Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chemistry in Asia

Now that the India-Pakistan game is over, I guess we can get back to normal life. [My heart goes out to Misbah-ul-Haq, though. How can the same shit happen to the same man twice -- last man out against India in the final of the T-20 World Cup in 2007, and now this, the semi-final in this ODI World Cup].

While I'm not a big fan of scientometrics [mainly because their use is inappropriate in 'judging' the contributions of individuals], I do see their value in comparisons as long as (a) they are confined to single subject areas, and (b) they involve larger entities (such as departments, institutions, or even countries). With (a), we can avoid inappropriate comparisons -- e.g., between Courant Institute of Mathematical and Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory -- across fields with different citation practices. And with (b), we will have better and more meaningful statistics due to larger numbers of publications and citations.

Science Watch has a comparative table that meets these two conditions. So, go have a look at the ranking of Asia-Pacific Nations in Chemistry, 2000-2010.

The ranking is in terms of citations per paper; only Singapore (~citations per paper), Australia (12.5) and Japan (~12) do better than the world average (~11). Singapore, the Asia-Pacific topper, is actually ranked 12th in the world. India and China have about 7 citations per paper, and are ranked, respectively, 8th and 9th in Asia, and 38th and 39th in the world; however, China out-publishes India by a factor of nearly 3!

I still have a quibble. This report is a snapshot. I would much prefer an analysis of how the countries have done over the years; for example, the same data -- spanning 11 years, from 2000 to 2010 -- could have been analyzed for five consecutive 6-year periods, starting with 2000-05, all the way up to 2005-10. Such an analysis is better at describing which way each country is headed.

Of course, for policy makers, what would be even better is a sub-field level analysis, which could help identify a country's strong areas as well as weak areas.

Oh well, this is all we have for now.

Friday, March 25, 2011

IT-BHU takes one more step towards becoming an IIT

This is a major milestone:

Lok Sabha Passes Bill to Provide IIT Status to 8 Institutes, BHU

The Lok Sabha today passed a bill to provide status of IIT to eight new institutes and upgrade BHU's institute of technology into IIT with government asserting that steps were being taken to address shortage of faculty and quality of higher education.

[Disclosure: I am an alumnus of IT-BHU.]

There's one more step -- Rajya Sabha's approval -- before the conversion of IT-BHU into an IIT becomes a legal reality.

Philanthropy news of the day

Indian Express: Google mentor’s family to fund entrepreneurial research at IIT:

Nearly two years after Rajeev Motwani was found dead in a pool in the backyard of his Atherton home, his family has come back to his alma mater to foster values and ideas he cherished. His wife, Asha Jadeja Motwani, has pledged $1.5 million to IIT-Kanpur on the occasion of her husband’s 49th birth anniversary. The fund will go towards setting up the Motwani Building at the IIT and a centre for entrepreneurial research.

Also in philanthropy news from India: Buffett and Gates Prod India’s Wealthy to Be More Philanthropic.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Onion reveals the secret

A priceless video news segment from the Onion News Network: CIA's "Facebook" Dramatically Cut Agency's Costs.

Money quote:

CIA calls Facebook "Reason we invented the Internet."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

First mention

Every once in a while, NYTimes presents a brief history of key scientific advances, starting with their first appearance in the newspaper itself. This week's First Mention features In Vitro Fertilization, 1974:

When The New York Times first mentioned in vitro fertilization, the paper might have been reporting on a casually uttered lie.

The article appeared on July 16, 1974. A British physician, Dr. Douglas Bevis, gave a presentation on embryo implantation, work that had been going on in animals for some time. After his talk, during a question-and-answer session, he said that three test-tube human babies had already been born, and that he had “learned about the births through exchanges with colleagues in ‘chit-chat.’ ” [...]

... That September The Times Magazine published “The Embryo Sweepstakes,” an article that suggested Dr. Bevis’s claims might be fraudulent; it also described the work of two British doctors, Patrick C. Steptoe and Robert G. Edwards, who did seem close to achieving the feat. Dr. Bevis, who died in 1994, never spoke about the issue again.

National Academic Depository

This major counter-measure against academic cheaters takes another step forward: the Cabinet approval.

