Saturday, June 30, 2007

Traveller's Dilemma: Kaushik Basu responds to readers' questions

Remember Kaushik Basu's article on Traveller's Dilemma, and its implications about libertarian assumptions? [We looked at it here.] In a fairly detailed follow-up, Basu answers readers' questions. The criticisms and questions come from many angles, and you will have to read them yourself; I just want to highlight a juicy quote about economists:

As Fred Pryor noted with equally profound insight and cynicism, "An economist is someone who sees something working in practice, and asks whether it would work in theory."

To which Basu responds:

Pryor is right about economists but wrong in suggesting that that is the defining characteristic of an economist. All science works that way. The fact that apples fall downwards was the end of the matter for the lay person but a puzzle to scientists because it did not fit their theoretical presumptions. If I may add an adage to Pryor's: A scientist is someone with the capacity to ask questions which seem obvious to others.

Peanut butter is as good as diamond!


Edinburgh University experts say the feat is made possible by squeezing the paste between the tips of two diamonds creating a "stiletto heel effect".

The scientists also revealed they can turn oxygen into red crystals using the same method.

Demonstrations take place at Royal Society exhibition shows from 2 July.

Thanks to Exon for the link.

iWaiters at the iQueue for buying iYou-Know-What

From this post over at Aplia Econ Blog about waiting in line for buying iPhone on the first day:

Paradoxically, the type of people who are willing and able to spend $500 on the iPhone are also likely to have high-paying jobs that make it difficult to take an entire week off to wait in line. Fortunately for gainfully employed iPhone seekers, summer has brought with it a surplus of young people looking to earn a bit of extra money.

Ads are popping up all over Craigslist for so-called "professional waiters" who, for a fee, will line up to buy you an iPhone. The going wait rate is currently around $250 in New York and $200 in San Francisco. Lines are now full of people donning "iWait" shirts to show off their newfound occupation.

BTW, does anyone know if the queues outside Apple outlets outdid those for Thalaivar's Sivaji -- The Boss?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Is management a profession?

Rakesh Khurana (author of From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession due out this fall), Nitin Nohria, and Daniel Penrice explore:

To speak of the professional obligations of individuals such as CEOs and other executives is to imply that business management itself is a profession—but is it? Sociologists who study the professions have employed a wide range of perspectives and criteria for determining what makes an occupation a profession. For the purposes of our present inquiry, we have chosen four traits and practices out of the network of those that have been found to be associated with professions. We use these traits and practices both to set forth our own notion of the essence of professionalism and to enable us to compare management with what we take to be the bona fide professions, in particular law and medicine.2 Our criteria for calling an occupation a bona fide profession are as follows:

  • a common body of knowledge resting on a well-developed, widely accepted theoretical base;
  • a system for certifying that individuals possess such knowledge before being licensed or otherwise allowed to practice;
  • a commitment to use specialized knowledge for the public good, and a renunciation of the goal of profit maximization, in return for professional autonomy and monopoly power;
  • a code of ethics, with provisions for monitoring individual compliance with the code and a system of sanctions for enforcing it.

Gaming the ranking schemes

Over at the Huffington Post, Marty Kaplan writes about the kinds of corrosive influences of the annual ranking exercise by the biggest of them all: the US News:

Example: Many colleges have become slaves to SAT scores and high school GPAs - not because admissions officers think they're such reliable indicators of intelligence or achievement, but because U.S. News weights them so heavily. Despite lip service to diversity and individuality, it is more difficult than ever to make a successful case for admitting a dazzling but academically eccentric kid whose so-so numbers pull down the average and jeopardize a school's U.S. News ranking.

Example: In its formula, U.S. News uses the percentage of a class's alumni who give money to their college as a proxy for student satisfaction with their education. The actual size of a donation doesn't matter, nor the reason (football pride?) for their gift. A college that games this system -- say, offering graduating senior ten dollars, coupled with a request to "check this box, pledge two dollars a year to your alma mater, and for the next five years you'll be automatically enrolled in your alumni association" -- may not swell its endowment, but it could boost its ranking.

IISc in the news

Thanks to the recently concluded IISc Global Conference, IISc has been in the news.

Before the Conference, the Business World's P. Hari did a story about The IISc Makeover. Interestingly, it has quite a few things that are news to some of us -- not-so-well-networked types. Take, for example, this item: "[IISc] plans to create three new departments of vital importance for Indian industry: biomedical research, earth sciences and knowledge sciences."

The news reports about the Conference hardly go beyond highlighting the speeches by IISc Dirctor, Prof. P. Balaram, and India's President, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. From Balaram's speech, we learn about major donations by IISc alumni for two visiting professorships. We also learn that Kalam urged IISc to "start an undergraduate program." From another report, we learn that the President also urged IISc to encourage entrepreneurship.

The Hindu's report also has this bit of howler:

Prof. Balaram said India’s first metallurgy and chemical engineering departments were started in IISc.

For example, the metallurgy department at the Banaras Hindu University (where I got my undergraduate degree) began its existence way back in 1923, while that at IISc started only in 1946-47.

The Shanghai - 2007 lists

The Shanghai Group (actually, the Shanghai Jiao Tong University) has been ranking the world's universities since 2003 using a quirky methodology that favours natural sciences with a large weight on the Nobel Prize and publications in Science and Nature; see my posts on the 2005 and 2006 lists. This year, this group has introduced a new twist: they have listed to top 100 universities in a few broad fields:

* * *

In case you are wondering, there is just one Indian institution that figures in just one list: IISc is ranked between 77 and 106 for Engineering/Technology and Computer Sciences.

* * *

Here's the Wikipedia entry on college and university rankings.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The power of orderlies and peons

Justice S.S. Sodhi in The Other Side of Justice [my mini review]:

It was a scene reminiscent of the Raj. A large crowd had gathered to greet us at the Allahabad railway station. [...] We were escorted out of the railway station, through the milling crowd -- in a manner so unique and peculiar to Allahabad -- by the liveried orderlies walking ahead and snapping fingers. It was amazing to see how the crowd at the platform just moved away on hearing the clicks. As I was to note later, snapping of fingers by court orderlies was a well-established practice at the high court too, in order to get persons to move aside when a judge was passing by. [p. 34]

Here's B.G. Deshmukh in From Poona to the Prime Minister's Office: A Cabinet Secretary Looks Back:

I received a copy of the Assistant Collector's Manual [during the IAS training period]. ... One instruction I still remember was never to go without your official peon preceding you because nobody recognizes a young officer, but the peon's face is well known and people will recognize you only as the peon's officer.

A perfect quote for all bloggers ...

I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
-- Robert McCloskey, State Department spokesman (attributed).

A central banker, on the other hand, was more blunt:

If I seem unduly clear to you, you must have misunderstood what I said.
-- Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the University of Mumbai

Today, I am happy to announce that we intend to establish 30 new Central Universities across the country. The work on the modalities for setting these up has begun and the Ministry of Human resource Development, the UGC and the Planning Commission are working to operationalize this in the next 2-3 months. This expansion is going to be a landmark in expanding access to high quality education across the country.

