Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Grand Prize for Epic Fail goes to ...


... the Infosys Science Foundation!

For its immense failure -- Epic Fail! -- to find a single Indian researcher for the Infosys Prize in Engineering and Computer Sciences.

The Infosys Science Foundation is being recognized for:

  1. Its failure to grasp the magnitude and the extraordinary symbolism of its assertion that there's no one in India deserving of the Engineering Prize right in Year One.

    [It's not as if this Prize has already been awarded to some five people in the past, and the jury is now unable to find anyone in the same league as those past winners. This is Year One we are talking about, and the jury has declared there's no one who measures up to The No One!]

  2. Its failure to realize that if no one deserves this Prize in Year One, its Prize in Year Two is in deep doo-doo.

    [If the Prize in Year Two goes to someone from the present set of nominees, the question would be, "What changed in the last year?". If it goes to someone else, the question would be, "Why was he/she not considered last year?" Either way, the jury for Year One ends up looking incompetent, if not downright stupid.]

  3. Its failure to, simply, get Prize-worthy nominations.

    [What good is a jury if they could not reach out to people who can nominate Prize-worthy candidates? I mean, what good is your Prize -- that too, one that carries the highest monetary award in India -- if all you can attract is spam?]

  4. Its failure to see the irony in no one getting the Engineering Prize from a foundation set up by what is arguably India's leading tech company.

That was one moronic decision from you, Infosys Science Foundation! Perhaps we should have expected a screw up from you, but we could never have expected such a big one right in Year One.

Congratulations!

43 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said...

    Abi,

    In your eagerness to castigate the Infosys Science Foundation, you have failed to mention that they HAVE awarded the prize to five eminent academicians in other fields !

    Profs T. Padmanabhan, Ashoke Sen, and K. Vijayraghavan are certainly top notch performers. At the risk of alleniating the aghast engineers / computer scientists, isnt it possible that they actually did not find anybody of similar stature ?

  2. Anonymous said...

    The article is so laden with negativities about Infy that it is not possible to take you seriously Abi. Get a life, and get over Infy and Murthy.

  3. Abi said...

    @Anon #1: It's the lack of the Engineering Prize that's really comment-worthy in the Prize announcements. And that's because it sends the wrong signal, which you too have picked up: "isnt it possible that they actually did not find anybody of similar stature?" The answer is 'No!' (Read #3 in my 'citation'!)

    @Anon #2: Thanks for your advice, but no thanks for missing the point.

  4. sunil said...

    Abi,

    This is Anon #1 again...

    I still fail to understand your pronounced angst in this matter. As far as I can see it, what is comment-worthy is that 5 eminent academicians have been awarded, and not that there has been no award this year in Engineering.

    I do understand your concern about the possible signal it may send out. However, I am not competent to judge whether this signal is 'right' or 'wrong'. I just feel that pilloring Infosys for this issue in the manner which you have done, is a tad unfair.

    And please.... 'what good is your prize if all you can attract is spam' is so ... 'grapes are sour' like !

  5. Anonymous said...

    The DNA article says that nobody from engg. met the criteria. If there has to be any rational criticism of this decision, it can only be done after looking at these criteria. This blog post has made no worthwhile contribution towards that. Just another rant.

  6. Abi said...

    @Sunil: Believe you me, this post would have been the same if the missing Prize was in, say, Physical Science.

    I guess we differ on what's comment-worthy; if all the Prizes were awarded, my post would have been about congratulating the Prize-winners, with a special note if a friend is among them. But in this case, what is comment-worthy is the colossal arrogance of ISF in its announcement that there's no one who's worthy of the Engineering Prize.

    If I think that ISF is wrong to send the 'wrong signal', why is it unfair for me to criticize it?

  7. Abi said...

    @Anon (#5): Here are the the statutes governing the Prize.

  8. nuteshan said...

    "Self-nominations will not be accepted."

    What it probably means is that Engineering academia is not large-hearted enough to nominate their collegues -- or it means there are none deserving the award -- or it means the engineering academia does not care for the award.

    In any case, I do not see why Infosys should be blamed for this. They have an internional jury and their involvement ends there. And To whom are they sending the "wrong signal"?