The National Academic Depository Bill proposes to create a national-level database of all academic certification and is projected as a major reform step that will cut through layers of attestation and inspection processes and crack down on fake degree rackets. It also means that every student, employer and institute will be able to take a print of a degree and check its veracity online — like a demat account. That apart, the ministry feels the move will help in maintenance of academic records and check problems like spoilage of certificates over time. It will also ease things for those seeking duplicate copies of their degrees.

Monday, March 21, 2011


This video is really cool. Nicely done.

Links ...

  1. Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed: MIT Again Reviews Status of Women. See also: this NYTimes report.

  2. Rajat Gupta steps down from the Chairmanship of ISB Board. He's also counter-suing SEC.

  3. Quote of the Day:

    Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.
    -- attributed to Mark Twain and a whole lot of others.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Evgeny Morozov on "What Technolgoy Wants" by Kevin Kelly

A scathing review that'll make you go, "Ouch!"

Kelly’s project, by contrast, seeks to deepen the moral void -— and to establish its normative character by claiming that it is propelled by the same forces as evolution. But can evolution really explain the plight of child laborers mining for cobalt—a key ingredient in batteries for mobile phones—in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Zambia? (According to a 2007 study by SwedWatch, a Swedish watchdog, there were some fifty thousand workers under the age of eighteen involved in this practice.) Is exploiting minors for cobalt mining something that technology wants, or is it something that certain businesses, here disguised under the innocent label of the “technium,” require? To claim that such processes follow the normal direction of evolution is to let the mining corporations off the hook far too easily.

Alison Gopnik: "Why Preschool Shouldn't Be Like School"

An excellent column over at Slate:

Sidebar Link

Let Kids Rule The School by Susan Engel.

Developmental scientists like me explore the basic science of learning by designing controlled experiments. We might start by saying: Suppose we gave a group of 4-year-olds exactly the same problems and only varied on whether we taught them directly or encouraged them to figure it out for themselves? Would they learn different things and develop different solutions? The two new studies in Cognition are the first to systematically show that they would.

In the first study, MIT professor Laura Schulz, her graduate student Elizabeth Bonawitz, and their colleagues looked at how 4-year-olds learned about a new toy with four tubes. Each tube could do something interesting: If you pulled on one tube it squeaked, if you looked inside another tube you found a hidden mirror, and so on. For one group of children, the experimenter said: "I just found this toy!" As she brought out the toy, she pulled the first tube, as if by accident, and it squeaked. She acted surprised ("Huh! Did you see that? Let me try to do that!") and pulled the tube again to make it squeak a second time. With the other children, the experimenter acted more like a teacher. She said, "I'm going to show you how my toy works. Watch this!" and deliberately made the tube squeak. Then she left both groups of children alone to play with the toy.

All of the children pulled the first tube to make it squeak. The question was whether they would also learn about the other things the toy could do. The children from the first group played with the toy longer and discovered more of its "hidden" features than those in the second group. In other words, direct instruction made the children less curious and less likely to discover new information.

Does direct teaching also make children less likely to draw new conclusions—or, put another way, does it make them less creative?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

John Timmer reviews David Goodsteins's "On Fact and Fraud"

Overall, a negative review. I haven't read the book, so I can't argue one way or the other.

Sidebar Links

PDF of the first chapter

David Goodstein's home page

A grim / funny quote from his book, States of Matter

* * *

Two excerpts -- one is on a specific case, and the other is a general point about the organizational structure of science:

... Goodstein revisits the history of Millikan's oil drop experiment, which provided the first accurate measurement of the electron's charge. A subsequent review of Millikan's notebook suggested that the work might have involved some cherry picking, with only a subset of the complete experimental record ending up published.

Goodstein makes a fairly convincing case that the reanalysis was itself a bit selective. The original work involved using a complex experimental device, and some of the discarded data appears to have simply involved the period in which Millikan was figuring out how to get the machinery to work. It also seems to have been sensitive to atmospheric conditions, and some of the other discarded data involved days where the air quality caused the results to suffer.

These are the sorts of informed judgements that go on in research all the time, but to an outsider they can seem baffling and arbitrary.

... and ...

He also praises the reward and authority systems that help keep the scientific community on the straight and narrow. But it's not hard to imagine that these systems might break down when presented with more challenging cases than the ones presented here. It's also hard to forget that this is a system that has treated Goodstein pretty well over the years; you'd expect him to like it. In less well-documented cases of scientific fraud, the fraudster's position of authority kept people from questioning suspicious results.

