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Science Projects For Big Kids: October 200

Author:Nicolas Delerue, Issue: October 2003, Topic: Science

Is the Yeti a brown bear?
A Japanese mountaineer claims that the abominable snowman is in fact a Himalayan brown bear. This claim is based on a 12-year study he did in the Himalayan Mountains, interviewing local tribes and sherpas. According to him, the legend of the Yeti was built in the 1950s and has attracted many tourists to the area. This claim comes while a Japanese expedition is on the slopes of the Himalaya to try to find the famous Yeti... More details can be found at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20030918b4.htm

Silk absorbs CO2
Researcher from the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Tsukuba have found that silk worms and silk spiders use carbon dioxide to produce silk. This carbon dioxide is incorporated in the acids (amino acid and aspartic acid) that form the thread. This is the first hint that animals also can absorb carbon dioxide, so far only plants and bacteria where known to absorb carbon dioxide (the carbon used by the animals comes from their food). More details can be found at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?nn20030911b4.htm

Lucky or unlucky at the Tsukuba Matsuri lottery?
(Or how to use statistics to show that the lottery booths are cheating) A careful player at the little lottery stands during Tsukuba Matsuri (festival) would have noticed some interesting facts. First, the (claimed) value of the prize seemed to lead to a "expected payoff " much higher than the cost of the ticket (the "expected payoff " is the product of the value of the prizes times the probability of winning them). In one booth, for example, you had to draw numbers between 1 and 100 at a cost of 300 yen a try. If you got a number between 90 and 100 (10% probability) you would win a prize that was worth 2000 yen, and between 60 and 90 (30% probability) the prize was worth 1000 yen. Otherwise, you got a smaller prize worth 100 yen (60% probability). Thus the "expected payoff " at that booth was around 560 yen, almost twice the cost of playing! Thus one could think that it was a good deal to play there, but after a few minutes one would notice a puzzling fact: all number drawn were below 50! Lack of time did not let me check that fact during the Tsukuba Matsuri, so I went the following week to the Ishioka Matsuri to further investigate. In a first booth, I spotted in a basket the numbers which had been drawn previously: out of 14 numbers, only one person (instead of the 4.2 expected) had won a medium-sized prize. This has a probability of 0.1% (errors included) of happening if the drawing was fair. In another booth, out of 12 players, all got a "small" prize by drawing a number below 70. The probability of such an event is only 0.000076% (7.6x10-5%) and in a third booth where I stayed longer, out of 24 customers, none got better than a small prize, whereas I should have seen 4.8 get a medium or big prize. This happens with a probability of 4.1x10-9%. Thus, it is possible to claim (with confidence level of more than 95%) that the lotteries during the Matsuris are cheating... Who cares? Note: Probability calculations were done using the classical frequentist approach; errors have been included. More details on the probability calculations can be found at http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/9711021 (Feldman and Cousins on confidence intervals with low statistics).

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