    I have to agree with Sunil here. You seem too quick (or is it eager) to pull the trigger.

  9. Sachin Shanbhag said...

    While the allegations that you are too harsh may have some merit ;), the logic in your points 1 and 2 is indisputable. So none of the Swarnajayanti/Bhatnagar awardees are good enough, eh?

    I have a slightly different take. Research undertaken by many prominient scientists in engineering departments is increasingly tilted towards "science". I haven't done due diligence by carefully examining the governing statutes, but could this be a factor?

  10. Anonymous said...

    I am actually pretty happy that there is one award given to Indian scientists with an international (and BTW extremely distinguished) jury. What's wrong with raising the bar of one award (if that is the reason eng. science didn't get the award)? This time engineering science missed out - may be some other area will miss out next year. I personally feel we need more awards with international jury.

    Of course, if there were not enough nominations from eng. science, then as nuteshan said, infosys cannot be held responsible.

    One request to Abi - if you can give some more information about the winners - it will be highly inspiring for many of us. I met Dr. Vijayaraghavan once, great guy. The way he is building NCBS and changing the biology research in India is truly amazing.

  11. Varun said...

    Abi you and your coterie are such big losers.
    You think that the world should run as per your whims and wishes. Why??? Because you are a prof at IISC who has published some work.
    Get a life, you yourself know that you are not smart enough to get a faculty position at the top institutes outside India.
    And, I very much know your work. It is quite good, but not worthy of a Prof. at let us say top univs.
    Now coming to the Infy prize: There is absolutely NO senior person in Computer Science(did his Phd in early 90s or before in CS) who can win the prize. There are some ultra smart people who did their Phds in late 90s or in 2000s but none before whom Infy can brag about.

  12. Anonymous said...

    This blogger is known to be a leftist. And we know leftists are only interested in equal outcomes. That can explain the unusual vehemence of this post. It does not matter to the blogger that perhaps nobody met the requirements for the prize as set by the foundation. Sure you can rant on them, but so can we, as long as comments are open.

    We must commend the infosys foundation for taking this decision. It shows that they are serious about this business.

  13. kulkarni.ankur said...

    The issue is not that the ISF committee did not find anyone worthy. The issue is the way you have interpreted this, and how unequivocal you sound in your interpretation. It is not obvious to me that the 1-5 that you have mentioned are the most irksome consequences of any committee not awarding a prize. That is why your post seems over-the-top and the anger in it seems fabricated.

  14. Anonymous said...

    Varun, Who are these late 90's people in CS? Since you seem to know, it will be nice if you can share. It will be nice to track some of them and we can see them grow.

    However, you are being harsh on Abi for no reason. Why should Abi try to get into a top univ outside India? And that somehow disqualifies him from blogging about anything?

  15. Jaideep said...

    All of you have missed Abi's point. What he is saying is that if no one was worth giving the award this year then how are they going to justify giving the award next year. His points 1 &2 are absolutely valid. Point 3 I am not sure if its the jurys job to rerach out or someone elses but yes thats a failure. Point 4 is inconsequential.

  16. Chitta said...

    I don't know the bar, but there are couple of CS faculty in IIT Bombay (who did their PhDs in mid 90's) who would get faculty positions in top 20 schools in US at the same rank as they are in now.

  17. AK said...

    I read the statues of the prize and found the criteria vague and qualitative, especially statements like "...who, in the opinion of the award jury, has made outstanding contributions...". Such statements are prone to interpretation. Infy/jury can always claim that the submitted work was 'not good enough' and that they believe in setting a high bar, all others can claim that Infy/jury has lost its mind. And it is also true that not every award can have quantitative goals like the DARPA challenges.

    Having said this, I do agree that it is very odd that Engineering & CS jury could not find a single person with 'outstanding contribution'; may be the 'nominator's' were lazy or indifferent, who knows. This case has too many 'who knows' angle to it.

    In my personal opinion I think Abi went a bit overboard in blasting Infy/jury (NOTE: 'in blasting' only; he did a fine job in pointing out the event itself) BUT BUT BUT remember he is writing in his own blog and we are reading his opinions because of our own will.