In case you are interested

Robert Reich: "With Nuclear Reactors, You Get What You Pay For"

With nuclear reactors, you get what you pay for

[... snip ...]

... Reasonable precaution means spending as much on safety as the probability of a particular disaster occurring, multiplied by its likely harm to human beings and the environment if it does occur.

Here’s the problem. Profit-making corporations have every incentive to underestimate these probabilities and lowball the likely harms.

This is why it’s necessary to have such things as government regulators, why regulators must be independent of the industries they regulate, and why regulators need enough resources to enforce the regulations.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Links ...

  1. Societal benefits of research -- A project of the Association of American Universities. Short, snappy reports on all kinds of cool things made possible by basic research. Example: Google.

    And, oh, AAU can do parody too! It's mildly funny, but quite effective. [Hat tip to Inside Higher Ed

  2. Shailaja Neelakantan in CHE: India Prepares a Welcome Mat for Students and Foreign Universities

  3. Sarah Lyall in NYTimes: Missing Micrograms Set a Standard on Edge: "No one knows exactly why the international prototype of the kilogram, as pampered a hunk of platinum and iridium as ever existed, appears to weigh less than it did when it was manufactured in the late 19th century. "

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rajat Gupta's smoking gun

Does ISB have a course on business ethics? This tape -- featuring the Chairman of ISB Board -- will be a great educational aid in that course.

Listening to that tape leads WSJ's Evan Newmark to wonder, "How come Gupta hasn’t yet been criminally charged for his shenanigans?" Newmark's commentary highlights the incriminating parts of the conversation. One of them is the part where Gupta reveals Goldman Sachs's plans. I want to excerpt the other part. Here's Newmark:

Oddly, I don’t think Gupta’s misuse of his Goldman board position was the ugliest feature of the call. That distinction goes to the way Gupta blithely accepted Rajarantam’s shady dealings with Anil Kumar, Gupta’s McKinsey protégé.

Here’s part of their exchange:

Raj Rajaratnam: Now, from, for the last three or four, I mean four or five years, I’ve given him a million bucks a year.

Rajat Gupta: Yeah, yeah.

Raj Rajaratnam: After taxes, off shore cash.

Rajat Gupta: Yeah, yeah.

Those Gupta “yeahs” are not “yeah, I’m sort of listening to you, Raj”, those are “yeah, you’re right, Raj. That Anil is an ungrateful leech.”

Please listen to the wiretap of the call yourself. The tone of Gupta’s voice will tell you much more than simply reading a transcript.

Here was the former Managing Partner of McKinsey acknowledging that Rajaratnam is paying offshore cash to a McKinsey partner, violating McKinsey’s internal disclosure and conflict of interest rules, as well as evading U.S. taxes.

A “crime” by Gupta? Probably not. More a sin of omission. But disgraceful? Absolutely.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

NYTimes on the zu Guttenberg Affair

Here. It's a nice summary of how the story unfolded -- including protests that involved hanging "shoes on the iron fence outside the Defense Ministry in Berlin in a sly ... allusion ... to the missing footnotes in Mr. Guttenberg’s dissertation."

I can excerpt from many different sections of that story, but I'll go with what Krugman chose (through whom I got the link):

Ms. Merkel, a former academic married to a professor, was being accused of belittling intellectual property theft and, by implication, the value of an advanced degree, which is not a purely academic matter in this country. Many jobs require such degrees in Germany, where, as is not the case in America, calling oneself doctor for having completed a thesis in, say, political science or art history, is not embarrassing but normal, even when filling out Lufthansa’s online booking forms. (The airline generously provides three levels of academic achievement for its overachieving countrymen: doctor, professor and professor doctor, skipping the extremely rare but not unheard-of German mouthful Herr Professor Doctor Doctor).

Sunita Narain: "Indian Scientists Missing in Action"

Her op-ed in The Business Standard is filled with strong stuff. Example:

Take the issue of genetically-modified (GM) crops. For long this matter has been decided inside closed-door committee rooms, where scientists are comforted by the fact that their decisions will not be challenged. Their defence is “sound science” and “superior knowledge”. It is interesting that the same scientists will accept data produced by private companies pushing the product. Issues of conflict of interest will be brushed aside as integrity cannot be questioned behind closed doors. Silence is the best insurance. This is what happened inside a stuffy committee room, where scientists sat to give permission to Mahyco-Monsanto to grow genetically-modified brinjal.

