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By the Numbers #4

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Commentary on some of the interesting numbers in the news


(Photo credit: Flickr/morebyless under CC-BY 2.0)


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a non-invasive method of mapping brain activity. The tool has been on the forefront of studying the human brain, but now a 15-year old software glitch “could invalidate the results of some 40,000 papers.”

fMRI machines are expensive to operate, which has made it difficult to replicate experiment results. A 2016 study attempted to use statistical methods to validate data by using images of healthy, resting brains that “should not contain systematic changes in brain activity.” They then used permutation tests to cross-validate the results across the three most popular fMRI software tools. The study found false positives (i.e. instances when the software indicated there was brain activity when there shouldn’t be any) in 70% of the cases. The standard threshold for statistical significance is a 5% false positive rate.

As this problem throws an entire field of study into question and potentially upends 15 years of research, it highlights potential downsides to the expanded role software in our lives. Also of interest is the proposed solution from the research team: meta-analysis and data sharing. The study concludes, “it is not feasible to redo 40,000 fMRI studies” but publicizing data and using statistical models to validate studies “can play an important role in teasing apart false-positive findings from consistent results.”


Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. James’ recent Monkchips in Three Minutes has an entertaining and insightful take on the phenomenon, including references to their impressive active daily user growth. In mere days after the app launched, “just over 3% of US Android owners were using the game daily.” Assuming there are roughly 108M Android users in the US, that equates to roughly 3.25M people playing Pokémon Go every day. Just on Android.

I have a passing familiarity with Pokémon by virtue of growing up with younger brothers. If I had ever in my wildest dreams imagined that there would come a day when I would professionally use the word ‘Pokémon’ in a sentence, I might have fought them for the remote less often.

For those of you without younger brothers, The Onion is here to help you understand the Pokémon essentials.


Facebook’s “13,000 employees will tap some portions of Office 365, including its email and calendar.” The Microsoft products that directly compete with Facebook at Work are not part of the deal. When addressing the arrangement, Facebook CIO Tim Campos stated, “Facebook at Work doesn’t end the need for email. It’s not a binary thing.

Companies are increasingly choosing messaging tools to augment their existing communication channels. Facebook seems to be developing their communication strategy in the opposite direction, moving towards a more formalized email system in addition to messaging.

Disclosure: Microsoft is a RedMonk client.

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