Saturday, January 16, 2016

"How the Left Won JNU"


It's a year late, but the excerpts at Scroll.in from Rakesh Batabyal's book JNU: The Making of a University are interesting. Here's a familiar figure:

SIS had a students’ union that was active with Prakash Karat and a couple of active students leading it. Prakash Karat had returned from the United Kingdom where, during his studies, he had come into contact with Victor Kiernan, a Marxist and a great scholar who had taught in Lahore in the pre-Partition days. With a sharp political eye, Karat got into close contact with CPI(M) leaders like P. Sundarayya and E.M.S. Namboodiripad. This was the time for the CPI(M) to start its students’ wing and Karat was an ideal choice. He was articulate and was someone acquainted with the British Marxists who were held in high esteem by even these anti-colonial communists whose minds were not totally decolonized. His being from God’s own country, Kerala, also helped in befriending many gods in the party.

As soon as the Students Federation of India was set up, north India seemed to be within communist grasp. From the standpoint of CPI(M), JNU was like a clean slate where it did not have to fight it out with the likes of the Chhatra Parishad in Bengal or the National Students Union of India in Kerala or the socialists and the RSS in UP and Rajasthan. Karat’s popularity among the mostly apolitical students of the ISIS was an excellent opportunity to establish the credentials of the fledgling party and its new students’ wing.

With Karat’s initiative, the SIS union was amalgamated with the SFI-led union, which had come into being following much discussion and efforts. ...

Thursday, December 31, 2015

PhD Dissertation Quality: A Workshop at IISc


Some of you may know about the DST Centre for Policy Research (DST-CPR) at IISc, which is a part of a network of five Centres set up with funding from the Department of Science and Technology. The research at these Centres could help inform S&T policies [Disclosure: I am coordinating the activities at the DST-CPR at IISc].

The reason I'm mentioning all this is to alert you about an upcoming one-day Workshop entitled "Dissertation Expectations and Quality Criteria: Is it Enough to have a Good Dissertation?" This Workshop will be conducted by Prof. Maresi Nerad (College of Education, University of Washington, Seattle, USA), a Visiting Professor at our DST-CPR this month; it is meant for "PhD scholars [from Indian universities / institutions] who have completed at least 2 years of doctoral studies, who know what they will do in their dissertation."

Here's my request (bleg? do people still use this term?): If you know 3rd or 4th year PhD students in an Indian university / institution, please encourage them to apply. We are looking for a diversity of students (in terms of backgrounds, fields of study, types of institutions). Do please spread the word; the deadline for filing applications is the 5th of January, and the event itself will be held on the 12th of January (Tuesday).

Thank you for your help!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Prof. Venki Ramakrishnan on Nobels and Nationalism


In The Telegraph today, Prof. Venki Ramakrishnan (who will visit India soon for a vacation and a lecture tour) says a lot of sensible things:

As for India sharing in the glory of his Nobel Prize (and that of Amartya Sen), he wonders why Indians are relatively unexcited about Ashoke Sen, the theoretical physicist known for his work on string theory and who shared in the $22m Breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics set up by the Russian Yuri Milner.

In Indians not giving as much importance to Sen as they do to Nobel Prize winners, "there is something a little wrong," he remarks. [...]

A question not to ask Venki is: "How should India win more Nobel Prizes?"

"That's actually completely the wrong question because there are so many discoveries that never get a Nobel Prize. It's not a good reason to go into anything," he responds.

"First of all countries don't win them, it's people who win them," he points out. "If a person from a country wins a Nobel Prize it doesn't necessarily mean that that county is doing well overall. It could be just a fluke. It is more important for a country to just nurture scientists and provide them good environments, a decent living and help them to lead a productive life."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

QoTD


The three purposes of the University?--To provide sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.
-- Clark Kerr, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley (1952-57)

Source: Wikipedia, Quote Investigator.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Blackmail of a gay student at IISc


Orinam, an LGBT support and advocacy website, carried a report two days ago -- “To the person who wrote the note”: Bengaluru student responds to a homophobic extortion attempt -- on a shocking case of blackmail of a gay student at IISc. When his extortion attempts failed, the perpetrator carried out his threat by outing the student (Tushar) in a vicious note posted on a public notice board.

