Friday, February 29, 2008

How well has higher ed done in this budget?

First, get hold of the Expenditure Budget for Higher Education (Department-wise break up of allocations is available here). Let's take a look at the figures for IITs first.

Last year, the IITs were allocated a whopping Rs. 1111 crores under Plan spending -- this represents fixed, one-time costs for infrastructure, equipment, etc. This figure is referred to as the Budget Estimate (BE-07). But, they are estimated to have spent only 335 crores (Revised Estimate, RE-07)! If you look at this year's allocation, it appears to be way out of line with the actual performance: BE-08 is back up at 1020 crores!

The story is the same for IISc. The corresponding figures are 196 (BE-07), 40 (RE) and 130 (BE-08) crores. For the IIMs, they are 103, 43 and 88 crores.

So, what's going on?

This requires going back to what happened last year, when the allocations (BE) went up to 1111 crores from 253 crores in the year 2006. For IISc, the allocation of 196 crores was way higher than 85 crores in 2006. For the IIMs, the 2007 figure of 103 crores was nearly three times the allocation of 35 crores in 2006.

But this only pushes the question back by one year. What happened in 2007 that called for such huge increases in allocation for IITs and IIMs?

The short answer is: OBC reservation. Recall that this reservation policy was to be implemented by increasing the intake in all the Central Government institutions. The huge increases in 2007 allocations over 2006 were meant for taking care of this. However, the Supreme Court stayed the process of implementing the new reservation policy, and this enhanced allocation went unspent.

Thus, a fairer comparison should be in terms of the revised estimates of the previous three years; remember, RE is the government's best guess -- at the end of the financial year -- of how much was spent during the previous year. Let's look at the RE figures for 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Institution RE 2005-06   RE 2006-07   RE 2007-08  
IITs 236 254 335
IISc 33 85 40
IIMs 32 35 43

Now, the picture is clear. Except for IISc, whose plan expenditure shot up to 85 crores during 2006-07, the other institutions seem to be following a trend. But, happily, it's also an upward trend that appears to be accelerating (again, IISc seems to be an exception here).

So, what's the deal with this year's allocations that are -- just like last year -- way out of line with the trend? Compared to what the IITs spent last year (335 crores), hasn't this year's Budget lavished them with 1020 crores?

The notes at the end of the Expenditure Budget says that the enhanced allocation "also includes a provision of Rs.771 crore towards implementation of Oversight Committee recommendations for meeting the requirement for enhanced number of students."

In case you are wondering what that Oversight Committee is all about, why, it's the same committee that made recommendations about implementing OBC reservations!

As Yogi Berra put it so well, "It's like déjà vu, all over again!"

* * *

I thank my colleague U. Ramamurty, who brought this stuff to my notice, for helping in untangling this stuff.

Mr. Speaker, Sir ...

It's just a bunch of stray observations under the garb of live blogging of the Budget Speech. Will look for stuff on S&T, higher education, research, etc, and anything else that sounds interesting.

11:00. The speech begins. PC takes pride in presenting his fifth consecutive Budget under the UPA regime. Also mentions 12 consecutive quarters of impressive GDP growth rate of over 8 percent. The first 4 years of UPA has seen 8.8 percent growth.

11:05. Lots of thousands of crores are being mentioned. My head spins.

11:10. PC quotes from a book on Indira Gandhi. So soon in his budget speech!

Education budget will go up by over 20 percent. SSA, Mid-day meal program get big increases.

Some 600 crores for Model Schools. Elitism!

National Merit cum Means scheme. 1 lakh scholarships. Corpus goes up now to 15,00 crores.

11:15. Knowledge is power! 1 new IIM, 3 IISERs, and 1 IIIT were set up. 16 Central Universities, 3 new IITs, 2 new IISERs will be set up. And several more, too.

Innovation for ... (INSPIRE) Scholarships for encouraging students to study and stay in science. 85 crores.

Interconnect all educational research institutions. 100 crores to the Ministry of Information Technology (MIT) for the National Knowledge Network.

11:25. NREGA gets more money (16,000 crores), with a promise to meet any additional demand.

Potable water system for each school in water deficit areas. 200 Crores.

11:30. A bunch of interesting proposals targeting the Minorities. Predictably, some noise emanates from the Opposition, but dies down soon.

Immediately following this, PC is talking about gender budgeting. 54 departments, apparently, are doing this. PC points to the Budget documents for more details.

Child specific programs receive some 34,000 crores.

11:35. Lots of agriculture related issues are being discussed and addressed. HUGE amounts of money (lakhs of crores!) are being bandied about. Sadly, I have no idea about many of the things PC's talking about. I better shut up, for now.

11:40. Still more agriculture.

11:44. Indebtedness of farmers and Radhakrishna Committee report are mentioned. PC's tone softens. Debt waiver scheme is announced. Lots of cheers, countered by lots of noise as well. Even before details are out!

Here are the details. Agricultural loans are covered (more noise/cheers; Speaker admonishes them with "Is this the kind of respect you show to our farmers?"). Marginal and small farmers will get a complete waiver of these loans. (More noise. Serious noise. Speaker: "This cannot be allowed. Please sit down. ... What is this, you are not listening? Kya baat hai ... This is not responsible behaviour!")

11:50. Still a lot of noise. PC has read just two sentences in the last 7 minutes.

60,000 crores for debt waiver scheme. PC promises that its implementation will be done in the three months.

11:55. Moving on ... Subject turns to investments. FDI is about 12 billion US dollars.

12:00 noon. PC announces his intent to get manufacturing to grow at double digit rates. This is followed by announcements about Power, Highways, Coal, IT, BPO, industries. Textiles and handloom sectors follow. Again, I know very little about what the issues are.

12:05. PC is talking about banks now. Time to go quiet again ...

12:10. Demographic dividend. Youth need kills, if we are to reap its benefits. PC's talking about Skills Development Mission, upgrading ITIs, etc.

12:14. Public Distribution System. Haryana and Chandigarh will introduce smart cards for the delivery of PDS. Presumably, this is an experimental scheme.

12:16. Defence gets some 105,000 crores. Up from some 90,000 crores. This is accompanied by promised for more.

Global warming and green technologies are being discussed. No specific proposals.

Sixth Pay Commission will submit its proposals within the next month! Yay!

12:18. University of Mysore, Delhi University and another institution in Maharashtra (I didn't get it) will get a special grant, just like the 100 crore grant announced by him in 2005 for IISc.

12:23. For 2007-08, Revenue Deficit is at 1.4 percent against 1.5. Fiscal Deficit is 3.1 against 3.3 percent.

Projected revenues will be some 600,000 crores. RD is projected at 1 percent, and FD at and 2.5 percent.

12:25. Taxes!

Tax/GDP ratio is 12.5 percent for the current year. PC credits information systems. He also credits his luck!

Lots of boring stuff on reducing customs duty on this or that. Phosphoric acid will attract a customs duty of 5 percent as opposed to 7.5 percent. I'm so happy!

12:30. Helicopter simulators will attract a smaller duty now. Fantastic.

12:32. Excise duties. More details. Small cars will attract 12 percent from 16 % now. So will two wheelers. Wow!

Nifty is down by some 1 %.

12:35. Services taxes. More new services will come under the tax net.

12:37. Direct taxes time! Boldness pays. Moderation begets compliance. Fairness begets ...

Rs. 150,000 is now the exemption limit. Everyone -- every tax payer -- benefits by at least Rs. 4,000. For women, the exemption limit is 1.8 lakhs.

1.5 lakhs to 3 lakhs will attract a 10% tax. For 3 to 5 lakhs, it's 20 percent. It's 30% for incomes above 5 lakhs.

