Scientific Sense Podcast

Friday, November 21, 2014

Stochastically Jumping without a clue

Recent research from NYU (1) that apparently demonstrates that the modeling techniques used to forecast stock market fluctuations could be used to predict animal behavior – in this case, movements of zebrafish – ignores many fundamental aspects of modeling. First, unknown to most people in the financial industry, stock market fluctuations cannot be predicted.In spite of the proclamations of a recent Nobel laureate, who claims he could smell a bubble anytime anywhere, he is still to demonstrate a usable prediction ex.ante. And, high flying hedge fund managers, without insider knowledge, could never create alpha – risk adjusted excess returns, systematically. And, second, equating animal behavior modeling to stock market predictions shows a level of incomprehension in both areas.

Stochastic jumps do occur – the problem with such things is that they are not predictable. Perhaps what the NYU team is missing is the right language – the characteristics of the underlying process of the movement of the zebrafish appear to have stochastic jumps in it. But that has nothing to do with stock market modeling – an oxymoron. The reason the zebrafish is jumping stochastically is the same why stock markets do at times – arrival of new information. And, by definition these are not predictable.

As trillion $ slosh around an industry with no value added to society, further research toward predictions of stochastic jumps seems unwarranted.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The scope of ignorance

The scope of space and time appears incomprehensibly large – covered by what is visible to us in a narrow slice, covering 15 billion years and speculated to be at least ten times as large, beyond the horizon. This knowledge, albeit imperfect, has not awakened the intellect of the homo sapiens, most still locked in tactical struggle for basic necessities and the rest, perpetuating ignorance in every action and thought.

The scope of human ignorance is at least as fascinating as the artifacts of space and time. Their arrival on a planet that is impossible to detect in space-time – a completely insignificant event – seem to be of great importance to them.The most ignorant of the lot – the religious – seem to engage in such acts that a child would find objectionable. On the other hand, the intelligentsia, claiming superiority, simply make up stuff, as if they are allowed to do so. The most ignorant believe that color of skin and hair and useless religious beliefs are, somehow important. On the other hand, the intellectuals and academics, having figured everything out, wait in amazement why the world has already ended.

Humans, the most comical construct, will continue their journey to the abyss of ignorance.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Policy by convenience

A recent study from Duke (1) showing that politicians believe or disbelieve in scientific theories, primarily based on their policy orientation, should not come as a surprise to anybody who has been watching the campaigns. This is also the reason that half the country has checked out of the process, with no intent of ever returning. This number will continue to increase as more objective millennials take hold of an archaic system ran by octogenarians. The question is how long it will take to clean up the system currently dominated by a few people, with little understanding of science, technology and accelerating knowledge.

Climate change has been an interesting area of contention, as noted by the Duke study. It appears that politicians with free market based policies tend to disbelieve that it is happening. And those, with a passion for severely regulating everything to save the world, believe the world has already ended. This is an unfortunate side effect. Science and analysis should guide policy as forecasts and expectations are not religious. However, forecasts have significant uncertainty and policy alternatives often present flexibility – both in terms of timing as well as choices. Scientists, heady with data and modern tools, have all but sure that the fate of the blue planet is sealed. However, policy is about trade-offs, something academics do not seem to appreciate well. And, any trade-off decision needs to avoid premature exercise of options based on known (but uncertain) data, when waiting is often optimal for policy actions.

It is a conundrum – we have ignorant politicians attempting policy and dogmatic scientists, crying wolf. Neither is likely to get it right.

(1) Denying problems when we don't like the political solutions. Published: Friday, November 7, 2014 - 04:43 in Psychology & Sociology. eScience

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Awakening by exercise

Exercise has been in the news – as the only non-medical route to avoid diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. It appears to be a good idea, especially in moderate amounts. But a healthy body without a healthy mind is value destroying for the individual and society. Not to be left behind, video games and other mind-exercising technology sites have been gearing up to awaken the little old grey cells. But they all seem to be missing the bigger picture.

The human brain, an energy hog and complex, does not exercise by playing games or solving puzzles on the computer screen. There is a lot of power behind the veil and most often, the organ simply retires to boredom. By feeding it prescriptive education and jobs that take nothing, society has been playing a losing game. The human brain has, substantially detached from the status-quo, for the problems fed to it seem so trivial and irrelevant.

