Category Archives: Science Communication

Chess Masters their IQ and Chess Programs

Most people believe that chess masters are unusually intelligent  because they are capable of playing a complex game like chess at a high level. However, evidence showing association between any kind of intellectual ability and chess skill has been strikingly limited. There are however, some studies which suggest high level of logic is required to play chess at an advanced level. In comparison, chess programs which rely on logic perform extremely well and can beat any human. Search trees used by computer programs calculate and prune millions of position a second to find the best moves. How well a chess player prunes and calculates moves may be a gateway to determining if chess players are indeed superior to non-players.


Credit to youtube user “rumpsessions”

Chess has been played by many people since it’s introduction in Afghanistan back in 600AD. The nature of the game is based on logic and involves perceptiveness among other skills. So why don’t some studies show any correlation between Intelligence and game mastery? It is because of pattern recognition and experience. A pioneer in empirical studies of the thought processes named De Groot performed an experiment in which he asked world-class chess players to think aloud while they selected their next move for an unfamiliar chess position. What he found was that World-class players and normal players did not differ in the speed of their thoughts or the size of their memory capacity. It was their ability to recognize promising potential moves based on their extensive experience and knowledge of patterns in chess. This idea was further solidified by Simon and Chase when they echoed a similar result  by saying experts acquire a large number of patterns and use these patterns as stored knowledge to filter their moves in real-time games.

Although some studies suggest no correlation or negative correlation, there have been recent studies which do show that chess players might have intellectual superiority over non-chess players. For example, a newly published analysis reports that, while there doesn’t seem to be any correlation, it does not mean chess expertise stands in isolation from intelligence. In a study by Roland Grabner, he writes “there are now findings that expert chess players display above-average intelligence, that their playing strength is related to their intelligence.”This might be a glimmer of hope for chess players who are seeking to gain some prestige by playing chess. Incidentally, most research studies that have focused on this issue have noted one similarity among top chess players and that is that they play frequently. They also suggest that chess players who learn the game quickly and rise in ranking are the ones with unusually high IQ.


credit to youtube user “advocatehealthcare”

Chess programs perform similarly to the suggested human results of the studies. That is, stored positions in a chess program greatly influence the strength of the program. For example, most chess programs have a built in opening book which perform the initial “set up” of moves in a game. Statistics have shown that when the right opening book is used, this can increase its rating significantly. This concept of storing patterns(in humans) or positions (chess programs) is probably a key factor in determining how well a machine or human plays.

This is a hotly debated issue with research suggesting both sides of the argument. This is probably because the definition of intelligence, and therefore the IQ tests used to acquire the level intelligence, are murky. Majority of the research suggests that stored memories of previous game positions are key to becoming a better player. This is also true for chess program because they use stored positions. Until the real truth is revealed, we can only practice till we are perfect.

By: Imran khan

New Species Discovered in Antarctica?

Planning on travelling to another continent as a vacation? Why not book a flight to Antarctica? Antarctica may have long winters and short day-light hours but new species are still being discovered till this day. Thousands of scientists travel during the summer hoping to make astonishing discoveries and get a better understanding of this bitter-cold and isolated world.

A recent discovery has been made on fishes living beneath Antarctica by drilling holes through the ice and feeding a camera through it. These are not your ordinary fishes but rather a worm-like fish that live beneath a 740 m thick ice. Ross Powell, who led the team to this project, mentions that it is incredible how these species have managed to thrive with little to no sunlight and be isolated from rest of the world. These cameras usually pick up lifeless mud environment with at most microbe activities. However, the discovery of these fishes has definitely intrigued many scientists.

Fish found below Antarctica ice Credit: Reed Scherer (NIU)

Fish found below Antarctica ice Credit: Reed Scherer (NIU) Source: Scientific American

Furthermore, even though there are a few species thriving in Antarctica, how were their ancestors able to survive for thousands of years?  An international team has discovered that steam and heat from the volcanoes have helped many species to survive in ice ages. In addition, a team lead by Ceridwen Frazer has collected data for many decades and pinpointed a common trend. His team found that there were more species living near the volcanoes compared to other places. Frazer explains that these large volcanoes melted large ice caves that are warmer than outside. This has allowed species to survive during cold ice ages.

