I'd like to introduce you one of the faces of the project: Alex, the genomics rat idol.
Arguably, Alex is the most popular rat on the internet. For the justification of this strong statement, read on.
Alex was born in May 2000. It's well known that a rat's cuteness reaches maximum at about 3-4 weeks. After this critical time, a pet store rat is less likely to be purchased and may be asked to act as snake food. In Alex's case, she was perilously close to her deadline. Luckily for her, we paid a ransom of $6.99 to the Noah's Ark pet shop in Vancouver. She was on her last cute leg.
From May 2000 Alex spent most of her time hoarding food pellets and riding on shoulders.
Alex liked to bite. And rats only bite hard — they don't nibble. Her contention for this unattractive behaviour was the uncanny similarity between a finger and a pellet of food.
Other than unpredictable bouts of biting (by far the most exciting aspect of her personality), Alex lacked other distinguishing characteristics.
Alex died of a seizure in late 2002. She was buried outside of the Museum of Anthropology. A ratty pair of underwear served as a burial shroud.
And I hope you got that last pun.
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Despite my best efforts at meaningful work, this web page continues to be the most popular of all my online offerings, making for a somewhat embarrassing achievement.
Alex's images consistently show up first in Google's web search for 'rat', 'rat image' and image search for 'rat'.
Finally, Alex appears as the first entry in Google images for 'rat'.
Alex's Public Appearances
More recently, she's appeared on the cover of Ethnologie Francaise (Jan-Mar 2009 issue).
The topic of the issue was the relationship between animals and humans. It is fitting therefore to recount here the relationship I shared with Alex during her sojourn with us.
Experimental designs that lack power cannot reliably detect real effects. Power of statistical tests is largely unappreciated and many underpowered studies continue to be published.
This month, Naomi and I explain what power is, how it relates to Type I and Type II errors and sample size. By understanding the relationship between these quantities you can design a study that has both low false positive rate and high power.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2013) Points of Significance: Power and Sample Size Nature Methods 12:1139-1140.
20 Tips for Interpreting Scientific Claims is a wonderful comment in Nature warning us about the limits of evidence.
Sutherland WJ, Spiegelhalter D & Burgman M (2013) Policy: Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims. Nature 503:335–337.
Have you wondered how statistical tests work? Why does everyone want such a small P value?
This month, Naomi and I explain how significance is measured in statistics and remind you that it does not imply biological significance. You'll also learn why the t-distribution is so important and why its shape is similar to that of a normal distribution, but not quite.
Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2013) Points of Significance: Significance, P values and t-tests Nature Methods 11:1041-1042.