The Information Gain of Model Rejection

Is looking for the truth always the most informative choice?

Both in science and everyday life, we construct mental models to explain the world around us. Usually, we examine different hypotheses and then we get fond of a particular idea. At this point, we might want to validate our favorite model or discard some of the other hypotheses we formulated.

In the book “Biophysics: searching for principles”, William Bialek proposes an exercise to explore the practice of optimal model selection. With some rewording, the exercise reads as follows:

Imagine you are a scientist and you have formulated a set of N+1 mutually exclusive theoretical models to describe a phenomenon. Your…

Consuming Less Energy Is As Important as Green Energy

Avoid the Superfluous. Decarbonize the Necessary.

“Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can be the standard around which we rally. On the battlefield of energy, we can win for our nation a new confidence and we can seize control again of our common destiny.”

— U.S. President Jimmy Carter, July 15, 1979

Until some time ago, I was convinced that renewable energy was the single best solution to reduce global carbon emissions. I believed that getting rid of fossil fuels was just a matter of installing more solar panels and wind turbines. …

The Origin of Group Testing

How to test N people with less than N tests

The invention of group testing dates back to WWII, as the U.S. army wanted to weed out all syphilitic men called up for enlistment. The presence of syphilis could be identified with a blood test. However, individually testing the blood sample of each new recruit costed lots of time and resources. Thus, the U.S. army had to face the following problem:

Is it possible to test N people with less than N tests?

The statistician Robert Dorfman had a brilliant idea to minimize the number of blood tests required. He proposed that:

The blood samples of k people can be…

Math-Based Decision Making: The Secretary Problem

How probability theory answers the question “accept or reject?”

The secretary problem is a famous riddle on the topic of decision making. It is about finding the best strategy when choosing between a sequence of alternatives of which you do not know the best one.

The statement of the secretary problem goes as follows:

You are the HR manager of a company and need to hire the best secretary out of a given number N of candidates. You can interview them one by one, in random order. However, the decision of appointing or rejecting a particular applicant must be taken immediately after the interview. If nobody has been accepted…

Tech in Danger: How Long Can We Rely On Mineral Raw Materials?

The future of technology is endangered by element scarcity, but circular business models can save us.

In our daily lives, we take many things for granted. Technology is probably the first of them. We take for granted to have a fancy smartphone covering our hand, a slim laptop open on the desk, and a mighty fridge in the kitchen. We also take for granted that the plug of the fridge receives energy day and night, preferably from renewable resources. And clearly, our modem must guarantee a fast, perpetual internet connection.

We are so embedded in our technological world that we never question its existence. We rely blindly on technology, but technology relies blindly on something else…

“The Plague” by Albert Camus

What an epidemic teaches us about human existence.

Reading “The Plague” during the times of an actual pandemic is a surreal experience. The course of events, the social strain of the characters, and the ubiquitous transformation of the fictionalized city of Oran resemble accurately the Corona crisis we are experiencing today.

The actuality of Camus’ masterpiece, published in 1947, is second only to its profoundness. At the beginning of the novel, the serenity of the Algerian coastal city of Oran is perturbed by an invasion of rats, which are found dead in increasing numbers in several districts of the town. Soon after the rat invasion seems to cease…

Compute the probability of your earnings with one line of code

Have you ever asked yourself what is the probability you will reach a given financial goal?

If you are a freelancer, a retailer or simply an active writer on Medium, you can find a simple formula to better project your earning chances here below.

The following discussion is based on the idea that any business is always subject to some degree of randomness. This is especially true during these times of Corona crisis, where any prediction feels quite precarious.

Nevertheless, even in such difficult circumstances, I believe some applied math can never hurt. Below, you can enjoy some concepts of random process theory applied to simple business scenarios.

Necessary premise: my purpose is to show some…

“Planet of the Humans”: deep or dumb?

Jeff Gibbs’ documentary Planet of the Humans, released on April 21 by Michael Moore, takes a pretty unilateral, unconventional perspective on the world of green technologies.

The whole movie consists of a fragmented, semi-historical attempt to highlight flaws, half-truths and plain lies behind the green-energy sector, showing how it is not always so green, after all.

Recurring themes are the environmental destruction and the “hidden” carbon emissions associated with several renewable solutions, mostly biomass, solar farms and wind turbines. An excerpt:

So, after all the mining, the fossil fuels, the toxins, the environmental destruction, […] these giant solar and wind…

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer: progress or doom?

As I was researching about the value of technology with respect to the current environmental crisis, I was astonished to realize how a single invention hides behind most of the environmental issues we face today.

No, I am not referring to fossil fuels. That would be too easy.

This technology is by far less popular, although its impact is probably greater. Its implications are so profound that half of the current society would not exist without it, yet it goes unnoticed. I am talking about the Haber-Bosch process, the invention that enabled humanity to synthetize nitrogen fertilizer at industrial scale.

Optimize your Home Office habits (Coronavirus edition)

It is quite likely that you are one of the many people who suddenly had their daily work routine replaced by home office, as part of the measures to contain the spread of the current Coronavirus pandemic. You might feel not prepared and ironically a little out of place when working at home, if you are not used to it.

Where to start? How not to get distracted? How to keep yourself in shape?

Even if you are a more experienced home-based professional, the additional social distancing measures possibly adopted in your area could heavily interfere with your usual free-time…

Lorenzo Duso

Physicist passionate about sustainability and applied probability. PhD Student in Computational Biology.

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