    And people like Anon, Varun etc, disagreeing & pointing out facts can be done without getting personal. Please don't spoil it for the rest of us.

    PS: I am not a great fan of Infy; it is a business and is intended to make profit, nothing more nothing less.

  18. Vishu said...

    I agree with Abi that points 1 and 2 are very valid; and I am inclined to agree on 3 too. If the awards were to make sense, it should wait until a breakthrough research happens in Engg and CS coming years. Or perhaps they may try take shelter under the (incompetent) reason that noone nominated that good candidate in the first year!

    As anonymous 14 pointed, some comments against Abi are unreasonable.

  19. Anonymous said...

    Who were nominated? Without this information, this post sounds like a rant to me.

    I think the Infy prize signal is the right one -- it says if they don't find anyone worthy enough, they won't award it. And given the level at which they have set the bar (Sen, Vijayaraghavan, Padmanabhan...), chances are they won't be awarding the prize in the coming years in other categories as well.

    The post is based on a "best-of-the-lot" assumption about the prize, obviously that is not the way it is conceived.

  20. Abi said...

    Thank you all for your comments. A quick (general) response:

    Here's what the statute says (Clause #3): "The Prize can be given for an outstanding invention or discovery or for a cumulative body of work."

    Some of you have said we need to see the list of nominees. Don't bother; no self-respecting organization will reveal the nominations (at least not immediately).

    Right now, all we have is ISF's bald assertion that the jury did not find any suitable candidate for the Prize is just not enough. This assertion invites this follow-up question:

    Is it your contention that there is absolutely no one in India to give the Engineering Prize to?

    If ISF has the gall to say 'yes', I'm sure we will be able to show (I have seen some comparative data; my respect for the winners in other categories forces me to not say much more than this) that India has quite a few researchers in engineering with a record of accomplishments matching or exceeding that of some of the winners of the other Prizes.

    If ISF responds with a feeble 'No, but we didn't get those nominations,' then I would throw Points #2 and #3 at them.

  21. Anonymous said...

    Sad, isn't it that you are niot in the ISF jury?

  22. Anonymous said...

    And that your grand data and vision has not been taken into consideration? Your last post is even more insulting to those scientists who have won - each of whom is much more accomplished than what you are. Sour grapes indeed.

  23. Niket said...

    "Grand" and "Epic Fail"?

    Worst case, they can always say "we made a boo-boo last year" and move on.

    I am sure (make that: I hope) they'll do better next year and reach out to get better nominations.

  24. Anonymous said...

    I have done some quick research on three of the winners, Padmanabhan, Sen and VijayRaghavan. (Aside, it is interesting to note that all of them are DAE people!) I used Web of Science to look up the number of publications and their impact. Of course, some of you will argue that this is not the best way. Agreed, but these three people are judged on the basis of such metrics, so why not?

    Padmanabhan and Sen have truly outstanding citation records. However, do keep in mind the following factors. They both are theoreticians and work in areas which do attract high citation counts. Nevertheless, their performance appears to be nothing but stellar. So, I do not dispute those. (If I have a small grouse, it would be that both are physicists, so why give one of them in math category?)

    I am not so sure about VijayRaghavan though. I got only 50+ publications and less than 1000 citations. One would put this as below average for a Biologist. Note also that he is Feb. 1954 born, that means he is above 55 now! No doubt, he was instrumental in building a world class place in NCBS. But, I did not get the impression that INFY prize is given for building institutions, but for truly world class work!

    if the same yardstick was applied to Engineering, I am sure they would have found many.....

  25. Anonymous said...

    In response to Anon #24, one of the jury chairmen is known to have said "India has only second-rate theorists and third-rate experimentalists", so perhaps it's understandable that the experimentalist is a bit weaker than the theorists. Everybody knows that Ashoke Sen is in a different class from the other laureates (indeed, he is the exception to the chairman's rule), but surely that does not mean you give nobody else the award.