These Universities, in my view, should focus on achieving international standards of excellence and should be rated among the top institutions in the world. They should have the best faculty, excellent physical resources, a wide range of disciplines, and most importantly, a diverse student body. They should become the launching pads for our entry into the knowledge economy.

From his address at the 150th anniversary celebrations of the University of Mumbai.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Reading lots of books ...

Here's something about how Brad DeLong did (does?) it:

[Andrei] Shleifer and DeLong’s freshman year roommate, Joseph Evall ’82, both say that DeLong was primed for Harvard, and that his reading ability left them in awe.

“He would read a book with lightning speed—far faster than any of the rest of us who were slogging through the material,” Evall says, “and he would retain 100 percent of what he read.”

Shleifer says that after seeing this, he thought DeLong was “some kind of a super-human,” but he realized later that DeLong just “knew how to skip pages.”

“Nobody ever told me about skipping pages,” Shleifer says.

Tyler Cowen, on the other hand, uses a different technique:

Another way to read quickly is to cut bait on the losers. I start ten or so books for every one I finish. I don't mind disliking a book, and I never regret having picked it up and started it. I am ruthless in my discards.

* * *

All this is a good way to peddle my favourite quote from Woody Allen:

I took a speed reading course and read 'War and Peace' in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Edward Tufte

Edward Tufte is the author of Beautiful Evidence and three other books.

His four books have collectively been called a Strunk and White for design. Tufte works by showing both outstanding and horrid graphics he’s found, improving upon the latter, and his principles take on the meditative quality of Zen koans: To clarify, add detail. And: Clutter is a failure of design, not an attribute of information.

That's from this profile by New York Magazine's Christopher Bonanos. Here's another profile by Stanford Magazine's Fran Smith. Tufte's website is here.

Both articles give several examples (1, 2, 3) of good ways of presenting information graphically. Especially moving is this graphic; here's what Bonanos says about it:

It’s a diagrammatic map showing Napoleon’s march to and from Moscow in the winter of 1812–1813. The map displays the facts—the army left Poland with 422,000 men, and came back with 10,000—and conveys the awful toll on several scales: the sinking temperature, the loss of nearly half the army during one frigid river crossing. Drafted by one Charles Minard in 1869, it “may be the best statistical graphic ever drawn,” and he sells prints through his Website. It is also, he’s said, about far more than data: “He did this because he hated war. It took me twenty years to notice it, but nowhere on this does he mention Napoleon. It doesn’t celebrate the surviving celebrity.” I’ve been in no fewer than three apartments lately where those prints are on the walls.

Smith, on the other hand, has a pithy quote from Tufte about this wonderful graphic:

This is War and Peace, as told by a visual Tolstoy.

Cellular cash

Swaminathan Aiyar says India should embrace this new way of banking:

... [W]hen you give the shopkeeper cash, he loads it onto your telephone account by recharging your SIM card, so it’s like depositing cash in your e-account. You can withdraw cash from your e-account the same way — the shopkeeper will give you hard cash, and transfer the equivalent sum from your e-account to his own. If you want to pay an electricity bill, you can give the cash to the shopkeeper and he can transfer it to the account of the electricity company.

This is not science fiction or futurology. Many Mexican migrants to the US already send remittances home through the cellphone-cum-retailer network. This is faster and cheaper than using banks for money transfer. I suspect this will soon give hawala operators in the Gulf stiff competition for sending remittances to India.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How useful is SAT, really?

A major study released Monday by the University of California suggests that high school grades may be good at predicting not only first-year college performance, as commonly believed, but performance throughout four undergraduate years. The same study suggests that the SAT adds little predictive value to admissions decisions and is hindered by a high link between SAT scores and socioeconomic status — a link not present for high school grades.

And further, the study finds that all of the information admissions officers currently have is of limited value, and accounts for only 30 percent of the grade variance in colleges — leaving 70 percent of the variance unexplained.

Taken together, the study questions many assumptions widely held in admissions. And while the last year has seen numerous studies on the impact of standardized testing in admissions (with a range of conclusions), the new study is from Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Santelices through the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education, and is based on data from all University of California campuses. Past studies by the center have been influential in the evolving debate over admissions standards — and anything involving the University of California tends to get attention, given the system’s influence and top campuses.

There is more in this report by Scott Jaschik in Inside HigherEd. It's quite amazing that nearly 70 percent of the variability in the students' performance remains unexplained!

While it is not of the same scope as the systematic, large scale study above, this study from IIT-M also found a good correlation between students' B.Tech CGPA and their marks in Classes X and XII; more importantly, it found very little correlation between the students' CGPA and their entrance exam rank. Some of you may recall that this study played a key role in our recent discussion on anti-women bias in JEE.

T.K. Arun on "examination hell"

He focuses on a different aspect: multiplicity of exams that a student has to take for pretty much the same purpose:

The Indian system of selection through serial admission tests is nothing short of crazy. Every state government conducts its own entrance tests for engineering and medical degrees separately. There is an all-India entrance test, over and above these, for a large pool of engineering colleges, conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education.

And also its counterpart pre-medical test as well. Then there are separate countrywide entrance tests exclusive to prestigious institutes such as the Indian Institute of Technology, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Birla Institute of Technology, etc. A few hundred other institutes conduct their own admission tests, as well, with test centres strewn across the country, to which hundreds of thousands of students flock, duly escorted by parents.

These tests cost the student over Rs 1,000 apiece, as a rough estimate. If a million students take an average of five entrance tests — in places like Delhi, the average could be double that number — that means a collective expenditure of Rs 500 crore. That is just for the students to take the tests. Expenses on coaching, travel to the test site and back are substantial and extra. A few thousand crore rupees of private expenditure on education gets wasted on assorted entrance tests.

Arun urges the creation one, nationwide exam. It's a wonderful idea, which we must pursue vigorously.

Several years ago, a sharp reduction in the number of MBA entrance exams was recommended by none other than the Supreme Court. It led to discussions about the possibility of all our leading management institutions coming together to offer just one exam. I recall -- and my memory is rather fuzzy here -- that the IIMs refused to play ball. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court took its eyes off the ball, with the result that we continue to live with a large number of MBA entrance exams.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Prof. Subra Suresh

MIT has announced that Prof. Subra Suresh will be the Dean of its School of Engineering from July 2007.

Suresh is a 1977 graduate from IIT-M. He was on the faculty of Brown University's Division of Engineering before moving in 1993 to MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He was also the Chairman of that Department during 2001-06.

Suresh was a visiting professor at our Institute in 2004; I recall four absolutely fantastic lectures he gave during his visit: one each in our Department and MRC, and two more in the Workshop on Mechanical Behaviour of Systems at Small Length Scales.