Wow, this is BIG. I can see NIFTY start to zoom from now on.

In all the excitement, I missed some announcement about incentives for outsourcing of R&D activities.

12:45. Short term capital gains tax go to 15 percent. Wow. This is bad for NIFTY!

PC announces some complex fine tuning on Securities Transaction Tax.

Some stirring words about India regaining its old glory, when it, together with China, commanded nearly a half of the world's GDP. Clearly, we are nearing the end. It's time for a Kural now.

Oops. Those stirring words are not his. They are from Jawaharlal Nehru! Oh, well.

12:49. There it is. A Kural about the mark of good governance.

12:50. The end.

* * *

Okay, the Budget documents are where the real action should now move to, but they are not up yet. Until they are up, so long!

The Biggest B of them all

I don't know about you, but to me it has always been the Budget, whose 2008 version will be presented in the Parliament today at 11:00 a.m. in a speech by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram.

The day before this event, a report card of sorts is presented to the nation, and it's called the Economic Survey. It has, among other things, the government's candid assessment of how well the country did during the last year, and where we are today. While it does contain some stuff about what the government's priorities should be for the coming year, it leaves the stirring words (and a huge amount of boring details) to the Finance Minister's speech, and to the Budget itself.

Given my own interest in higher education, let's see what this year's Economic Survey has to say about this sector. The section on education (all of two pages, pdf) is in Chapter 10. Social Sectors. While I leave it to you to find out what it says about primary and secondary education, I want to extract here its content on higher education:

10.27 There has been significant growth in higher education during the academic year 2005-06. According to the University Grants Commission (UGC), enrolment in various courses at all levels in universities/colleges and other institutions of higher education in 2005-06 was 11.34 million as compared to 10.50 million in the previous year. Out of this, the number of women students was 4.58 million constituting 40.39 per cent. There has also been a significant expansion of central institutions of higher education in recent years (Box 10.6). With the increased demand for higher quality education, training of teachers has become even more important and out of box thinking is required to ensure adequate supply of quality teachers.

This document also has a section (Box 10.6) highlighting "recent expansion of higher educational institutions":

  • Two State Universities in Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura were converted into Central Universities and a new Central University has been established in Sikkim. With this, all the eight States in the North-eastern Region have at least one Central University each.
  • Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, which was earlier a Deemed University, has been converted into a Central University.
  • Two Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) were established during 2005-06 at Kolkata and Pune, and a third one at Mohali in 2006-07. Two more IISERs have been approved at Bhopal and Thiruvananthapuram during the Eleventh Plan.
  • The 20 National Institutes of Technology (NITs) were earlier being managed by individual registered societies. They were brought under a common statutory framework during 2007-08 by enacting the National Institutes of Technology Act which came into force on 15.08.2007.
  • The seventh IIM, namely the Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management, has been established at Shilong in 2007-08. It will admit the first batch of students in 2008.
  • The Indian Institute of Information Technology, Design & Manufacturing, Kanchipuram, has also come into being during 2007-08.

I looked around, but could not see anything specific on scientific and technological education and research.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Links ...

Let's round it out with a couple of fun links about kids:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Budgets from the 1950s

The first of a promising series of articles by Vikram Doctor takes a look at India's Budgets from 1947-60. This period saw at least four finance ministers: R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, John Mathai, C.D. Deshmukh and T.T. Krishnamachari. The budgeting careers of all these gentlemen ended through resignations. Deshmukh's tenure was the longest: he presented six Budgets in all.

This period saw the setting up of the Planning Commission (whose wrangles with the Finance Ministry eventually led to Mathai's resignation), and its increasing hold over India's economy. The tax rates kept going up, and new taxes were introduced: Wealth Tax and Expenditure Tax. The fifties were a time of big dreams and bigger projects: dams, steel plants, and heavy industry. And they were also a time of growing ties between India and the former Soviet Union and its satellites.

All in all, the piece has some fascinating history, as seen through the prism of Budget speeches. Do read the whole thing. I can't wait for the next article in the series!

Amos Oz: Read foreign novels!

If you are a mere tourist, you might stand on a street and look up at an old house, in the old part of town, and see a woman staring out of her window. Then you will walk on.

But if you are a reader, you can see that woman staring out of her window, but you are there with her, inside her room, inside her head.

As you read a foreign novel, you are actually invited into other people's living rooms, into their nurseries and studies, into their bedrooms. You are invited into their secret sorrows, into their family joys, into their dreams.

More here. Thanks to Uma for the link.

Best sentence I have read today ...

Oddly enough what I think distinguishes a “real writer” from “someone who writes” is the ability and willingness to rewrite.

It's from Gina Barreca, who goes on to say this:

When you hand someone something you love, something you’ve poured your heart into and the first thing they say is, “This is a good start,” your instinct might be to impale yourself on the nearest sword — after all you’ve just given somebody the best thing you’ve ever done, and they’ve told you that you might have made a good beginning — implying that you might have a long way to go.

The amateur will recoil and defend; the professional will take a deep breath and say, “What do you think I could do differently?”

Those are really hard words to say. ...

20 students per faculty member

When I linked to the interview of Robert Birgeneau, Chancellor of UC-Berkeley, I should have highlighted this:

You spoke about the state having a responsibility to provide access. How does UC Berkeley ensure that it does not fail in ensuring this?

We have a sophisticated admission system, which looks beyond normalised test scores while admitting students. The university admits one-third of its students from poor families; we have a robust financial system to support this. Of the nearly 6,000 fresh admissions every year, nearly 2,000 are students who have transferred in from community colleges.

We help students from disadvantaged backgrounds by providing preparatory classes and extra tutoring. In an effort to allow more students to avail of education at UC Berkeley, we have a higher number of students for every faculty — it is one faculty member for 22 students as against one for ten at MIT.

M.A. Pai, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, also mentions similar figures in an article on improving India's technical education:

Currently, the student-to-faculty ratio at many IITs is more like 10:1, which is a luxury, compared to the 20:1 in most US public universities.

We should not forget the fact that a large army of teaching assistants make it possible for the US public universities to boast about their large student/faculty ratios. [Here's something about what a bad TA could get away with!]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Onion does it again!

Just check out this video clip: Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early.

IISc links ...

Hop on over to Natasha Mhatre's blog and congratulate her on clinching the deal for her first book. What's even better is that this book is going to be a celebration of biodiversity in IISc's very own, very green campus. While waiting for the book (expected to be out this summer), you can enjoy this sampler (pdf).

* * *

On a totally different note, Tehelka has a piece -- with some unnecessarily breathless prose -- about a new initiative for interdisciplinary research at IISc. This initiative is still very much a work in progress, so some (or even all!) of the details are likely to change. Treat it as a sneak preview ...

Higher Ed links ...

Economic Times' Urmi Goswami interviewed UC-Berkeley's Chancellor Robert Birgeneau during his recent visit to India. It's a classic example of a conversation between a business reporter ("what about skills?") and a professor ("education is more important"):

There is a focus on skill development in countries like India, primarily to meet the increased demand for manpower across the world. How do you visualise the role of universities in the “skill development” mission?

There is a need to understand the difference between education and skill development. Skill development is about training, it serves short-term requirements, it does not serve long-term needs. The responsibility of universities is to educate people not just to train them.

An education, which universities should provide, teaches people to learn to solve problems. Skill development doesn’t do that; it provides training. Consider this: 50% of those involved in management perform different skills from what they learnt. It is education that helps people make this transition to new roles and not skill development.

