Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Computer Science, Women, NYTimes!


NYTimes has yet another story on how some college or the other is doing such a great job of attracting, and retaining, women in its computer science program. If it is the University of Washington this time, it was Harvey Mudd last year, and Carnegie Mellon back in 2007. These are the ones I have read; there may be others that I didn't even know about. [Update: And, oh, there's also this from 2011, though it is not quite about women in computer science].

It would have been interesting if the later stories showed some awareness of the earlier ones -- for example, if Carnegie Mellon did some great things get a lot more women into its computer science program back in 2007, how well is it doing now? Has it improved enrollment figures for women even further? Has it hit a wall? Has it let things slide?

But, but ... I'm just quibbling here. The most recent intervention by NYTimes in the Women-in-Computer-Science debate is quite good in its coverage of the kinds of experiments at different places (UWashington, Michigan State, Harvey Mudd, Harvard, ...), as well as of the kinds of curriculum-related debates within Computer Science.

Doing Science is, in fact, "Rocket Science"


Leonard Mlodinov has an op-ed in NYTimes arguing against the myth that science is just a series of flashes of intuitive insights that just hit people by accident.

Two thousand years ago, Aristotle’s “Physics” was a wide-ranging set of theories that were easy to state and understand. But his ideas were almost completely wrong. Newton’s “Principia” ushered in the age of modern science, but remains one of the most impenetrable books ever written. There is a reason: The truths of nature are subtle, and require deep and careful thought.

Over the past few centuries we have invested that level of thought, and so while in the 19th century the Reuters news service used carrier pigeons to fly stock prices between cities, today we have the Internet.

Even if we are not scientists, every day we are challenged to make judgments and decisions about technical matters like vaccinations, financial investments, diet supplements and, of course, global warming. If our discourse on such topics is to be intelligent and productive, we need to dip below the surface and grapple with the complex underlying issues. The myths can seduce one into believing there is an easier path, one that doesn’t require such hard work.

But even beyond issues of science, there is a broader lesson ... We all run into difficult problems in life, and we will be happier and more successful if we appreciate that the answers often aren’t quick, or easy.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bad Incentives are behind Big Science Frauds


Updated with links.

* * *

Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky, the folks behind Retraction Watch have penned an op-ed in NYTimes: What’s Behind Big Science Frauds? They flag a circle of behaviours to support their thesis that "the incentives to publish today are corrupting the scientific literature"

  • Science fetishizes the published paper as the ultimate marker of individual productivity. And it doubles down on that bias with a concept called “impact factor” — how likely the studies in a given journal are to be referenced by subsequent articles.

  • Journals with higher impact factors retract papers more often than those with lower impact factors.

  • Scientists view high-profile journals as the pinnacle of success — and they’ll cut corners, or worse, for a shot at glory.

  • [The reviewers at top journals] seem to keep missing critical flaws that readers pick up days or even hours after publication.

  • [P]erhaps journals rush peer reviewers so that authors will want to publish their supposedly groundbreaking work with them.

The news that appears to have triggered this op-ed is a recent retraction of a high profile paper. Since the original paper was on a topic of wide interest, it got picked up by many news outlets. Now that many problems with the data presented in the paper have been uncovered, the senior author (Prof. Donald Green, at Columbia) has sought a retraction, the journal (Science) has responded with an expression of concern, and the junior author (Michael LaCour, a grad student at UCLA) says he stands by his study and promises a comphrehensive response by the 29th of May.

Read the whole thing at Retraction Watch: Author retracts study of changing minds on same-sex marriage after colleague admits data were faked.

Here's a round-up of how various news outlets which covered the original paper have responded to the retraction.

* * *

Update (26 May 2015): An Interview With Donald Green, the Co-Author of the Faked Gay-Marriage Study by Jesse Singal in New York Magazine.

How the Gay Rights Canvassing Study Fell Apart by Naomi Shavin in The New Republic.

Anil Kakodkar speaks out


In the NDTV interview by Shekhar Gupta, Dr. Kakodkar opens up on recent controversies surrounding selection of IIT directors, as well as the government's disgraceful treatment of Prof. Shevgaonkar, director of IIT-Delhi. Kakodkar chooses his words carefully (at one point he says he "stays within limits"), but the subtext is clear.

Here's the video -- the IIT-related discussion starts after 10 minutes or so. The interview is set to continue next week as well.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Ultimate Kill Bill - Volume II


Watch this interview of HRD Minister Smriti Irani by Rajdeep Sardesai:

* * *
[Self-plagiarism alert!]

In the (unlikely) event that you haven't seen the two Kill Bill volumes (errr, movies), here's the iconic scene from the first volume.

The Ultimate Kill Bill - Volume 1


Watch this interview of HRD Minister Smriti Irani by Arnab Goswami:

In the (unlikely) event that you haven't seen the two Kill Bill volumes (errr, movies), here's the iconic scene from the first volume.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Gender and Affirmative Action Policies in India


S. Rukmini in has an interesting report in The Hindu -- ‘Quotas for education helped SCs, but boys alone reaped the benefit’ -- summarizing the results from a recent study.

