Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Filed under: Books
Pitted against a state that was hostile to their right to security during the violence then, and that is just as hostile to their right to reparation and justice now, the survivors to this day eke out a precarious existence, funneled into relief colonies, boycotted socially and economically, and often harassed and rounded up by the police without any regard for due process. Mander shows, in the absence of proper state support, that the cause of relief work has been embraced mainly by Muslim organisations, some with their own agendas, thus further entrenching the factionalism of a communalised polity. Reading his book, we understand how, firstly, what began in Gujarat in 2002 is in a way still current, and secondly, how an orgy of state-sponsored violence may radicalise an entire generation of perpetrators and victims both.
Mandar is just as keen to address the implications of the position, still widely aired in middle-class drawing-rooms around the country, that the Muslims of Gujarat “deserved it” or “had it coming”, either for the alleged role of some Muslims in the Godhra train-burning incident, or more generally for the invasion of India and forced conversion of Hindus by Muslim rulers further back in history. It is striking, he points out, that this idea of collective and vicarious responsibility “seems apportioned only to minorities”. Further, if people are to use this logic of group identity to argue that “they” had it coming, then tomorrow upper-caste Hindus might be a similar “they” for Dalits, and all men might be punished for the bondage of women throughout history. All too often this “they” is merely a projection, and a displacement, of the beast within us.
The number of JEE applicants has crossed the half-million mark, nearly 60% over their number last year. The number of seats, on the other hand, will likely go up by about 20%; The second phase of OBC reservation will create about 18 percent extra seats at the old IITs, and two new IITs -- Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh -- start their academic program this year.
The Indian Express has a story about new academic programs in IITs. Despite its breathless prose, it's clear that these are small initiatives or in preliminary stages. The music and performing arts program at IIT-K, for example, has seen a 'soft-launch' with the help of Hindustani vocalist Veena Sahasrabuddhe. Another initiative -- a medical school at IIT-M -- could be really big when it becomes really real; but right now it seems to be in very early stages.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Arunn on Indian scientists and science blogging.
A Dean at IIT-B is left red-faced by an ad for a JEE coaching school! [I'm not sure what the fuss is all about; the real fuss should be about IITs sole reliance on an exam that can be cracked only with the help of serious, intensive -- and in many cases, soul-sapping -- coaching.]
The ad, published in a newspaper on Sunday, carried a handwritten note from Gopalan, who had said, "Based on our experiences with our son, we very strongly recommend (this coaching class) to every parent and student in the process of choosing the best coaching class for JEE at Mumbai.''
The advertisement also mentioned that 30 professors and two deans from IIT had sent their children to the class.
In these hard times, American universities have had to resort to pretty drastic measures. Here's P.Z. Myers:
The University of Florida has reached that point. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has been told to cut 10% from its budget. Since the biggest chunk of any university's budget is salaries, that means a lot of people are going on the chopping block — and the administration has decided to simply get rid of entire departments wholesale, including geology. Think about it: a college of science that simply cuts off and throws away an entire discipline. Is that really a place that is supporting science and education?
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Quandary in Sweden: Criminals in medical school.
Scott Aaronson: The complement of Atlas Shrugged:
I should look not at what’s in the book—whose every word is perfect by definition, to true believers who define ‘perfect’ as ‘that exemplified by Atlas Shrugged‘—but at what’s not in it. In other words, I should review the complement of the book. By approaching the donut through the hole, I will try to explain how, even considering it on its own terms, Atlas Shrugged fails to provide an account of human life that I found comprehensive or satisfying.
Zoli Erdos: Should junior level professionals blog?
Finally, the mystery link.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
David Gibson: Social psychology of Facebook.
Zuska takes on a question that keeps cropping up from time to time: Why can't women do anything great?
if you still can't resist obnoxiously wagging Albert Einstein under our noses (as if his life should be reduced to an example), then may I offer for your consideration Marie Curie and her two Nobel Prizes? When you can show me some guy who spent his days out in a shed stirring two tons of pitchblende in a cauldron over an open fire to isolate a tiny little dot of radium, and was at the same time completely responsible for the care and raising of two children, one of whom grew up to be a scientist and win her own Nobel Prize, then we'll talk.