Some years ago, when Dipak Jain took over as the Dean of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, there was a lot of excitement in our business dailies. MIT is about as high-profile as it gets in tech-dom, and the choice of a scientist of Indian origin as its Dean is certainly newsworthy in India. So far, ToI, HT and DNA have covered this story.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Taxes can make you happy!

There are two reports about an interesting study being published in Science this week. Here's an excerpt from the first one:

You don't need to donate to charity to feel all warm inside. Researchers have found that even when money is taken from some people involuntarily, they feel good about the transaction, as long as the funds go to a good cause. The findings may force economists to rethink just what guides our response to taxes and other financial decisions.

The behavior under the microscope is altruism, which refers to concern for the well-being of others. Sometimes this manifests as a "warm glow" associated with the act of giving. In that case, economists speculate, the act is not entirely selfless because the giver makes the donation in order to feel good. But economists have also proposed that not all warm glows are self-interested. Some people may have positive emotions wash over them just from witnessing good deeds. This is called "pure altruism," and it may be motivating society's biggest givers.

India's science biggies lend their voice against 'examination hell'

Chairman of Prime Minister's Scientific Advisory Council C.N.R. Rao at a recent CII meet:

"The concept of examination has killed the spirit of innovation among students. Every year, IITs conduct entrance examination and students are exhausted by the time they successfully complete them. They tend to lead a retired life for the next four years (course duration). Where is the scope for innovation? Examinations should only be incidental," Rao, who is also chairman of IITs, said.

Read the last few words in the quote again: "[he] is also chairman of IITs." Let's see if he will carry his message to the IITs as well.

Here's another report on the same event emphasizing a different part of Prof. Rao's speech where he asks industrialists to set up private universities.

* * *

D. Balasubramanian, ex-Director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, and Director of Research at L.V. Prasad Eye Institute, in his fortnightly column in the Hindu:

... [P]eople have begun asking: what do the JEE and other exams achieve? Are they necessary?

Granted, the institutions wish to have a means of filtering and choosing 5,000 from over 2,00,000, and a common entrance exam is the time-tested method. But over the years, the system has been derailed and become a cash-cow for cram schools.

The JEE itself had, until recently, not changed in its pattern; the cram schools have become experts in recognising the pattern and training their students in this `pattern recognition' and answer the exam at speed.

Our political views are like hard magnets!

Another title: Physics of opinions.

Tom Slee, author of No one makes you shop at Wal-Mart, discusses this analogy using the example of how economists view the effect of globalization.

I think it's like magnetism, which exhibits hysteresis. [...]

A lot of things behave like this, and opinions are one of them. We all have pre-formed opinions - imagine the bottom of the graph is "free trade is good". If we accumulate evidence that leads us to change our mind we move to the top "free trade is not so good" line. Now suppose we hear some more evidence that pushes us the other way - do we switch back right away? No, we hang on to our existing beliefs until the weight of evidence becomes unavoidable. Switching basic views is a big thing, and we can't be forever changing back and forth.

Ram Guha is angry

He doesn't like the new policy at St. Stephen's College that proposes 40 percent reservation for Christians, and will lead to to "three seats out of four [being] filled on strictly 'non-academic' grounds." He uses good arguments; here's one:

It is important to note here that while St Stephen's was founded by Christians, it is funded by the state. According to the Union ministry of education, fully 95 per cent of the expenses of the college are met by the University Grants Commission. Why should a college that draws so heavily on the public exchequer be allowed to choose 40 per cent of its students from 2 per cent of the country's population? ...

And he also uses bad ones, including some shrill name-calling; here is one:

... Those who run the Church of North India today are far removed from the faith of the founders of St Stephen's. These new Christians seek not understanding and truth, but political mileage and economic gain. In the real sense of the word, they aren't 'Christian' at all-- in the same way as Narendra Modi is not 'Hindu' and Osama bin Laden not 'Muslim'.

* * *

In a faraway land, an institution called Antioch College is shutting down for good. Michael Goldfarb accuses the college's ultraliberalism for its demise. I know nothing about this place, and I'm linking to this story for some future reference.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

It's not just another brick in the wall ...

They carried the weight of all those great minds that leaned on them during those weighty discussions about protein crystallography. They also carried weight of posters of Vijay Merchant, Vinoo Mankad, Madhubala, Savithri and Saroja Devi.

Now, they carry the weight of memories of those glorious days. And they go for a 1000 US Dollars each.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Teaching introductory economics through stories

A related difficulty is that introductory economics courses are typically awash with equations and graphs. Formal mathematical analysis has facilitated considerable intellectual progress in economics over the last century. But it is not a particularly good vehicle for trying to teach students introductory economics, most of whom become so distracted by the mathematical details that they never really acquire an intuitive grasp of the underlying economic principles. It's a shame, because only a handful of simple principles do most of the heavy lifting in economics.

As a species, we evolved as storytellers. When people wanted to transmit an idea, they didn't express it in the form of an equation or graph. They told a story. Students can absorb ideas in the form of equations and graphs, but in most cases only with considerable effort. In contrast, an idea that is embedded in a story slides into the human brain like a key into a lock.

That's from this post by Cornell economist Robert Frank whose book The Economic Naturalist is just out. Here's the introductory chapter.

Science photography

Felice Frankel says:

People are not intimidated by pictures. It permits them to ask questions.

Don't forget to check out the accompanying multimedia feature for some truly stunning pictures: memory chips, yeast growth forms, or even water drops! Gorgeous stuff.

President Faust

The Boston Globe has a profile of Prof. Drew Gilpin Faust who will take over as the President of Harvard in three weeks. The fascinating profile covers the major milestones in her scholarly contributions in her field: American History. It also lays out the challenges she will face in her new, ultra-high profile role at Harvard:

Faust's own new role is a formidable one. As Harvard's president she will have to manage not only a major expansion of the campus and the reform of the undergraduate curriculum, but the day-to-day demands of running an institution with a $30 billion endowment and a collection of mind-bogglingly large (and often tenured) egos. To succeed, she'll need to take on entrenched interests within the university, knowing when to play the conciliator and when to provoke debates.If her past is any guide, the latter should come naturally. [...]

Industrial consulting at IIT-B

Was industrial consulting really "uncharted territory" for IIT-B during the time -- presumably in the last two or three years -- Ajit Balakrishnan dealt with that institution? Thanks to Zen Babu's comment on my previous post, we have the link to this report from sometime in the mid-1990s. It states:

Consultancy practice has been recognized as an important activity from the very early years. In order to provide a structure within which consultancy services could be offered to Clients and Industries, the Board of Governors approved the first set of consultancy rules in 1964.

There is also some data in Table 3.1 (you have to scroll down a bit) about the level of consultancy activity during the period from 1985 to 1995. You find that the number and value of consultancy projects kept going steadily up from 305 projects and Rs. 36.1 lakhs in 1985-86 to 838 projects and Rs. 213 lakhs (Rs. 21.3 million) in 1994-95.

IIT-B's Industrial Research and Consultancy Centre (IRCC) has a pretty impressive list of major national and international clients. Go ahead, and take a look!

