vaguely philosophical

Un succès mondial qui dure: l’école prussienne

Et qui sert-elle?   L’école primaire obligatoire telle que nous la connaissons s’est mise en place petit à petit depuis la fin du 18ème siècle. Elle est souvent l’oeuvre d’éducateurs, philosophes et théoriciens allemands plus ou moins idéalistes, plus ou moins influencés par les idéaux de la révolution française et soutenus par les monarchies au…

Troubles du Déficit de l’Attention: les chasseurs sont parmi nous

Les hyperactifs sont-ils les derniers chasseurs-cueilleurs?Les TDAH, Troubles du Déficit de l’Attention (avec ou sans hyperactivité, aussi ATDH) sont en augmentation constante dans notre societé et touchent actuellement près de 5 % des enfants dans les pays occidentaux (Note 1). Environ environ 50 % des personnes concernées sont porteuses d’un gène spécifique ; chez les autres, les TDAH…

Why are US presidents taller than ordinary Americans?

From George Washington to Barack Obama, US presidents have been 6 to 8 cm taller than average AmericansMany websites, including Wikipedia, compare the height of US presidents with their main contenders and find that, in most cases, the elected president is the taller of the two. This post takes the observation a bit further –…

Je suis Charlie. OK, mais qui suis-je, au juste?

Il y a d’une part, des terroristes, et de l’autre, des récupérateurs. Pour les terroristes, Mélenchon a raison: leur combat n’est pas religieux, est politique. La cible du combat à mener n’est pas le terrorisme mais l’obscurantisme. Qui sont les récupérateurs? La grande manifestation de tous les Français (mon oeil!) , avec quelques personnages répugnants…

NSA 62nd anniversary

The National Security Agency (NSA) was established at the beginning of November 1952 (on the 4th of November, to be precise) . Join me in congratulating them on the occasion of their 62nd anniversary. Do you believe in coincidences? Many things happened on a 4th of November! In 1791, the Western Confederacy of American Indians won a major…

The three rules of crop yield forecasting

When they have been in a business long enough, “experts” often develop a gusto for the more philosophical side of their trade, and crop forecasters are no exception. Strictly speaking, the philosophical aspects are not needed to build a forecasting method. They are, nevertheless, very useful to avoid naive errors that can result from applying technical methods without paying too much…

Global food supply trends in 2014, and beyond!

This post analyses the trends of yield, area, and production in the 31 countries that together make up 80 percent of the world supply of maize, rice, wheat, and soybean. These 31 countries (actually 30 + 1, where 1 stands for China) which are the key focus of CropWatch analyses, also provide 80 percent of…

Statistical Vs. agronomic significance in crop monitoring and forecasting

We all develop rules of thumb that help us make operational decisions. One of my personal rules is that “agronomic significance” comes before “statistical significance”. For instance, when assessing regression coefficients, I would discard some of them regardless of their statistical significance if they don’t make agronomic sense. An example would be a negative relation…

The return of the overbite

By Anna-Giulia, Eric, Jacques and Wergosum [First published on 20130217; updated 20130328] The idea for this note started with an email from Eric, where he expressed his surprise, and his disagreement, with a post in  The Atlantic about How Forks Gave Us Overbites and Pots Saved the Toothless: “They say that in the tombs dating…

Mixing time series and cross-sectional data

As I was updating a couple of things in another corner of this blog,  I stumbled upon of  a passage in a recent book by Nate Silver (2012) that has a lot of relevance for crop forecasters. It is relevant to two different but related subjects: (1) averaging different forecasts and (2) mixing cross-sectional data…

The risky business of forecasting

Forecasting the future is a difficult task, as there are many more ways to be wrong than right! In addition, a forecast is not just a statement about what might happen, it is also embedded in a context that may be as relevant as the forecast itself when it comes to assessing its credibility and…

God(s) explained, somehow!

(Published 20100908 / Last updated 20121019) — As a student, I read  an article by Rappaport (The sacred in human evolution, 1971) which impressed me a lot. While  maintaining a latent interest in the subject, I have never really given it much thought since the seventies, beyond holding the opinion that religion originated because it…

The cost of hunger and malnutrition

Malnutrition remains the world’s most serious health problem and the single biggest contributor to child mortality. Nearly one-third of children in the developing world are either underweight or stunted, and more than 30 percent of the developing world’s population suffers from micronutrient deficiencies (WB 2006, introduction.) Needless to say, many authors, summits and international declarations…

Naming the invisible

Published 20091223/Last updated 20131218 with the quote from Stefan Zweig under “additional information.” … as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name.    —SHAKESPEARE, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.i.14–17  (taken from Johnson’s Where good ideas come from) Here…

Pseudo-ethnicity and neo-dogmatism

First posted on 20111027. Updated 20120214. French version: click here An interesting controversy has been going on for a couple of days in the quiet circles of anthropology. What started it all is an article on the site of  NatureNews about the genetics of populations descended from the Taínos, the autochtonous population of the Caribbean…

News from the future

Version française, cliquez ici. After “The risky business of forecasting“, which focused on  natural disasters, here is a note that looks more closely at the broader picture of our societies. It reviews different articles that have recently shown some skill in forcasting the future. The first comprises of simple power law equations the coefficients of…

Eurobabel

This post is about the use of languages in the European Commision (EC) and the  European Union (EU). There are at present twenty-two languages, which are designated in the EC documents and websites by their two letter ISO code: EN, FR, BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL,…

Are neutrinos faster than thought?

The Super Proton Synchroton (SPS) at CERN  (European Organization for Nuclear Research) is a  very large “machine” (a tunnel, about 7 km in diameter) located on the Swiss-French border near Geneva. Particles turn in cercles in the tunnel while being continuously accelerated, until they reach large speeds, after which they are usually smashed into some…

Climate-crop impacts: some data issues

1. Introduction (*) Crop-climate interactions are of relevance for a number of applications, in food security, crop insurance, market planning and climate change impact assessments. All these fields have an interest in crop modelling and forecasting. The interest of forecasting goes beyond the immediate subjects discussed here, as all science is somehow about “forecasting”, i.e.…

The mandate of humanity

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” From the book of Genesis 1:28 Great programme, Lord! I am pleased to inform you…

How difficult it is to be a climatologist…

Just  before COP-15 took place in Copenhagen in December 2009, unknow people broke into the computers of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia and stole email correspondence of Prof. Jones, a major figure in the IPCC.  The issue received wide media coverage and was eventually referred to as Climategate. The…

Tout Service chez nous et disponible

J’ai recu par email, il y a déjà quelque temps, cette publicité du “mage” marocain Lafkih Sheikh Rohani Zarouk. On a l’impression que ce texte a été traduit de l’arabe par un programme. J’aime beaucoup ce texte pour son côté poétique, et pour son titre. Le fait que certains passages soient incompréhensibles ne nuit pas…

Einstein on crises

Below is a text by Einstein, which I got somewhere on the web. I like it because I have always considered that crises are opportunities to change directions. As Le Chatelier had observed, chemical systems tend to resist changes. While we are certainly complex chemical systems, humans are no exception: we just hate changes (e.g.…