The broad conclusion is in line with another study from 2008: Affirmative Action in Education: Evidence from Engineering College Admissions in India (pdf) summarized in a Mint op-ed by the authors. Key quote: "... we find that the affirmative action policy appears to hurt female applicants, given that a higher percentage of those let in through affirmative action are males."

Selecting Higher Ed Leaders


Two stories about recent director-level appointments.

Check out a pretty nice piece in The Telegraph by Basant Kumar Mohanty -- A 10-minute IIT puzzle -- How to pick directors. Mohanty starts with this post from Dheeraj Sanghi's blog, and adds to it with some original reporting on the process used recently for selecting IIT directors at Ropar, Bhubaneswar, and Patna.

[Aside: Buried deep inside, we get this: "Late tonight, it was learnt that Prof. R.V. Raja Kumar of IIT Kharagpur had been appointed director of IIT Bhubaneswar and Prof. Pushpak Bhattacharyya of IIT Bombay that of IIT Patna. Prof. Sarit Kumar Das of IIT Madras will be the director of IIT Ropar."]

* * *

Thanks to R. Ramachandran's Frontline report with a terrific headline (Disappointing a Director), we now have clearer picture of the botched process of selecting the next TIFR director. The way he tells it, almost all the blame is with the Department of Atomic Energy, whose job it was to ensure that all the formal procedures were followed.

You should read Ramachandran's report just for spicy insider stories from the selection process. Let me limit myself here to some of the key points from his report:

  1. The sticking point is about the new norm (that an open advertisement should be the starting point for the search for a new director) which all institutions are expected to follow. The PMO appears to have been (mis)led by a DAE official's adverse comment about the lack of an open advertisement; it turns out that TIFR's own bylaws do not require one.

  2. The search committee followed the same process (i.e., one which did not use an open advertisement) as the previous search committees did.

  3. After the search committee chose Prof. Trivedi, the DAE sat on the file for several months before it was sent to the PMO.

  4. Also, TIFR should also have waited for the final go-ahead from the PMO before asking Prof. Trivedi to take over. Instead, they jumped the gun.

  5. PMO's rejection of Prof. Trivedi's appointment came well after he had taken over, causing much embarrassment all around.

  6. While the PMO could still have accepted the outcome (of the seemingly flawed search process), it is certainly well within its right to say no to the appointment. This, by itself, would not constitute violation of institutional autonomy.

  7. Apparently, the government might mandate that the constitution of the search committee itself be approved by the government (Ramachandran's report is not clear on this point). If this step becomes operational, it would certainly undermine autonomy.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Links: Women in Science Edition


  1. Toni Schmader, Jessica Whitehead, and Vicki H. Wysocki: A Linguistic Comparison of Letters of Recommendation for Male and Female Chemistry and Biochemistry Job Applicants.

    Letters of recommendation are central to the hiring process. However, gender stereotypes could bias how recommenders describe female compared to male applicants. In the current study, text analysis software was used to examine 886 letters of recommendation written on behalf of 235 male and 42 female applicants for either a chemistry or biochemistry faculty position at a large U.S. research university. Results revealed more similarities than differences in letters written for male and female candidates. However, recommenders used significantly more standout adjectives to describe male as compared to female candidates. Letters containing more standout words also included more ability words and fewer grindstone words. Research is needed to explore how differences in language use affect perceivers’ evaluations of female candidates.

  2. Joan C. Williams in HBR: The 5 Biases Pushing Women Out of STEM.

  3. Jessica Collett at Scatterplot: Feeling Like a Fraud? You Are Not Alone. A summary of her recent research on the impostor syndrome.

  4. Noah Smith in Bloomberg: Bigotry Is Expensive.

    So if a society bases its decisions of who gets which job on race and gender, it’s going to be sacrificing efficiency. If women aren’t allowed to be doctors, the talent pool for doctors will be diluted, and wages will be pushed up too high, choking off output. This would be true even in a bizarro world where every man was a better doctor than every woman! Of course that’s not even remotely true, but the point is, the theory of comparative advantage doesn’t care about average differences in absolute ability. If you’re making rules about which type of people are allowed to do which type of job, you’re hurting the economy.

    Just how big of a difference does this make? A team of top economists has recently studied the question, and their results are pretty startling. In “The Allocation of Talent and Economic Growth,” economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago Booth Business School and Charles Jones and Peter Klenow of Stanford estimate that one fifth of total growth in U.S. output per worker between 1960 and 2008 was due to a decline in discrimination.

Links


  1. Anjali Vaidya at India BioScience: Unaddressed demands remain after research fellowship hike. Uses several quotes from IISc students and faculty!

  2. Prashant Nanda in Mint: Govt climbs down, to drop IIM council plan. "The HRD ministry’s change of heart came after the business schools raised concerns, say two government officials".

  3. Adam Connor-Simons in MIT News: How three MIT students fooled the world of scientific journals. SCIGen is 10 years old, and this is a timely (and short) profile of the MIT grad students who created it.

