Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Wonderful Educational Module

Vi Hart and Nicki Case have created a web page with very instructive browser-based and visually attractive simulations: Parable of the Polygons: A Playable Post on the Shape of Society. It's also a practical and playful introduction to the 1971 classic, Dynamic Models of Segregation, by Thomas Schelling; the model itself is an interesting variation of the Ising model.

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Hat tip to: Joshua Gans at Digitopoly.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Japanese First at Hosei University

Miki Tanikawa of NYTimes profiles Prof. Yoko Tanaka, the first woman to lead a "major Japanese University":

The traditional, mild-mannered appearance of Yuko Tanaka, clad in a kimono and geta sandals, belies the unbending determination of the woman who has become the first female president of one of Japan’s oldest and largest universities.

With the curious mixture of quiet Japanese elegance and the gravitas that comes with holding the top seat at Hosei University, a 130-year-old institution with about 30,000 students and 1,500 faculty and staff, Professor Tanaka, 62, makes regular appearances on a Sunday morning talk show aired on the Tokyo Broadcasting System, where she is known for her tirades against the right-leaning government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The appointment a year ago of Professor Tanaka, the first woman to be named president of a major Japanese university, could not have come at a more relevant or ripe moment. A long, sleepy era for Japanese universities ended in the 1990s when a demographic shift occurred: A sharp decline in the number of young people put academic institutions in the position of having to compete for new students. [Bold emphasis added]

Ranking Tail and Institutional Dogs

Ranking of universities in the US has thrown up several cases of fraudulent reporting by places like George Washington and Claremont McKenna. Others have taken a more strategic route by re-prioritizing their spending to target higher scores in the metrics that matter. I just linked to a Boston Magazine story on Northeastern's efforts to align its priorities with those of US News.

We now have a BBC story about the French government taking this strategic route, which will cost "only" 7.5 billion euros:

As part of a huge government-driven academic and economic project, there will be a new university called Paris-Saclay, with a campus south of the French capital. The project has initial funding of 7.5bn euros (£5.9bn) for an endowment, buildings and transport links.

The French government is bringing together 19 institutions into a single structure, with the aim of building a university of a size and scale that can compete with global giants like Harvard or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Dominique Vernay, the president of this new university, says that within a decade he wants Paris-Saclay to be among the top ranking world universities.

"My goal is to be a top 10 institution," he says. In Europe, he wants Paris-Saclay to be in the "top two or three".

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Sometime ago, we also saw a study that looked at how much it would cost Rochester -- "consistently ranked in the mid-thirties" -- to break into the top 20 in the US News list. It arrived at a figure of 112 million dollars to take care of just two of the metrics -- faculty salary and resources provided to students.

Friday, December 12, 2014


  1. Cat Ferguson, Adam Marcus, and Ivan Oransky in Nature: Publishing: The peer-review scam. "When a handful of authors were caught reviewing their own papers, it exposed weaknesses in modern publishing systems. Editors are trying to plug the holes."

  2. Matt Kutner in Boston Magazine: How to Game the College Rankings. "Northeastern University executed one of the most dramatic turnarounds in higher education. Its recipe for success? A single-minded focus on just one list."

  3. S. Rukmini in The Hindu: 40 % faculty posts vacant in Central varsities. "Faculty vacancy in the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) was 40 per cent as of July this year, most acute in Varanasi, Roorkee (above 50 per cent), Kharagur and Delhi. Vacancies were highest for OBC faculty. ...In the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), faculty vacancies stood at over 20 per cent, highest in Indore (52 per cent) and Ranchi (48 per cent)."

Auctioning of Jim Watson's Nobel Medal

There are just too many bizarre twists in this sequence: James Watson auctioned off his 1962 Nobel Medal; the highest bidder, a Russian multi-billionaire, bought it and returned it to Watson. Read more about Watson's peevish motivations here, and about the aftermath of the auction here.

Fallen Hero

This was really sad to read about an academic superstar [see this NYTimes profile] with millions of student fans across the globe:

MIT indefinitely removes online physics lectures and courses by Walter Lewin
"MIT policy on sexual harassment was found to be violated."

MIT is indefinitely removing retired physics faculty member Walter Lewin’s online lectures from MIT OpenCourseWare and online MITx courses from edX, the online learning platform co-founded by MIT, following a determination that Dr. Lewin engaged in online sexual harassment in violation of MIT policies.

