Author Topic: Episode #681  (Read 3407 times)

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Offline Steven Novella

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Episode #681
« on: July 28, 2018, 09:25:04 am »
Interview with Alethea Dean
What's the Word: Stridulation
News Items: Lake on Mars, Reanalyzing the Drake Equation, In Search Of Reboot, More Energy Nonsense
Who's That Noisy, Science or Fiction
Steven Novella
Host, The Skeptics Guide
snovella@theness.com

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2018, 02:04:45 pm »
Spending money separately on improvements is one thing, but how much did insurance pay for replacing what was damaged?

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2018, 03:28:16 am »
Sorry to burst Cara's feeling of being special, but Dr Karl Kruszelnicki uses the phrase "new best friend forever" liberally and for very minor reasons.  ;) He's just an overly friendly guy.

But she is right Quokkas are cute.






Offline PabloHoney

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2018, 09:43:52 am »
There's life on other planets.  I don't care what Sir Francis Drake says!

Offline The Latinist

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2018, 11:01:55 am »
My position has always been that there is so much uncertainty in many of the terms of the Drake Equation that, by changing one’s assumptions even in relatively minor ways, one can obtain any result one wants.  Therefore, while it serves as a good framework for discussion of the various factors affecting our likelihood of detecting life, it is not a way to make any sort of meaningful calculation of that likelihood.
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Offline CookieMustard

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2018, 12:23:33 pm »
I remember reading the paper referenced in this episode  about the Drake equation a few months ago. My understanding of statistics is not good enough to really understand what they were talking about but they replaced the probabilities used in the Drake equation with probability distributions and they came up with the conclusion that we are alone in the universe has a probability of something like 40% to 90% depending on the nature of the distributions.

Offline Mr. Beagle

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2018, 02:55:55 pm »
I remember reading the paper referenced in this episode  about the Drake equation a few months ago. My understanding of statistics is not good enough to really understand what they were talking about but they replaced the probabilities used in the Drake equation with probability distributions and they came up with the conclusion that we are alone in the universe has a probability of something like 40% to 90% depending on the nature of the distributions.

I have not read the paper, but this is not an uncommon math paradox of very-low probability events. It makes no rational sense, for instance, to play the PowerBall lottery. The odds are just too abysmal. And yet, there are regular winners.

That said, the timescale part of this equation has always been the most of interest to me. Our "event window" as a sentient species has been microscopically-narrow in "Universe Time," so it would not be incorrect to assert that "There is nobody else out there" and yet "Generation of lifeforms in the universe count at least in the millions."
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Offline The Internet

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #7 on: July 29, 2018, 05:14:50 pm »
Who's That Noisy:

Spoiler
Walter the French bulldog
[close]

Offline gebobs

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2018, 04:22:09 pm »

That said, the timescale part of this equation has always been the most of interest to me. Our "event window" as a sentient species has been microscopically-narrow in "Universe Time," so it would not be incorrect to assert that "There is nobody else out there" and yet "Generation of lifeforms in the universe count at least in the millions."

There could be civilizations existing now in another galaxy, or even on the other side of the Milky Way, the signals from which wouldn't arrive on Earth for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years by which time there might be no one here that is listening. Conversely, the civilizations that we might eventually detect could be long gone by the time we do.

Offline Ran714

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2018, 07:25:31 pm »


Green Bank, WV has been referenced in the past couple of episodes...


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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2018, 07:49:45 pm »

That said, the timescale part of this equation has always been the most of interest to me. Our "event window" as a sentient species has been microscopically-narrow in "Universe Time," so it would not be incorrect to assert that "There is nobody else out there" and yet "Generation of lifeforms in the universe count at least in the millions."

There could be civilizations existing now in another galaxy, or even on the other side of the Milky Way, the signals from which wouldn't arrive on Earth for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years by which time there might be no one here that is listening. Conversely, the civilizations that we might eventually detect could be long gone by the time we do.


Another related factor is that advanced non-intelligent live had evolved on this planet over hundreds of millions years and was wiped out by a cataclysmic event. It was only after that where our evolutionary ancestors emerged and then it was hundreds of millions of years before intelligence manifested


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Offline Mysticdan

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2018, 08:28:21 pm »

Green Bank, WV has been referenced in the past couple of episodes...



They've also either stated or implied both times that it is the largest and/or most sensitive radio telescope, neither of which are true.

Offline fuzzyMarmot

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #12 on: July 30, 2018, 09:33:02 pm »
I haven't read the Sandberg, Drexler, & Ord paper, but from what I've read, the most important point is that people should appreciate that averages (expected values) are not always the best piece of information to extract from a probability distribution.

I wish Steve would have explained this on the show-- he made it sound technical, but I think the general concept is accessible and important.

Suppose scientists can agree on a probability distribution for each of the parameters, and each parameter is independent. The usual approach to the Drake equation is to find the expected value for the number of civilizations by multiplying the expected value of each parameter. This is totally legit, but the expected value just tells us how the average number of civilizations if we simulated the universe many, many times.

The average can be relatively large, even if most simulations have zero or one civilizations (e.g., if a few rare cases yield a plethora of civilizations). The probability distribution would be right skewed, with a fat tail representing these rare outcomes of lots of civilizations. I think the central point made by the paper is that we should consider the probability of <=1 civilization, not the expected number of civilizations.

To tweak Mr Beagle's example: It's possible that a lottery has a positive expected value of a pay-out, even if there is a 99.99% chance of losing (of course, nobody would run such a lottery). Even though the expected value tells me I should expect to make money by playing, I don't think anyone would call it a "paradox" if I didn't win money after playing once.

Offline haudace

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #13 on: July 30, 2018, 11:22:52 pm »
There's life on other planets.  I don't care what Sir Francis Drake says!
OY OY OY OY

Offline Mr. Beagle

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Re: Episode #681
« Reply #14 on: July 31, 2018, 10:00:44 am »
I haven't read the Sandberg, Drexler, & Ord paper, but from what I've read, the most important point is that people should appreciate that averages (expected values) are not always the best piece of information to extract from a probability distribution....


Too long a story, so feel free to skip: I got a lesson on bad interpretation of "averages" when I first hit the auto industry as a 20-year-old computer science intern. The company had spent a huge sum of money on a "paint repair" line in their factory that built the big commercial rigs. This was a massive conveyor system, due to the size of the truck cabs, and was sized according to simulation of quality defects requiring partial re-pant of truck cabs.

I got my first trip to this plant to try to help figure out why cabs were backing up in this line even though the statistics were correct, causing huge problems upstream. Turns out they used a normal distribution rather than a Poisson distribution in their calculations. A low-frequency Poisson distribution has a predictable and natural "Poisson clumping" effect that the normal does not have, which they did not account for. This required an expensive fix to alleviate.

As I like to say, "normal" is just a statistic. Here are some Poisson distributions with different "averages":



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