Then, this happened:

Thus outed to the entire hostel, Tushar, who had only been out to his closest friends until then, chose to respond with the following note on the same notice board [you should go read it now].

Tushar, who describes himself as ‘shy and a bit introverted’ said he felt relieved upon writing the note. Classmates and fellow-hostelites came up to him to express their support. In the weeks since the incident, he, with the support of friends, lodged a complaint with the university administration. At the time of publishing this note, he is still awaiting formal action in response.

I hope the "formal action" will be firm and stern. For now, I just want to convey my sympathies to Tushar (whom I don't know), and to applaud his extraordinary courage.

* * *

This story has also been picked up by Daily O.

* * *

Here's a 2011 post by a gay student at IIT-B. Here's another from IIT-M.

Kwame Anthony Appiah on Adultery


From the Ethicist feature in NYTimes Magazine: Should I Tell My Friend’s Husband That She’s Having an Affair?:

... [If] your assessment is accurate, you are in a deeply compromised moral situation — one in which the cure is worse than the condition. As is so often the case, there’s no way out from under the net. It’s a distressing bind. Moral narcissism is about being more concerned with the cleanliness of your hands than with how your conduct shapes the lives around you. Your sensitivity to this pitfall is commendable. So is the fact that what you’re doing — though the least bad option — bothers you. Life is messy, and the best outcome often has something deplorable about it. I suppose it’s all in the title of the great Bronzino painting that one of Iris Murdoch’s characters found so captivating: ‘‘Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time.’’ If the day comes when Peter asks you why you helped Jane conceal her betrayal, you can tell him the truth. He won’t forgive. But he just may understand.

When Sir C.V. Raman wanted to learn Russian …


… he turned to Mr. K. Narayan, a graduate from our Department at IISc waiting to join the Bhilai Steel Plant that was being created [the story is from 1958]. Nayantara Narayanan recounts an interesting episode, which plays out over a period of perhaps several months, in which the Nobel Laureate learns Russian to become fluent enough to give his Lenin Peace Prize lecture in that language.

When a 27-year-old metallurgist taught Nobel laureate CV Raman how to speak Russian:

Raman asked Narayan to come to his house every morning before starting work. The house, a bungalow named Panchavati surrounded by a sprawling mango grove in the heart of Malleswaram, was walking distance from where Narayan himself lived. And so the lessons began. Narayan used [the Russian language primer by Nina Potapova] to teach Raman basic Russian.

“He evinced a very keen interest, like a Gurukul student of old. Every day he would do his homework and repeat his lessons back to me,” said Narayan. Even though Raman was 60 years old and Narayan only 27, the older man liked to maintain the teacher-student relationship. As payment for the lessons, Narayan would get to sit down with Raman and his wife for a breakfast of hot coffee and idlis.

* * *

[Cross-posted from our department's website]

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Imprint India


The IMPRINT India initiative website has quite a bit of information about its focus domains each of which is subdivided into several sub-themes [Disclosure: I am a part of the team for the Advanced Materials domain, led by Prof. Monica Katiyar and Prof. A.K. Singh of IIT-K]. See also the this brochure.

The Overview is probably where you want to start. The text box on the image says the objective is accelerated research and innovation. Somewhere in the middle of the page, you will find this one-sentence summary of what (this phase of) the initiative is about:

IMPRINT is a first-of-its-kind Pan-IIT and IISc joint initiative to develop a (a) New Education Policy, and (b) Roadmap for Research to solve major engineering and technology challenges in selected domains needed by the country. [source]

The epilogue at the end of the page summarizes the initiative's current phase:

IMPRINT in its first phase is a policy developing initiative covering pedagogy, teaching, curriculum, technology-benchmarking and infrastructure readiness. IMPRINT is not meant only for IITs and IISc; it is a national movement providing an opportunity for the higher echelon institutes in India to integrate with all grass root level institutes, industry and organizations, mutually complement and deliver what the country demands and aspires. Policy is our immediate mandate; technology (products and processes) development and delivery will eventually follow.