  26. Dr. Ajit R. Jadhav said...

    Abi,

    I am happy that there is at least one academic and/or intellectual from Bangalore who is critical of something---anything---to do with Infosys. ... My impression was that people from Bangalore, esp. those from the IISc, are always appreciative of anything that Infosys chooses to throw at them in particular and at Indians in general. (Until very recent times, exactly the same could be said for the English-speaking people from Bombay, the IIT Bombay, and the Tatas, respectively.) So, congratulations are due to you!

    I am not sure I know what either the Jury or the ISF were looking for, in the engineering category. But looking at the prize-winners from the other categories, one *can* make a blanket statement that ISF could easily have found people of similar track record---a similar quality of research and having a similar record of the received past adorations---in the engineering category too. Quite easily.

    I intend to post something more on these prizes at my own blog pretty soon, but here, let me jump ahead and say that if anyone finds Paddy (Prof. Padmanabhan) worthy of a prize like this, there really is no rhyme or reason why they cannot find a Manindra Agarwal (IIT Kanpur) or a Vivek Ranade (NCL) worthy of a similar prize in the engineering category. ... I mean don't miss my point...

    My point is (and more on this at my blog): neither Agarwal nor Ranade has produced truly outstanding work. (Ditto for many other Indian engineers.) But then, my point is: neither has our sweet *Paddy*! And, otherwise, they *all* have been very much adored to a more or less equal extent in the past...

    I mean, if this is going to be a *ramp walk* of sorts---and that's what they seem to be doing, going by some of their choices for the other categories---then why leave poor engineers out of it?

    That's my point.

    Anyway, good to find someone take a position against either N. Murthy, grossly over-rated himself IMHO or Infosys. And I don't have to say that Infosys, as an organization, are grossly over-rated: they themselves tell you loudly that they are proud of their own HR policies whereby brilliant engineers (defined as 75%+ and/or rankers and/or IIT engineers and/or similar) are asked to sit at home earning nothing (because even if they join, Infy anticipates them to leave early) whereas the somewhat above-average lot gets not only jobs in Infy but also handsome salary and perks. [And the lawmakers and governments *abroad* praise N.M. & Infy for having achieved *this* for them!]

    Enough! Bye!

    --Ajit

  27. Anonymous said...

    anon # 24 - giving awards based on no. of papers and citations is a clerical job. If infy wanted to do that they could done the job by themselves. I am sure that juries like inder verma, john kuriyan can look beyond numbers. I am also sure they put other factors as well. Do you know in which field vijayaraghavan works? How easy to publish work in that area? Have you read the citation from the infy science foundation web site?

    It is very easy to trash work of others. The citation does say about Vijayaraghavan's leadership qualities.

    Finally, abi and other people may have issues with engieering awards. But why trash the people who got the awards given by really well known people (as a recognition of their works over decades)?

  28. Anonymous said...

    Ajit: Manindra Agrawal was awarded the first Infosys prize for Mathematics last year, which is retroactively the first Infosys Prize in Mathematical Sciences (the second goes to Ashoke Sen). The other prizes start with this year.

    The sad fact is that if these are to be prizes rewarding work of truly lasting quality, then most of them will not be given in most years (much to Abi's dismay!). Instead they've become like other prizes in Indian science, namely honoring the very few very good people plus some well-connected people. Inevitable, I suppose.

  29. Anonymous said...

    I fully agree with anon #28. Let Infy's very distinguished jury decide about the awards.

    I am actually very surprized by the so much hue and cry for this award. As we all know in many indian awards, there have been cases of injustice. Many people feel that unless you know the committe members it is hard to get many indian awards (I don't know the truth). I would think the jury of infy would be much fair than many of the indian committees (I don't mean all indian committees are useless BTW).

    On a lighter note - are people upset because no one from iisc got this time? Give some chance to others man. You people get most of the awards (primariy because of the credential of the people, partly because of the iisc connection) and will continue to get those.

  30. Anonymous said...

    Anon. 29 is surprised by the "hue and cry" for this award. Maybe it's the small matter of 50 lakhs, a large sum for an Indian academic.

  31. Anonymous said...

    I am reminded of the story of V. S. Naipaul, who, on being asked to judge a writing competition for university students (in Kampala, Uganda) and finding them all mediocre, refused to give a first prize or a second prize, and awarded third prize to the best essay.

