Nonsensical research yields nonsense

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Renée Bagslint
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Joined: Sat Nov 25, 2017 1:43 pm

Nonsensical research yields nonsense

Post by Renée Bagslint » Sun Jun 24, 2018 8:29 pm

The latest Research Newletter is devoted, as usual, to praising academic publications that reflect well on Wikipedia and arguing with those that do not. In this issue, Barbara Page writes approvingly of a preprint A Brief History of Human Time: Exploring a database of 'notable people' which assembles a few factoids about people deemed to be notable by the standards of Wikipedia. Barbara especially singles out the "barycentre", which is a technical term mis-applied by the authors to mean some kind of "average", of the places of birth.
Barbara Page wrote:A ‘center’ was determined about which the biographies exist. Currently this ‘barycenter’ oscillates between Morrocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
I commented
You might have mentioned that the "barycentre" of a set of more than one distinct points on the surface of the earth is certain to be somewhere inside the earth, not on the surface of it at all. Probably what Gergaud, Laouenan and Wasmer did what to numerically average the latitude and longitude of those points. This is an almost meaningless statistic. To illustrate, if you apply that to a group of points scattered across Europe and North America, and take Greenwich as the prime meridian, as is conventional, then your so-called barycentre will be somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. But if you were to take the 180 degree meridian (the Greenwich antimeridian) as prime, then your barycentre would be somewhere in the middle of the Pacific. What meaningful interpretation can you assign to a result that depends so dramatically on the arbitrary choice of coordinate system? Would it not have been worth mentioning that this particular factoid is nonsense?
I wonder what the response will be?

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