B.S. Raghavan has a piece in Business Line titled "Reforming Higher Education":

It is entirely understandable if the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD) does not want to be rushed into taking a final decision on the National Knowledge Commission (NKC)’s recommendations on revamping higher education. The NKC by some kind of quaint reasoning has put higher education at the head of the educational reforms process, relegating to a later stage issues and problems relating to vocational education, professional education covering medici ne, engineering, law, management, architecture and design, open and distance education and primary school education, in that order.

Finally, R. Sethuraman, Vice-Chancellor of SASTRA University, has an article on the norms that are used for granting the 'deemed university' status to private educational institutions.

No time to offer any coherent comments on these, but let me park the links here so that it's easy for me to find them later ...

Science education and bloodletting

Well, that's a pretty depressing analogy! According to Prof. Carl Wieman (2001 Nobel Physics winner who's now with University of British Columbia and University of Colorado at Boulder), the present state of science education is much like the state of medicine in 1800.

In many respects, science education today is similar to medicine during the mid-1800s, when a new level of scientific rigor confronted long-held beliefs and well-respected traditional medical practices.

For example, bloodletting had been in use for thousands of years, with detailed theories explaining its effectiveness.

And there was convincing evidence that bloodletting worked: most people recovered from their illness after being treated, just as many students (though a smaller percentage) thrive in our traditional lecture-based university science courses and go on to become scientists.

Wieman goes on to tell us that researchers of science education have figured out effective ways of teaching science; but he does not elaborate on them. However, it's easy to find out what they are, at least in physics, because Wieman (who was featured on this blog here) himself has helped develop new tools and methods for teaching physics (and he used a part of his Nobel Prize money for this purpose!). The demos are available at the Physics Education Technology website. A paper describing his preferred method of teaching physics (not just for budding physicists, but also for those who'll move on to other fields) is here (pdf; subscription-walled version is here).

This page has some more links about Wieman. Some of his articles are listed here.

Science and showbiz

The Oscars show leads Ponderer to ponder about the ways science and scientists are like showbiz and actors:

Yet others are incredibly picky about their projects, but tend to produce good work. Someone like Jodie Foster comes to mind. There are labs that publish very little, but when they do - it's always a top-notch project, very challenging and also ground-breaking.

The opposite is someone like Dakota Fenning or Jude Law (at least a stretch a year or two ago) who seem to be in movies non-stop all the time, good and bad.

In a post that mentions a Hollywood name in almost every sentence, you wouldn't find even a single scientist! Anonymous blogging does have limitations ...

Monday, February 25, 2008


Vembu has a very exciting opportunity ahead of him. What the Chinese have done in manufacturing, he is showing that the Indians can do in software: undercut U.S. and European software makers dramatically. Not in information technology services. Not by body shopping. Vembu has done something few Indian entrepreneurs have been able to achieve--build a true "product" company out of India. This is not a head count-based business model.

And here's something that's seriously interesting:

"We hire young professionals whom others disregard," Vembu says. "We don't look at colleges, degrees or grades. Not everyone in India comes from a socio-economic background to get the opportunity to go to a top-ranking engineering school, but many are really smart regardless.

"We even go to poor high schools, and hire those kids who are bright but are not going to college due to pressure to start making money right away," Vembu continues. "They need to support their families. We train them, and in nine months, they produce at the level of college grads. Their resumes are not as marketable, but I tell you, these kids can code just as well as the rest. Often, better."

This impressive story is here; written by Sramana Mitra, it originally appeared in

Thanks to this proud employee for the pointer.

Child's play ...

How did children play before the advent of commercially available toys?

Chudacoff's recently published history of child's play argues that for most of human history what children did when they played was roam in packs large or small, more or less unsupervised, and engage in freewheeling imaginative play. They were pirates and princesses, aristocrats and action heroes. Basically, says Chudacoff, they spent most of their time doing what looked like nothing much at all.

"They improvised play, whether it was in the outdoors… or whether it was on a street corner or somebody's back yard," Chudacoff says. "They improvised their own play; they regulated their play; they made up their own rules."

What has changed now?

But during the second half of the 20th century, Chudacoff argues, play changed radically. Instead of spending their time in autonomous shifting make-believe, children were supplied with ever more specific toys for play and predetermined scripts. Essentially, instead of playing pirate with a tree branch they played Star Wars with a toy light saber. Chudacoff calls this the commercialization and co-optation of child's play — a trend which begins to shrink the size of children's imaginative space.

Why do all these things matter?

It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline. [...]

... [S]elf-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, "Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain."

If you are a parent, this NPR piece should interest you.

Thanks to Swarup for the pointer.


It's the name of the software tool that helped in nailing Chiranjeevi, the most recent plagiariser / fraud to be outed. Here's a quote from the C&EN story:

ONE TOOL that Dasgupta has used to find reviewers—and that might be useful in discovering plagiarism—is a Web-based tool called eTBlast. Developed by computational biologists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, the free service does a similarity search of text that someone inputs with papers in Medline or other online databases. Dasgupta and others say it could be a powerful tool for weeding out plagiarism in journal manuscript submissions.

The developers of eTBlast have now developed a duplicate submission database called Deja vu. Both are available for free, eTBlast at and Deja vu at

The first time I heard about eTBlast was when Sunil wrote a detailed post about it some ten weeks ago. It looked very impressive, but I had no way of test-driving it in my field (materials science and engineering, in case you are wondering), so I never got around to writing about it. As of now, it seems to cover both biological and bio-medical fields very well. Correct me if I am wrong here, but it appears to me that its coverage of physics and related fields is not at a stage where it can be used routinely and reliably.

But what it has achieved so far has been tremendous. A study conducted using eTBlast has been published in Nature under the title "A tale of two citations." It probably requires subscription, but Scientific American carries a summary:

A new computerized scan of the biomedical research literature has turned up tens of thousands of articles in which entire passages appear to have been lifted from other papers. Based on the study, researchers estimate that there may be as many as 200,000 duplicates among some 17 million papers in leading research database Medline.

The finding has already led one publication to retract a paper for being too similar to a prior article by another author.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Backlash against happiness: "Grief is good"

Sharon Begley reports in Newsweek: Happiness: Enough Already.

Eric Wilson, author of Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, in the Chronicle: In Praise of Melancholy.

Generosity, Altruism and Moral Inspiration

Olivia Judson has a great article on evolutionary origins of altruism: The Selfless Gene.

How does a propensity for self-sacrifice evolve? And what about the myriad lesser acts of daily kindness—helping a little old lady across the street, giving up a seat on the subway, returning a wallet that’s been lost? Are these impulses as primal as ferocity, lust, and greed? Or are they just a thin veneer over a savage nature?

Jonathan Haidt discusses his research on moral inspiration in a short article in Greater Good: Wired to be Inspired (pdf).

Eye candy

Check out these photos of Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design and Media.

L. Mahadevan

Jonathan Shaw profiles L. Mahadevan, a professor of applied mathematics at Harvard, where he has been working on a variety of interesting problems.

... Mahadevan enjoys explaining mathematically the phenomena of everyday life: practicing the old-fashioned method of scientific inquiry called natural philosophy, where one wonders about everything. ...

Although the problems he tackles vary in complexity, none is trivial in Mahadevan’s eyes. He does not believe in a hierarchy of problems, or even that their solutions belong to particular disciplines. “A problem is just that: a problem,” he says. “Nature does not tell us what kind of a problem it is—a physics problem, a biology problem, an engineering problem, an important problem, an unimportant problem…Nature couldn’t care less.”

Check out the accompanying short video as well. Link via Guru.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

WTF headline from 22 days ago ...

Uttarakhand Govt to buy cow urine at Rs 5 per litre.

The Uttarakhand Government has started an ambitious programme to buy cow urine through milk cooperative societies and sell it to Ayurvedic pharmacies or to be used in making Ayurvedic medicines.

