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ASTR 5540 Reports and Presentations


20% of your grade in this course will come from a combination of a report and an associated 5-10 minute presentation.


For your report, you will submit an answer to ONE of the four problems on Differential Equations, and write a report on ONE of the five (or six) papers on Probability and Statistics.

Your writing should be clear, concise, and correct. Part of the grade on your report will be based on the quality of the writing.


For your presentation, you will make a 5-10 minute presentation, in class, on EITHER the Differential Equation problem, OR the Probability and Statistics paper.

You should prepare your presentation on overhead transparencies. I would imagine that 3 transparencies would be entirely adequate, but there is no hard and fast rule.

No more than TWO people may make a presentation on the same problem or paper. You may reserve a topic, and I will post reservations of presentation topics on this webpage. If you have a preference, then obviously it is in your interest to reserve a problem or paper as early as possible.



Problems in Differential Equations

Please write up your solution in words as well as equations, as if you were writing a solution set for publication. Your solution may be either handwritten or TeX'd. Many thanks to Ellen Zweibel for making available this suite of problems.
Reports on Papers on Probability and Statistics

Your report here should be in two parts: a description, and a critique. The first part, the description, should describe succinctly the principal arguments and results of the paper. The second part, the critique, should be in the style of a ``referee's report'', and should bring out the merits and faults of the paper.

You should imagine that the author(s) will read the report. Therefore you should be polite but factual at all times. If you make general criticisms, you should back these up with detailed specifics.

As referee, it is your responsibility to go through the paper with a fine toothcomb to check for errors, unclear statements, and misprints. If you like, you can mark up a copy of the paper, but this should not take the place of your report.

I would imagine that your report might fill 3 typed pages, but there is no hard and fast rule.

Below are the 5 recommended papers on probability and statistics, plus the option of a paper of your choice. For two of the papers, I have added references to subsequent critical or rebuttal papers. In these cases your job is to review and critique the first paper only, but you may care to look at the subsequent papers to help you in your assessment.

  1. David M. Raup & J. John Sepkoski, Jr. (1984) ``Periodicity of extinctions in the geologic past'', Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 81, 801-805. See also David M. Raup & J. John Sepkoski, Jr. (1986) ``Periodic Extinction of Families and Genera'', Science 231, 833-836. The first of these papers set off a minor furore in its claimed discovery of a 26 Myr periodicity in mass extinctions of species on Earth. The paper was criticized by Antoni Hoffman (1985) ``Patterns of family extinction depend on definition and geological timescale'' Nature 315, 659-662, provoking a heated exchange of letters in Nature 321, 533-536. Thanks to Larry Esposito for suggesting this.

  2. William H. Press (1996) ``Understanding Data Better with Bayesian and Global Statistical Methods'', astro-ph/9604126. A didactic and typically Pressian paper, which takes the measurement of the Hubble constant as an illustrative example. Thanks to Mike Nowak for suggesting this one.

  3. Anita L. Cochran, Harold F. Levison, S. Alan Stern & Martin J. Duncan (1995) ``The Discovery of Halley-Sized Kuiper Belt Objects using the Hubble Space Telescope'', Ap J, 455, 342-346. This paper reports the discovery in deep HST WFPC2 images of a statistical excess of faint, high proper motion objects, which the authors interpret as Kuiper belt objects. The paper was criticized by Michael E. Brown, Shrinivas R. Kulkarni & Timothy J. Liggett (1997) ``An Analysis of the Statistics of the Hubble Space Telescope Kuiper Belt Object Search'', Ap J Letters, 490, L119-L122, and a rebuttal has recently appeared by Anita L. Cochran, Harold F. Levison, Peter Tamblyn, S. Alan Stern & Martin J. Duncan (1998) ``The Calibration of the HST Kuiper Belt Object Search: Setting the Record Straight'', astro-ph/9806210. Thanks to Nick Schneider for suggesting this.

  4. Stella Seitz, Peter Schneider & Matthias Bartelmann (1998) ``Entropy-regularized Maximum-Likelihood cluster mass reconstruction'', astro-ph/9803038. Maximum likelihood and maximum entropy all at the same time? Thanks to Peter Schneider for this reference.

  5. Max Tegmark (1996) ``Comparing and Combining Cosmic Microwave Background Datasets'', astro-ph/9809001. A short but packed paper. I always find Max's papers highly educational, although it can sometimes take me an entire day to arrive at a proper understanding of just one of his equations. Can you figure out what his `null-buster' is?

  6. A research paper of your choice dealing with Probability and Statistics, perhaps in your own special field of interest.

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Updated 5 Nov 1998