* * *

My previous post seems to have given the (unintended) impression that I was complaining about Soumen being ripped off. Let me clarify: that post is really about the casually cavalier way in which Ajit Balakrishnan tried to portray IIT-B as being clueless in the area of industrial interactions.

Like I said at the end of my post, it is entirely possible that negotiations between Balakrishnan and IIT-B administrators broke down on some issue or the other (for example, IP rights, or, access to Rediff's data). It is also possible that Balakrishnan felt that IIT-B's policies and rules were unreasonable -- either by themselves, or in comparison with those at other similar institutions. Instead of articulating these issues so that better outcomes become possible, Balakrishnan chose the low road by claiming that "the process for such an engagement is unchartered territory" for IIT-B. This is a legitimate issue for non-Soumen and non-Balakrishnan entities to comment on.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ajit Balakrishnan is unworthy of your trust

Remember this article by Ajit Balakrishnan (CEO of In it (which I linked to here), Balakrishnan writes about how he discovered Soumen Chakrabarti's research almost by accident, and how he hired a couple of his students, and how, through them, he gets their professor for free! The story of discovering a hidden jewel in his own backyard is all great and wonderful, except that it doesn't give him any right to oh-so-casually trash an institution -- IIT-B.

In his enthusiasm for showing off his firm's collaboration with Soumen, Balakrishnan slips this in:

Landing the Soumen catch turned out to be the easy part. Getting to engage IIT Bombay in a commercial relationship was to be a near-impossible task. The process for such an engagement is unchartered territory for Indian academic institutions.

Balakrishnan also adds:

I have ever since felt mildly guilty about this arrangement that gave us so much knowhow for so little payment.

The implication here is clear: the 'good' Rediff was keen on compensating Soumen for his help, except that the 'bad' IIT-B screwed things up -- not for Rediff, but for Soumen!

I have to call a foul here, because Balakrishnan's charge is totally unsubstantiated. If he wants to make this charge stick, he must point out exactly where IIT-B failed, and what could have salvaged Rediff's collaboration with Soumen's group. If he has some experience with fruitful collaborations with other institutions, he could also point out how IIT-B handled things differently. Instead, all we have is his say-so.

* * *

[Aside: Balakrishnan's baseless slur is picked up by Karthik, who appears -- rather naively -- to buy completely into Balakrishnan's two-sentence declaration that IIT-B was incapable of dealing with industry. He then uses IIT-B's alleged failure to hold forth on opportunity cost, incentives, and other such wholesome economic goodness. Given the blog in which it appeared, I'm surprised that he didn't give yet another lecture on how socialism has ruined this country! [Karthik's post also led Krish to write a totally ballistic response!]

Along the way, Karthik also asks this question: "... what about the Professor, who has hardly been compensated for his research which has been commercialized? What incentive does [Soumen Chakabarti] have to continue to churn out good and relevant research?" While some of you might want to invest your time -- NOT! -- to educate Karthik about what makes academics tick, let me just point out that Soumen also started this open source project.]

* * *

Let's get back to why Ajit Balakrishnan's charge is baseless.

At least since the days of dot com boom, IITs have been very savvy about dealing with industry. And they have strong incentives for coveting research grants or consultancy fees from industry. One, funds from industry come with very few strings attached. This means this money can be used for a variety of purposes -- including foreign travel, a purpose that government grants do not permit. Two, the institution gets a larger share of industry money as overhead charges. Three, for the researcher, too, there's an incentive: grants/fees from industry can be used for augmenting one's salary; government grants, on the other hand, do not provide for personal remuneration.

Given these widely appreciated benefits of interacting with the industry, many institutions have set up mechanisms to facilitate their faculty's interactions with industries. As premier engineering institutions, IITs have certainly led the way. That an IIT-B's engagement with industry was 'uncharted territory' is, to say the least, a ludicrous claim.

Balakrishnan may not have given us the details of how exactly IIT-B made a "commercial relationship ... a near-impossible task". But since he also expressed some (only some!) guilt at not having compensated Soumen for his help, perhaps we could suggest some remedies that could help him get rid of the guilt. So, here are the ways in which Balakrishnan himself could have compensated Soumen:

  • Balakrishnan could have offered a research grant to enable Soumen to work on fundamental problems of interest to Soumen and Rediff. IIT-B has a mechanism for this route.
  • He could have asked Soumen to work -- or hire someone to work -- on a specific problem of interest to Rediff, and paid him (and IIT-B) a consultancy fee. Unsurprisingly, IIT-B has a mechanism for this too.
  • He could have offered a license fee for using Soumen's code. [Guidelines are available on Soumen's website]
  • He could send some of his brightest students to go and work with Soumen, offering a 'training fee'.
  • He could invite Soumen to offer lectures and training programs to Rediff engineers and researchers -- much like the executive development programs for managers.
  • If he was not satisfied with any of these mechanisms, he could have lavished Soumen with an award, thereby ensuring that Soumen was compensated adequately for his efforts (and earning some brownie points for Rediff for corporate social responsibility!).

We all know that talk is cheap. Cheaper still is to use that talk to show off how you ripped someone off -- and place the blame on that person's institution / employer!

Well, here's another data point that indicates why Ajit Balakrishnan is not credible as a commentator. Though he strives to give us the impression that he 'knows' Soumen, he gets Soumen's alma mater wrong: Soumen got his Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley -- not from Stanford. This information is also readily available right on Soumen's website.

[All this is not to say that there might have been a genuine concern over the ownership of intellectual property rights, or over licensing arrangements. If this is indeed so, is Ajit Balakrishnan right to brush aside IIT-B's concerns -- by not even mentioning them?]

Sunday, June 10, 2007

T.T. Ram Mohan on governance at IITs and IIMs (again)

Government withdrawal can only be a gradual affair and for it to happen the IITs and IIMs must propose credible mechanisms of accountability and governance. The key issue that is unanswered by those who want the govt out of IITs and IIMs is: who holds management accountable? The answer that I seem to hear is: just leave it to faculty. In governance terms, this is most unsatisfactory. There must be somebody who delivers performance and somebody else who monitors. A governance vacuum created by government's precipitate withdrawal is the worst of all outcomes.

That's from this post by T.T. Ram Mohan, following up on an earlier post. While there, don't forget to read Juno_NYC's comment!

It's official: a vast majority of our colleges are mediocre

Via Tarunabh (who runs the Human Rights Law in India, a link blog) comes this Indian Express story on how bad our colleges and universities really are:

In this season of celebrating toppers and staggering cut-offs in college admissions across the country, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has come up with a startling admission: Over half of the students who pass Class XII don’t even enter the higher-education sector; 90 per cent of colleges and 68 per cent of universities across the country are of middling or poor quality. On almost all indicators, from faculty standards to library facilities, from computer availability to student-teacher ratio, higher education is in crying need for an upgrade.

