The particular street signs, windows, and balconies on this street mark it as Parisian.
Paris, the city of light, is instantly recognizable—as long as you’re looking at a photo of the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. But could you recognize the city if the picture lacked a flashy landmark? (Try testing yourself here—just don’t look at the text on signs.)
If you find yourself stumped, know that a new software program has you beat: it can identify a city from a single photo of any old street. Almost any street, the program’s designers found, has little details that give away its city, including distinctive street signs, windows, and balconies.
Walk through a crowded city and you’re making dozens of instinctive choices: swerve to avoid the guy staring at his Blackberry, walk around those subway grates, speed up so you don’t walk side by side with a stranger, and on and on. While pedestrians aren’t usually thinking too hard about these decisions, scientists are. Over at Slate, Tom Vanderbilt has a four-part series on the history, the science, and the future of walking in American. In part two, about the science of walking, Vanderbilt profiles a company that models how people walk with mathematics:
The Legion model seeks to understand, with each step the pedestrian takes, what their next step will be, based on a mathematically weighted combination of three factors (the tolerance for, and wish to avoid, inconvenience, frustration, and discomfort). More minor things are often observed—people pausing briefly in London before exiting a transit station to see if it’s raining—but not fully modeled yet. (Plottner [Legion's VP] notes the company already has some 9 million pedestrian measurements.)
What’s the News: Many evaluations of scientific excellence singling out specific universities or departments, but two European researchers have taken a different approach: They rated the top scientific cities by looking at what proportion of published science articles are highly cited. Cambridge, Massachusetts, came out as the winner in physics and chemistry (no surprise there—MIT and Harvard) for having lots of influential papers; London was tops in psychology; Moscow was the chemistry and physics loser; and Taipei, Taiwan was the low achiever in psychology.
How the Heck:
What’s the Context:
Not So Fast: As the researchers note, the study fuzzes over any distinctions that emerge on a smaller scale than a city—for instance, the maps don’t show any difference between a city with one superstar who publishes 10 influential papers and another city with a group of 10 researchers who each publish 1. And since the scoring is based on citations, it’s subject to biases based on renown, language, and resources; the same paper published by a famous researcher at Oxford will get more notice than if it were published in Nigeria.
Reference: arxiv.org/abs/1103.3216: Lutz Bornmann and Loet Leydesdorff, Which Cities Produce Worldwide More Excellent Papers Than Can Be Expected? A New Mapping Approach—Using Google Maps—Based On Statistical Significance Testing