Long Tails of Astronomy and Genetic Engineering

miceIn The Long Tail (Revised and Updated Edition), Chris Anderson uses astronomy as his lead-off example of “new producers.” Amateur astronomers complement the work of professionals by, among other things, observing the heavens: there’s a lot of heaven to observe. Much of the observation is due to the long tail comprising these amateurs.

That wasn’t the only example of a long tail of production in science that I encountered today. Amateurs are trying genetic engineering at home, reports Yahoo News. The article doesn’t mention whether these amateurs are producing life forms with long tails. I found the article via Reddit, where it has prompted some interesting comments.

I also found the image via Reddit. These two mighty galaxies are pulling each other apart. Known as ” The Mice” because they have such long tails, each spiral galaxy has likely already passed through the other.

Depends On What You Mean By “Tail”

Chris Anderson sportingly draws attention to an article in Harvard Business Review that takes issue with Long Tail theory. He traces the paper’s findings about the long tail to the way in which it defines the tail. Jackson West at Valleywag remarks:

Anderson says that [HBR author and HBS prof] Elberse’s analysis isn’t wrong, per se, just that they disagree on exactly what the “head” and “tail” mean. Except that Elberse worked with Anderson on researching his book, so one imagines the Wired magazine editor explained it thoroughly. Funny, it’s as though two different people analyzing the same data have come to entirely different conclusions about the “truth.”

There is brilliance in that quote – yes the quote from Valleywag. The brilliance lies in the link in the last sentence.