The state Government already has a demand lying with it for 5,000 litres of cow urine from Swami Ramdev’s pharmacy at Haridwar, sources said.

Hat tip to Anon through a comment on the previous post on Relevant Economics ;-)

Relevant economics

David Leonhardt ran a survey of economics asking them "which economists were managing to do influential work on the crucial questions facing modern society."

He says there was a "runaway winner": "the small group of economists who work at the Jameel Poverty Action Lab at M.I.T., led by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, were mentioned far more often than anyone else." Here's a short description of their work:

The basic idea behind the lab is to rely on randomized trials — similar to the ones used in medical research — to study antipoverty programs. This helps avoid the classic problem with the evaluation of aid programs: it’s often impossible to separate cause and effect. If aid workers start supplying textbooks to schools in one town and the students there start doing better, it could be because of the textbooks. Or it could be that the town also happened to hire a new school administrator.

In a randomized trial, researchers would choose a set of schools and then separate into them two groups. The groups would be similar in every respect except for the fact that one would receive new textbooks and one wouldn’t. With a test like this, as Vinod Thomas, the head of independent evaluation at the World Bank, says, “You can be much more accurate and much more clear about the effect of a program.”

An earlier post has a bunch of links to Abhijit Banerjee and some of his work. And the NYTimes article itself has a bunch of useful links.

Punishing the plagiarizers and falsifiers

The Chiranjeevi case has been picked up by Indian newspapers.

Sidebar: Here's one more! A couple of weeks ago, Sourangshu Mukhopadhyay, a physics professor at Burdwan University, was accused of plagiarism by Ajoy Ghatak, a professor at IIT-D.

* * *

So, what has Sri Venkateswara University done about Chiranjeevi after determining that he was, in fact, guilty of such serious offences? The Hindu's Gopal Raj reports:

Registrar of the university Y. Venkatarami Reddy told The Hindu that disciplinary action had been taken against Professor Chiranjeevi on the basis of a report from a three-member enquiry commission appointed by the university.

The university’s Executive Council, in September, 2007, banned him from undertaking examination work and research guidance. He was also debarred from securing further promotions as well as being appointed to administrative positions in the university. Students doing M.Phil and Ph.D. under his guidance would be transferred to other guides, Dr. Reddy said.

I think Rahul has the best description of this non-punishment:

Apparently the university is sufficiently concerned to slap the professor concerned severely on the wrist.

Within the past 24 hours, two news reports passed through my Google Reader, and they say something about how plagiarizers have been treated by their universities, both of which are in the US. [Now, Chiranjeevi has been accused of a lot more than plagiarism; I will return to this point below]. The first one is about a professor at Ohio University:

Earlier this month, Roderick J. McDavis, Ohio’s president, for the first time in the institution’s history rescinded the title of “distinguished professor,” a high academic honor that had been given to engineering professor Jay S. Gunasekera years earlier for his research, teaching and service.

Gunasekera is at the center of the controversy, the subject of charges that he both plagiarized a graduate student’s work in a published book, and failed to adequately monitor graduate students who went on to copy others’ material in theses they submitted under his watch. ...

Gunasekera was chair of the department at the time the allegations surfaced. He was removed from that position, and also had a named professorship taken away. This year, he’s on assignment and not teaching or advising students.

The second one is a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College:

Columbia University’s Teachers College will not dismiss Madonna G. Constantine, the professor it charged with plagiarizing numerous works by another professor and two former students.

The college said on Wednesday that it had penalized her, but declined to discuss how. But on Thursday, Marcia Horowitz, a spokeswoman for the college, said the action stopped short of Dr. Constantine’s firing.

So, plagiarizers don't lose their jobs; they receive a public reprimand, and perhaps a demotion. But, as I said, Chiranjeevi has been accused of other crimes that are a lot more serious than plagiarism: fabrication and falsification. How are fabricators and falsifiers punished elsewhere? Again, some examples are useful.

At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Elizabeth Goodwin resigned (while maintaining her innocence; she was accused of falsification of data). A professor at the University of Vermont went to jail for using falsified data in a grant application. And we all know what happened to Jan Hendrik Schön and Hwang Woo Suk, don't we?

* * *

All of this brings me back to the one person who has remained untouched by any official, public reprimand by any of the organizations -- including the Science Academies -- he belonged to when he committed plagiarism: R. A. Mashelkar. In case you are wondering, it has been nearly a year since this scandal broke.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Sunita Narain on the many ways we subsidize cars

She makes a convincing case in her Down To Earth editorial:

... The fact is that cars—small or big—are heavily subsidized. [...] The subsidy begins with the manufacture of cars. When we read about the Singur farmers’ struggle to stop government from acquiring their land for the Tata car factory we don’t join the dots. We don’t see this as the first big subsidy to motorization. The fact is, in Singur the manufacturer got cheap land, interest-free capital and perhaps other concessions ... The car owner (and I am one as well) pays a one-time road tax, which is between 0.5-5 per cent of the cost of the vehicle in most states.

But this is only one part of the subsidies to car owners—there is also the cost of regulating traffic; of installing traffic signals; the cost of building flyovers, overbridges and subways; the cost of pollution control measures; the cost of pollution to our health. Since cars take up over 75 per cent of the road space, even though they move less than 20 per cent of the people, it is obvious whom this expenditure benefits the most. [...] The subsidy bill does not end here. There is also the cost of parking, which we refuse to pay any or full cost for, and which the government refuses to impose.

The question is should we discount the price of motorization so that some (and maybe a few more) can drive a car or a two-wheeler? Or should we pay the real cost of our commute so that the government can invest in mobility for all? ...

There were people who insinuated that Narain's complaints about cars were directed at Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car that was unveiled last month. This is grossly unfair. The total cost of ownership of a car is something that she has been talking about for quite sometime (at least since December 2006); her organization has also studied the hidden parking subsidy -- a subsidy whose burden falls on everyone. These studies have also been given wide publicity by folks like Swaminathan Aiyar.

IISc links ...

Fëanor talks about the efforts of his graduating class to coin a catchy slogan. What they end up with is lots of gauche geekery. Example:

The Electricians sniggered for weeks with their motto: Our discharge is positively shocking.

* * *

Have you checked out Natasha's latest pic of IISc nightlife?

This is bound to become an internet classic

Abel Pharmboy live-blogs the entire process of going through a ...


Link via Bora.

Oh, what the hell, here's an excerpt:

2:20 check in for 2:45 appt

3:02 bp 117/67

nurse: have you shaved your scrotum? uh, nope, no one told me to

take off clothes. nurse: no not socks, we're not operating there.

a single edged razor is brought in- doc says you should shave it dry. fucking lovely.

Closer home ...

People seem to be going through some interesting experiences.

* * *

This just reminded me of an earlier post here on how to attract more students to pursue their PhD.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Massive fraud: The Chiranjeevi case

This C&EN report by William G. Schulz is shocking (catch it before it possibly goes behind a paywall):

A CHEMIST IN INDIA has been found guilty of plagiarizing and/or falsifying more than 70 research papers published in a wide variety of Western scientific journals between 2004 and 2007, according to documents from his university, copies of which were obtained by C&EN. Some journal editors left reeling by the incident say it is one of the most spectacular and outrageous cases of scientific fraud they have ever seen.

The culprit, sources say, is chemistry professor Pattium Chiranjeevi of Sri Venkateswara University in Tirupati, India. SVU conducted an investigation into Chiranjeevi's work after a journal editor presented evidence to university officials that the professor had plagiarized and possibly falsified several manuscript submissions. Chiranjeevi, who communicates through a wide variety of e-mail addresses, has not responded to multiple requests for comment by C&EN. [...]

