Category Archives: Course Reflections

Predator Computer Program Tracks Human Face Better than You

Now that the class has finished their interviews and has begun to assemble their footage, depending on how they conducted their interview it’s likely that some surprises may appear in the editing room. I know from personal experience now that it is difficult being a professional cinematographer. Fitting the subject into the frame of the shot just right and following their movement is not as easy as one would think.

But what if you had a camera that could do all this by itself and you merely had to press record? Zdenek Kalal, a PhD student at the University of Surrey in England, has just finished research that could make this a reality. He has developed a real time tracking program that unlike previous visual identification systems learns over time. That is, it can learn what the subject in question looks like at various angles and distances and actually gets more accurate over time. Affectionately named Predator, it promises to be the next generation of visual recognition technology.

The below video from the creator Mr. Kalal himself shows the program in action and provides an excellent introduction to the technology. Incidentally he also provides a fine example of how to effectively present research to the public.

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As Mr. Kalal explains, the possible uses for the device go beyond simple facial recognition, although in the context of this class that would certainly be the most welcome. How simple would it be to tell Predator what to focus on, and then let a motorized camera automatically track your subject while you are free to carry out the interview unencumbered. Even in the context of large studio films I would not be surprised to learn that directors are eager to experiment with it. In the realm of science there are also several possibilities. The example noted in the video centres around animal research. The use visual recognition software could revolutionalize the field of wildlife biology. Studies of much larger scale could be completed by using cameras mounted in strategic locations, rather than relying on scientists heading out into the field to do manual observations.

Here is a link to the original press release from the University of Surrey, whose creation  process is yet another area of science that we are now familiar with thanks to Science 300.

Good Science! Bad Science?

Scientific literacy is a big part of science education; the ability to recognize pseudoscientific beliefs from scientific facts and theories is essential for science students. photo credits:

In an attempt to retrieve interesting blogging topics, I spent part of my weekend scouting through scientific magazines (mostly on-line but also in prints). And it was awful.

First try, I found a newspaper article describing a link between global warming and skin cancer. According to this article, since global warming increases the earth’s average temperature, it affects the cloud formation at the poles, which in turn interacts with the ozone layer and increases the size of the ozone hole, which allows more UV radiation and may explain the increase cases in skin cancer reported in the US and Europe. For a while, I searched for the sources they cited, but to no avail. It turns out, they were citing from a draft from WMO (World Meteorological Organization) that is not yet released to the public. Thus, there wasn’t a way to verify the information. In addition, the author’s name was not specified.

In retrospect, this article can be easily identified as BAD SCIENCE. However, in the mist of my excitement on that tired bus ride home, the science sounded great. I even convinced myself that I to buy more sunscreen for this summer (to prevent damage from the extra UV rays). My point is, scientific babbles can appear anywhere and everywhere and at a time when we are least expecting.

Identifying GOOD SCIENCE

According to the library resources available here, and through our course blog, we can evaluate our readings using AACCOP.


A responsible scientist will stand behind him/her article, and be backed by a notable organization.


Good science is always falsifiable. Find the source of the information, and verify it for yourself.


Science is always advancing; what was true ten years ago might now be obsolete.


Is the research completed or only in progress? A hypothesis may only be a “guess” until the final conclusion.


Sometimes enthusiasm can cloud one’s good judgement. A scientist should present the research with disinterestedness.


Could there be a hidden agenda? Are the scientist hired by a neutral party? Or by the pharmaceutical companies themselves?

Lastly, just remember, we should always approach findings with a healthy dose of curiosity and skepticism. Good luck for everyone doing research!

Shaking up what we knew about shaken baby syndrome

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Keeping infants safe is important.

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But is shaking as harmful as it is made out to be?

When infants arrive in emergency with spinal injuries and bleeding in the brain, doctors are often quick to point the finger at the caregiver. Recently more and more evidence supports mechanisms other than shaken baby syndrome as the cause of such injuries in infants.

The cover story of The New York Times Magazine from Feb 2 2011 explores the issue and the implications for people who have been charged under these circumstances.

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When caregivers are on trial for child abuse, lawyers use doctors to testify how the injuries of the child were inflicted. More and more doctors are testifying for the defense and in turn exposing the prosecution doctors to the validity of these alternative explanations (such as infant stroke caused by and infection).

This article is not discounting shaken baby syndrome as a real problem, but claims that some people have been wrongly accused because the diagnosis was made too hastily.

Some important issues are brought up regarding the use of science in the courtroom.

First of all doctors can be paid for their testimony. I think the outcome should not be reflective of the doctor the accused can afford. When monetary value is placed on the information presented in the courtroom the facts given to the jury can be skewed. Even worse the picture of scientific knowledge presented is not limited to the courtroom; news and media coverage of high profile cases will pass biased scientific information on to the rest of the world.

A particularly relevant point is that jurors may have difficulty understanding the science presented to them, and this can hinder their ability to properly decide on a verdict. What we learn in Scie 300 can have significant impacts on how effectively science is used in the courtroom.

This issue also points out a flaw in the scientific method; conventionally scientists come up with hypotheses which then raise new questions to be tested. Unfortunately when dealing with the law, a hypothesis that is rejected years after it was formulated can have a major impact on those who were wrongfully accused according to the knowledge at the time. Here we have a tradeoff between putting innocent people away and letting a child abuser continue putting children in harms way.

The bottom line still is: never shake a baby.

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Citation Amnesia

Imagine navigating through your first literature search as a graduate student. You read an interesting article, and follow its references. You find only a limited number research papers in your area of interests. You decide that there is enough room to make a novel study. You’re ALL set, right?

What if the authors were reluctant about citing earlier studies?

An incomplete citation could lead to wastage of your time and resources. A team of researcher, Robinson and Goodman from Johns Hopkins University, decided to analyze academic papers on the online archive—“Web of Science.” The pair identified 227 meta-analyses published in 2004 that combined 4 or more trials. What they found was that—less than 25 percent of the previous (and relevant) studies were actually being cited. In addition, as many as 5 of the studies that claimed novelty were actually repeats. You can find the abstract of their study, here.

As Janet Raloff reports, Robinson was especially concerned with the missing citations on clinical trial papers (those involving human subjects). Without considering prior trails, researchers could put people on potentially risky therapies in pursuit to “discover” what is already known.

No doubt, citing the references could be tedious work. However, citation is also an important communication tool.   Don’t remember why?   Here are 3 good reasons, adapted from the web:


1.       Help readers identify and relocate the source of work—readers often want to verify the information or read further.

2.       Provide evidence that the position is well-researched—citations allow you to demonstrate that your position or argument is thoroughly researched.

3.       Give credits/ acknowledgement to original concept—giving proper attribution to the thoughts, words and ideas used in your academic writing.

So, remember to always cite ALL of your sources.  Thanks guys. See you in Refworks lab (Friday)!

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