Thursday, July 31, 2008


PhD Comics' perceptive take on what doctoral degrees are made of.

Link via Animesh.

IIT JEE: Calls for reform from within the system

Wow. Just wow!

  • The director and the dean of IIT-Madras have called for radical changes in the JEE, saying that the coaching institutes were enabling many among the less-than-best students to crack the test and keeping girls from qualifying.

  • "You may not be able to do away with the JEE but I am wondering if we should be conducting an examination for 3,00,00 aspirants and selecting just 5,000. Instead, we must evolve a system where only the top 1% of students from different state boards and CBSE are permitted to appear for the JEE," [Prof. M.S. Ananth, Director, IIT-M] said.

  • "One of the reasons for the poor intake of girls in the flagship BTech programme is that parents don't send daughters for coaching classes. The best way to increase the intake of girls is to have direct admissions," [Prof. Idichandy, Dean of Student Affairs, IIT-M] said.

  • [Prof. Ananth] said, by attending the IIT coaching classes, students were learning a wrong lesson that the ends justify the means. "They (students) think there is nothing wrong in missing school to attend coaching. But the student does not realize his real loss."

Bravo! I am so glad to see the some IITs professors finally articulating the need to select students based on their own ideas of what an IIT education should be about, and of what an IIT student should be like. And I certainly applaud Prof. Idichandy for admitting the gross gender inequity that's built into the current JEE system.

Over the years, with their over-reliance on JEE (an exam that coaching centers have mastered how to game), the IITs had ceded control of their most important input to the coaching centers. It is time they took that control back. I hope the ideas from Prof. Ananth and Prof. Idichandy (and other such ideas from other institutions) will be debated vigorously, and I hope it will result in a saner admission process that's consistent with the IITs mandate and goals (as defined by themselves).

* * *

I can't resist throwing in my two-cents: I wish the IITs would go for a policy of using multiple inputs for selecting their students: an entrance exam (whose primary purpose is to standardize the curriculum/knowledge across our diverse education boards), makrs (or percentile scores) in board exams, achievements in State and National Olympiads in Math, Physics and Chemistry Olympiads. [Are there others?]

Ranking is an issue only because of the current fetish with a pecking order, which is used for allocating seats. This can be done away with, if the policy is changed to one in which students are assigned to individual departments at the end of the second (or, even better, third) semester, based on their performance after they get into the IITs.

* * *

At the end of the ToI article, Ashok Misra, Director, IIT-B, expresses his concerns about going for disruptive, big bang changes in admission procedures. If this is a concern, the IITs can try an experiment during the next two or three years in which, entry is guaranteed for all State level Olympiad medal winners, and also for students in the top x percentile (where x is in the range of 0.05 to 0.1) in each Board Exam. This should get about 1000 to 2000 students coming in through the non-JEE route. A rigorous study of these students' relative performance vis-a-vis the JEE entrants should yield metrics that can be used for determining the relative weights to be assigned to different measures of student achievement.

* * *

Thanks to Yogesh Upadhyaya for the e-mail alert.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

WTF: The ASSOCHAM edition

Enrollment of young girl’s in engineering institutions underwent a hefty rise in last 6 years, going to 125% in 2008 from 22% in 2002 as a new era of Knowledge Economy emerged in the period which motivated a larger number of female’s, having more inclination to acquiring engineering skills to survive and thrive in the era, according to the ASSOCHAM survey.

What? Women's enrollment in engineering colleges is 125 % now? 125 percent of what?

That's the opening paragraph of this press release from ASSOCHAM, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India. Here's the Economic Times story.

Here's the bottomline: If you read the entire press release, you would find that the whole thing is as badly written as the quote above. Every bloody paragraph of it. If you want another example, take a look at this gem, right there in the second sentence:

The survey carried out under ages of the ASSOCHAM Social Development Foundation ... [Bold emphasis added]

Shame on you, ASSOCHAM! Can't you hire people to write a decent report / press release for you? Was your survey too as shabbily done as this press release clearly is?