Sunil Mukhi fisks Pankaj Vohra's column saying nice things about Varun Gandhi's father.
Manasi: A true story:
"Cop: What do you think you're doing? Don't you know that you're in public?
Us: Is there a problem?
Cop: Your behaviour is indecent. Either fork over Rs. 5000 or come with me to the police station."
Dan Ariely: Warren Buffett's strategies for self-control.
This morning, I found that this humble blog is featured at Celebrity Blog Index -- "Celebrities Blog, We Index!!".
Tickled pink, I poke a little further, and notice that I'm listed under the label "academician". I click through to find out the kind of elite company I'm in.
Sometimes, egosurfing teaches you some great, unforgettable lessons.
Now, I'm busy wiping my keyboard clean ...
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Later this month, about 60 Southern California faculty will assemble at a long rectangular table, pitching research ideas to other faculty they may have never even met before. In the style of speed dating, faculty will move across the table in a round-robin fashion, taking just a few minutes to chat before moving on to talk to other faculty. After these brief sessions, organizers hope a special chemistry will develop between some of the participants, prompting the beginnings of a new research relationship. [snip]
The event admittedly has a “game show feel,” but it might begin to address some important questions, Goodman says. Universities are spending plenty of time and money building new buildings and restructuring colleges to stimulate interdisciplinary work, but the event will begin to explore whether one of the key obstacles is as simple as shyness.
“Are these really social barriers? We’ll find out,” Goodman says.
Pallavi Singh: Arjun Singh's Report Card.
No Bitterness Rule: Ponderer on the advisability of going to grad school:
the bottom line is - if you have the tendency to see the world as a dark place full of internal politics, if you are bitter about other people making more money than you, if you are unable to admit to yourself that some people may be more talented or more hardworking and are capable of producing excellent work, and should not be hated for it - then maybe grad school is not for you. As it will only make you more bitter and paranoid.
On the other hand, you should know the basic facts of grad school experience: most experiments do NOT produce useful results, but that shouldn't stop you from trying. You are not guaranteed an academic job after your PhD - or any job in specific geographic area or any specific type of the job. You will be making minimum wage-like salaries for ~5-7 years, and even though postdocs get paid more, it is not much more. But for this time you will have the company of like-minded people who are extremely smart, you will learn a lot, and since you live only once, grad school will certainly provide a unique experience that will shape your outlook on life.
Veena: Encounter with a TV license inspector (in London).
Raj at Plus Ultra: Conversations with Daughter - 29.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: Actually, it doesn't do anything. It's just bigger.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I wish I knew more -- way, way more -- about the fields in which Density Hales-Jewett Theorem figures. Why? Because that's the theorem Cambridge mathematician and Fields medalist Tim Gowers chose for his experiment in massive online collaboration (as noted before). In other words, using his blog (and an associated wiki).
Some five or six weeks (and nearly 1000 comments!) later, Gowers has declared success. Some of the ideas have already made it to a paper. I presume several others will also emerge from this project. Check out the project's timeline to get a sense of how the project progressed.
While the math is at too high a level for me to follow, Gowers's lucid writing makes it easy to get the sense of excitement in the successful completion of the project:
... [L]et me say that for me personally this has been one of the most exciting six weeks of my mathematical life. That is partly because it is always exciting to solve a problem, but a much more important reason is the way this problem was solved, with people chipping in with their thoughts, provoking other people to have other thoughts (sometimes almost accidentally, and sometimes more logically), and ideas gradually emerging as a result. Incidentally, many of these ideas are still to be properly explored ...
The sheer speed at which all this happened contributed to the excitement. In my own case it led to my becoming fairly obsessed with the project and working on it to the exclusion of almost everything else (apart, obviously, from things I absolutely had to do).
It would have been great if only I could follow the details of the project's progress -- the false starts, the blind alleys, the strategy changes, ... It would have been absolutely wonderful to have been a part of this process.
But I'll settle for having had an opportunity to witness history being made.
