June 5, 2007 at 5:18 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

It’s not the worst figure, but I did laugh a little that only 2 out of 10 points fit comfortably within their respective error bars.

Source: J. Phys. Chem. B, 2005, 109, 15172-15177

molecular playbook

February 27, 2007 at 8:00 am | | crazy figure contest, literature

I’m reading this interesting paper (DOI: 10.1021/ja067068k) that explores the structural (in)stability of beta-hairpins upon arsenic binding to cysteins. I was enjoying and understanding the paper until I saw this figure:


Huh? Does this look like a football play to anyone else? Is this normal for NOE? Can someone enlighten me?

one-way mirror?

February 2, 2007 at 3:50 pm | | crazy figure contest, stupid technology, wild web

The Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) has developed a reversible mirror (source), which consists of two pieces of glass with a small spacing in between containing a thin film of magnesium-titanium alloy. Allegedly, the film turns transparent when hydrogen is pumped into the spacing; reflective when air/oxygen pumped in. The idea is to use the glass as windows for building and reduce cooling costs (by turning the windows reflective on sunny days). Interesting idea. (But….)


This story was picked up by several blogs/websites (PhysOrg, SciFiTech, Geekologie, UberGizmo), but I was disappointed that no one pointed out an obvious flaw in the above figure: in the “transparent” frame, they’ve added substantial backlighting. Of course the mirror is more transparent when you supply backlighting! The direction of illumination is different between the two frames and thus they aren’t comparable. This is way worse than changing the bin size.

OK, I’m sure the mirror effect is reversible in this system, and that the effect is dramatic. Just too bad that they had to fake the figure!

And BTW, do we really want hydrogen and oxygen pumped thoughout high-rise buildings, contained in fragile glass? It’ll give “raging inferno” a new name!

oh, you mean wheelbarrow!

January 30, 2007 at 9:01 am | | crazy figure contest, literature, stupid technology

Ok, another contender in the worst-figure contest:


In case you didn’t know what a wheelbarrow was. No really, this is a real figure in the paper. (Hat-tip to MetaDatta. And Sujit thought that Tetrahedron Letters is a funny journal title, too. Back in undergrad, I thought it was a joke journal. Now I am a co-author on a paper in Tetrahedron, so don’t I look the fool.)

P.S. My favorite part of the figure is the triple equal mark.

the internets make you live longer

January 25, 2007 at 10:15 am | | crazy figure contest, science and the public, software, stupid technology, wild web

Proven: Using the internet makes you live longer. And, as a nice side effect, the internet reduces child mortality. Don’t believe me? See for yourself (click on the chart below):


(To manipulate the chart or see a map or make your own chart, click here.) Cool Google stuff.

Oh, Snap!

December 4, 2006 at 10:43 am | | crazy figure contest, literature, news, science and the public

Remember a while back when some guy used fractal analysis to study Jackson Pollock paintings and made a world of bold proclamations, the most important of which was the claim that fractal analysis can be used to refute provenance? Not so much. Apparently all it takes to become the master of “the language of nature” is 5 minutes and photoshop.

Now all that needs to be done is configure our laser jet for a 10×15′ canvas, and I’m richer than L. Ron Hubbard. No flying DC-10 spaceships required.

(Xenu prefers fractional dimensionalities)

A first case study of homosexual necrophilia in the Mallard Duck

October 18, 2006 at 3:57 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature, science@home

As promised, an oldy but goody.

Beyond the great title, the article is an even better read, and truly deserving of it’s Ignobel prize status.

Yeah, Baby, Yeah!

fat = stupid?

October 15, 2006 at 8:05 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

OK, this one wins the worst-figure contest:


The authors of this paper (Cournot, M. et al.Relation between body mass index and cognitive function in healthy middle-aged men and women. Neurology 2006, 67, 1208–1214. or read the PDF: cournot_fat_stupid_neuro_2006.pdf) try to argue that there is a negative correlation between body-mass index (BMI) and cognative function (i.e. fat people are stupid). They report the correlations (such as -0.008 +/- 0.13) that are the equivalent of saying, “There are 3 people in this room … plus or minus 300.”

I swear to god, this is a quote from the paper describing that figure (this is not taken out of context, read it for yourself):

This cross-sectional association between BMI at baseline and cognitive scores persisted after adjustment for age, sex, educational level, physical activity, and region of residence and had a linear shape (figure).

Linear shape?!? Looks more like a big fat (pun intended) blob to me. Isn’t that awesome? The funniest part is that they worked so hard to adjust for all these different parameters, and still got a complete scatter. The authors must be fat, ’cause they’re pretty stupid. I can’t believe this stuff can get published! This is why people are starting to claim that most published research findings are false.

Too bad I already made the mugs for the Chemical Physics Journal Club this year, because that plot would have been perfect!

[I have to thank Spectroscope for bringing my attention to this travesty. I also have to thank Retrospectacle for reminding me why the softer sciences have a bad reputation; but my housemate thinks Shelley’s hot, so I won’t be too mean.]

Schrodinger’s CATion

August 17, 2006 at 10:15 am | | crazy figure contest

I don’t think this illustration was taken from the original document, but seriously. While trying to illustrate the parity properties of singlet and triplet Cooper pairs, this illustrator decided the most appropriate representation for an electron was a cat (some reference to Alice in Wonderland.) Now we just need Pecora to scatter light off of it…

write-your-own caption!

August 14, 2006 at 7:37 am | | crazy figure contest, literature

From an article, Image scoring and cooperation in a cleaner fish mutualism, in Nature:


Whoever comes up with the best caption for this silly figure will win an EDS refrigerator magnet.

reading babies’ minds

August 7, 2006 at 10:35 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

This PNAS paper just freaked me out: Baby with wires coming out of the brain!


If that’s not a “Worst Figure,” then what is?

The point of the paper was to test the theory that extended staring means that the baby didn’t anticipate what it saw, a common method used to test the world view of babies and monkeys. But I didn’t actually read the paper, because the figure scared me too much.

Thanks, Andrew, for bringing this paper to my attention. Thanks also for the nightmares. Very H.R. Geiger.


July 14, 2006 at 12:00 pm | | cool results, crazy figure contest

Some Data I took recently with David Pearson – cool, huh?

four data points is not enough

May 15, 2006 at 5:44 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

Here’s another one for the worst-figure contest:


This is from a paper on curved diffusion in Phys. Rev. E. The four data point are culled from other publications, because the paper mostly reports the results of some (helpful) theoretical calculations. But do those four measly data points help? Especially with those error bar, I have no idea how well the theory actually fits the data. In the text, the author tries to claim that the solid line fits the circle data. Riiiight.

more lit: penguin pooh

May 4, 2006 at 6:59 pm | | crazy figure contest, literature

OK, when it rains it pours. I have another literature post.


This is a real article in Polar Biology. And it reports upon what the title promises. I mean, just look at this figure:


You can’t beat that. Nor can you make it up. Thanks to Ilya for this and the swimming paper. You know, I bet this research is sticky, too…

two bad figures conveniently in one paper

May 3, 2006 at 8:24 pm | | crazy figure contest, journal club, literature

In Chemical Physics Journal Club this week, someone presented a pretty good simulation paper about glass transitions in polymer thin films. But this paper had some pretty bad figures. For instance, is this figure really worth it?


I didn’t really find this too revealing. But, later in the paper, there’s an even better figure:


It’s that great? The best part is that they actually offset the curves; really all the distributions are exactly the same. That’s certainly worth conveying in plot form. Congrats Jain and de Pablo, your figures are entered into the worst-figure contest. (Cool paper, though.)

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