CHIRANJEEVI'S PLAGIARISM of other scientists' work was discovered by Purnendu K. (Sandy) Dasgupta, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas, Arlington, and U.S. editor of Analytica Chimica Acta. He says a reviewer, a former student of his, pointed out that a Chiranjeevi submission on measurement of arsenic(III) was similar to a published paper from a Japanese group on chromium(III). In fact, Dasgupta says, but for the change in the name of the chemical being measured, the papers were identical.

"At that point, I was really mad," Dasgupta says. He says it upset him that Chiranjeevi is also Indian and that his university is located in a holy city in India. "I wrote a scathing letter to Chiranjeevi, and said I was going to notify his university that they should look into his Ph.D."

Eventually, Dasgupta did make contact with Duvvuru Gunasekar, who was chair of the SVU chemistry department at the time. And he probed further into Chiranjeevi's publication record. He found several instances of duplicate submission—for example, a series of four papers on how to measure selenium submitted to as many journals—and he began to question data reported in these and other Chiranjeevi articles.

Dasgupta queried Gunasekar on instrumentation in his department only to find that Chiranjeevi apparently made false claims. The instruments cited in his papers did not exist in the department, according to Gunasekar. He asked Dasgupta to make an official complaint in writing, which, along with a letter from Elsevier's legal department, triggered the SVU investigation.

According to Dasgupta, Chiranjeevi has proclaimed his innocence through all of this and threatened to sue him in international court. He says Chiranjeevi blamed persons unknown for submitting falsified papers under his name through e-mail addresses that Chiranjeevi did not recognize or use.

But the university's investigation, according to the SVU source, found that Chiranjeevi had used those same e-mail addresses in papers that he stood behind as authentic. "He was trying to throw blame on his students," the source says.

Worse, "he was charging students a fee to award them degrees," the source says. "He listed as many as 56 coauthors on his papers. There were complaints prior to the investigation, but nobody looked into it very seriously." He says the university does not seem to have taken disciplinary action against any students who worked under Chiranjeevi's supervision, even though some of them were aware of and participated in the fraud he perpetrated.

GPS antenna stolen -- for its scrap value?

Via Guru, we have this strange news item from Nature News:

A crucial Global Positioning System (GPS) antenna in Bangalore has been stolen — apparently for its scrap value — knocking India out of an international network of 'core' stations that provides data to geoscientists around the globe.

The station at the Indian Institute of Science was linked to the International Global Navigation Satellite Systems Service, based in Pasadena, California. The service provides scientific data such as for satellite navigation and earthquake-risk monitoring. Although India has 2 of the 336 active stations in the global network, the Bangalore station was the only one among the 40 core stations that supply data in real time.

Googling this stuff a bit, I discovered that this news is about three weeks old; The Telegraph (Kolkata) did two stories: here and here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Very. Un. Valentine.

SciAm Interview with David Levy:

Last year, David Levy published a book, Love and Sex with Robots, which marked a culmination of years of research about the interactions between humans and computers. His basic idea is that, for humans who cannot establish emotional or sexual connections with other people, they might form them with robots. The topic is ripe for ridicule: On The Colbert Report in January, host Stephen Colbert asked Levy, "Are these people who can't establish relationships with other human beings, are they by any chance people who write about love and sex with robots?" The 62-year-old Levy, though, is quite serious ...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

St. Valentine links - III

Very scientific Valentines, these. Check them out:

Geeky Science Valentines.

Valinetines: Valentines for Scientists.

Bring Love to the Lab with Science Valentines.

Scientist Valentines.

* * *

This one is about gorilla love: Mating cheek to cheek.

* * *

Yeah, I know, Valentines is so last week. But romance is forever. So, click away!

Kids ...

Moms talking about their kids:

  • Boys: Shripriya announces the arrival of twins.
  • Classes: Lakshmi is appalled at the burden imposed on some kids by their hyperactive and pushy parents.
  • Best toys: Just check out those adorable pics in Shruthi's post!

"A taxonomy of financial folly"

From the perspective of neoclassical economics, self-punishing decisions are difficult to explain. Rational calculators are supposed to consider their options, then pick the one that maximizes the benefit to them. Yet actual economic life, as opposed to the theoretical version, is full of miscalculations, from the gallon jar of mayonnaise purchased at spectacular savings to the billions of dollars Americans will spend this year to service their credit-card debt. The real mystery, it could be argued, isn’t why we make so many poor economic choices but why we persist in accepting economic theory.

In “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” (Harper; $25.95), Dan Ariely, a professor at M.I.T., offers a taxonomy of financial folly. His approach is empirical rather than historical or theoretical. In pursuit of his research, Ariely has served beer laced with vinegar, left plates full of dollar bills in dorm refrigerators, and asked undergraduates to fill out surveys while masturbating. He claims that his experiments, and others like them, reveal the underlying logic to our illogic. “Our irrational behaviors are neither random nor senseless—they are systematic,” he writes. “We all make the same types of mistakes over and over.” So attached are we to certain kinds of errors, he contends, that we are incapable even of recognizing them as errors.

From Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker review of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by MIT's Dan Ariely, whose blog is also hosted at the book's site. Kolbert's review also covers another book -- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein -- that appears to use our predictably irrational behaviours to recommend policy choices (such as "presumed consent" as opposed to "explicit consent" for organ donors).

At the intersection of ambition and incompetence

Paul Graham weighs in on trolls, and what an online forum can do to minimize their corrosive effects. Here's one of the causes of trolling:

The third cause of trolling is incompetence. If you disagree with something, it's easier to say "you suck" than to figure out and explain exactly what you disagree with. You're also safe that way from refutation. In this respect trolling is a lot like graffiti. Graffiti happens at the intersection of ambition and incompetence: people want to make their mark on the world, but have no other way to do it than literally making a mark on the world.

Here's Gresham's Law of trolls:

... [T]rolls are willing to use a forum with a lot of thoughtful people in it, but thoughtful people aren't willing to use a forum with a lot of trolls in it. Which means that once trolling takes hold, it tends to become the dominant culture.

A previous post on trolls (with some links) is here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tamil transliteration in Blogger announced the extension of its transliteration facility to Tamil (and Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu as well as Hindi), so let me give it a spin:

ப்ளாக்கரில் தமிழிலும் நேரடியாக எழுத முடியும் என்பதை சோதித்துப் பார்க்க ஒரு ஆசை வந்தது. எனவேதான் இது. ஹி ஹி!

இப்போது நாம் நமது வழக்கமான நிகழ்ச்சியைத் தொடர்வோமா? நன்றி, வணக்கம்!

I type fairly fast, but only in English. There are other tools that allow me to write in Tamil through transliteration, but it's a pain to do this stuff elsewhere, and then do a cut-and-paste job in Blogger's edit-window. So, typing Tamil stuff directly in Blogger is nice.

Perhaps I should start a Tamil blog, except that 'nanopolitan' in Tamil would make it sound like it's about weirdos ans perverts. So I'll need a new name for it ...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

St. Valentine link: Tyrannosaurus sex

Olivia Judson speculates on the sex life of dinosaurs.

We now have a robust understanding of how sexual pressures — the pressures to find, impress, and seduce a mate — influence the evolution of males and females. So much so that if you tell me a fact, such as the average size difference between males and females in a species, or the proportion of a male’s body taken up by his testes, I can tell you what the mating system is likely to be. For example, where males are much bigger than females, fighting between males has been important — which often means that the biggest males maintain a harem. If testes are relatively large, females probably have sex with several males in the course of a single breeding episode.

These forces are so reliable that, if only we could determine the sex of dinosaur fossils, we could begin to infer their mating habits. But alas. [...]