Diploma mills in the US

  • Four people bought seven degrees or certificates; 10 bought six degrees or certifcates; 22 bought five degrees or certificates; and 76 bought four.
  • Of the 9,612 purchasers, 826 bought at least one Ph.D. and 41 bought two doctorates.
  • Some of those doctorates were awarded in health-related fields, including at least two naturopathic doctorates, two doctorates in naturopathic medicine, one Ph.D. in medicine and one "medical" Ph.D. An Australian bought a Ph.D. in natural and nutritional sciences. A customer without a listed address bought a Ph.D. in molecular medicine. Another customer, also without an address listed in the database, bought a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine and epidemiology, and a Master of Science in veterinary clinical medicine.

More shocking details, including the names of some of the people who bought their degrees, are here.

Here's an India-China comparison: In the complete list of diploma buyers, six are from China. In contrast, I found over seventy five people from India (their real number, however, is likely smaller, because quite a few appear to have used different variations of their names).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dark Knight

Harini says it's "more than a Batman movie. It is cinema."

A Psychologist's View.

This film is really about the Joker. We're lured in to his world, where we learn what he's capable of and what he cares about—what motivates him. Learning more about him is like watching a car accident unfold, but worse and more frightening, because it feels like you might be hit next. Nolan's incarnation of the Joker, and Batman's reactions to him, seem so real that The Dark Knight doesn't feel like a superhero movie, but like a documentary on the emergence of a terrorist-cum-serial killer.

A Feminist's View.

Men are talking. They are making decisions, they are explaining the motivations of the characters, they are illuminating the world they live in by describing it. And this is because the world the men of The Dark Knight or Iron Man live in, far more than the one we live in, is a man's world, where all the important actors are men.

I do sooo look forward to seeing this movie...

Firefox tab-clearing time ...

Links that have been living for a while in my browser tabs (or as starred posts in Google Reader):

Monday, July 28, 2008

William Deresiewicz: The disadvantages of an elite education

Here [Thanks to Prof. S. Arunachalam for the e-mail alert]. I didn't quite like the broad-brush generalizations (and I'm sure many Ivy League alumni are busy preparing a critique of this article), but some points do hit home. Here's one:

The second disadvantage, implicit in what I’ve been saying, is that an elite education inculcates a false sense of self-worth. Getting to an elite college, being at an elite college, and going on from an elite college—all involve numerical rankings: SAT, GPA, GRE. You learn to think of yourself in terms of those numbers. They come to signify not only your fate, but your identity; not only your identity, but your value. It’s been said that what those tests really measure is your ability to take tests, but even if they measure something real, it is only a small slice of the real. The problem begins when students are encouraged to forget this truth, when academic excellence becomes excellence in some absolute sense, when “better at X” becomes simply “better.”

There is nothing wrong with taking pride in one’s intellect or knowledge. There is something wrong with the smugness and self-congratulation that elite schools connive at from the moment the fat envelopes come in the mail. From orientation to graduation, the message is implicit in every tone of voice and tilt of the head, every old-school tradition, every article in the student paper, every speech from the dean. The message is: You have arrived. Welcome to the club. And the corollary is equally clear: You deserve everything your presence here is going to enable you to get. When people say that students at elite schools have a strong sense of entitlement, they mean that those students think they deserve more than other people because their sat scores are higher.

Here's something about how uneven grade inflation has been in US universities:

There’s been a lot of handwringing lately over grade inflation, and it is a scandal, but the most scandalous thing about it is how uneven it’s been. Forty years ago, the average GPA at both public and private universities was about 2.6, still close to the traditional B-/C+ curve. Since then, it’s gone up everywhere, but not by anything like the same amount. The average gpa at public universities is now about 3.0, a B; at private universities it’s about 3.3, just short of a B+. And at most Ivy League schools, it’s closer to 3.4. But there are always students who don’t do the work, or who are taking a class far outside their field (for fun or to fulfill a requirement), or who aren’t up to standard to begin with (athletes, legacies). At a school like Yale, students who come to class and work hard expect nothing less than an A-. And most of the time, they get it.


