Let’s hear it for the Null!

via Carl Zimmer, Dr. Jon Brock in his blog, “Cracking the enigma,” has some thoughts on why null hypotheses don’t suck so bad as so many people think. Null hypotheses are generally along the lines of, “there is no difference between these groups,” or “this variable has no effect on something,” or “there is no relationship between variables.” The more general statistical statement behind the null hypothesis is usually along the lines of “this phenomenon can be explained just as well by a completely random process.” I’d agree with Brock that it seems that a good many researchers (not me!) view the null hypothesis as a bore or meaningless. But I like his final thought:

This brings me neatly to my final point. In research on disorders such as autism or Williams syndrome, a significant group difference is considered to be the holy grail. In terms of getting the study published, it certainly makes life easier. But there is another way of looking at it. If you find a group difference, you’ve failed to control for whatever it is that has caused the group difference in the first place. A significant effect should really only be the beginning of the story.

Summer cooking science: Gazpacho

Summer is a trying time for me. Many people take the time to relax, do things they couldn’t during the academic year. I do that, but I also get really restless. I try to do all that relaxing or different stuff at the same time, which just overwhelms me. I even have a hard time focusing on working on the dissertation (australopithecine growth and development; more on that in future post, promise). The academic year forces upon me a self-discipline whose bonds I break to become a directionless, scatterbrain piece of crap once summer begins. Although, I have been running a ton.

But sometimes I can force myself to focus on a small task for just long enough to be “productive.” The other day it was kitchen science. I’m not much of a cook (“add butter” that’s my meal-time motto), but thought I’d (re)try my hand at making gazpacho, a summery soup. But as part of my summer attention issues alluded to above, I didn’t have the patience to follow a recipe. I decided to exercise my human ability to do things my own way even though I don’t know what I’m doing and others before me have already successfully invented the wheel, as it were. I’d made some gazpacho last year based on a recipe, so I figured I’d just try to recall what I did then. I used fancy orange tomatoes last year, and although delicious to eat, it looked something like this (not what it’s s’posta look like). This year, my gazpacho debacle would be scientific because I’m testing the null hypothesis that my cavalier approach to cooking will turn out no different than real recipes.
So first we gather up some ingredients: some exotic looking (but bland) peppers (Hungarian or cubanelle), a more banal looking but better tasting orange pepper, tomatos, onion, cucumber, and an avocado for its beloved fat. Rye pale ale is not mixed in with the veggies, but drunk until everything sounds like a good idea. Next, go Lizzie Borden on the veggies until they’re all diced up. Puree about half the abomination in a blender and pour the puree into a bowl or pitcher. Dump into the blended glop those diced veggies whom you’ve spared a cuisinartistic demise. Maybe throw in some spices or something. Then let sit in the fridge for hours. HOURS! Who could wait that long?
The results (to the left) show a few things (the milk on the right is not mine, I only drink half-and-half). First, I reject my null hypothesis, that that my version of gazpacho would be identical (in color and texture) to Ina Garten’s. Second, and more interestingly, the mixture looks fairly similar to last year’s recipe (which did look like barf), even though I used slightly different sets of ingredients. It is also delicious in spite of its appearance (what’s that they say, about judging covers and burning books)? And as a friend once told me, “hey, it all looks the same on the inside [of your stomach].”
I think this second attempt at gazpacho, and my first summer edible experiment, ultimately demonstrates that I should never be allowed to cook for anyone ever again.
If you have any killer summer recipes, feel free to share!