* * *

I know this is not really relevant here, but check out this really funny story about a pet lizard ...

An important victory for Open Access

Inside Higher Ed reports:

Harvard University’s arts and sciences faculty approved a plan on Tuesday that will post finished academic papers online free, unless scholars specifically decide to opt out of the open-access program. While other institutions have similar repositories for their faculty’s work, Harvard’s is unique for making online publication the default option.

This is an important victory. As Peter Suber observed, "Harvard will be the first university in the US to adopt an OA mandate. The Harvard policy will also be one of the first anywhere to be adopted by faculty themselves rather than by administrators." He has more here.

Nicole Kidman's swimsuit = Nine cows

A swimsuit left at a Swedish pool by Australian movie star Nicole Kidman has been sold at auction to buy cows for poor families in India.

More here. I wonder why this momentous news has not found its rightful place in this blog.

* * *

In other news, the fifth Asian Esperanto Congress started yesterday in Bangalore. Abdul Salam, president of the Indian Esperanto Federation, spoke these stirring words:

The number of Esperantists is increasing. A day will come when the entire world will speak one language — Esperanto.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

HigherEd links

Gouri Agtey Athale in the Economic Times: M&M to spend Rs 250 cr on 5 tech institutes.

Victor E. Ferrall Jr. in Inside Higher Ed: Can Liberal Arts Colleges Be Saved?

Cal Newport: Notes on a lecture by MIT's Patrick Henry Winston on How To Speak. Link to the video is here.

St. Valentine links ...

Scientific American: Affairs of the Lips: Why We Kiss by Chip Walter. [Link via The Situationist, where you will find more links].

LATimes:: Science of the Orgasm by Regina Nuzzo. "To unlock the secrets of the climax researchers are looking behind the scenes and into the nervous system, where the true magic happens."

LATimes, again: Call Him Doctor 'Orgasmatron' by Regina Nuzzo (again). "Dr. Stuart Meloy stumbled upon an alternative -- and pleasurable -- use for an electrode stimulation device that treats pain."

Dr. Stuart Meloy never set out to study orgasms. It was an accident.

He was in the operating room one day in 1998, implanting electrodes into a patient's spine to treat her chronic leg pain. (The electrodes are connected to a device that fires impulses to the brain to block pain signals.) But when he turned on the power, "the patient suddenly let out something between a shriek and moan," says Meloy, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist in North Carolina.

Asked what was wrong, she replied, "You'll have to teach my husband how to do that."

[LATimes links via Tara Smith at Aetiology.]

National Post: Love-Cost Analysis by Dave McGinn. "Your long-distance relationship might be more expensive than you think."

Finally, over at Pretty Blue Salwar, Blue is playing Advice Columnist all of this week.

So: if there are any burning questions you want answered (including questions about things that shouldn't be burning), drop 'em in the comments [over at Blue's blog, of course].

Monday, February 11, 2008

The difference between real people and Homo economicus

Many people have likened the response to Mr. Obama’s appeal for civic engagement to the response to similar appeals by President John F. Kennedy during the 1960s. Then, as now, many economists were skeptical. The Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, for example, began the opening chapter of his 1962 book, “Capitalism and Freedom,” by quoting the already-famous passage from Kennedy’s inaugural address in which he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Mr. Friedman seemed to find the statement unintelligible, or at any rate not “worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society.”

“The free man,” he wrote, “will ask neither what his country can do for him, nor what he can do for his country.”

From Robert Frank's latest Economic View column titled, "When Self-Interest Isn’t Everything". Here are the opening lines:

Traditional economic models assume that people are self-interested in the narrow sense. If “homo economicus” — the stereotypical rational actor in these models — finds a wallet on the sidewalk, he keeps the cash inside. He doesn’t leave tips after dining in restaurants that he will never visit again. And he would never vote in a presidential election, much less make an anonymous donation of money or time to a presidential campaign.

While on this topic, take a look at Dan Ariely's "Mac vs. PC" style comparison of standard and behavioral varieties of economics.

The fate of humanities and social sciences at IISc

Caution: This longish post on IISc's prehistory is just a (quirky) summary of the first two chapters in B.V. Subbarayappa's In Pursuit of Excellence: A History of the Indian Institute of Science (Tata McGraw-Hill, 1992).

* * *

The Indian Institute of Science owes its existence to that great 19th century industrialist and visionary, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata. This great man's other dream projects included the Taj Mahal Hotel, which he lived to see the birth of, and the Tata Steel, which he didn't.

Jamsetji's vision for an institution of higher learning was articulated sometime in 1896. However, the Institute became a reality only in 1909. What happened between 1896 and 1909?

Let's take a look at some of the key events of this era, as recounted in BVS's book. All the quoted sections below are from there.

There are multiple threads in this story, but I want to concentrate on how the academic goals of IISc got the shape they did. In particular, humanities and social sciences figured quite prominently during the early stages of shaping the institution's academic mandate, but were dumped rather unceremoniously when the Institute became a reality. This fact was highlighted in a recent lecture by Prof. P. Balaram, IISc Director, and it piqued my curiosity. I went to back to BVS to delve a little deeper into IISc's prehistory.

* * *

According to BVS, Jamsetji had been thinking about creating a "real" university at least since the 1890s (and probably even earlier). He was also sure that such a university should be not just for the Parsis, but for all of India. While these thoughts were on his mind, he set up, in 1892, a committee to "select some brilliant students to be sent annually for higher studies in England" (p.20). In 1893, he met Swami Vivekananda on a ship from Japan to the US. He recalls this meeting in his 1898 letter to Vivekananda.

1896: Articulation of a Vision

However, it is in an 1896 letter to Lord Reay, the Governor of Bombay and Chancellor of the Bombay University, that Jamsetji presents his ideas for a university:

Being blessed by the mercy of Providence with more than a fair share of the worlds' goods and persuaded that I owe much of my success in life to an unusual combination of favourable circumstances, I have felt it incumbent on myself to help to provide a continuous atmosphere of such circumstances for my less fortunate countryment. [...]

I propose to ... [make] a Trust Settlement of property annually yielding between Rupees Eighty Thousand and a lac for this purpose. [...]

[Aside 1: The way Jamsetji proposed his "trust settlement" contained within it the seeds of an enormous delay. The assets of the university, he said, will coexist with those of his sons (and their descendents). Why? His sons would then be responsible for managing the combined assets, which Jamsetji appears to prefer over the alternative of the university's assets being managed by a bunch of a faceless trust. He said, "... I believe that property Trusts are very difficult to manage and liable to abuse when managed by bailiffs under large body of Trustees..." He offered a modified proposal in 1898, but the essence was the same. The properties would be managed together by one Trust, with the annual income being shared by the University and his family.]

1896 also saw the entry of Burjorji Padshah into the IISc story. Jamsetji invited Padshah to help him in his "national mission." He also bankrolled Padshah's travel through Europe for nearly eighteen months, during which he visited universities and interacted with scholars and educationists. The idea was to figure out what kind of a university Jamsetji's dream project should turn into.

1898: Teaching University of India

Armed with a lot of (conflicting) inputs , Padshah returned to India (probably in 1898). A Provisional Committee for Post-Graduate Education was set up in late 1898 to give a concrete shape to Jamsetji's dream. This Committee had 23 members; Padshah was its secretary, and Jamsetji himself was just an ordinary member! It started its work with a tentative scheme for a "Teaching University of India," prepared by Padshah himself.

According to this tentative scheme, the institution was meant for post-graduate teaching in the following schools:

  • School of Sanitary Service and Practice
  • School of Pedagogies
  • School for Higher Technical Studies.