This case involved a vegetable we all eat. This was a matter of science we had the right to know about and to decide upon. The issue made headlines. The reaction of the scientific fraternity was predictable and obnoxious. They resented the questions. They did not want a public debate.

Thanks to my colleague Atul Chokshi for the alert.

Monday, March 14, 2011

How long have you been dead when a wiki says you died in 1997?

Facing death by wiki, Zick Rubin fights back. And surreality ensues:

When I complained to, I got a prompt and friendly reply from its co-founder, Angela Beesley, sending me her “kind regards” and telling me that she had corrected the article. But when I checked a week later, the “1944-1997” had returned. So I e-mailed her again (subject line: “inaccurate report that I am dead”), and got the following explanation:

“My change to the page was reverted on the grounds that the info included in this article was sourced from Reber and Reber’s the Dictionary of Psychology, third edition, 2001. Is it possible the page is talking about a different Zick Rubin? The article is about a social psychologist.”

I didn’t doubt that the Dictionary of Psychology was a highly authoritative source, and yet I persisted in wondering why Reber — or, for that matter, Reber — would know more than I would about whether I was alive or dead.

* * *

  1. Check out the Talk page on the entry on Rubin; it's pretty funny!

  2. Rubin draws a parallel between this episode with the story "The Bear That Wasn't." YouTube has a video.

  3. While Rubin was accused of having been dead for over 12 years, John Seigenthaler was accused of far worse in 2005; a Wikipedia entry said, "For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven." It all got sorted out -- but only after he went public with it.

* * *

Thanks to Prof. S. Ranganathan for the e-mail alert.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wild, wacky world of academia

  1. Ellen Laird in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Prime Suspect, Second Row Center. "[N]ow a suspected ax murderer was one of my students. What should I do?"

  2. A French-Israeli academic sued a journal editor for libel and defamation when the latter published a negative review of her book. The French courts ruled against her. Now, for the first time, we have her side of the story.

  3. A PhD thesis on snowboarding? [h/t: Chris Blattman]

  4. This one is for LaTeX-nerds: LaTeX Coffee Stains -- the post is about a style file that adds a coffee stain to your documents. [h/t: Raghu's Buzz]

  5. GRE revises its General Test. Again. The change takes effect this August.

Plagiarism, meet Art

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's PhD thesis is now data visualizers' delight.

Cartoon links

  1. Indexed: You'll go far, son

  2. xkcd: Mathematically Annoying Advertising

  3. Abstruse Goose: Truth

  4. PHD Comics: How do I love you, Thesis? Let me count the ways ...

The Rajaratnam Trial

While we wait for Rajat Gupta to step away from the ISB Board (just as he has done at no less than five companies / entities), the Rajaratnam trial has begun. A star witness has already started his testimony -- this is a man named Anil Kumar, an old McKinsey hand who, by his own admission, fed Rajaratnam insider information on McKinsey clients he worked with. (Anil Kumar, incidentally, resigned from the ISB Board in 2009 after his involvement in the insider trading scandal became public). The prosecution has also played several conversations between Rajaratnam and his associates; one of them features Anil Kumar.

Some interesting bits, in no particular order:

  • Mr. Kumar ... testified that Mr. Rajaratnam told him in 2002 that Galleon had $100 million a year to spend on research ... Mr. Kumar said he made a couple of proposals to provide industry research to Mr. Rajaratnam, but the hedge-fund manager didn't respond.

    Eventually, Mr. Rajaratnam told him at a charitable event that such industry research "wasn't really what I want," and proposed hiring Mr. Kumar as a private consultant for Galleon for $500,000 a year, Mr. Kumar testified.

  • “You work very, very hard and you’re underpaid,” Kumar quoted Rajaratnam as saying. “People have made fortunes while you were away in India, you deserve more for all your insights, so just keep track of your insights and share them with me.”

    He said Rajaratnam insisted on paying him, saying “I know you will not remember to keep a list of ideas if you don’t get money from me.”

  • "[Rajaratnam] was asking me for a variety of information such as what is a company’s profit, their revenue, how they are doing in that quarter, if they had strategic plans,” Kumar said. “He kept asking me. I didn’t always know the answer but I felt that since I accepted the money I had a sort of obligation to him.”