Antartica Credit: Vincent Van Zeijst Source: Wikimedia Commons

Antarctica Credit: Vincent Van Zeijst Source: Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, the environment of Antarctica has sustained life for thousands of years. However, there is a growing concern of large volumes of ice melting causing a rise in sea level and destroying ecosystems. Scientists are using computer software to run simulations of possible outcomes in the next few years. For example, they looked in East Antarctica’s Wilkes Basin. Currently a thick rim of ice at the coast is holding this basin in place. If this rim of ice were to melt, the basin can cause a rise of 300-400 cm in sea level.

Credit: Newsy Science from Youtube

Lastly, action has been taken to prevent the destruction of Antarctica due to global warming. Changes in sea level have devastated the food web by flooding its environment.  Commission for the Conservation of Antarctica Marine Living Resources’ (CCAMLR) are making an effort to protect waters around Antarctica.

Taking a step back, Antarctica has provided homes to many species. Scientists are still discovering new species in little to no sunlight areas.  Now there is a growing concern with sea level rise due to melting ice sheets, and we must do our research to find ways to prevent this deep concern. If you love the cold, then make sure to stop by Antarctica on your next flight.

-Manpreet Takhi

Sacrificing Marketability For Clear Communication

A report by CTV highlighted that there may be an association between caffeine and an improvement in Parkinson’s severity ratings (based on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale) for Parkinson’s patients. Although I originally found this story two years ago, I still remember it today. The funny thing is that this is not because of its content, but because of the way it was presented and communicated.

When they first mentioned in the report that this study was performed on only 61 patients who had Parkinson’s, I thought, “That’s an awfully small sample size, how reliable can these data even be?”  I remember being angry because I had seen one too many reports in the news that talked about miracle cures that household items can provide to devastating diseases without mentioning the limitations of the studies that were used to make these claims.

I thought this report was no exception. However, as I read further along the report, I was pleasantly surprised. In the second half of the report, it blatantly stated that authors of the study noted that:

“The number of patients they studied was small, and the length of their study was short. They say it’s also possible that the effects of caffeine may lessen over time.”

It wasn’t required for the report to mention this, but I appreciated that they did. When health studies like this one are presented in the media as being totally conclusive, it may lead people to replace professional medical care with the remedies presented in the news reports which can be detrimental to their health.

I sincerely enjoyed this report because it guided the reader by laying out for them what the implications of this study were and what they weren’t, which I find is rare for news reports. It sacrificed marketability for truth and this was further exemplified by the title of the report which was:

“Caffeine could help some Parkinson’s symptoms.”

Although the title didn’t make any extraordinary claims and was not as catchy as some I have heard in the past, I appreciated its honesty and how it didn’t extrapolate from the results of the study.

Further along, the report mentioned how more investigation was required until the suggestion to add caffeine into the treatment for Parkinson’s could be made. Since this report, a study on rats (2014) has shown promising results that there may be a correlation between caffeine consumption and a decrease in the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

The only negative thing I found in this report was the picture they included which is attached below.

Article Photo

Source: Credit to: Nathan Denette

I frankly found that it added nothing to the article and was rather distracting. Furthermore, it diverted attention away from the implications of the study.

To further illustrate why clear communication of science is important, below is a video that emphasizes why knowing what type of study is performed can affect the way one should interpret the results.

YouTube Preview Image
Credit: CurrentMedicine.TV from Youtube

– Shikha Walia

The A.I. revolution

The advent of Artificial Intelligent robots and their associated repercussions is a hotly debated issue. This is because humanity is on the brink of creating technology that will be able to think, and act according to their built-in perspective on the world. For example, fully autonomous weapon systems such as drones could petrol the skies capable of engaging without human interventions or an autonomous car driving someone to their desired location through a dynamic traffic system. There are a lot of positives and negatives associated with artificially intelligent machines and it’s up to us to decide if it’s worth creating such technology.

Humanity could benefit greatly from AI if controlled effectively. For instance, imagine a senior citizen with bad eyesight and poor reaction time wanting to travel to their daughter’s house 20 miles away. They can avoid taking a taxi and can have their own autonomous vehicle which plans their path and drives them to the desired location safely. This car will not only drive automatically it will have an extremely high reaction time to avoid accidents and will minimize damage if an accident is unavoidable.