1898: Imperial University of India

Well, the Provisional Committee went into Padshah's ideas, and converted them into a fairly detailed plan that included academic departments, administrative structure and financial requirements. Its final scheme suggested setting up three "departments" (which are more like schools or faculties in the present day university system) in what it called the Imperial University of India:

  1. A scientific and technical department
    • Physics and Chemistry, including its applications to Agriculture, Arts and Industry
  2. A medical department
    • Physiological and Bactereological Chemistry
  3. A philosophical and educational department
    • Methods of Education
    • Ethics and Psychology
    • Indian History and Archaeology
    • Statistics and Economics
    • Comparative Philology

1899: Curzon's concerns

Lord Curzon, the Viceroy-designate, met with the representatives of the Provisional Committee on 31 December 1898 -- just a day after his arrival in India! Even though he had no time to study the details of the scheme, Lord Curzon raised some questions. They ranged from whether India had enough students to study in this institution, to employment opportunities for its graduates. More importantly,

Curzon also had his doubts about the value of the Department of Philosophy and Education, including archaeology, ethics, psychology and methods of education, which would involve substantial expenditure.

This appears to be a key turning point. For the first time, questions are raised about the utility of humanities and social sciences, and they acquire a certain legitimacy and persistence because a powerful person raised them.

Padshah and other Committee members offered a valiant rebuttal:

... Justice Candy [Chairman of the Committee] explained that ... although they scarcely hoped to provide for all of the subjects at once, they thought it best to include such subjects as philosophy and education. ... Two other members of the delegation ... pointed out the importance of training in philosophy and education for strengthening the teaching faculties in secondary and higher education. [...] Padshah stated that he had found during the course of his enquiries in Europe that Ethics and Philosophy were invariably associated with instruction in the methods of teaching.

This, then, marks the beginning of the end of H&SS in the institution that would later become the Indian Institute of Science. This is also the beginning of series of attempts by Padshah to get H&SS included in the institution's mandate, only to see them scuttled.

1899: Indian University of Research

After a bit of back and forth, a conference was held in Simla, with Thomas Raleigh (who was later to lead the University Commission set up by Curzon) as its chairman. This conference too favoured "a gradual development" of the institution, with priority being given to scientific, technological and medical branches. The preferred name became "Indian University of Research."

1900 - 01: Ramsay's suggestions

The government suggested -- and the Provisional Committee agreed with it -- that the scheme for the institution be examined by an outside expert. Prof. William Ramsay, who was to win the 1904 Chemistry Nobel, was their man; he toured India for over two and a half months, visited over a dozen educational centres, and submitted a fairly detailed report on the academic, administrative and financial structure of the institution. On the academic side, he was clearly in favour of science and technology. His preferred structure consisted of Departments of General Chemistry, Engineering Technology and Industrial Bactereology. In addition, he also suggested hiring a junior faculty Electrical Technology.

The dream of a university was effectively dead at this point. What remained was just a "scientific research institute."

The IISc story goes through some weird contortions at this point, involving Curzon, Raleigh and George Hamilton (Secretary of State for India). At one point, Raleigh suggests that the institute be "merely a kind of college with Fellowships", where the Fellows would go through research or special study, and be examined by the Principal and the institute's Council. Jamsetji's response to this was a clear and unambiguous 'no'. At the end of these messy negotiations, the government decided that a fresh evaluation of the scheme was necessary! Professor Orme Masson (Melbourne University) and Col. Clibborn (Roorkee College) were chosen for this purpose.

1901: Indian Institute of Science

Masson and Clibborn [1] were the first ones to call the institution by its present name. They didn't like the "Institute of Research", suggesting that it was "somewhat pretentious." "By all means," they added, "let it earn the reputation for research, but let it not claim it merely on the strength of good intentions."

On the academic side, they too stuck to the science and technology areas. They recommended three schools to start with:

  • School of Chemistry

  • School of Experimental Physics

  • School of Experimental Biology

[Aside 2: From this point on, the scheme went through several years of tortuous negotiations, mainly because of the financing plan proposed by Jamsetji. As we saw earlier, Jamsetji's contribution to the institution was tangled up with the finances of his family, and the government had serious objections to this messy arrangement. In the event, the scheme finally saw the light of day only after the Institute's finances were separated from those of Jamseji's family. That happened in 1904, and the government gave its approval in February of 1905. Sadly, Jamsetji didn't live to enjoy this moment; he had passed away in May 1904.]

* * *

Effectively, our story -- with its emphasis on IISc's academic mandate -- ends here. The years from 1905 to 1909 were devoted to getting the financial and administrative structure in place, hiring IISc's first Director, and wrangling over the relative powers of the Director's office, the government of India and the House of Tatas.

There's just one more episode that deserves mention. As I pointed out earlier, the original inclusion of H&SS was essentially due to Padshah, and he kept trying to revive that idea even after it was killed unofficially by Curzon and semi-officially by Ramsay [2]. Interestingly, he made one final attempt. Along with Dorab Tata (Jamsetji's son), he urged Morris Travers (IISc's first Director) to open a School of Social Studies at IISc. BVS says:

Padshah also pleaded with Travers that efforts should be made to investigate such areas as dietetics, archaeology, anthropology, women's education and, specially, tropical medicine. [p.80]

This happened in 1910, in the first year of IISc's operation. Students started arriving in 1911, the same year Padshah resigned from the IISc Council to take charge of Jamsetji's other dream project: Tata Steel.

* * *


[1] Here's yet another interesting aside: Masson and Clibborn suggested an annual intake of just 15. They thoughtfully considered the possibility of drop outs to conclude that IISc was likely to have a steady student population of about 45!

[2] To be fair, the IISc scheme that was finally approved did say that the institution's object was to promote "original investigations in all branches of knowledge." I think it is equally fair to conclude that the word "Science" in the institute's name has had an enormous influence on whether it developed a strong program in H&SS.

Globalizing Higher Ed: The American Story So Far

Two fabulous blogs with a focus on global higher ed scene -- Beerken's Blog and Global Higher Ed -- recommend this NYTimes story by Tamar Lewin on American universities' rush to set up their own campuses in other countries. UAE and China, for example. While much of the rhetoric is about exporting American university education, the ground reality can be quite different. Here's an excerpt about George Mason University's campus in Abu Dhabi:

George Mason, a public university in Fairfax, Va., arrived in the gulf in 2005 with a tiny language program intended to help students achieve college-level English skills and meet the university’s admission standards for the degree programs that were beginning the next year.

George Mason expected to have 200 undergraduates in 2006, and grow from there. But it enrolled nowhere near that many, then or now. It had just 57 degree students — 3 in biology, 27 in business and 27 in engineering — at the start of this academic year, joined by a few more students and programs this semester.

The project, an hour north of Dubai’s skyscrapers and 7,000 miles from Virginia, is still finding its way. “I will freely confess that it’s all been more complicated than I expected,” said Peter Stearns, George Mason’s provost.

The Ras al Khaymah campus has had a succession of deans. Simple tasks like ordering books take months, in part because of government censors. Local licensing, still not complete, has been far more rigorous than expected. And it has not been easy to find interested students with the SAT scores and English skills that George Mason requires for admissions.

“I’m optimistic, but if you look at it as a business, you can only take losses for so long,” said Dr. Abul R. Hasan, the academic dean, who is from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. “Our goal is to have 2,000 students five years from now. What makes it difficult is that if you’re giving the George Mason degree, you cannot lower your standards.”

But is it really the George Mason education?

Whether that degree really reflects George Mason is open to question. None of the faculty members came from George Mason, although that is likely to change next year. ....

Why slander that vital organ?