MIT’s action comes in response to a complaint it received in October from a woman, who is an online MITx learner, claiming online sexual harassment by Lewin. She provided information about Lewin’s interactions with her, which began when she was a learner in one of his MITx courses, as well as information about interactions between Lewin and other women online learners.

MIT immediately began an investigation, and as a precaution instructed Lewin not to contact any MIT students or online learners, either current or former.

The investigation followed MIT protocol for complaints of sexual harassment. The head of the physics department, Professor Peter Fisher, ensured an objective and timely review, which included a review of detailed materials provided by the complainant and interviews of her and Lewin.

Based on its investigation, MIT has determined that Lewin’s behavior toward the complainant violated the Institute’s policy on sexual harassment.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

When a HBS Faculty Met a Chinese Restaurant Owner

The tale of a professor of negotiation tangling with a mom-and-pop restaurant owner over 4 dollars is, like, totally awesome ...

What ails Indian science: Two views

Here are a couple of links if you are in the mood for a rant about Indian science establishment:

  1. Free Science from Oligarchy by A. Jayakrishnan.

  2. What is Wrong with Science in India? by B.M. Hegde, and

Jayakrishnan is a former VC of the University of Kerala and CUSAT; Hegde is a former VC of Manipal University.

Hegde also cites this (unpublished) study of mine, but that cannot be the reason for my link to his article, right? Right?

The Myth of STEM Shortage

Robert Charette sets the record straight in this IEEE Spectrum piece. It *is* US-centric, but I think there's something in it for folks elsewhere too.

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See also Noah Smith: What Tech-Worker Shortage?

The situation is so dismal that governments everywhere are now pouring billions of dollars each year into myriad efforts designed to boost the ranks of STEM workers. President Obama has called for government and industry to train 10 000 new U.S. engineers every year as well as 100 000 additional STEM teachers by 2020. And until those new recruits enter the workforce, tech companies like Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft are lobbying to boost the number of H-1B visas—temporary immigration permits for skilled workers—from 65 000 per year to as many as 180 000. The European Union is similarly introducing the new Blue Card visa to bring in skilled workers from outside the EU. The government of India has said it needs to add 800 new universities, in part to avoid a shortfall of 1.6 million university-educated engineers by the end of the decade.

And yet, alongside such dire projections, you’ll also find reports suggesting just the opposite—that there are more STEM workers than suitable jobs. One study found, for example, that wages for U.S. workers in computer and math fields have largely stagnated since 2000. Even as the Great Recession slowly recedes, STEM workers at every stage of the career pipeline, from freshly minted grads to mid- and late-career Ph.D.s, still struggle to find employment as many companies, including Boeing, IBM, and Symantec, continue to lay off thousands of STEM workers.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Adventures in Publishing

Just a bunch of links:

  1. Will Oremus in Slate: This Is What Happens When No One Proofreads an Academic Paper. "Should we cite that crappy Gabor paper?"

  2. This link is from Oremus's piece. Meredith Carpenter and Lillian Fritz-Laylin in Slate: The Snarky, Clever Comments Hidden in the "Acknowledgments" of Academic Papers. “This work was ostensibly supported by the Italian Ministry of University and Research. … The Ministry however has not paid its dues and it is not known whether it will ever do.”

  3. Jeffrey Beall: Bogus Journal Accepts Profanity-Laced Anti-Spam Paper. “Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List.” [Via Inside Higher Ed].

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Plagiarism Allegations against VCs at Jadavpur, Pondicherry Universities

I completely missed these two other stories about plagiarism allegations against the Vice Chancellors at Jadavpur University and Pondicherry University. Serious stuff!

Mayank Jain in Plagiarism charges fuel demands for removal of Jadavpur University's vice chancellor.

The Telegraph: Jadavpur VC credentials under court scanner.

Arun Janardhanan in The Indian Express: Pondicherry V-C has a problem: CV has a suspect book, two that can’t be traced, and his follow-up: ‘Plagiarism’: Teachers at Pondicherry varsity seek V-C’s removal.

Deepak Pental's Arrest (and Subsequent Bail)

Wow, this came out of nowhere! Prof. Deepak Pental (a professor of genetic engineering at the Delhi University, and also its Vice Chancellor during 2005-1010) was arrested, sent to Tihar Jail, before he got bail later in the evening. The charges against him were filed by a fellow DU professor (but in a different department), and they include forgery, illegal transport of genetically modified material, and plagiarism. For some strange reason, most news outlets have played up the plagiarism angle; the other charges appear far more grave (one of them, apparently, is so serious that one can be sent to jail for life).