Three pieces about the craft of writing that I enjoyed reading.

For college students: How to say nothing in five hundred words by Paul McHenry Roberts. Here's one of the examples for coloured words -- words loaded with associations:

Or consider the word intellectual. This would seem to be a complimentary term, but in point of fact it is not, for it has picked up associations of impracticality and ineffectuality and general dopiness.

And this was written over forty or fifty years ago!

* * *

How to write with style by Kurt Vonnegut.

Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you're writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead --- or, worse, they will stop reading you.

The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. Don't you yourself like or dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show you or make you think about? Did you ever admire an emptyheaded writer for his or her mastery of the language? No.

So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.

* * *

Writing, Typing, Economics by John Kenneth Galbraith.

Complexity and obscurity have professional value—they are the academic equivalents of apprenticeship rules in the building trades. They exclude the outsiders, keep down the competition, preserve the image of a privileged or priestly class. The man who makes things clear is a scab. He is criticized less for his clarity than for his treachery.

Additionally, and especially in the social sciences, much unclear writing is based on unclear or incomplete thought. It is possible with safety to be technically obscure about something you haven't thought out. It is impossible to be wholly clear on something you do not understand. Clarity thus exposes flaws in the thought. The person who undertakes to make difficult matters clear is infringing on the sovereign right of numerous economists, sociologists, and political scientists to make bad writing the disguise for sloppy, imprecise, or incomplete thought. One can understand the resulting anger.[...]

Energy efficiency

Suppose I paid you for every pound of pollution you generated and punished you for every pound you reduced. You would probably spend most of your time trying to figure out how to generate more pollution. And suppose that if you generated enough pollution, I had to pay you to build a new plant, no matter what the cost, and no matter how much cheaper it might be to not pollute in the first place.

Well, that's pretty much how we have run the U.S. electric grid for nearly a century. The more electricity a utility sells, the more money it makes. If it's able to boost electricity demand enough, the utility is allowed to build a new power plant with a guaranteed profit. The only way a typical utility can lose money is if demand drops. So the last thing most utilities want to do is seriously push strategies that save energy, strategies that do not pollute in the first place.

That's from Joseph Romm at [via Olive Ridley]. In a section about efficiency improvements in energy usage, Romm makes the following point (with a pretty amazing example):

Serious energy efficiency is not a one-shot resource, where you pick the low-hanging fruit and you're done. In fact, the fruit grows back. The efficiency resource never gets exhausted because technology keeps improving and knowledge spreads to more people.

The best corporate example is Dow Chemical's Louisiana division, consisting of more than 20 plants. In 1982, the division's energy manager, Ken Nelson, began a yearly contest to identify and fund energy-saving projects. ...

The first year of the contest had 27 winners requiring a total capital investment of $1.7 million with an average annual return on investment of 173 percent. Many at Dow felt that there couldn't be others with such high returns. The skeptics were wrong. The 1983 contest had 32 winners requiring a total capital investment of $2.2 million and a 340 percent return -- a savings of $7.5 million in the first year and every year after that. Even as fuel prices declined in the mid-1980s, the savings kept growing. The average return to the 1989 contest was the highest ever, an astounding 470 percent in 1989 -- a payback of 11 weeks that saved the company $37 million a year. [...]

An obligatory post about what I had for lunch today

A simple -- and simply fabulous -- meal at the Iyer Mess. After more than a year.

While the drumstick sambhar was great, the pachchadi and the poriyal were okay; but the rasam -- the Rasam! -- was truly sublime.

That near-religious experience cost me just 22 rupees.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The rise and rise of Obama

Following Ta-Nehisi Coates's strong recommendation, I just finished reading Ryan Lizza's article on Barack Obama's political career during the decade before he became a star on the national stage (with his fantastic Keynote Address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, and his election to the Senate later in the same year).