  • "How’s the market treating you today?” Rajaratnam asked in another tape played for jurors after they discussed a deal involving Vishay Intertechnology Inc.

    “Like a baby treats a diaper,” Smith replied, prompting giggles from Rajaratnam.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Hindu on the Proposed Blogger Control Act

The blocking of a blogging website, even if only for a short period, raises the disturbing question of curbs imposed on free speech in India through executive fiat. There is a clear pattern of Internet censorship that is inconsistent with constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression. It is also at odds with citizen aspirations in the age of new media. [...]

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

* * *

The Hindu has indeed come a long way since it published this cartoon to publicly rebuke its Deputy Editor With A Blog.

MHRD Appoints a Vice Chancellor ...

... and "forgets" to inform him about it. He does the right thing by saying "no" to the offer.

HRD raises bad manners bar -- VC appointment without basic courtesy backfires

Calcutta-based academic Sukanta Chaudhuri has declined his appointment as vice-chancellor of a central university on the ground that the government had not taken his prior consent.

The refusal by Chaudhuri, an internationally renowned scholar of English literature, is an embarrassment for the Union human resource development ministry ...

Thanks for the alert go to Desi Babu.

Conferences, Journals and Computer Science

In my field (and also in most physical and biological sciences), journals are the preferred destination for our research output. There was a time when conference proceedings had a lot of prestige, but they started losing their sheen in the 1970s.

While conferences themselves are doing well, it is the proceedings whose reputation has suffered: the decline and fall have been so precipitous, someone joked recently, that proceedings now rank barely above e-mail spam!

Things are so completely different in Computer Science and allied fields, where conferences rule.

This difference in disciplinary cultures has always intrigued and fascinated me. So I was glad to find this paper by Jonathan Grudin who narrates the story of "why computer science in the U.S. shifted [away from journal articles] to conference publication in the first place."

A key quote:

Technology and a Professional Organization Drove the Shift to Conference Publication

By the early 1980s, the availability of text editing or word processing among computer scientists enabled the relatively inexpensive production of decent-looking proceedings prior to a conference. This was something new. Anticipating that libraries might shelve proceedings, ACM printed many more copies than conferences needed, at a low incremental cost.

ACM also made them available by mail order after a conference at a very low price. Papers in ACM conferences were thus widely distributed and effectively archival. These are the two features that motivated the creation of journals centuries earlier. [Bold and italic texts are from the original]

Are there other explanations for the shift [which, Grudin says, was largely US-centric, and didn't spread to Europe]?

* * *

Thanks to Suresh at The Geomblog for the pointer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Links ...

  1. Dheeraj Sanghi: Pricing Engineering Education.

  2. David Leonhardt at Economix: Revisiting the Value of Elite Colleges.

  3. Fred Halliday, former Director-Designate of LSE's Middle East Centre, wrote a memo in 2009 to the LSE Council "warning it not to accept a grant from the Qaddafi Foundation." That memo ">has now been published.


Apologies for repeating a bad meme -- according to which Prof. Venki Ramakrishnan, one of the 2009 Chemistry Nobel winners, fares poorly in citation metrics.

I first found that meme in a comment on my blog way back in 2009. I had also heard it mentioned in conversations on quite a few occasions later. When I found a version of it again in this Current Science letter by my colleagues Prof. Ramasesha and Prof. Sen (I must hasten to add that their wording is a lot more careful, and they don't mention any numbers), I thought it was worth highlighting.

Then Giridhar left this comment; and Sunil followed up with another comment yesterday.

A search in Web of Knowledge (whose database is arguably the most comprehensive) reveals the essential correctness of Giridhar's comment [I couldn't verify the exact numbers he quoted because I'm not sure about my own search skills at WoK].

My search for a (possible) source of the bad meme led me to this site which calls itself Microsoft Academic Search; it occurs at No.2 in this search.

Lessons: Trust but verify -- as far as possible, and however authoritative the source might appear to be. And issue a correction when a mistake is discovered.


And, thanks to Giridhar for pointing out the mistake.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Ready to Return?

Here's the latest hype from Rutgers:

Indian Graduates in U.S. are Ready to Return to India: Faculty shortages at Indian universities could be eased.