Most news stories I have seen today were short on details, since they were reacting to fast-changing events of yesterday. Only a few have managed to go beyond the bare-bones version put out by PTI. Here are the links to some of the better-reported stories: The Telegraph, India Today, and here.

I'm sure we will get a lot more details in the days to come.

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Update: The NDTV debate doesn't offer details, but the comments by K.L. Chopra (from the Society for Scientific Values) are quite damaging to Pental's case.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Google Scholar Turned 10 This Month

Let me start with links to profiles / interviews of Anurag Acharya, the IIT-KGP and Carnegie Mellon alum who co-created this wonderful service along with Alex Verstak. First up, an interview at the biggest scholarly venue of them all: Nature, where Richard Van Noorden interviews him: Google Scholar pioneer on search engine’s future.

Where did the idea for Google Scholar come from?

I came to Google in 2000, as a year off from my academic job at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It was pretty clear that I was unlikely to have a larger impact [in academia] than at Google — making it possible for people everywhere to be able to find information. So I gave up on academia and ran Google’s web-indexing team for four years. It was a very hectic time, and basically, I burnt out.

Alex Verstak and I decided to take a six-month sabbatical to try to make finding scholarly articles easier and faster. The idea wasn’t to produce Google Scholar, it was to improve our ranking of scholarly documents in web search. But the problem with trying to do that is figuring out the intent of the searcher. Do they want scholarly results or are they a layperson? We said, “Suppose you didn’t have to solve that hard a problem; suppose you knew the searcher had a scholarly intent.” We built an internal prototype, and people said: “Hey, this is good by itself. You don’t have to solve another problem — let’s go!” Then Scholar clearly seemed to be very useful and very important, so I ended up staying with it.

The second is a nice profile that I saw on Medium: Making the world’s problem solvers 10% more efficient [the URL text is even better: "the gentleman who made scholar"] by Steven Levy. Here's an excerpt from near the end, where Anurag is asked about his plans, now that Scholar has entered a mature phase:

Acharya is now 50. He’s excited about adding new features to Scholar — improving the “alerts” function and other forms that help users discover information important to them that they might not know is out there. Would he want to continue working on Scholar for another ten years? “One always believes there are other opportunities, but the problem is how to pursue them when you are in a place you like and you have been doing really well. I can do problems that seem very interesting me — but the biggest impact I can possible make is helping people who are solving the world’s problems to be more efficient. If I can make the world’s researchers ten percent more efficient, consider the cumulative impact of that. So if I ended up spending the next ten years going this, I think I would be extremely happy.”

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Anurag's Scholar profile is here. And the Google Scholar blog has been running a series of posts to mark its 10th anniversary: Start from Helping Researchers See Farther Faster, and look for newer posts.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Jack Grove: Germany's Import-Export Model

An interesting article on how Germany views Study Abroad aspects of college education:

Sending half of Germany’s university students abroad for part of their studies by 2020 will give the country a major competitive advantage over other export-driven nations, a leading figure in German higher education asserts.

Sebastian Fohrbeck, director of internationalization and communication at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which promotes German higher education abroad, dismissed fears that its plans for “a massive movement of students abroad” represented an “organized brain drain.”.

About a third of German students now undertake some of their degree study in another country, but government ministers are keen to increase this to 50 percent within six years, Fohrbeck told a conference in London, which was jointly organized by the UK HE International Unit, the Institut Fran├žais and the DAAD.


Following the #shirtstorm (and the apology), there has been an outpouring of articles and blog posts on the women-unfriendly culture in academic science in particular, and academia and science in general. Here are a few links:

  1. Janet Stemwedel at Doing Good Science: The Rosetta mission #shirtstorm was never just about that shirt and A guide for science guys trying to understand the fuss about that shirt.

  2. Kelly Baker in Vitae: Science Isn’t the Problem; Scientists Are.

  3. Noah Smith in BloombergView: Economics Is a Dismal Science for Women. Money quote: "Why is it that the sciences look like a feminist nirvana compared with the economics profession, which seems to have a built-in bias that prevents women from advancing?"