Lizza's account is rich with events and anecdotes that keep driving it (almost relentlessly) towards these broad conclusions about the candidate:

Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them. When he was a community organizer, he channelled his work through Chicago’s churches, because they were the main bases of power on the South Side. He was an agnostic when he started, and the work led him to become a practicing Christian. At Harvard, he won the presidency of the Law Review by appealing to the conservatives on the selection panel. In Springfield, rather than challenge the Old Guard Democratic leaders, Obama built a mutually beneficial relationship with them. “You have the power to make a United States senator,” he told Emil Jones in 2003. In his downtime, he played poker with lobbyists and Republican lawmakers. In Washington, he has been a cautious senator and, when he arrived, made a point of not defining himself as an opponent of the Iraq war. Like many politicians, Obama is paradoxical. He is by nature an incrementalist, yet he has laid out an ambitious first-term agenda (energy independence, universal health care, withdrawal from Iraq). He campaigns on reforming a broken political process, yet he has always played politics by the rules as they exist, not as he would like them to exist. He runs as an outsider, but he has succeeded by mastering the inside game. He is ideologically a man of the left, but at times he has been genuinely deferential to core philosophical insights of the right.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Of spherical bastards and asymmetric assholes

Read Julianne Dalcanton's post for the details. I like this definition of spherical bastards:

... they [are] bastards any way you [look] at them.

Faith and pride

This is way too funny:

All six SP rebels voted against the government. Though there were doubts about which way Ateeq Ahmed and Afzal Ansari would vote, SP general secretary Amar Singh was confident that they would toe the Congress line at least. In fact, the two were brought from jail for the vote.

And this too:

Mr. Amar Singh said while BJP workers attacked the homes of their MPs who cross-voted, “the SP had not engaged in such activity although the BJP routinely describes us as a party of goons.”

Friday, July 25, 2008

This just in: there is no gender gap in math among US school students

Update: Here are the press releases from UC-Berkeley and Wisconsin-Madison. Also, check out the Knight Science Journalism Tracker with lots of links to newspaper stories. [Original post follows ...]

First, the big news of the day from the US: A team led by Janet Hyde (psychologist from the University of Wisconsin at Madison) has a paper in Science (likely pay-walled) that examined the latest data on the performance of boys and girls from grades 2 to 11 in standardized math tests.

Their conclusion is summarized in the headline of the accompanying Science news story: Girls = Boys in Math. Here's an excerpt from the paper itself:

Our analysis shows that, for grades 2 to 11, the general population no longer shows a gender difference in math skills, consistent with the gender similarities hypothesis (19). There is evidence of slightly greater male variability in scores, although the causes remain unexplained. Gender differences in math performance, even among high scorers, are insufficient to explain lopsided gender patterns in participation in some STEM fields.

[Here's a recent post by Daisy Grewal on the Gender Similarities Model]

The authors have quite a few other interesting things to say; they are covered in this NYTimes story by Tamar Lewin.

* * *

Over three weeks ago, Slate ran a series of articles by Amanda Schaffer titled The Sex Difference Evangelists: Unpacking the Science of Sex Difference. The entire series is a must read; here's a short extract:

... if history is any guide, today's gender breakdowns are likely to keep changing. What's so magical, after all, about the current numbers? A few decades ago, most biology and math majors were men. So were most doctors. Now math undergraduate majors split close to 50/50. In 1976, only 8 percent of Ph.D.s in biology went to women; by 2004, 44 percent did. Today, half of M.D.s go to women. Even in engineering, physics, chemistry, and math, the number of women receiving doctorates tripled or quadrupled between 1976 and 2001. Why assume that we have just now reached some natural limit?

* * *

On a related note, let me also point you to this article by Mary Hatcher-Skeers on the situation of women in chemistry:

... [W]hen [our women chemistry graduates] go on to graduate school, the reception isn’t always a warm one. Nationally, nearly 50 percent of chemistry undergraduates are women, but it’s nowhere near that percentage when it comes to gender equity in Ph.D. programs or in academic careers. And the reason for the falloff continues to be gender discrimination.