The “quality gap” in both universities and colleges is alarming: 25 per cent faculty positions in universities remain vacant; 57 per cent teachers in colleges do not have either an M Phil or PhD; there is only one computer for 229 students, on an average, in colleges.

These results appear in a report by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (I'm not able to find the link to this report), covering 123 universities and 2,956 colleges (out of 378 universities and 18,064 colleges).

These results are all the more depressing because the universities and colleges accredited by NAAC got it done voluntarily. The others chose to avoid NAAC's visits probably because of their own estimate of the low grades they were likely to get.

Karan Thapar defends his interviewing 'style'

In his latest column in the Hindustan Times.

I know the word 'style' in this post's title is awfully misplaced. I remember watching a few episodes of Devil's Advocate, his interview program, last year during the fracas over OBC reservation. I'm all for a lusty debate on TV, but Thapar's interviews pollute our airwaves (or, rust our TV cables) far more than throw light on issues of public importance. His program is either a harangue / monologue or an irritating series of frequent interruptions, even when the interviewee isn't being ponderous or evasive. Though he acts as if his mission statement is "we make pit bulls appear pacifist," he is not above going easy on those on 'his side'. In other words, he is self-servingly selective in employing his 'interviewing style'.

One interview that I recall vividly is that of Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, whose towering stature was clear all through the interview. Whenever Thapar tried his silly interruptions, Chidambaram put him down very effectively. [This is also an interview in which Thapar comes across as just plain ignorant. There was a section in which he chose a silly line of questions regarding Chidambaram's own education, where he gets his college wrong!]. Let me just highlight a bunch of PC's replies:

Mr Dipankar Gupta can have an opinion. You can have an opinion. But you must listen to the other opinion. So just be patient. [...]

You got your facts wrong. I went to Presidency College, which has reservation. [...]

Your facts are wrong. [...]

You ask for empirical evidence and you don’t have the patience to wait for the answer. [...]

Listen to me. That will come in the Supreme Court in a form of an affidavit. [...]

Wrong again. It will be put together in the form of an affidavit and will be given to the SC.

Listen you are quibbling on words. Let me explain my position. [...]

I am sorry the government does not have to answer you in an interview.[...]

I have told you about the material. Shall I say it in Tamil for a change? [...]

If it is a fact then why are you asking me the question. [...]

Sorry that’s your conclusion. Let me conclude the way I summarised it. My conclusion is there is ample material, you are simply refusing to see the material [...]

You must give up this habit if quibbling Karan. [When Thapar responded with "I am not quibbling!", PC retorted, "You are."]

Karan Thapar's program may give his viewers some vicarious pleasure because he appears to talk down to powerful people; this, however, is illusory. Much of the harangue and talking down happens because of the disparity in communicative skills. The interview with PC is a good example of how ineffective his interviewing 'style' really is: at the end of it, Chidambaram still managed to evade a lot of things, while Thapar's ignorance was on display on the history of reservation in the South.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Book meme: The fifth sentence on page 161

Diminishing returns will have operated to the point where the marginal effect of outlays of every kind of commercial persuasion will have brought the average effect to zero.

Since this doesn't seem to make any sense, let me give the context in which it appears:

In a society where virtuosity in persuasion must keep pace with virtuosity in production, one is tempted to wonder whether the first can forever keep ahead of the second. For while production does not clearly contain within itself the seeds of its own disintegration, persuasion may. On some not distant day, the voice of each individual seller may well be lost in the collective roar of all together. Like injunctions to virtue and warnings of socialism, advertising will beat helplessly on ears that have been conditioned by previous assault to utter immunity. Diminishing returns will have operated to the point where the marginal effect of outlays of every kind of commercial persuasion will have brought the average effect to zero. It will be worth no one's while to speak, for since all speak none can hear. Silence, interrupted perhaps by brief, demonical outbursts of salesmanship will ensue.

Well, that's from J.K. Galbraith's The Affluent Society (1958 paperback edition).

I'm not good at responding to blog memes, but this one -- sent along by Blue -- was simple to do. Given how I normally react to memes, it's only natural that this branch of the meme stops here.

Alumni response to allegations of discrimination against Dalits at AIIMS

An anonymous commenter points us to this post on a blog run by AIIMS graduates (they call themselves AIIMSonians). It's a long post (in which the author reproduces what several other alumni have written elsewhere about these allegations), so you will have to go there and read all of it. I just want to excerpt a part that makes a lot of sense:

If these incidents have not occurred, it is high time a defamation suit was filed against the committee and the media that carry these reports, because continued repetition makes people believe it is the truth. Let the people who make such sweeping allegations do so under oath in court of law then and face the music.

If there have been any such incidents and if these have been correctly interpreted, it is condemnable and shameful. Then the question arises whether it was individuals (and we know that we do have diverse opinions and actions on anything within the student community at aiims) or whether it was institutional and all pervasive.

If the former, then the chips have to fall where they fall and individuals cannot tarnish everyone else, and should bear responsibility as individuals for their actions. An acknowledgement and a sincere apology would go some way, perhaps.If the latter, as the media is portraying, then some deep introspection and corrective measures are needed. Denial is not an option. (On this count, I personally find that difficult to believe, since I was in aiims till late 2004, and I didn’t hear of such incidents, but if I was ignorant let others enlighten us).

I am not jumping to conclusions or casting aspersions, but the deafening silence is sort of self-indicting in the face of the repeated reports like this. Either take the falsehoods by the horn with a comprehensive defamation suit, and clear replies to the media, or if true, then hold individuals or groups to account, whoever they are and remedy the situation. Report after report in the same vein will certainly make outsiders believe them and tarnish our institute's name, whatever the truth in the reports. Call the bluff or punish the wrongdoers, but don’t just be silent.

The thing about the allegations in the Thorat Committee report and in Ajit Kumar Singh's piece is this: given that we are talking about a bunch of late teens and young adults, it should not be surprising that some of them indulged in acts of covert and overt discrimination. It also appears that some of the more egregious incidents happened around the time the OBC reservation issue broke -- when AIIMS lawns were the hotbed of anti-reservation protests. Thus, it's possible that a lot of things were said and done in the heat of the moment. We don't have to condone the acts of young adults when we say, "youth do what they are known to do: indulge in a lot of inappropriate ways." But what is really deplorable is the way AIIMS administrators (and to some extent, its Faculty Association) have responded to the allegations.

A comparison with ragging -- hazing -- is useful here. That ragging happens, and that some really nasty things are said and done in its name are not news. Some good folks are fighting this menace, and they find that when allegations of atrocities arise, administrators' immediate -- and often only -- response is to seek ways to hush things up. They do this usually in the name of protecting the institutions' "good name" and "reputation". In other words, they choose 'denial' over other possible -- and more constructive -- responses. In doing so, they send a signal to the perpetrators that their bad behaviour is unlikely to be punished. This is a bad signal, indeed.