Pessimism: Graduate student edition.
Nicholas Wade: Map of Knowledge: "The map includes both the sciences and the humanities in a hub and wheel arrangement, with the humanities at the center and the sciences arrayed around them. The arrangement fell out naturally from the data."
Seth Godin: Where have all the agents gone?
Better Explained blog: A simple introduction to computer networking.
Last week, a juror in a big federal drug trial in Florida admitted to the judge that he had been doing research on the case on the Internet, directly violating the judge’s instructions and centuries of legal rules. But when the judge questioned the rest of the jury, he got an even bigger shock.
Eight other jurors had been doing the same thing. The federal judge, William J. Zloch, had no choice but to declare a mistrial, a waste of eight weeks of work by federal prosecutors and defense lawyers.
Thanks to Patrix for the pointer.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Giridhar has posted some very interesting data on this year's GATE in chemical, civil and electronics engineering, and computer science. One thing that strikes you right away is that the averages (or at least, the medians) are very low indeed. Even at the 75th percentile, for example, the marks have fallen to around 20/100.
Inspired by his post (and with his helpful hints -- thanks Giridhar!), I went and collected some data for the metallurgical engineering (MT) paper that our department (Materials Engineering) draws most of its students from. I have posted a quick (and incomplete) analysis over at Materialia Indica (much like the one I did for JEE-08). Compared to Giridhar's numbers for other disciplines, the average (or, the median) in the MT paper of GATE-09 is far better. it's around 35/100.
Finally, you really ought to go read this chemical engineer's candid take on this year's GATE in his field.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Filed under: Fun stuff
I think this one is great.
Filed under: Technology
Here's an indication:
From February to April 2008, the PMO did not receive many of the mails addressed to it because of the virus. The extent of the damage is uncertain.
The problem was detected late last April after which the Microsoft Outlook Express software, on which the PMO’s email communication system was based, was replaced with SquirrelMail.
The matter came to light during one of the hearings of the Central Information Commission where the PMO submitted that there was a virus problem in the months of February, March and April “that was finally diagnosed only late in April”.
I guess there are many possible angles to this story, but I'll take the good one about the PMO replacing Outlook Express with SquirrelMail.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Long ago, I was invited as an expert for a selection by a Central Government Ministry. There was no honorarium; even the actual taxi fare was not paid. I was told that I would be paid road mileage allowance in due course. And to make things worse, an amount less than one-fourth of the actual taxi fare was sent to me by money order and the postal commission was deducted from the computed amount! I refused to accept the money order and wrote a letter to the concerned official in not too sweet a language. As usual, there was no reaction.
From this letter in Current Science [pdf] by Prof. S.C. Dutta Roy from IIT-D. The good professor urges Indian scientists to show some spine in their dealings with government agencies:
...[W]hile the scientists have to survive with whatever scale the Government prescribes, they can at least demand a respectable honorarium for every additional job they are requested to undertake. By refusing to do such a job for free or for a pittance would not make them poorer; on the other hand, the message will be clear that they need to be taken more seriously and more respectfully. It is important for a scientist to live with dignity; one who does not care for it does positive disservice to himself and to the whole scientific community.
Thanks to Seema Singh for the pointer.
Filed under: Publish/perish
Rahul discusses the many ways in which people become authors of academic papers they didn't contribute to: Giving "credit" where it's not due. After covering fraud as well as "courtesy" (unearned authorship given to "senior figures ... merely in recognition of their position or funding"), he gets to some very interesting routes to authorship. Here's one:
I know of two older papers where one author, famously, was not a contributor to the paper. The first is this one, regarded as a classic; the authors were George Gamow and his student Ralph Alpher, and Gamow included Hans Bethe, who had no connection with this work, purely so that the author list would read "Alpher, Bethe, Gamow." (If that joke is Greek to you, never mind.) I can't remember whether Bethe was "in" on it, but he did not protest, at least not publicly.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Bruce Schneier: The kindness of strangers.
The Economist: The kindness of crowds.
- Wray Herbert in NewsWeek: Why do people cheat?