The study is based on a survey of nearly 1000 Indian students and post-docs in the US. Let me highlight a couple of points:

  1. Survey respondents' attraction towards India is driven by lofty-softy factors like family, giving back to the motherland, help build India's higher ed, and comfort with society/culture. On the other hand, the factors behind keeping folks away from India are hard-nosed things that have a lot to do with job-related conditions: corruption, red tape, academic work environment, research funding, earning potential. [see page 16] Wonder which set of factors are likely to win?

  2. While the report frames the issue as one of faculty shortage in India, (see the recommendations at the end of the report), the survey includes a large number of masters students (interestingly, their fraction in the study is actually less than their actual fraction among Indian students in the US). All said and done, doctoral programs account for less than a sixth of Indian students in the US [see these NSF documents] -- out of some 67,000 grad students, I would estimate less than 10,000 in the doctoral programs (because only about 1300 PhDs were awarded to Indians annually during 2004-2007).

Needless to say, I'm not happy with the framing; nor with the methodology. Like I said, there's just too much hype ...

Indian students in the US deserve a better study!

Links ...

  1. Toby Ord in Slate: Live Like a Grad Student … Forever: "An Oxford academic recommends living on as little as you can and giving away the rest."

  2. Timothy Morton: Should Computer “Languages” Qualify as Foreign Languages for Ph.D.s?

  3. Which are the top universities in terms of funding from NIH? Johns Hopkins leads the pack with $686 million, followed by Penn with $577 million, UWashington with $570 million, UMichigan with $565 million, and UC-San Francisco with $537 million. Here's the Top 100 list.

  4. Guardian has a fabulous video of a volcano eruption in Hawaii.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Rahul Basu

Via Anant and Rahul Siddharthan comes the sad news that Rahul Basu passed away two days ago.

From this memorial page at the IMSc website for his friends to share their memories:

Rahul Basu, particle physicist; gourmet, cook and blogger; devourer of books, music, film and good wine; traveller, lover of Delhi and bon vivant, but above all a close friend to many from all around the world, passed away on March 5th, 2011. He was 55.

I have never met Rahul. But, thanks to the Web, I have had the good fortune to read, enjoy, and benefit from his blog posts and comments (here and elsewhere) on an amazingly rich variety of topics, ranging from shoddy (China-related) journalism at The Hindu, to the state of science in India, to IPL matches, to Ram Guha's India after Gandhi, to Elections 2009, to movies, to food, and to a movie about food.

These posts represent just a fraction of Rahul's interests. Their clarity, vigour and humour pack quite punch -- Rahul was the kind of person you wanted on your side in public debates!

It's really, really sad that he's no more.

* * *

If you (or, people you know) have memories / tributes to share, IMSc has this memorial page for Rahul Basu.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Jed-I Project Challenge

LimberLink Technologies is a start-up founded by (friends and former colleagues) V. Vinay and Swami Manohar. The company has, among other things, two interesting initiatives for youngsters -- college students and graduates.

  1. Jed-I:

    Jed-i stands for the Joy of Engineering, Design, and Innovation. The Jed-i project challenge is an annual event designed to identify and showcase the best final year engineering project.

    The challenge is open to students from all branches from all engineering colleges across India. The branches will be grouped into three divisions for evaluation: Computing, Electrical, and Mechanical.

    The deadline for registration is 15 March 2011. The rules for participation are here

  2. FreshApples:

    This site has an intriguing slogan: "Freshapples helps you to differentiate yourself." You can use the site not only to showcase your talents and skills, but also to meet and interact with "menchers" (mentor + teacher), experienced hands in your field.

    It's this stuff about menchers that makes the site promising and special: menchers are those who offer their support and guidance by helping you discover and develop important skills (as well as identify and plug gaps in your skill-set), and giving you and your skills their stamp of approval.

    The focus of the site is firmly on career development, but it goes beyond CV-hosting, and forces you to combine self-initiative and expert guidance in a fairly methodical and deliberate fashion. Also, the mencher-mentee relationship is a lot more active (and a lot more structured) than that of "links" LinkedIn.

    Take a look!

In Praise of ...

  1. Doodling.

  2. Play.

  3. Sleep.

Links ...

  1. Helen Pearson in Nature Study of a Lifetime [free access, thankfully]: "In 1946, scientists started tracking thousands of British children born during one cold March week. On their 65th birthday, the study members find themselves more scientifically valuable than ever before."