[The recent Supreme Court verdict -- based on the report of a committee headed by former CBI Director R.K. Raghavan -- makes it mandatory that they should report all ragging incidents. This is a welcome development, though it doesn't go far enough.]

I would be happy to be proved wrong on this one, but much of what we know about the response of AIIMS administrators indicates that they too have chosen denial over other responses (such as establishing a code of acceptable conduct, and a clear articulation of penalty for hateful speech and acts). As the AIIMS alumnus said above, "Denial is not an option." It should not be.

Saturday raunchy links

Has 'fuck' always been a dirty word? Timothy Jay investigates when and how dirty words got that way.

You do know what SP syndrome is, don't you?

Friday, June 08, 2007

"Think before you post"

Watch this commercial. Thanks to Chetan for the pointer.

Outlook Rankings -- 2007

This year's rankings are out [they will be available online only from tomorrow, though]. They are not only for engineering and medicine, but also for fields such as law, fashion technology and hotel management.

Like last year (or, perhaps, like every year), take it with a sack of salt. If you need to be convinced, all I need to do is to direct you to Arunn's post about last year's rankings.

This year too, this issue of Outlook carries a couple of articles of interest. One of them is about the role of private sector in higher ed. The other one is about how the middle class views higher ed. The second one, in particular, has some revealing info about private (self-financing) professional colleges in Karnataka:

... [A]s the government failed to establish more IITs, ‘less’ endowed aspirants began to look at other avenues. Namely, private colleges. Beyond the zooming demand, socio-political factors too played a part in their mushrooming, specially in the south. For instance, in Karnataka, various chief ministers were forced to sanction more professional colleges to cater to caste lobbies—and protect their votebanks. In 2001, 45 new engineering colleges and six new medical ones were sanctioned in the state.

Powerful politicians realised there was money to be made in education and became either owners or trustees of many professional colleges. The answer to a question raised recently in the Karnataka assembly threw some light on the extent of this phenomenon.

When legislator Prafulla Madhukar asked how many politicians owned the newly-sanctioned colleges, the reply was that 27 of the state-recognised colleges belonged to them! Of these, about a dozen were owned by state ministers (one of them even had a college named after him), three by ruling party MPs, and two by opposition leaders. In a sense, it was an extremely productive nexus: the number of private-unaided medical and engineering colleges went up from 7 and 25 respectively in 1984 and to 28 and 120 in ’05! Complaints about quality, capitation fees, excessive admissions (over and above the specific limits) were routine—but no deterrent.

Women in engineering: Data for MIT

Undergraduate Enrollment (Fall 2006)

* 764 students
* 38% women

Graduate Enrollment (Fall 2005)

* 890 students
* 20% women
* 4% underrepresented minorities (as of Fall 2005)

These pieces of data are for MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). This is from this page, which I discovered through the excellent blog of MIT alumna and Lehigh professor Aurelie Thiele.

From the same page, we also learn this:

... [EECS's] three undergraduate programs traditionally have attracted over 30% of all MIT undergraduates ...

From another webpage, we learn that women will form 46 percent of the incoming class this year. This is for all of MIT, not just for EECS. [Thanks to my colleague U. Ramamurty for the pointer.]

[You may recall a similar figure -- nearly 40 percent -- for the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon as well, which was covered in a NYTimes story. We discussed a part of it in this post.]

In discussions of gender disparity in US universities, much of the talk revolves around SAT scores -- in particular, the mathematics part of this test (SAT-M). Let me cite a couple of sites about MIT's own studies on the gender differences in SAT-M scores and their correlation with the students' performance in undergraduate courses:

One of my faculty colleagues, whose daughter was applying to MIT-thank God for daughters-, did a study of whether admissions performance measures -primarily the math SAT--actually predicted the academic performance of students, not just as freshman but throughout their undergraduate careers. He did this differentially for men and women and got some surprising and very important results. He found that women outperform their predictions. That is, that women perform better as students than their math SAT scores would predict. The effective predictive gap is about 30 points.

Thus the conditions were set to change admissions criteria for women in a major way. The criteria for math SAT for women was changed to reflect the results of the study. In one year, the percentage of women students in the entering class went from 26 to 38%... [link]

Here's another:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology performed a study on women's course loads and compared their grades with their SAT scores and found that ``women hold their own across subject areas, even though their SAT scores are lower" (Rowe, 23). To compensate for the underprediction based on SAT scores, MIT adjusted its admission process to give greater weight to other criteria. Since 1980, the women admitted to MIT score an average of 20 to 25 points lower on the math sections of the SAT but have had higher cumulative grade-point averages in 11 of 21 majors, including math, science, and computer sciences (Brush, 409). [link]

Finally, has a page about gender disparities in standardized test scores, and some of the underlying causes (and yes, one of the causes is a possible bias in the tests).

JEE toppers and coaching centre ads

The discussion on Vivek's good question is continuing now at his blog.

I mentioned that the folks behind the "Super 30" initiative took strong exception to three of their students being 'claimed' by another coaching institute in Patna, Bihar. You may also recall their intention to abandon the initiative. The coaching institute implicated in this story is called I-Desire [website], whose goals and methods appear quite similar to those of Super 30. I-Desire, founded by a group of IITians, have come forward with their version of the story. Bottomline: This seems to be a case of misunderstanding between two honorable institutions.

How Ajit Balakrishnan discovered Soumen Chakrabarti

Ajit Balakrishnan, CEO of, recounts the story in a Business Standard column titled World Class -- In Our Backyard. [Here's the same article at, where Soumen's surname is spelled correctly].

In case you are wondering, Soumen Chakrabarti is a faculty member in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at IIT-B. He has some perceptive photo-essays here, here, and here; there's more in his links page.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

We are all 'free speech' machines!

I'm going to tell you some stories that I think illustrate the disruptive effects that blogging has had, and the democratic potential it represents. But let me say at the outset that, though a blogger myself, I am not a triumphalist about blogging. I do not think that the age of fully democratic media is suddenly upon us because we have this new form. There is a long way to go if we are to make good on its potential.

That's journalism professor Jay Rosen (New York University), on the journalistic potential of blogging (some of which has already been realized). He goes on to offer five stories, all from the US, to illustrate his view. With my own limited knowledge, I can think of only two such stories in India: the IIPM story that broke in October 2005, and the blogspot ban in July 2006. But they are not in the same league as Rosen's stories, because both threatened Indian bloggers directly; that some public purpose was served was a secondary (but important!) outcome. Can you think of any success story -- even a minor one -- involving Indian blogs in the journalistic realm involving some public interest?

Before I end, I just want to excerpt these very inspiring paragraphs in Rosen's article:

The most famous words ever written about freedom of the press are in the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law..." But the second most famous words come from the critic A.J. Liebling: "freedom of the press belongs to those who own one." Well, freedom of the press still belongs to those who own one, and blogging means practically anyone can own one. That is the Number One reason why blogs--and this discussion--matter.