Friday, March 13, 2009
Karin Evans in Greater Good: Arts and Smarts: At a time when educators are preoccupied with standards, testing, and the bottom line, some researchers suggest the arts can boost students' test scores; others aren't convinced. Karin Evans asks, What are the arts good for?
By the way, the Winter 2009 issue of Greater Good has several articles on psychology of the arts. Those of you with kids might want to check out Everyday art: Six steps for boosting kids' creativity by Christine Carter.
Harry Collins: We cannot live by scepticism alone: Scientists have been too dogmatic about scientific truth and sociologists have fostered too much scepticism — social scientists must now elect to put science back at the core of society.
Gardiner Harris in NYTimes: Doctor Admits Pain Studies Were Frauds, Hospital Says.
In what may be among the longest-running and widest-ranging cases of academic fraud, one of the most prolific researchers in anesthesiology has admitted that he fabricated much of the data underlying his research, said a spokeswoman for the hospital where he works.
The researcher, Dr. Scott S. Reuben, an anesthesiologist in Springfield, Mass., who practiced at Baystate Medical Center, never conducted the clinical trials that he wrote about in 21 journal articles dating from at least 1996, said Jane Albert, a spokeswoman for Baystate Health.
Do check out Janet Stemwedel's commentary on this case in her Adventures in Ethics and Science blog.
Filed under: Psychology
Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt (in a guest post on Olivia Judson's blog): Can We Increase Our Intelligence?
It used to be believed that people had a level of general intelligence with which they were born that was unaffected by environment and stayed the same, more or less, throughout life. But now it’s known that environmental influences are large enough to have considerable effects on intelligence, perhaps even during your own lifetime.
A key contribution to this subject comes from James Flynn, a moral philosopher who has turned to social science and statistical analysis to explore his ideas about humane ideals. Flynn’s work usually pops up in the news in the context of race issues, especially public debates about the causes of racial differences in performance on intelligence tests. We won’t spend time on the topic of race, but the psychologist Dick Nisbett has written an excellent article on the subject.
Flynn first noted that standardized intelligence quotient (I.Q.) scores were rising by three points per decade in many countries, and even faster in some countries like the Netherlands and Israel. For instance, in verbal and performance I.Q., an average Dutch 14-year-old in 1982 scored 20 points higher than the average person of the same age in his parents’ generation in 1952. These I.Q. increases over a single generation suggest that the environmental conditions for developing brains have become more favorable in some way.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Jawaharlal Nehru University is eyeing the possibility of offering undergraduate studies across education streams in a landmark shift proposed by its chancellor, former University Grants Commission chairman Yash Pal.
JNU’s executive council, its highest decision-making body, will meet this month to discuss the proposal, which could transform its character.
Yash Pal’s suggestion came at the university court meeting in January, sources said. The chancellor is the university’s top administrator below the Visitor (the President of India), and the court its broadest recommendatory authority.
Filed under: HigherEd-India
“The point is that both the Times rankings and the Shanghai academic rankings are popular indexes to grade universities across the world. Very few Indian institutes are found in these rankings, more so in the Shanghai rankings. NAAC has complained that the criteria used by these rankings is biased which do not take into account social conditions and so project these institutes in a negative light,” said Sukhdeo Thorat, UGC chairman. “Accordingly, we have started discussions on formulating this index which will grade Indian varsities and international ones and give a comparison.”
NAAC executive committee chairman and former IISc director Goverdhan Mehta will work on its details.
* * *
In other news, the committee headed by Prof. Yash Pal has submitted its report to the HRD minister. I'm not able to locate the report online, but several newspapers have covered its contents: ToI's Hemali Chhapia, The Hindu and ToI's Akshaya Mukul.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
NOTE: Candidates with BE/ B Tech/ M Sc or equivalent degree who may not have qualified in any of the above mentioned National Entrance Tests will also be considered for the Ph D program in Engineering. Short listing for interview of such candidates is based on their academic performance in the qualifying degree (upto 3rd year in BE / B Tech, or 1st year in M Sc), and their performance in 10th and 12th /PUC examinations.