  2. Paul Krugman: Falling Demand for Brains?

  3. Zeynep Tufekci at TechnoSociology: Can “Leaderless Revolutions” Stay Leaderless: Preferential Attachment, Iron Laws and Networks .

  4. And, finally, Arunn Narasimhan has a fine rant at nOnoScience: Response to N. Ram from a Thin Skinned Music Listener.

Friday, March 04, 2011

How not to respond to a negative book review in an academic journal: Part II

Part I was about an author of an academic tome suing a journal editor for carrying a negative review of her book.

She lost. From the excerpts posted by the journal editor, Prof. Joseph Weiler:

... [I]n effect, the Review of her book does not contain words damaging her honor or her reputation, and only expresses, what is more, in moderate terms, a scientific opinion on [her book] without ever exceeding the limits of free criticism to which all authors of intellectual works expose themselves

* * *

Update: This NYTimes story has a nice summary of the case and the issues raised by it. It's more than three weeks old, though.

Rajat Gupta's Double Standards?

Rajat Gupta is in serious trouble [and here].

His troubles are serious enough for him to resign from the Board of P&G -- "A company spokesman said he resigned to prevent any distraction to P.&G. and its board."

Then, why are they not serious enough for him to step aside from the ISB Board? Why is it okay to let ISB deal with "distractions" arising from his troubles? As DNA reports:

Experts on ethics and governance pointed out that it is nothing short of double standards that Gupta chose to resign from the board of institutions in the US while remaining on the board of Indian institutions.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Plagiarism Derails German (Ex) Minister

In spite of early (and firmly articulated) support from his boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel, public outcry over his plagiarized thesis has forced zu Guttenberg to resign from Merkel's ministry.

The outcry has taken   several   forms, including Guttenberg being dubbed zu Googleberg and, even worse, Germany's Sarah Palin! The most substantive protest is through this letter to Chancellor Merkel, signed by over 20,000 academics, post-docs, and students. Here's an excerpt:

... When it is no longer an important value to protect ideas in our society, then we have gambled away our future. We don't expect thankfulness for our scientific work, but we expect respect, we expect that our work be taken seriously. By handling the case of zu Guttenberg as a trifle, Germany's position in world science, its credibility as the "Land of Ideas", suffers.

A second line of attack -- which probably clinched the issue -- targeted his leadership of defence academies, especially since it came from political adversaries partners:

"Should he continue to allow the circumstances of his dissertation to remain so unclear, I think that he, as minister and as the top official of two Bundeswehr universities, is no longer acceptable," Martin Neumann, parliamentary spokesman for academic issues for the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), Merkel's junior coalition partner, told the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper.

Budget WTF

Alternate title: UPA Government's Mixed Signals --Part II: The Curious Case of Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development

Back in 2009, a review committee set up by MHRD classified RGNIYD as one of the institutions which, "neither on past performance, nor on their promise for the future, have the attributes ... to retain their status as universities." [Source; 18MB pdf].

In Budget 2011-12 presented yesterday, the same institution has been lavished with a largess of Rs. 20 crores, as "special grants to recognise excellence in universities and academic institutions." [Paragraph 101 of the Budget Speech; 867 KB pdf].

* * *

This case is much worse than the WTF-inducing episode involving SRM University (see Part I) for at least two reasons.

  1. The Tandon Committee saw SRM as "merely" deficient, but blacklisted RGNIYD as, shall we say, irredeemable.

  2. Moreover, with SRM, it was only a case of a couple of high functionaries in the government "merely" participating in its convocation; but with RGNIYD, what we have is a blacklisted institution being recognized for its excellence and lavished with lots of money.

* * *

Thanks to Subrahmanya Katte for the Buzz.

"Walking on the shores of the world's largest lava lake"

You've got to check out these beauties over at The Big Picture. Amazing stuff.

In June 2010, a team of scientists and intrepid explorers stepped onto the shore of the lava lake boiling in the depths of Nyiragongo Crater, in the heart of the Great Lakes region of Africa. The team had dreamed of this: walking on the shores of the world's largest lava lake. Members of the team had been dazzled since childhood by the images of the 1960 documentary "The Devil's Blast" by Haroun Tazieff, who was the first to reveal to the public the glowing red breakers crashing at the bottom of Nyiragongo crater. Photographer Olivier Grunewald was within a meter of the lake itself, giving us a unique glimpse of it's molten matter.