With blogging, an awkward term, we designate a fairly beautiful thing: the extension to many more people of a free press franchise, the right to publish your thoughts to the world. Wherever blogging spreads the dramas of free expression follow. A blog, you see, is a little First Amendment machine.

Middle age ...

Middle age is when your broad mind and narrow waist begin to change places.
-- E. Joseph Crossman.

Outing scientific misconduct

Submitting a scientific paper with plagiarized content can lead to some nasty consequences.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Hefty price of outing scientific fraud

Janet Stemwedel has an excellent post about the huge price paid by graduate students have had to pay for outing their advisor's scientific fraud. The report underlying her post, unfortunately, is behind the paywalls of Science, but Janet's excerpts from the report, together with her commentary, make a gripping story -- though the ending is depressingly tragic.

[Sometime ago, the NYTimes did an extended story about a US researcher who was eventually convicted in a court of law and sent to jail; he was turned in by an undergraduate student researcher in his lab.]

* * *

Janet's post sent me in search of info on the biggest scandal to rock Indian science: the fraud perpetrated by the Punjab University paleontologist Vishwajit Gupta. The details of his case are recounted here and here. Though his fraud was proved beyond anyone's doubt, he managed to retain his professorship until he retired in 2004. The person who exposed Gupta's fraud is John Talent, an Australian. You can read his version of the events in the transcript of an ABC program (you will have to scroll down a bit). Here are some excerpts:

Robyn Williams: The accused is Dr V J Gupta, Professor of Geology at Punjab University. He is India’s most celebrated fossil scientist, for 25 years stunning the geological world with intriguing fossil finds that turned the accepted picture of the Himalayas on its head.

In 1989, writing in the British journal Nature, Talent accused Gupta of fraud. Talent’s claim is that Gupta’s fossils are spurious: either bought, stolen or received as gifts.

Sharon Carleton: Vishwa Jit Gupta was a shiny round-faced man with a penchant for big cigars and flamboyant coats with ermine collars. He travelled the world sharing the knowledge of his unique discoveries. It wasn’t until 1987, when Professor John Talent went to Paris, that he concluded that Gupta’s fraud was not just one or two papers – it was vast. With a few hours to kill before his flight back to Sydney, Professor Talent stopped by a local rock shop. There he found some interesting fossils from Morocco. He bought a handful and caught his flight.

Professor Talent remembered having seen photographs of these exact same fossils in a Gupta paper - except Gupta’s identical specimens were supposedly from the Himalayas, not Morocco. It was proof positive of fraud. Should the Australian out this Indian impostor? Professor John Talent.

John Talent: I wanted my Indian colleagues to do it. I’d started on a major project with colleagues at the Siberian branch of the Academy of Science in Novosibirsk, Siberia, looking at biogeography for a 100 million year time slice back in the deep past but we had this spurious data from Gupta. So I finally decided in the beginning of 1987 that something had to be put into print, preferably obscurely. I targeted a conference that was being held in Calgary and prepared a presentation there, which included material from Morocco and material that was in one of the plates in a paper by Gupta. And I was able to show these simultaneously on the screen, so the fossils in the two presentations looked exactly the same, and Gupta was in the front row. One of my colleagues jumped up and said: Well, how do you explain having exactly the same fossils in two localities 600 kilometres apart? Now if that isn’t a miracle I don’t know what is.

Gupta stormed out of the room and he came back waving his fists and obviously wanted to punch me up but the crowd, there were about 250 there, just closed in and he couldn’t get near me. He did this three times and then he demanded from the organisers a list of everyone that was at the meeting and he wanted a copy of my manuscript, but fortunately the director of the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt said, Do you want me to publish it? And I said, Yes. And somehow Nature got onto it and they commissioned a three-page paper from me commenting on the significance of this massive exercise in academic fraud. When I say massive, it was seven books and a total of 458 publications.

Some commentaries on Gupta's fraud may be found here and here.

* * *

A more recent case involved B.S. Rajput who was accused of plagiarism in 2002; at that time, he was the Vice-Chancellor of Kumaun University, Nainital. This time, Indian scientists were much better prepared; take a look at this archive! Their intense pressure forced Rajput to step down. The entire affair took about six months. During this time, Rajput even tried to punish Dr. Kavita Pandey, the then Head of the Physics Department at Kumaun, who played a key role in exposing this fraud. [It's not clear if her suspension was revoked by the later leadership at Kumaun; I couldn't find any news reports].

Need for a caste-based census

Gail Omvedt in the Hindustan Times several weeks ago:

There is possibly little change since the 1931 census, which gave extensive information about caste. However, there is need for investigation: have some OBCs really become ‘affluent’? Aside from a few of their members, this is doubtful. The very fact that these are mostly rural-based groups, and the rural economy is in recognised crisis, should indicate that the average has improved. There is no point, however, in endlessly arguing. We need the data.

How does one handle a caste-based census? There has been, again, a lot of talk about the complications of the matter. The solution is simple: let everyone self-identify his or her caste. Those who want can say ‘no caste’ (in fact, this itself would be an important data from the census). Those who are out of mixed marriages or confused about their caste in anyway can also say this. A panel of experts at the State level can then make broad classifications out of the responses. There is, in other words, no great dilemma about how to do it. It only takes social will.

S. Nagesh Kumar in the Hindu yesterday:

Although the idea may not suit the political considerations of several parties, a caste-wise census could go a long way in streamlining OBC reservation. In Andhra Pradesh, representations are pending from at least 17 castes, apart from Muslims, for inclusion in the list of OBCs. Representations seeking removal of three castes from the list as they are no longer backward are also pending disposal. The Andhra Pradesh Backward Classes Commission is wary of touching these issues without current, accurate, and reliable data on their socio-economic-educational profiles.

Nagesh Kumar discusses the case of Andhra Pradesh at length. His article is worth a read just for all the interesting details he reports. For example, the state's Backward Classes Commission ordered the "Socio-Educational Economic Survey of Castes & Communities of Andhra Pradesh (SEESCCAP)" in 1994; Nagesh Kumar reports:

While carefully sidestepping the temptation of drawing conclusions from the wealth of statistics he collected, Hanurav observed in the epilogue to his report: "There is definitely a case for changing the backwardness status of some of the castes, upwards in some cases and downwards in some."

In Contemporary India: A Sociological View (excerpted here), Satish Deshpande had this to say about the missed opportunity in 2001:

... [I]nfluential [Indian] sociologists have tended to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds on this issue. They have been the first to criticize the methods used and the macro-data produced to track caste inequality ... However, they have also been in the forefront of opposition to initiatives for the systematic collection of macro-level data on caste, even though they have not, by and large, shown any eagerness to suggest alternative methodologies for data collection.

In the early 1990s, for example, mauling the Mandal Commission's report for its weak database and questionable methodology had become something of a professional pastime for sociologists. But rarely were critics willing to specify what available datasets the Commission had failed to utilize, precisely how it could have improved upon its methodology, and, more generally, how it could have done a better job within the given constraints. And yet, a few years later, when the collection of caste data in the 2001 census was being mooted, the same voices were heard denouncing this proposal as not just impractical but pernicious. [...]

