A Lindenmayer system forest – deterministic but always changing. Feel free to stop and pick the flowers from the ground.

And things can get crazy in the forest.

Check out art from previous years: 2013 `\pi` Day and 2014 `\pi` Day, 2015 `\pi` Day, 2016 `\pi` Day, 2017 `\pi` Day, 2018 `\pi` Day and 2019 `\pi` Day.

*All that glitters is not gold. —W. Shakespeare*

The sensitivity and specificity of a test do not necessarily correspond to its error rate. This becomes critically important when testing for a rare condition — a test with 99% sensitivity and specificity has an even chance of being wrong when the condition prevalence is 1%.

We discuss the positive predictive value (PPV) and how practices such as screen can increase it.

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2021) Points of significance: Testing for rare conditions. *Nature Methods* **18**

*We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty! —D. Adams*

A popular notion about experiments is that it's good to keep variability in subjects low to limit the influence of confounding factors. This is called standardization.

Unfortunately, although standardization increases power, it can induce unrealistically low variability and lead to results that do not generalize to the population of interest. And, in fact, may be irreproducible.

Not paying attention to these details and thinking (or hoping) that standardization is always good is the "standardization fallacy". In this column, we look at how standardization can be balanced with heterogenization to avoid this thorny issue.

Voelkl, B., Würbel, H., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2021) Points of significance: Standardization fallacy. *Nature Methods* **18**:5–6.

*Clear, concise, legible and compelling.*

Making a scientific graphical abstract? Refer to my practical design guidelines and redesign examples to improve organization, design and clarity of your graphical abstracts.

An in-depth look at my process of reacting to a bad figure — how I design a poster and tell data stories.

Building on the method I used to analyze the 2008, 2012 and 2016 U.S. Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, I explore word usagein the 2020 Debates between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.