We have had a number of women chemistry majors, from each of our participating colleges (Scripps, Pitzer and Claremont McKenna), go on to graduate school and be quite successful, but they often remark that the transition is difficult. A few years ago, one of my Scripps students enrolled in a Ph.D. program in chemistry but had trouble finding a research lab that would take her. I remember her words when she informed me of her decision to leave with a master’s degree: “You never told me that in science, men assume I’m stupid.”

* * *

Which leads me to FSP's post about "obnoxious questions commonly asked of Female Science Professors" and some of the possible answers to them.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Links ...

Yogesh Upadhyaya: IIT-JEE - The Untold Story. Covers the history of this examination; and has a short quote from yours truly (from this post).

Seema Singh: Scientists' love-hate relationship with media.

Via Chris Blattman, "a Chinese government poster informing citizens people of eight things they should not ask foreigners."

Kieran Healy: Standard Model of Sociophysics.

Female Science Professor: What an insult.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Poaching as a strategy to fight faculty crunch at IITs?

Whenever the topic turns to the creation of new institutions -- be they IITs or Central Universities -- you get people expressing this concern: "But where will they get their faculty from?" The latest to join this grumpy and not-so-gruntled group is Pankaj Jalote. The picture he paints is pretty grim indeed.

... As a PhD is necessary for a faculty position in an IIT, we ... need about 500 fresh PhDs in engineering every year to provide the faculty for the IITs.

Let us look at the supply side. An IIT produces about 100 PhDs a year in engineering, which means a total of about 600 PhDs are being produced by the top institutes every year. More than half of these will join lucrative careers in industry or go overseas (the actual percentage is likely to be higher). Of the remaining, many will not be acceptable to IITs for faculty positions (as not only a PhD is required, the quality of work and past education record also must be good.) So, even after stretching the limits, there will be less than 100 suitable candidates available for these 600 faculty positions!

Clearly, the problem is not solvable by resources within the country. There is, however, a large pool of PhDs in the US (and elsewhere) of Indian origin. According to one report, the number of Indians who got PhDs in the US in computer science (CS) in a year was 275 (out of about 1,000), which, incidentally, is about 10 times the number of PhDs produced in India in CS. The number of PhDs in other disciplines would be of similar order — according to a NSF report about 1,500 Indians were awarded PhD in science and technology in 2006. If we consider the graduates of the last few years, a thousand-strong pool of Indian PhDs exists in the US in each discipline.

It is this pool of resource that is our only visible hope for meeting the faculty crunch — if only we can attract some of them back.

I agree with much of what he says, and I certainly don't want to downplay the challenge that the IITs face. All I want to say here is that the pool of candidates is far larger than fresh PhDs, and it's not clear why Jalote doesn't want to consider the other options in this bigger pool.

Who are these "other options"? Professors at other colleges and researchers in our research labs.

The IITs may want to pluck them from their current places, but why would they want to move to IITs? There are many reasons, but the bootomline is that the IITs are still the best bet in India for folks interested in teaching and research. To begin with, IITs enjoy enormous prestige and respect. They offer a great deal of autonomy. They offer a research environment -- infrastructure, research grants, travel money -- that people at other institutions can only envy from afar. They offer access to some of the best student talent India has to offer. And, salaries are much better at the IITs than at research labs, NITs and universities!

In most disciplines (except perhaps computer science and allied fields), India's vast system of research labs -- CSIR, Defence, Atomic Energy and Space -- employ a huge number of researchers. Similarly, the NITs and university engineering colleges also have a fairly large number of faculty members. Granted, not all of them are going to be of great interest to the IITs (and not all of them may even want to move to the IITs), but given the advantages of moving to the IITs, they should be able to attract some of the more successful professors and researchers from these places.

