Human or Cylon?

The answer was given during the Department of Statistics seminar on 9/2/09! If you missed it or would like to see it again, you can download the slides and view a video of the presentation.

Title: Turning Data into Knowledge to Solve Sci-Fi Problems
Speaker: Christopher R. Bilder, Associate Professor in the UNL Department of Statistics
Date: September 2, 2009
Time: 3-4PM
Location: Hardin 049 (north wing)

Abstract: The statistical science has made significant contributions to medicine, engineering, social sciences, agriculture, and a multitude of other important areas. Does statistics have a place though in the world of science fiction? Because science fiction writers try to merge the sci-fi world with the real world in a believable way, one might think that statistics could make a significant contribution to solving sci-fi problems as well. In the hit Sci Fi Network television show, the new Battlestar Galactica (a re-imagined version of the 1970’s show), there is an attempt to use science to solve a very important problem. Unfortunately, the proposed scientific solution is impractical and never implemented. My presentation shows how the problem could have been solved instead using the statistical procedure called group testing (also known as pooled testing). Scientists use this technique already to solve many real-world problems, including the screening of blood donations for diseases. When applied to the problem on Battlestar Galactica, it will be shown that group testing could have made a dramatic difference to the course of the show.

This research is supported in part by NIH grant R01AI067373. A corresponding paper to this presentation will appear later this year in Chance. To find out about Chris Bilder's real-world research in group testing, please see his research website at

Please note that the seminar will be given at an introductory statistics level and non-STAT UNL faculty and students are welcome to attend.