YouTube Preview Image Credit to youtube user DroidTweak

AI robots can range from mini robots inside the house, which help the disabled perform daily task to autonomous airplanes that can take-off, fly, and land without any pilots on board. All of these have many positive implications for humanity because not only do they provide invaluable resources to those who are incapable but AI robots can perform most tasks better than humans.

Perhaps humanity needs to live with some of their shortcomings to prevent the apocalyptic future that some associate with the arrival of AI robots. According to the well renowned astrophysicist Professor Stephen Hawking, artificial intelligence could end mankind if we are not careful. He told the BBC:“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” His opinion stems from the fact that humans are limited by slow biological evolution and can’t possibly compete with the intelligent robots. AI robots will “evolve” faster by building better machines eventually overtaking human performance across all domains. They will then become the dominant force on Earth and could eradicate us at their on leisure.

YouTube Preview Image

Credit to youtube user: DNews

Another well-known figure, Elon Musk, also voiced his opinion by saying “we are summoning the demon with artificial intelligence.” His viewpoint is similar to Hawking’s but he believes that their recursive self-improvement will eventually lead them to the realization that humans are detrimental in some regard and thus should be eliminated. “If its [function] is just something like getting rid of e-mail spam and it determines the best way of getting rid of spam is getting rid of humans…” said Musk to name an example.

Credit to youtube user: DNews

Since true AI robots have not been invented we can never really be sure how they will behave we can only speculate. Though great minds like Stephen Hawkings give us insight into the grim and darkside of AI, there is no doubt that the benefits of controlled AI are invaluable to the human race.

Written by Imran Khan

Thinking of pulling an all-nighter? You may want to think twice!

We all had one of those stressful nights with exams and had to pull all-nighters. However, will it actually help you get an A? Recent studies show that it may be more beneficial for students to sleep on time rather than staying up all night. Lack of sleep have shown to affect both memory retention and health.

all-nighter Source: flickr

All-nighter.  Photo Credit: Edward Langley. Source: Flickr

Firstly, sleep and memory are interconnected. Sleep is essential to turn short-term memory into long term memory. This is known as memory consolidation. With inefficient amounts of sleep, this process cannot be completely successful. Furthermore, hippocampus is where all the memory is stored in the brain. This is where it can be greatly affected by lack of sleep. Research suggests that important points throughout the day are recycled through the brain specifically in the hippocampus.

Hippocampus Source: Flickr

Hippocampus.  Photo Credit: Steve.Milway. Source: Flickr

One of the research models about memory formation is the O’Donnell and Sejnowski’s model. Their model suggests that memory formation occurs during the dreaming stage. During this stage the hippocampus organizes memory by retaining the important information from the ones you don’t need.

Secondly, sleep deprivation is a serious factor that can affect one’s health. It affects millions of people in North America. It can be caused by stress and anxiety. There has been a link found between sleep deprivation and cell damage. Research has found damaged cells in the liver, small intestine and the lungs.  They found that lack of sleep causes cell damage showing that there is a direct link between sleep and health. However, further study shows that recovering from lack of sleep restored those damaged cells. This shows that a consistent sleeping schedule is vital for a healthy body and memory.

In addition, lack of sleep can cause the memory to recall information inaccurately known as memory distortion. Kimberly Fen, an MSU associate professor of psychology mentions that memory distortion is greatly increased during sleep deprivation. Many students do not get enough sleep every day and are sleep deprived throughout the weeks. This makes it more likely for them to have memory distortion and can worsen as they age.

Furthermore, in another research study led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, they found that women who sleep five hours or less per day experience a more distorted memory later in their life. They even found that a greater fluctuation in the amount of sleep can seriously affect the memory. Getting a regular amount of sleep will prevent memory distortion.

Sleep studies Source: Flickr

Sleep studies.  Photo Credit: Chief Jimbo. Source: Flickr

Looking back at this, it is not worth the risk of pulling an all-nighter to hopefully ace the test. We must look past just the test and focus on our health. Sleep deprivation has been linked to cell damage that ultimately affects our health. Just hit the hay rather than staring at a book the whole night.

-Manpreet Takhi