Content, questions with the scope of the universe strategically and the world, more tactically, could possibly awaken the sleeping organ. More importantly, an advancing society could stitch live brains together to rediscover imagination, a feeling that has been dead for long.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

White alpha

A recent study from Michigan State University seems to prove what the Chicago school has been asserting for nearly half a century. Although the study claims to be “first of its kind,” the conclusions have been known to most academics for long. There is no alpha – risk adjusted excess returns – anywhere. And, by implication, a blind man, a high flying hedge fund manager or a super-smart financial advisor has an equal chance of making random alpha in the market.

Mad and fast money experts on financial TV have been perpetuating a farce. The only alpha they make is the money they get paid by the producers of the show. That is indeed, alpha - if they spent that time trading, they would have lost money and alpha, if they knew what that meant. A trillion $ sloshes around the markets – idiots trading back and forth – as if it means something. Then, there are tens of thousand of “financial advisors,” most not qualified to advise anybody and the rest helping to destroy wealth systematically, in fees. The financial services industry destroys wealth to that extent that if the industry is made illegal, the economy will grow by an additional couple of percentage points.

Value is only created by real companies, innovating and creating new products. Those, trying to monetize and trade on them, simply destroys value. And, those who “advises” the common woman on how to invest, destroys more.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Stating the obvious

A recent study that states that controlling Ebola in West Africa is the most effective way to decrease international risk (1) seems to state the obvious to most straight thinking humans. Hopefully, this study did not burn too much money proving what could have been obvious to any high school freshman in her sleep.

Yes, it is indeed better to stop Ebola in West Africa. However, it does not seem to have sunk in with the less endowed – politicians and celebrities. Ebola, the most incompetent virus, unable to transmit without physical contact and exchange of fluids, has been riding high. It has travelled far and wide, without paying airfare. It has made a joke out of those living in the most powerful state in the country, led by the incompetent. It has killed humans after they showed up for treatment in hospitals. And they have successfully jumped from human to human, apparently using protective gear.

Humans are, indeed, prone to dramatics – and more stupid than they could ever imagine.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Are we there, yet?

Recent news from Lockheed Martin that their engineers may have successfully tamed small scale fusion and practical generators, the size of a truck, could be available in a decade, is the type of discontinuity that the world has been craving for decades. The famous Skunk Works, may have done it again. Although academics are skeptical, if true, it will substantially change the game.

Humans, notorious for destructive tactics at the expense of strategy and damaging anything they touch, may still pull a rabbit out of the hat at the nick of time. Misguided environmentalists and compassionate politicians have been filling the airwaves with noise, with no benefit. The solution has always been zero cost energy and if the Lockheed engineers are right, it will mark one of the proud moments in the history of humanity. Now, they could afford clean water, air and environment, at no cost to society. They could shield the blue planet from countless projectiles from space. They could create airplanes that stay afloat and seaplanes that stay underneath for years – measuring, studying and rectifying the blue dot in the unimaginable void. They could print food, clothing, shelter and medications for anybody on demand. They could, possibly, bring happiness back to earth.

Engineers, behind thick glasses and adorable pocket protectors, may still save the world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Humanity, –0.1?

Ebola, with low transmissibility and dormant, delegated to the guts of fruit bats, has been creating havoc world over. It has been a wild ride for the virus, simply unimaginable to them. They were nearly done – they needed a human to come in touch and then many more as they overwhelm the original host. It required meticulous planning – as transmission is not easy. They could not move by water, air or anything else – transmission required physical touch of the bodily fluid emitted by the infected. And they have done it.

The 7.2 billion simply stayed back and witnessed as the incompetent virus spread. The solvers of problems and hoarders of wealth – from Seattle to Omaha and San Francisco to Mumbai – have been silent. As they bought and sold stocks and provided nets to those who could be at risk of Malaria, they simply forgot the few in West Africa – as they have been circumvented by not only the virus but also the rulers of the land. As their organs failed and fever overcame any remaining senses, they simply vanished from the face of the Earth. Humanity has shown its hand –they remain to be colloquial and local utility maximizers. Healthcare workers, without boarders, remain to be the only shining beacon – something with flickering hope.

Humans have shown their depth and it is as shallow as a cup of tea.