  4. For the Ilayaraja fans: Rare Photos Of Music Composer Ilaiyaraaja. Look at those bell-bottoms!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Links: Higher Ed Edition


  1. The most depressing thing you will read this month. Kendall Powell in Nature (April 2015): The future of the postdoc. "There is a growing number of postdocs and few places in academia for them to go. But change could be on the way."

  2. As usual, Google has figured it all out!

  3. Ivan Oransky in The Conversation: Unlike a Rolling Stone: is science really better than journalism at self-correction?

  4. Richard Van Noorden, Brendan Maher & Regina Nuzzo in Nature (October 2014): The top 100 papers. "Nature explores the most-cited research of all time."

Links


  1. Prem Panicker at Smoke Signals: RIP Jayakanthan.

  2. Sriram V. at Madras Heritage and Carnatic Music: A Chola Gift to Chennai.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Links


  1. Susannah Locke in Vox.com: 15 ways to tell if that science news story is hogwash

    The excellent chart ... offers "A Rough Guide to Spotting Bad Science." It was put together by the blogger [Andy Brunning, a chemistry teacher in the UK] behind the chemistry site Compound Interest. It isn't meant to be an exhaustive list — and not all of these flaws are necessarily fatal.

  2. A bold initiative in France: Ambition in Paris:

    The creation of the University of Paris-Saclay’s campus will cost €2 billion ($2.17 billion), and a government-funded €2.5 billion ($2.72 billion) extension of the Paris Métro will connect the high-tech hub to the center of the French capital in 35 minutes.

    However, Dominique Vernay, president of Paris-Saclay, has bigger concerns than the infrastructure challenges involved in constructing the university’s 1,300-acre campus over the next few years, namely how to get 19 fiercely independent organizations to pull together and move in the same direction. [...]

    “They were not that keen to work together in the beginning, but they have taken steps over the past seven years to come together -- the commitment was to set up a common organization.”

    To this end, nine of France’s most prestigious grandes écoles, such as the École Polytechnique and the École Normale Supérieure, will work with less selective traditional universities, business schools and national research organizations at Paris-Saclay.

    Within 10 years, 12,000 researchers and 70,000 students will be based at the Paris-Saclay campus, with the institution aiming to take its place among the world’s top 10 universities by 2025.

  3. Charles Seife in Slate: Science’s Big Scandal. "Even legitimate publishers are faking peer review."

    It can be read alone, but it's even better to read it with Seife's previous article in Scientific American: For Sale: “Your Name Here” in a Prestigious Science Journal. "An investigation into some scientific papers finds worrying irregularities."

  4. Barbara Fister in Inside Higher Ed: New Predatory Publishing in Old Bottles. "... What worries me far more than these fairly obvious scams are the emerging business practices being used by highly profitable publishers with long and distinguished pedigrees that are treating open access as a new revenue stream that can be both open and closed – earning money through subscriptions and author fees. [...]"

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Links: Misconduct in Science Edition


  1. Jill Neimark in Aeon: The Retraction War. "Scientists seek demigod status, journals want blockbuster results, and retractions are on the rise: is science broken?"

  2. John Rasko and Carl Power in The Guardian: What pushes scientists to lie? The disturbing but familiar story of Haruko Obokata. "The spectacular fall of the Japanese scientist who claimed to have triggered stem cell abilities in regular body cells is not uncommon in the scientific community. The culprit: carelessness and hubris in the drive to make a historic discovery."

  3. James MacDonald at JSTOR Daily: Research Fraud: When Science Goes Bad.

  4. Neuroskeptic: Editorial Misbehaviour in Autism Journals?. See also: The games we play: A troubling dark side in academic publishing by Pete Etchells and Chris Chambers in The Guardian.

  5. To end all this bleakness, here's a link to something positive. Dan Hopkins in Washington Post: How to Make Scientific Research More Trustworthy. An interview with Brendan Nyhan, who advocates registering research designs before scholars begin the work.

Links


  1. Veenu Sandhu in The Business Standard: Sexual harassment at work: Tell and suffer. "A woman's ordeal only worsens after she protests against sexual harassment at the office."'

  2. Cat Ferguson in Retraction Watch: Rolling Stone retracts UVA gang rape story: A view from Retraction Watch. [The only (and, barely) redeeming thing in this disaster is that Rolling Stone got an external review done by Columbia Journalism School, and made the review report public.]

    Ferguson quotes from the NYTimes article on the report's findings:

    It is hardly unusual for journalists to rely on members of advocacy groups for help finding characters, but it is a practice that requires extra vigilance. “You’re in a zone there where you have to be careful,” said Nicholas Lemann, a professor at Columbia and the journalism school’s former dean.

    Mr. Lemann distributes a document called “The Journalistic Method” in one of his classes. It is a play on the term “the scientific method,” but in some respects, investigating a story is not so different from investigating a scientific phenomenon. “It’s all about very rigorous hypothesis testing: What is my hypothesis and how would I disprove it?” he said. “That’s what the journalist didn’t do in this case.”