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Vivek asks a good question

He asks a good question: In what way is JEE toppers being offered huge sums of money to appear in ads for coaching centres (which they didn't attend) different from Big Sports Stars's appearance in ads for products such as Boost? In a comment, he says:

I am quite sure that Boost wasn't the real secret behind the energy levels of Kapil and Sachin. Should they not advertise for Boost *after* achieving success (with high energy levels, of course) by whichever way (probably just balanced diet etc.) they did?

This is a good question. I'm not able to figure out the implications here, except to say that we should never trust a hospital or an educational institution that advertises [Batra clinic and IIPM come to mind immediately]. But coaching centres are not 'educational' institutions! Or, is it that while we all realize the corrupting influence of ads, there is still something icky about their playing with the minds of adolescents (and almost adults!)?

Clearly, food and food supplements are more basic and more important even than education. If we are willing to live with (possible) lies in ads for them [Sachin Tendulkar peddling Boost, Viswanathan Anand peddling "Memory Plus"], why should we complain about lies in ads for coaching centres?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Links ...

Just some quick links.

End Campus Casteism

There's a new blog called the War Against Casteist Oppression in Academics [Hat tip: Bhaskar]. It's more than an awareness-raising effort, it's a protest blog with an appropriately aggressive tone -- in the fine tradition of several others that I know of: Blank Noise Project, Stop Ragging and Atrocity News.

While its two posts (so far) mention AIIMS, the people behind the blog -- who identify themselves only as a group of students and professionals -- have clearly stated that it is meant for casteism in all Indian institutions.

If you are wondering if such an effort is needed, take a look at this and this.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sex and its analogues

This is from Robert Kaplan:

While I have to admit that I derive a certain amount of satisfaction from cataloging a book (or books, as is frequently the case), there is nevertheless something a little depressing about it as well. It is, perhaps, a little like sex: once it’s done, while one (hopefully) feels satisfied, it’s also tinged with a little sadness, as if one were sorry it was over.

I found this quote from Guru's post about A passion for books by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan.

My previous post on sex and its analogues is here.

IISc Global Conference at Santa Clara, California

It's scheduled for 22-24 June 2007 (less than three weeks from now!). The Conference website is here. Here's the press release:

... Preparations have been underway for a number of months and the enthusiasm and anticipation amongst alumni is building with each passing day for this first ever event of its kind. This conference will be a platform for interactions between the Institute, alumni, industry and academia, in India and the US, to build long term partnerships that will take on the global challenges at hand in the 21st century. Participants will get to hear a video address by the President of India His Excellency Dr Abdul Kalam, Nobel Laureate and Venture Capitalist Arno Penzias, Applied Materials’ Chairman of the Board Mr James Morgan, CEO of TCS Mr S Ramadorai, Vice Chairman at Cognizant Technology Solutions Mr Lakshmi Narayanan, the Chancellor of the University of Berkeley Prof. Robert Birgeneau, and top officials from IISc itself such as the Director Prof Balaram and many senior faculty members.

US public universities build huge endowments

This news item (Hat tip: Pradeepkumar) is about the University of Illinois, which is in the middle of a campaign to raise $2.25 billion :

There are currently more than two dozen universities in the midst of campaigns of at least $1 billion, including the University of Chicago, which expects to conclude its $2 billion campaign by June 2008, a year later than originally anticipated. The University of Notre Dame recently announced a $1.5 billion effort.

Only four other public universities -- Michigan, UCLA, Virginia and Washington -- have completed or are in the middle of campaigns of more than $2 billion.

Across the Atlantic, the University of Cambridge has set itself an ambitious goal of raising £1 billion (about $2 billion) through "the Cambridge 800th Anniversary Campaign".

As I have noted earlier, the corpus funds of our universities are subject to a cap of Rs.50 crores (about 12 million dollars); for places like the IITs and IISc, the cap is Rs.100 crores (about 25 million dollars).

Corrupting young minds: Part II

It consumes its first institutional victim: The Super 30 institution in Bihar and its founders -- mathematician Anand Kumar, and IPS officer and physicist Abhayanand -- say that they are thinking about terminating this experiment.

In an emotional outburst on Saturday evening ... Kumar and Abhayanand announced the closure of the scheme.

They were upset over competing coaching institutes hijacking three of their successful students and introducing them as their own to the chief minister, Nitish Kumar, who felicitated the students here today.

This is sad. I hope the founders will reconsider their view and revive the Super 30.

Gujarat farmers: "Napsters of Biotechnology"

But it's what has happened after the ban on Navbharat151 that is really intriguing. As farmers are wont to do, they saved their seeds, and discovered that the second generation was also resistant to bollworm depredation. Some even experimented with interbreeding the Navbharat151 genetic line with other strains of cotton particularly suited to Gujarat conditions, and came up with new strains that proved effective. Local seed companies sprang up to commercialize the descendant breeds. And even though Mayhco-Monsanto has since been allowed to sell its own cotton seeds, the local bootlegged versions have proved more popular. And why not? According to reports, they're much cheaper, and, from the point of view of local farmers, perform as well or better than the "official" alternatives.

From this Andrew Leonard piece. Thanks to Swarup for the pointer.

Phrase of the day: Personal offshoring

When David San Filippo decided to create a tribute video in honor of his sister's wedding, he could have gotten a recommendation from a friend or looked up video editors in the phone book. Instead, he did what big corporations have been doing for more than a decade: sent the work offshore.

On the Internet, Mr. San Filippo located a graphic artist in Romania who agreed to do the whole thing for $59. The result was a splashy two-minute video with a space theme and "Star Wars" soundtrack. It won raves at the wedding.

From this fascinating article by Ellen Gamerman in WSJ. It's early days, but it points to some interesting entrepreneurial possibilities.

Here's an earlier post about a different kind of personal outsourcing.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Blackberry for Bangalore's traffic cops!

Here's a nice pic from the Hindu's report:

A couple of interesting developments

A pan-South Asian university is to be located in Delhi. Akshaya Mukul of the ET reports that classes will start in 2009.

The HIndu quotes Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as saying that "every State will have a Central university and every district a degree college":

At present, there were 20 Central universities. While 16 States did not have a single Central university, some such as Delhi had four. In the 350 districts, where enrolment was below national average, it would be brought up to the national average. The degree colleges would have to be set up by the States, but the Centre would assist them through the UGC.

According to Dr. Singh, each central university should become a symbol of excellence, a model of efficiency and an example in terms of academic standards and university governance worthy of emulation by State universities.

All I would ask for is that these institutions be "Real Universities", that combine undergraduate and graduate teaching with research in multiple disciplines that include humanities, social and natural sciences.

Corrupting young minds with cash

Now, JEE toppers are getting offers of money to say they studied in this or that coaching institution. Can you guess how much is being offered? Prepare yourself for a big surprise!