Let me repeat it here with an emphasis on the right things: "Candidates with BE/ B Tech/ M Sc or equivalent degree who may not have qualified in any of the above mentioned National Entrance Tests will also be considered for the Ph D program in Engineering."
For a long time, many Indian institutions -- especially in engineering -- have failed to address two key sociological / institutional facts:
- Many engineering students simply do not take GATE or any of the other graduate-level entrance exams.
- Unlike their US counterparts for which GRE is a requirement, Indian institutions can no longer insist on GATE and still expect a flood of applications from bright students. Those days are gone; the balance of power has been trending in favour of the students (except, perhaps, a blip this year '-).
- The consequence has been pretty bad for both parties: many bright students, who could have got into a doctoral program in our institutions, didn't, and our institutions, which could have gained by admitting them, didn't.
It may have taken IISc a very long time to face these facts; but this hugely desirable move helps the institution in diversifying the pool of potential applicants.
I am just glad that IISc has taken the first step. Note, however, that this step has been taken only for PhD admissions. the ME admissions at IISc continue to be based solely GATE scores.
* * *
Sometime ago, Arunn Narasimhan wrote an excellent post describing some of the problems with GATE and how they may prevent good students from getting into graduate programs in Inda. If you agree with Arunn -- I certainly do -- then the conclusion is obvious: our institutions must take a step back from using entrance exams as the sole first-level filter, and try to incorporate other metrics in the selection process: performance in their university exams, consistency in academic performance, recommendation letters, etc.
A couple of report cards look at the UPA government's record on education. The first, by Charu Sudan Kasturi of The Telegraph, focuses on higher education (its second half does cover school education, though). The UPA government gets 7 out of ten.
India is riding an unprecedented boom in educational opportunities thanks to policy decisions under UPA rule that have significantly improved access to schooling and higher education for most citizens.
But Manmohan Singh’s outgoing government has failed to find a cogent strategy to prevent the education explosion from turning into a cancer that could eviscerate its foundations.
Pallavi Singh's article in Mint, however, is largely on school education.
An annual report on the status of education in the country, published by non-government organization Pratham since 2005, has repeatedly noted that increased enrolment in public schools was accompanied by poor learning levels.
Madhav Chavan, founder of Pratham, says the government’s approach has not been serious about evaluating the results of its education programmes. “Quality-wise, not much has happened,” Chavan said. “The government has not been able to give any direction to initiatives on quality.”
He added that higher fiscal support to state governments to fund education has been a singular achievement in the past five years. “It means they (states) could provide midday meals (to students), expand the education programme for children in pre-school, which in quantitative terms means bigger reach, and significant changes such as more enrolment and lesser number of dropouts.”
Hemali Chhapia of ToI reports:
Early last month, the Yash Pal committee was informed that the Union HRD ministry had whittled down its position to an advisory body, but members stuck to their recommendations and the original terms of reference. ...
A copy of the final report with this paper vilifies all regulatory inspectors and notes that poor reforms have been the main culprit of several wrong goings in higher education. In these tough times, the panel points out one more bankruptcy-the one in the country's intellectual banks, universities.
While traditional universities, it notes, did not "create public confidence'', private institutes have been reduced to "commercial entities of very low quality''. Recent expansion in higher education, the report says, has not looked at the "impoverished undergraduate education'' that caters to 6 million students who pass through a system which has "not renewed itself and has not provided opportunities to students''.
Monday, March 09, 2009
Here's something from CPI(M)-led Left Front:
The Left Front, which has been pushing for the reservation of one- third of the seats in Parliament for women, has fielded only two women out of 42 candidates in West Bengal for the Lok Sabha elections.
In 2004, the Left Front had fielded five women from the state, known as a staunch Leftist bastion, and three of them won. But this time, it has retained only two of the three women who had won in 2004.
Why did Naveen Patnaik quit NDA, the BJP-led national alliance? Mint reports:
“I don’t want to go down in history with the stigma of a dirty communal politician,” a BJD leader quoted [Navin] Patnaik as telling party representatives after the break-up of the alliance. “Orissa has never been a communally biased state. Nor has it witnessed the kind of violence the BJP has initiated in the past five years,” the same BJD leader said, declining to be identified.