Are there examples of high-profile institutions that have poached from our research labs and universities? IISERs. I know of a few people who have moved to IISERs from research labs and universities. [If you have some statistics, please share them -- either through comments or by e-mail. ]

* * *

However, there is a cost to this kind of poaching: it will shift the HR challenge to the other institutions and research labs. They will have to find ways of becoming attractive destinations for promising faculty members and researchers. This task, however, is not easy because many of them carry the burden of their past in terms of hierarchical organizational structure (and mindset), poor infrastructure (not applicable for labs belonging to the strategic sectors), and a salary structure that puts them at a disadvantage.

Let me admit (once again) that the challenge posed by the faculty shortage is a big one. However, my (somewhat) limited point is this: because they can resort to poaching as a part of their faculty development strategy, IITs enjoy a huge advantage over the other institutions in facing (and overcoming) this challenge.

* * *

BTW, poaching is available as a HR strategy to NITs and Central Universities as well; they certainly are better places to work at than are many of our State Universities and Colleges. I'm not so sure about whether they offer any advantage to people in our research labs, though.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

When you donate 5 million dollars to your alma mater ...

... you get to be called an "old boy" by ToI and its reporter who, in this case, is Hemali Chhapia.

It's really appalling that they applied this description for someone -- Dr. Romesh Wadhwani, an IIT-B alumnus and founder of the Symphony Group -- who graduated way back in 1969!

And, no, it's not a quote from someone else (if it was, the report should have mentioned it clearly); it's right there in the opening paragraph.

The Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) has received one of its largest private donations from an old boy in New York.

At an alumni gathering in the Big Apple, Romesh Wadhwani, founder of the Symphony Group, gifted his alma mater a purse of $5 million (about Rs 22 crore) to set up a research centre in the area of bio-sciences.

"The lab will work in the area of research in bio-sciences and bio-engineering," IIT-B director Ashok Misra t old TOI from New York. Details of the centre's focus areas will be worked out after discussions between Wadhwani and the bio-sciences faculty.

IIT-B deputy director Juzer Vasi said the centre would work closely with the six-year-old bio-sciences school on the campus.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

xkcd's version of the Sokal affair

Here. (Here's the Wikipedia entry on the Sokal affair).

While on xkcd, here's a good one on how age affects mathematical ability.

BTW, have you checked out the xkcd cartoons on purity of scientific fields, and Mark Pilgrim's response to it?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Jeffrey Frankel's version of "There are no atheists in foxholes"

He comes up with a good one:

There are no libertarians in financial crises.

* * *

Here's an example from sometime ago.

It's raining IITs

The Cabinet ... approved creation of 30 faculty posts per year in the first three years of establishment of each of the new IITs, besides approving the posts of a director and registrar. A decision was also taken to raise the grade of all existing IIT directors to Rs 26,000 (fixed) from Rs 25,000 now.

It's official! The creation of eight new IITs is a done deal; they are going to be in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Punjab, Orissa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh. The first six will start their academic session this year itself, while the last two will start in 2009-10.

* * *

In a much awaited development, the Cabinet also approved the conversion of the Institute of Technology at the Banaras Hindu University (IT-BHU) into an IIT. I don't know what the official abbreviation of this IIT is, but Sanjay Dani, an IT-BHU alumnus, created a Facebook group for IIT-Varanasi -- two weeks ago! (And I ended up becoming the second member of this group ;-) It already has over 160 members.

Update: There's quite a bit of celebration over at the site. Animesh sounds a "cautiously optimistic" note, though:

Sadly, I have been badly burnt multiple times on this, and would wait for the proverbial cup to get to the proverbial lip :).

Cautiously optimistic ...

* * *

Here's the press release from the Press Information Bureau.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lots of links ...

University of Chicago economist John List has a short overview of field experiments in economics [it may be behind a paywall]. It has a nice title: Homo experimentalis Evolves.

Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt: Your Brain Lies to You, a fine article on the "the quirky way in which our brains store memories — and mislead us along the way."