    Maybe the engineering jury felt similarly and, there being only a first prize, decided to wait till next year.

  32. Anonymous said...

    Ajit Jadhav

    Were you born a dickhead or have developed into one?

  33. Anonymous said...

    I really love this blog and the comments posted by the readers...

  34. Ronnie Coleman said...

    Anon 32, he just wanted some cheap publicity for his blog. No mention of Manindra Agarwal there. Needless to say, he is a threat to society and should not be let loose.

  35. Anonymous said...

    I looked at Ajit Jadhav's profile....what a self-obsessed disaster this guy is.

    Look at the first comment in his blog where he profiles himself. Someone is willing to send him to "mars with one-way ticket because of Ajit's super intelligence". I dont know if Ajit ever got the message.

  36. Pranav Dandekar said...

    Abi,

    Let me start by saying that I usually appreciate your insightful commentary and balanced perspective on things. This time though the tone and content of your post seem off the mark.

    1. I guess this might be a difference in expectation, but the fact that Infosys set up these awards and has a distinguished jury to decide who gets them is in itself a good thing. I went through their statutes and they have a Fields Medal/MacArthur award elements to them -- age restriction (though I'd prefer 40 instead of 50) and focus on recent work. So at least they started off on the right note.

    2. Without suggesting, say, 5 deserving winners in your post, I am not sure how you can get away with just blanket criticism. I am only familiar with Computer Scientists in India, and other than Manindra Agrawal, I don't know of any one that has produced a truly worth while piece of research in the last 10 years (and I don't much care for quantity of papers alone). Do you know someone in other engg disciplines?

    3. I don't see anything wrong with holding the bar too high. How about holding off on the Engg award until someone produces a truly remarkable piece of research? It is a bit odd that they didn't find anyone deserving enough for the award (chalk that one up to the subjective judgement of the jury), it certainly does not seem to merit mockery/jeers, etc.

    Pranav

  37. Abi said...

    @Pranav: Thanks for your nice words about my blog.

    ISF may have instituted these awards -- ostensibly to promote the cause of science in India. Yes, it's a good thing. A Great Thing, in fact! Does that mean that researchers should be so filled with gratitude that they they desist from criticizing (and ridiculing) this Mega Screw-Up in the Prize's inaugural year.

    Please tell me, why should we accept their bald assertion that the jury didn't find anyone worthy of the Prize in Engineering? What is wrong in questioning that assertion?

  38. Anonymous said...

    Won't it be more constructive if you first list a few name in engineering science with achievement for which they will be remembered 30-40 year down the road. For example, Manindra Agarwal who got infy award has achievement which any impartial observer will clearly understand.

  39. Anonymous said...

    Pranav, Anon 38.,

    Just out of curiosity, what is the work that Manindra Agrawal done that an impartial observer can clearly understand? Even Agrawal will concede that someone like Jaikumar Radhakrishnan (TIFR) or a Naveen Garg (IITD) are his equal.

    Yes, the primality result got a lot ore press etc. But is that it or do you see something more to this business of making sweeping statements.

  40. Anonymous said...

    @Anony 39:
    Primes in P was an open problem for a long long time. AKS solved that and it generated a lot of interest.
    And please remember these prizes are not lifetime achievement awards, so they are given to people who have done some very important work, not to people who have done important work over a long period of time...

  41. Abi said...

    @Anon (#40): You said, "And please remember these prizes are not lifetime achievement awards."

    Not true. Infosys Prize ain't no Nobel.

    Clause #3 of the statutes states, "The Prize can be given for an outstanding invention or discovery or for a cumulative body of work." [Emphasis mine].

  42. Anonymous said...

    Thanks Abi, this is precisely what I came to say.

    The Infy Jury is well within its right to say they did not get any good nomination and hence reject all of them.

    But to say that nobody in India has a body of comparable work in CS/Engg is utter nonsense. And for a student like Pranav to write such BS without even having a noticeable publication is surprising. Really.

  43. Anonymous said...

    why are you making such a big issue if no one was found in engineering/CS to deserve this prize. We should know that the standard of research in India is nowhere in Engineering/CS compared to the leading countries.