Sure, Sutton will sell a laxative of books with his sleazy title, but why slander that vital organ of our body? This will come to no good end.

That's from reader's letter to the San Francisco Chronicle. He/she is referring to Bob Sutton's No Asshole Rule. Sutton has two posts on the many different kinds of reactions he has had to the 'dirty word' in the title of his book.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

More links from the interweb tubes

The Ministry of Human Resources Development has (finally) decided to respond to the Singapore Government's request (which I presume was made several years ago) to set up an IIT in that city state. The answer, not surprisingly, is a firm no.

* * *

I don't know how many foreign universities have a campus in Singapore, and how well these operations are going (if you have some information to share, please do so!), but there has been at least one disastrous failure: The University of New South Wales, Australia, which ended its operations within three months after starting them! This case has been dealt with at length over at Beerken's blog: here and here.

* * *

Are Men Really More Competitive Than Women? Over at the Freakonomics Blog, Melissa Lafsky discusses some recent research.

* * *

You have heard about the "Impostor Phenomenon", right? Learn more about the psychological motivations behind this phenomenon here. The stuff about "phony phonies" is especially interesting!

* * *

Almost all the California bloggers I read (at least those who have said whom they voted for) have voted for Barack Obama: Aaron Swartz, Sean Carroll, Brad DeLong and Larry Lessig. The state, however, voted for Hillary Clinton by a 52-42 margin [NYTimes link via Blue].

* * *

Talking about Obama, check out this wonderful video. Also check out Is Obama a Mac and Clinton a PC? [Link via Patrix].

Monday, February 04, 2008

From the interweb tubes ...

A great piece of street theater (video, 5 minutes): Frozen Grand Central. Check out the blog of the cool folks behind this 'mission': Improv Everywhere.

Check out their previous mission too: No Pants 2008.

* * *

Kevin Kelly sez: "When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied."

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Yet another video that has been doing the rounds: Bad day at the office.

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If you have ever used the emacs editor, you'll enjoy this one from xkcd.

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Carmine Gallo, Business Week's communications coach: Deliver a presentation like Steve Jobs. Is it surprising that one of the guidelines says, "Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse"?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The physics and epidemiology of bank runs

Philip Ball's Nature News column -- now available on his blog -- has an overview of the efforts towards understanding catastrophic economic events, such as the Societe Generale fiasco, using ideas from physics, epidemiology and much else.

... State support of failing banks is just one example of the way that finance is geared to risky strategies: hedge fund managers, for example, get a hefty cut of their profits on top of a basic salary, but others pay for the losses [3]. The FRBNY’s vice president John Kambhu and his colleagues have pointed out that hedge funds (themselves a means of passing on risk) operate in a way that makes risk particularly severe and hard to manage [5].

That’s why, if understanding the financial market demands a better grasp of decision-making, with all its attendant irrationalities, it may be that managing the market to reduce risk and offer more secure public benefit requires more constraint, more checks and balances, to be put on that decision-making. We’re talking about regulation.

Free-market advocates firmly reject such ‘meddling’ on the basis that it cripples Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ that guides the economy. But that hand is shaky, prone to wild gestures and sudden seizures, because it is no longer the collective hand of Smith’s sober bakers and pin-makers but that of rapacious profiteers creaming absurd wealth from deals in imaginary and incredible goods.

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On the Societe Generale fiasco, check out some of the posts on Marc Andreessen's blog -- here, here, here, here, here, and here. Pure snark!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Jerks in Academia

Dr. F is a full professor in an elite engineering institution in the South. He offers a course that B.Tech. students take in their final year. Their complaints about this course point to a huge range of badness: just plain bad teaching, not disclosing books he teaches from, poorly worded exams, lack of any discernible relationship between the course content and some exam questions, ... I can go on, but I'm sure you get the point.

I guess it is possible to dispute the content in some of these complaints -- after all, students are not exactly unbiased observers here. But what is not at all in dispute is the phenomenal number of 'F' grades dished out by Dr. F in recent years. If it was over 25 percent in one year, it was well over 60 percent in another! Needless to say, the ones who escaped getting an 'F' grade didn't do all that well; quite a few of them got just a 'pass' grade.

Understandably, students dread having to take Dr. F's course. Imagine top students -- even those with a grade point average of 9 points out of 10 -- quaking at the thought of having to sign up for this man's course!

Naturally, this raises some questions. Here's the first: is Dr. F just a jerk, or is he a certified asshole (to use Bob Sutton's colourful terminology)?

Second, why does the institution tolerate this sort of behavior from one of its senior professors? Why does it allow this academic terrorist to get away with mass murder -- again and again?

That's for the institution to ponder. But, it's worth thinking about how to tame this monster. I can understand if current students may not want to take any action when Dr. F still has some power over them. But surely the graduates can do something? Like creating a site like Rate My Professors to expose Dr. F's shady practices? Like posting his inane, hare-brained questions he likes to give in his exams? Like filing a Right to Information request to access their answer scripts, and using them to confront their institution? Like, simply, complaining to the powers that be?

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One final note: On Dr. F's web page, he proudly states that he has been "recognized ... for excellence in teaching"! Either Dr. F was once a decent teacher before turning into a monster, or there's something truly warped in that institution's award mechanism.

Reviewing AICTE

This, from the Economic Times, is interesting:

As the watchdog for technical education, AICTE has been deeply criticised for its ‘unfair’ practices in the past. While AICTE is known to have approved institutions with dubious antecedents, it has not recognised some of India’s premier institutes like Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, and SP Jain, Mumbai.

Taking charge of the situation, the standing committee on the ministry has invited suggestions from organisations and individuals alike on the functioning of AICTE.

In a newspaper advertisement dated January 24, the committee has invited suggestions, views and comments from interested organisations, institutions and individuals on “different aspects relating to the working of AICTE, particularly the positive impact and problem areas”. The applicants have been asked to suggest procedures for recognition of new technical institutions and improvement processes.

Not surprisingly, the Economic Times has highlighted AICTE's failures in regulating management institutions. But it's clear that the organization has botched its other major responsibility even more: regulating engineering colleges. The result has been equally horrendous: a lot of people getting poor education, and being blamed for their unemployable status.

Just one more general observation: It's not clear why such a review has to happen only when there's a hue and cry over some specific failure or the other. A periodic review should be built into the very statute which created AICTE (and other such regulatory bodies).

Seema Singh profiles Prof. C.N.R. Rao

In Mint:

With 10 hours devoted to research every day, and 18 “major” papers being accepted for publication in 2008 in leading international journals, he thinks he’ll break his own record this year. “I really want to create something in my field beyond my capability,” he says. “Unless we have a finite set of people who stretch their limits, we can’t achieve anything.”

That’s what China is doing, and he doesn’t know why we don’t do it in India. “We are a bunch of lazy people; we don’t want to work,” he says. Of course Rao doesn’t suffer from the same malaise. When I ask how long he intends to continue research, he says: “till my last day”.

One of his friends and long-term research collaborators in Cambridge was physicist Sir Nevill Francis Mott, a student of Nobel laureate Lord Ernest Rutherford. Mott died in 1996 at the age of 90, publishing a paper in that year. Not only that, says Rao, after retiring at 65, Mott entered a completely new area of research and eventually won a Nobel for that in 1977.

I ask him when India can expect one, given that his name has been in circulation recently. “I don’t know, I am not waiting for it, but if I get, I won’t be shocked,” he says, as a matter of fact. There has not been a Nobel Prize in his area of work and the person driving it is George Whitesides of Harvard University. But Rao also is a front-runner for a new prize instituted this year for nanoscience by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and California-based Kavli Foundation—the $1 million (about Rs3.9 crore) Kavli Prize.