A great, Onion-worthy piece in the Improbable Research site: The Cingulate Cortex Does Everything [Link via Desi Pundit and this post by one of the authors]. The authors -- Gregory J. Gage, Hirak Parikh, Timothy C. Marzullo of the University of Michigan -- make a bold claim:

We predict that between 2050 and 2100, there will be more cingulate publications than there are cells in the cingulate cortex itself. At this point, we fear that the “Cingularity” will be reached, and the cingulate cortex will become self-aware.

A book to watch out for: The Scholars Without Borders blog alerts us about Reserved! How Parliament debated Reservations 1995-2007, a book by Rajeev Dhawan.

The Spring 2008 issue of The Greater Good magazine has a special section devoted to Play. A lot of good stuff about play and why children need it. There's also lot of other goodies in there, but this special section alone is worth more than a visit to their site.

* * *

Finally, given the recent troubles experienced by this humble, harmless blog, I could relate to the contents of Amit Agarwal's post: Know when your website gets banned or penalized by Google. In a follow-up post he tells us how to abjectly submit to appeal to the Google gods to re-consider their decision.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

China fact of the day

Just two Chinese universities -- Tsinghua and Peking -- accounted for over 1000 PhDs awarded in 2006 -- and here's the surprising bit -- by the US universities! These numbers place them at No. 1 and No. 2 in the pecking order, followed by Berkeley, Seoul National, Michigan, and Cornell.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Spending public money to help a foreign university

Now in its second year, Carnegie Mellon University’s branch campus in the South Australian city of Adelaide is facing renewed scrutiny.

Recent media reports in Australia revealed that the government in Australia has now spent $227,000 for every student enrolled at the nominally private institution, compared to around $14,500 for each student enrolled at any of the city’s other three established universities, with relatively little yet to show for the infusion of public funds.

Carnegie Mellon became Australia’s 40th university when it opened in May 2006 amid promises that its graduate-level programs in information technology, public policy and entertainment technology would improve the prospects of the country’s least-populous state refashioning itself as a regional higher-education hub in the spirit of a Singapore or Dubai. [...] [T]he state government contributed around $25 million to the operation’s start-up costs, including its new buildings in the city’s downtown area.

The full report is here.

Links ...

Aurelie Thiele on the salaries of French researchers.

ABC News: Why do women leave science careers?

Are the gender differences all that significant? Daisy Grewal has a post on the Gender Similarities Model:

... [G]ender differences in math and verbal ability overall are quite small. Moreover, gender differences in traits like assertiveness, self-esteem, and even height are also quite small.

The question is then, why do most of us believe so strongly in gender differences despite the evidence that shows they are minimal for most things? For one, overinflated claims of gender differences appeal more to our intuitions. They sell more magazines and newspapers. They make for interesting non-fiction book titles, and they allow researchers to publish papers that gain them scientific recognition. Perhaps we start out believing in gender differences and therefore see them wherever we look.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Book reviews ...

Guru on M.N. Srinivas's Religion and society among the Coorgs of South India.

Janet Stemwedel on Ethics for the real world: Creating a personal code to guide decisions in work and life by Ronald A. Howard and Clinton D. Korver.

Chandrahas on Mukul Kesavan's The ugliness of the Indian male and other propositions

Links ...

Glad to get some blogging time after a five-day visit to NIT-Trichy. But I have nothing substantial to write, so here are some links that have been sitting around on my browser.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Good news of the day: This blog does not pose a danger to your computer!

This blog has been liberated. It is no longer being flagged as an "attack site." Yay!

Thank you for all the helpful comments, folks.

As I said yesterday, I removed a couple of visitor stats scripts from the template. I forgot to mention that I had also requested the Google gods -- through their Webmaster tools -- to please, please, reconsider their adverse verdict. Yes, I was, like, totally abject.

Et VoilĂ ! This blog is no longer dangerous in their eyes.

Aside from the pieces of code I removed (I still don't know if they really caused this problem), people have suggested two other possible causes: some of the sites I this blog links to may be dishing out malware (sometime ago, ToI was thought to be one of them), or some reader might have filed a complaint. As I said, I still don't know why this problem cropped up, but I am certainly glad that it has gone away without my having to spend too much of my time.