JD(S) "supremo" Deve Gowda writes a letter to Naveen Patnaik. Here's an interesting bit:
[In his letter, Deve Gowda] recalled that his party legislators in Karnataka too were forced to enter into an alliance with the “communal” BJP. “But, when it dawned on us that beneath all their overt commitments to constitutional norms and secularism lay a covert design to ruthlessly tear apart the nation’s secular fabric and turn the State into a communal laboratory, we decided to call it a day,” he said in the letter.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
- Arati Chokshi at I Witness:
What about the mute by standers? What kind of children are we raising that cannot protest - a wrong doing? any wrong doing? as individually defined? Or, have we so insensitised ourselves by the constant barrage of violence that surrounds our daily lives, in TV, newspapers, wars played out on all stages big and small that veiwing violence is just another opportunity for entertainment? Are we incapable of enrage, anguish, compassion? What are we capable of? Do we talk in our homes, with our sons and daughters - what would they do if this happened - to them, to you? or..were witness to acts of atrocities, violence? Would we advice our children to not get into trouble, not witness, walk away? Or would we say - scream, yell, help, call for help, question, participate? ...
- Kamran Abbasi at Cricinfo on the terrorist attacks on Sri Lanka cricketers [via Blogbharti]:
This the darkest day in the history of Pakistan cricket and it occurred in a pleasant suburb of Lahore, a once great city of gardens and tranquility, not far from my own family home in Pakistan.
This is the end.
- Discover blog: Worst Science Article Ever? Women “Evolved” to Love Shopping
- Duff Wilson in NYTimes: Harvard Medical School in Ethics Quandary:
Mr. Zerden’s minor stir four years ago has lately grown into a full-blown movement by more than 200 Harvard Medical School students and sympathetic faculty, intent on exposing and curtailing the industry influence in their classrooms and laboratories, as well as in Harvard’s 17 affiliated teaching hospitals and institutes.
They say they are concerned that the same money that helped build the school’s world-class status may in fact be hurting its reputation and affecting its teaching.
The students argue, for example, that Harvard should be embarrassed by the F grade it recently received from the American Medical Student Association, a national group that rates how well medical schools monitor and control drug industry money.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
If you are into Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, you'll greatly enjoy Mark Seal's Vanity Fair story about the making of this epic film. [There's also a short companion story about the movie crew's dinner at a real mobster's place] Here's the part where the movie's producer Al Ruddy meets Joe Colombo, "the short, dapper, media-savvy head at 48 of one of New York’s Five Families":
"Soon [Marlon] Brando had the voice of Don Corleone. 'Powerful people don’t need to shout,' he later explained."
* * *
“So next day Joe shows up with two other guys. Joe sits opposite me, one guy’s on the couch, and one guy’s sitting in the window.” Ruddy pulled out the 155-page script and gave it to the Mob boss. “He puts on his little Ben Franklin glasses, looks at it for about two minutes. ‘What does this mean—fade in?’ he asked. And I realized there was no way Joe was going to turn to page two.”
“Oh, these fucking glasses. I can’t read with them,” Colombo said, throwing the script to his lieutenant. “Here, you read it.”
“Why me?” said the lieutenant, throwing the script to the underling.
Finally, Colombo grabbed the script and slammed it on the table. “Wait a minute! Do we trust this guy?” he asked his men. Yes, they replied.
“So what the fuck do we have to read this script for?” said Colombo. He told Ruddy, “Let’s make a deal.”
Colombo wanted the word Mafia deleted from the script.
Ruddy knew that there was only a single mention in the screenplay, when Tom Hagen visits movie producer Jack Woltz at his studio in Hollywood to persuade him to give Johnny Fontane a part in his new film, and Woltz snaps, “Johnny Fontane will never get that movie! I don’t care how many dago guinea wop greaseball Mafia goombahs come out of the woodwork!”
“That’s O.K. with me, guys,” said Ruddy, and the producer and the mobsters shook hands.
Hat tip: Chugs.