Wednesday, June 25, 2008

GREAT MOMENTS IN RESEARCH

ANNALS OF IMPROBABLE RESEARCH "The enclosed text [see below] shows a curious straight line in the centre of the third paragraph. There are six rows of gaps between letters aligned by a coincidence in their positions. And then in the next five too. The word ‘lucubrations' which I had to correct after I wrote ‘elucubrations' would not have changed the straight line and when properly written would have made up for another group of aligned gaps also six times. I think that this is quite a rare event. . . I would like to explore the statistical chances of getting such a line. . . "

So writes investigator Mercedes Rodriguez Escudero from Almere, the Netherlands, in a letter to us, dated 25 April 2008. Academic circles did not provide her with an answer, "Not even a polite answer of reject.” Now, by sending a letter to Improbable Research she seeks "attention of a truly scientific group”.

Later. . .

Daniel Eastwood, MS, Consulting Manager, Division of Biostatistics, Medical College of Wisconsin responded rapidly: "Please see the attached image, where I have drawn in all similar occurrences of spaces between words that appear to have some linear relationship (at least until I got bored). Here the instance of a ‘line of five' doesn't seem all that uncommon, given that there are at three other instances of lines 5 or longer within the same paragraph (the count may depend on how generous one is in counting a line as straight). I would propose that if we count the length of all lines as a variable X, and use length 2 as the obvious minimum, that the distribution of lines length 2 or longer will follow approximately a Poisson distribution. That is where X is the length of lines, for Y = X – 2, Y ~ Poisson (lambda). In this example, lambda might be a little more than one. I will let someone else count the lines through . . .

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