HCOL 196, May 4, 2011

We had a short class today. I mentioned that the student who said that the last smallpox victim was in Somalia was correct (it was a less virulent version of the disease known as Variola minor); I was also correct in noting a victim in India, the last of the more virulent version, Variola major. But these were all victims who caught the disease “in the wild.” The real last victim was a medical photographer who was exposed by mistake in the UK. Unfortunately, she died. Here is the WikiPedia entry.

I mentioned also an article about using linguistic evidence to learn about the origins of the Japanese people. They constructed a “phylogenetic tree” of the language from the various dialects in existence (and some other information), similarly to the way biologists construct phylogenetic trees of organisms from DNA evidence. We’d heard about this before. The people who did this study used Bayesian methods.

I also mentioned the doctoral dissertation defense of a student I had in my graduate Bayes course some years ago, who got interested in Bayesian statistics and has used it to construct phylogenetic trees for organisms. This was a very difficult program, and he did a very nice job. Had I known that his talk would be so well presented, I would have posted the information for you, I am sure most of you could have followed it.

I then left, and you all filled out the course evaluation forms.

I’ve enjoyed teaching this class this semester. You have all been very interested and have worked hard. I hope you all have a very pleasant summer (I know that some of you are travelling abroad, and to you I say “Bon voyage!”, or if you are going to China, “一路平安!”)

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