Stuff Our Government Says: Global University Rankings Edition


A lot of hue and cry is raised about our higher education institutes not figuring in global ranking. The reason is not lack of high quality research work but the fact that in India, a large section of research work is done in vernacular languages, whereas global rankings only consider research in English
-- HRD Minister Smriti Irani [Source: The Indian Express]

Thursday, November 05, 2015

IMPRINT India


That's the name of a new initiative "to develop a roadmap for research to solve major engineering and technology challenges in ten technology domains relevant to India today." It was launched today by President Pranab Mukherjee. Here's the official press release. Here's another.

Coordinated nationally by IIT-K, IMPRINT India has identified ten themes including Healthcare and Advanced Materials, and the job of developing and coordinating a coherent research program in a given theme has been given to IISc or one of the IITs [More details at the IMPRINT India website at IIT-K].

While I have not been able to find any numbers in terms of funding for this initiative, a DNA story mentions a sum of Rs. 1000 Crores (over how many years? I don't know).

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Road to the Top 100


Anubhuti Vishnoi in The Economic Times: Centre to fund 10 institutes for next 3-4 years to help them find a place among top 100 on global academic rankings:

The Centre will soon pick 10 higher education institutes with potential and provide them with substantial funding over the next four years so that Indian institutes can finally storm into the top 100 on global academic rankings like QS and Times ... These 10 institutes, it is proposed, will be granted funds — ranging fromRs 100-500 crore for the next 3-4 years so that they can create world class research infrastructure and laboratories. The end target is getting Indian institutes among global top 100.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Ranjit Chandra


Via Shannon Palus in Retraction Watch (After court verdict, BMJ retracts 26-year-old paper), we get links to two devastating BMJ articles:

  1. Editorial: A major failure of scientific governance.

  2. A feature by Caroline White: Ranjit Chandra: how reputation bamboozled the scientific community

See also: the Ranjit Chandra archive in the blog of the late Seth Roberts.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Parenting HowTo


SMBC offers a tip. Not likely to work on kids over 4, though.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Scientific Papers with 1000+ Authors


Robert Lee Hotz has a great article in WSJ on the phenomenon of papers with long author lists (in a recent case, this list is over 24 pages long -- in fine print!). His articlle has a plot that shows that 2012 saw over 200 papers with 1000+ authors!

Hotz also goes on to discuss some of the pranks played by scientists:

Michigan State University mathematician Jack Hetherington published a paper in 1975 on low temperature physics in Physical Review Letters with F.D.C. Willard. His colleagues only discovered that his co-author was a siamese cat several years later when Dr. Hetherington started handing out copies of the paper signed with a paw print.

In the same spirit, Shalosh B. Ekhad at Rutgers University so far has published 32 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals with his co-author Doron Zeilberger. It turns out that Shalosh B. Ekhad is Hebrew for the model number of a personal computer used by Dr. Zeilberger. “The computer helps so much and so often,” Dr. Zeilberger said.

Not everyone takes such pranks lightly.

Immunologist Polly Matzinger at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases named her dog, Galadriel Mirkwood, as a co-author on a paper she submitted to the Journal of Experimental Medicine. “What amazed me was that the paper went through the entire editorial process and nobody noticed,” Dr. Matzinger said. When the journal editor realized he had published work crediting an Afghan hound, he was furious, she recalled.

Physicists may be more open-minded. Sir Andre Geim, winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics, credited H.A.M.S. ter Tisha as his co-author of a 2001 paper published in the journal Physica B. Those journal editors didn’t bat an eye when his co-author was unmasked as a pet hamster. “Not a harmful joke,” said Physica editor Reyer Jochemsen at the Leiden University in the Netherlands.