Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shashi Tharoor of the Day


On his Ministry’s decision to have a joint venture with Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) to set up a National Centre for Marine Biodiversity in Jamnagar, he said the decision was taken as a world class research centre cannot be built in a “Governmental set up” and can never attract young people. Let us understand our experience in the last 60 years. Government research institutions can never attract young talent. [My emphasis]

This is not from some random libertarian loon; it's actually from a Union Minister, who appears to have decided to play Shashi Tharoor for a day.

To me, that comment about government-run R&D labs is far more jarring than his arrogant, self-serving nonsense about the IITs. [JEE is worth junking just for keeping such ingrates out! ;-)]

15 Comments:

  1. Skeptic said...

    The moment I read this news I thought let me see what Nanopolitian has to say! And you are spot on with your comments. A detailed post would have been fun though!

  2. Desi Babu said...

    Prof. Abi:

    I am a great fan of your writings, but I have to disagree with you on this. Your previous post on IIT-KGP culture is actually spot-on, and I would say that what happened to the professor in question shows why the IIT culture has not been able to sustain world class people. It is also time for IIT faculty to introspect.

    If Mr. Ramesh thinks that IITs are not world class, I think he should follow that up by suggesting what is needed to create a world class institution in India? ISB in hyderabad, within a few years of its creation, has surpassed IIMs in rankings (not that I think much of rankings anyway) and reputation. Have the IIMs looked at why ISB succeeded where they couldn't?

    But, we shouldn't write him off as a loony-libertarian or a self-serving "ingrate". Like him, I went to an IIT as an undergrad and a top US university for my PhD, and I think there are serious shortcomings in our system.

    And, one more thing -- I think now that Mr. Kapil Sibal is busy with two large ministries, and HRD is getting "neglected" with the telecom scam, I wonder if there is anyone who can step in and fill those shoes? I wonder if an IITian would make sense :-)

    Please keep writing your wonderful posts. They are very inspiring. But, let us not shoot the messenger, specially, if he is using data to back up what he has to say...

    Peace!

  3. sacredfig said...

    I fail to see anything wrong in the honorable minister's pronouncements.
    Whether good places can necessarily be built with private partnership is debatable; but its beyond debate that government institutions in India aren't worth scratch (just look at CSIR labs, for e.g.)
    "Government set-ups" are hardly the places for young (or even older) dynamic and ambitious researchers; these are places for folks who are interested in a steady pay-check for minimal effort and even more deficient risk-taking abilities (and perhaps assured geriatric care in the future).

  4. gaddeswarup said...

    I could not immediately recall private research institutes and research done by them in India; perhaps there is some industry sponsored research. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_university, most research insitutes and universities are public. Can somebody clarify?
    Swarup

  5. Prithwiraj said...

    doesnt this somehow contradict your previous post?

  6. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    The comment he made also talks of scarcity of "worthwhile research" or "world class" research in IITs. Isn't this statement factually true, even though it may be arrogant and self-serving?

  7. WebMiner said...

    When you compare Ramesh with Tharoor, who should get offended?

  8. WebMiner said...

    @ankur --- Anyone not into Kool-Aid must admit that IITs are far from world class. My problem is in declaring IIT students world class. The fair statement here is that a small fraction of IIT graduates, in their later lives, do world-class work. This fraction is much smaller than what the JEE Holy Cow would have you believe. I don't believe the fraction is any larger than Harvey-Mudd or Mills College or Pace University. In any case, it makes no more sense to classify people who once spent 4 years in an IIT as "world class IIT students" than to shower Padma awards on people who have been citizens of USA for over a decade. But that, too, is routinely done. It all comes down to serious academics (like Abi and his merry band here) wasting time over what very crude, uncultured, and not-intelligent (despite IIT, or because of it) people say in the limelight.

  9. Abi said...

    @DesiBabu: When the Hon'ble Minister elaborates on his blanket dismissal of IITs, and adds some nuance, perhaps I'll can think of a detailed rebuttal.

    @Ankur: I don't know how you would define "worthwhile" research. I guess you'll have to take a look at IITs' research output, and decide for yourself. I can talk about my field: IITs are throbbing with vitality, and their faculty and research students produce top notch research. Equally important (to me, at least) is the trend, and the IITs are doing very well here too; their research presence and stature are on a steady upward climb.

    @WebMiner: When you compare Ramesh with Tharoor, who should get offended?

    Good question!

  10. jv said...

    @Ankur. It is one thing to say IIT's/IIT's are not in top 100 or 200, or that their research quality desired to be improved. But other to outrightly dismiss their faculty as doing worthless research. I personally was inspired to do research at my IIX, as did many others in my batch, and I went on to top US schools for phd and postdoc (ranked around 15 and 1, respectively). But I still love my undergrad paper, which for all its worthlessness continues to get good citations.

  11. Suresh said...

    @Abi: One way of judging matters is to examine how many graduates of IITs prefer staying behind to continue their research at IITs rather than going abroad, mostly to the USA.

    I admit this is an imperfect measure but then so are most others that are used. The point I want to make is simple: if the IITs are indeed doing significant world-class research, then we would expect quite a few IIT graduates to be present in their own PhD programs. I don't have any data on this but my limited investigation (IIT Kanpur's CSE department and not all students) seemed to indicate that many did their Bachelor's from other non-IIT engineering colleges. My suspicion is that this pattern is not an exception. "Voting with one's feet" is not a perfect measure as I freely admit but it does say something about the quality of the faculty and the research, no?

    I don't think we should reduce this to a "bash IIT" type post. There is a serious issue here. I think the minister does have half a point when pointing to the quality of research even if he went overboard. The significant point is this: Given that we need to improve the quality of research (in all Indian institutions), is the private route the only way? As Gaddeswarup asks above, is there any evidence that private institutions in India do high quality research?

  12. Ankur Kulkarni said...

    @Abi, by worthwhile research I mean any kind that can be objectively established to be so - publications, citations, patents, specific products for industry etc. I agree that Ramesh's statement may be a reckless generalisation, but it is not devoid of truth. Mathematical (pure and applied) sciences especially I think suffer from low production of such worthwhile research.

  13. pr said...

    Serious question - why Tharoor?

    Equally important (to me, at least) is the trend, and the IITs are doing very well here too; their research presence and stature are on a steady upward climb.

    Is that opinion or is there data to support this?

  14. Phani said...

    Here is an interesting article by an IITM faculty, Prof. R. Krishnakumar:
    In defence of the IITs - an insiders view, appeared in Business Line.

  15. Raj said...

    Agree with you about the minister's arrogance. I was struck more by his comment about government run labs than about IIT's. Even if his comments about Govt institutions were true, what has this govt done about it in the last seven years? It shows how little accountability these clowns feel they have.