Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Birth of the Sun!

by Chris Masterjohn

In 46 BC, Julius Caeser reformed the Roman Calendar, making December 25 the date of the winter solstice.  In the northern hemisphere, this day marks the progressive increase in the length of days, and thus marks an annual celebration of light coming into the world.

Friday, December 16, 2011

When Standing At the Brink of the Abyss, Staring Into the Great Unknown, We Randomize

by Chris Masterjohn

In any experiment, randomization is the central criterion necessary to make an inference about cause and effect.  This is true whether we are studying inanimate objects, isolated proteins, cells, animals, or people.  

Randomization helps us remove the influence of both known and unknown confounders.  The ultimate confounders are choice and the passage of timePeople (or animals) who choose one thing may be constitutionally different in myriad known and unknown ways from people (or animals) who choose another thing.  As a result, "self-selection" or choice acts as a super-confounder.  The passage of time also acts as a super-confounder because of its association with a near infinitude of both known and unknown time-dependent trends that can irrevocably mangle our interpretation of any observation if they aren't somehow accounted for.  The principle reason that randomization is such a useful tool is that it can account not just for the known confounders but even for those unknown.

The Great Unknown

There is unfortunately no way to quantify how much we don't know, but humility, wisdom, and scientific caution all require us to assume that the unknown is likely to vastly exceed the known in breadth, depth, and importance.  We can imagine that the total pool of truth looks something like this: