Art ~ Thorns detail

Discussion: The Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of the Crowds: Ask enough people to estimate something, and the average of their guesses will get you surprisingly close to the right answer.

Well, that clip reminds me of my daughter's fourth grade science fair project - the effect of various chemicals on philodendrons. There were potted plants all over our house, with carefully delivered doses of good stuff/bad stuff, and a notebook to record everything. But the point, for her, was the graphical display, with drawings of smiling leaves in cheery pots and a catchy poem, 'Fifty Ways to Love Your Philly', set to Simon's music...

Now there's science for those of us who aren't scientists!

For me, the most interesting thing - aside from the catchy ditty - is the way that crowd accuracy does require some knowledge. As in the interview with the author, a group of kindergartners questioned about the President's salary, or a group of random people questioned about something requiring extreme expertise (as I would suggest is the case in judicial appointments, too, which I personally would consider an area of expertise, despite politicization) - might not be able to come up with the answer.

But this does remind me of two things - that I really don't know much about statistics, and it's a good thing to read about in an elementary kind of way, and that it's probably a good idea to bat things around with friends/family, while maintaining the individuality to make the ultimate call.

Discussion topic: The Wisdom of Crowds

It's a nutty time of year, with school starting and summer wrapping up, so here's a kind of light topic that might be fun.

Last winter one of my study groups took a look at The Wisdom of Crowds, and I *think* that this episode might summarize the book. It was interesting to me because of the reference to the Iowa Electronic Markets election exchange, which I've been watching re the US prez election, and because of the 'norms/answers' that crowds seemed to be able to find. Group mind? So, I'd like to watch this episode, and to think about how crowd dynamics might work in our lives and also here on lj - and also to remind myself that sometimes it really does help to consult others, and recognize that I'm not an island... nor queen of the world. *sigh*

Take a look - it's only 4 minutes - and we'll start talking this weekend.

The Wisdom of the Crowds: Ask enough people to estimate something, and the average of their guesses will get you surprisingly close to the right answer.

Who's on Second?

It's already Thursday, and we need another intriguing topic to watch and discuss.

First one who jumps in and claims gets to choose and start off/lead the discussion for the next week! What say you?
Art ~ Thorns detail

Discussion: Profile - Bonnie Bassler and bacterial quorums

Our first discussion choice is from a profile of bacteriologist Bonnie Basler.

My internet and cable tv have been out/wonky since Friday (who knew there was snow now in Beijing?), so I just watched the ep about an hour ago.

And yes, it does spin me thinking, mostly wondering right now. Bacteriology is not a field I know much about (hence, the desire to watch these NOVA eps and learn more about lots of things I don't know much about), but I do have lots of questions about the extent to which one can relate what's going on in bacteria to the basic forces that operate in other living creatures - togetherness, individuation, stress management, generational transmission of stress responses... The Bowen systems theory that I study would suggest that similar forces and responses to stress operate in all living creatures, whether a hive mind or an individual human.

Dr. Bassler's research is fascinating to me - communication seems to be a survival advantage, and a 'critical' mass of individual bacteria makes it more likely that their behaviors won't be squelched. Do these glowing ones glow individually, or only glow when there are enough of them that their 'glow receptors' are filled - does that mean that it's good for the group to glow, and bad for an individual? Practical application of interspecies or intraspecies 'quorum' behavior, of being able to disrupt the bacterial organization, perhaps before the bacteria reach a damaging level, are very intriguing. Don't destroy them - which can be harmful for the host, or perhaps requires a level that is already intrinsically damaging to the host - but instead, don't let them form a grass roots organization.

I was also struck by Dr. Bassler's demeanor - a far cry from a dried up fuddy duddy scientist, and instead, a woman who clearly is doing something that she loves. Go, her - and so she did, in the face of the odds of conventional wisdom.

semyaza linked (in the preceding post) to an interesting article about plant communication, suggesting that many species can communicate to share an alarm ('eavesdropping'), to signal an increased or special response level to something environmental or predatory... perhaps like some animals whose reproduction is tied to environmental factors. (ie. drought/wet season) (I especially enjoyed one of the final notes there, that some gardeners - though not this newbie - understand that some plants are beneficial together. The ways of the world, the subject of scientific study, are not impossible for us to glimpse intuitively, and then to explore more deeply. Observation, observation...

One more thought - this segment seemed to me to have a strong 'no man/bacteria is an island' aspect. Bacteria, pack animals, people - seem to do better with some connections and communication. We've talked a lot in my household about 'Into the Wild' and how if Chris McCandless had let even one person know where he was, his potential for survival - and his survival in fact - would have been so greatly enhanced. He knew what he was doing, was competent, but with another mind, even another awareness, the risk level of making a mistake, as he did, can be ameliorated.

Well - what say you, guys? Thoughts, science, ramblings?
Art ~ Thorns detail

Welcome to NOVA/scienceNOW

This is a book club type community for watching and discussing features from the excellent PBS series NOVA/scienceNOW, available in streaming vid at Past Stories.

Each Thursday a different member chooses a topic, posts the link and intro and then leads our discussion, starting on the weekend.

You don't have to be a scientist - just a curious learner who wants to explore the world and talk about our discoveries!
Art ~ Thorns detail

Bacterial Quorums

It's Thursday - and we might as well jump right in. I'll start! Last night D saw an ep featuring a woman who'd been castigated and scorned when she noted that bacteria seem to communicate when they reach a quorum. I was looking for this (and a Maya ep) when I discovered the online treasure trove which inspired the community, and I'm going to be watching both asap.

Take a look, and we'll start talking about it here this weekend.

Profile: Bonnie Bassler. Her insight into how bacteria "talk" has launched a revolution in biological and medical research.

I'm curious about how she made her way past the difficulties in the community, how one stands fast in the face of conventional wisdom - and also, about whether this will say anything about the way that plants communicate. I remember a recent article, which I'll try to find and link, about plants seeming to communicate the need to produce a certain chemical that was an effective response to something that ate them - not a natural selection thing, but plant to plant.