Simon Willison’s Weblog


18 items tagged “science”


Most researchers don’t share their data. If you’ve ever read the words “data is available upon request" in an academic paper, and emailed the authors to request it, the chances that you’ll actually receive the data are just 7 percent. The rest of the time, the authors have lost access to their data, changed emails, or are too busy or unwilling.

Saloni Dattani # 25th October 2022, 10:48 pm


Scientific results today are as often as not found with the help of computers. That’s because the ideas are complex, dynamic, hard to grab ahold of in your mind’s eye. And yet by far the most popular tool we have for communicating these results is the PDF—literally a simulation of a piece of paper. Maybe we can do better.

James Somers # 8th April 2018, 1:14 pm

6M observations total! Where has iNaturalist grown in 80 days with 1 million new observations? Citizen science app iNaturalist is seeing explosive growth at the moment—they’ve been around for nearly a decade but 1/6 of the observations posted to the site were added in just the past few months. Having tried the latest version of their iPhone app it’s easy to see why: snap a photo of some nature and upload it to the app and it will use surprisingly effective machine learning to suggest the genus or even the individual species. Submit the observation and within a few minutes other iNaturalist community members will confirm the identification or suggest a correction. It’s brilliantly well executed and an utter delight to use. # 28th January 2018, 8:18 pm


arxiv-vanity (via) Beautiful new project from Ben Firshman and Andreas Jansson: “Arxiv Vanity renders academic papers from Arxiv as responsive web pages so you don’t have to squint at a PDF”. It works by pulling the raw LaTeX source code from Arxiv and rendering it to HTML using a heavily customized Pandoc workflow. The real fun is in the architecture: it’s a Django app running on Heroku which fires up on-demand Docker containers for each individual rendering job. # 25th October 2017, 8:06 pm


Color Survey Results. XKCD asked anonymous netizens to provide names for random colours. The results (collated from 222,500 user sessions that named over 5 million colours) are fascinating. # 5th May 2010, 3:59 pm

Scott and Scurvy. Did you know that Scott’s 1911 expedition to the south pole was plagued by scurvy, despite the British navy having discovered an effective cure way back in the 18th century? A fascinating tale of how scientific advances can lead to surprising regressions. # 8th March 2010, 6:15 pm

The magic of sub-editors. A neat illustration of how sub-editors work their magic, using the original article with strikes through the parts that were edited out. # 16th February 2010, 10:44 am


The Worst Ideas of the Decade: Vaccine scares. “The movement blaming vaccines for causing autism emerged in the early 2000s, and it was one of the most catastrophically horrible ideas of the decade.” # 22nd December 2009, 9:17 pm

Algae and Light Help Injured Mice Walk Again. Optogenetics is a rapidly growing field which uses viruses to implant genes from plants in to neurons and enable them to be controlled by blue and yellow light. In the lab it’s made mice run in circles without causing any apparent long-term damage, and the technology has the potential to provide a read/write interface to the human brain itself. # 16th November 2009, 11:49 pm

How Grandmas May Give Kids an Evolutionary Edge. Absolutely fascinating: XY v.s. XX chromosomes mean that paternal grandmothers have a 50% chance of sharing an X with their son’s daughters, but a 0% chance of sharing an X with their son’s sons. A study on survival rates of 43,000 children found a corresponding correlation with the proximity to a paternal or maternal grandmother. Men: Dad’s Mum is out to get you! # 16th November 2009, 6:35 pm

10 Uses for Blocks in C/Objective-C. Part of the Cocoa for Scientists series, which is by far the best free Objective-C / Cocoa tutorial I’ve seen anywhere. # 16th November 2009, 2:27 pm

Python in the Scientific World. Python continues to make strides in the scientific world—and the Hubble Space Telescope team have been using it for 10 years! # 6th November 2009, 11:04 am

Quack Remedies Spread Faster *Because* They Don’t Work. “... because (a) most people eventually get better on their own (and then blame it on the treatment), but (b) people adopt treatments based primarily on what they see other people doing, rather than by looking at scientific evidence. Basically, the longer you stay sick, the more time other people have to imitate you.” # 1st May 2009, 4:26 pm


Imaginary numbers. “We would like to back up our survey with an equation from an expert to work out which celebrity has the sexiest walk, with theory behind it”—Ben Goldacre provides inside information on how PR firms invent science to back up their campaigns. # 3rd September 2007, 6:22 pm

A study of the Galaxy Song by Eric Idle. More than twenty years later, the science of the Galaxy Song from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life mostly still holds. # 19th August 2007, 11:18 am

Encyclopedia of Life. Ambitious, well funded project to create a professionally maintained Wikipedia for species. I really hope they get their URL design right. # 13th May 2007, 10:46 am

United Nuclear (via) Gotta love an online store that stocks both “Misc Radioactive Items” and “Anti-Radiation Pills”. # 12th February 2007, 8:25 am