Enough about my blogging travails. It's time to get back to real life ...

Friday, July 04, 2008

International Business Partnership!

Internet sites such as RentACoder and Kasamba provide an international marketplace connecting businesses in need of computer programming help with low-cost coders around the world.

But dishonest students have already seized on the outsourcing trend to avoid doing homework.

Typically, assignments are put out to tender on the internet sites and coders bid to complete them.

Students can pay anywhere from under $100 to several hundred dollars, depending on the amount of work required.

That's from Australia's The Age.

America's joyous future?

Supriya Raman catches a church notice that you all must check out ...

Trouble in Nanopolis! I need help ...

At least three people have alerted me (see the comments by Kartik and Subrahmanya) that Firefox 3.0 is flagging this blog as an 'attack site' -- you can use this site to check. My current browser (Firefox 2.0 running on linux), however, doesn't warn me about this problem, so this may be a special feature of Firefox 3.0.

This Google page is not particularly helpful in telling me where the real problem is, and what I can do to solve it.

What puzzles me is the timing: Why now? After all, I haven't touched my blog's template in a long time! So, why now?

In any case, I have taken some steps: I do have a bunch of javascript thingies in my blog's template, and all of them are related to this blog's visitor stats. Since I don't need so many of them, I have removed the pieces of code from 'Site Meter' and 'MyBlogLog'. I don't know if they were the culprit, but I don't think I'll miss them.

What remain are the javascript pieces from Google Analytics and FeedBurner, and since both of them are from the Google stable, I just hope that this problem will go away.

Needless to say, if you know of a more effective solution to this problem, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you -- either by e-mail or through your comments.

Many thanks in advance!

Leadership is ...

... so passé! At least, writing management tomes about it seems to be.

The new, new thing in pop management is Followership -- yes, with a big F! A recent book on this Important Topic leads to these Big, Potentially Life-Transforming Questions on Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge site:

... As a follower, what advice would you give to other followers wishing to have an impact on their jobs and organizations? As a leader, what do you do to foster good followership? Why isn't followership addressed by business school curricula along with leadership? Does it belong in a course of study? Or does this just run the risk of deteriorating into a discussion of how to manipulate your boss? What do you think?

Quick links ...

... to short, punchy posts.

Tabula Rasa on the amazing (and real) diversity in an American graduate school. While there, check out his advice on helmets.

Vinod Khare on IIT-K's nutty explanation for student suicides.

Prashant on his really cool great grandfather.

Amongla Imsong on what her students knew about the question: "Where Nagaland?"

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Phrase of the Day: "The Turban Effect"

A Muslim-style turban is perceived as a threat, according to a new study, even by people who don't realize they hold the prejudice, dubbed "the turban effect" by researchers.

Research volunteers played a computer game that showed apartment balconies on which different figures appeared, some wearing Muslim-style turbans or hijabs and others bare-headed. They were told to shoot at the targets carrying guns and spare those who were unarmed, with points awarded accordingly.

People were much more likely to shoot Muslim-looking characters - men or women - even if they were carrying an innocent item instead of a weapon, the researchers found.

More here. Many thanks to The Situationist for the pointer:

Freedom of the Press in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh

Two cases, and in one, the victim has managed to get comprehensive protection with the help of the Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday restrained the Narendra Modi government from arresting political analyst Ashis Nandy pursuant to registration of a case against him for writing an article, “Blame the middle class,” in a national newspaper.

A vacation Bench consisting of Justices Altamas Kabir and G.S. Singhvi also cancelled the summons issued by the inspector of the Satellite Police Station, Ahmedabad, seeking his appearance for interrogation on July 8. “Any further summons issued against Mr. Nandy in future relating to the case will stand quashed.”

In the other case, the government has used a law with a noble purpose (of preventing atrocities on Dalits and Adivasis) to gag journalists whose 'crime' appears to be one of airing their (negative) opinion of a political leader who happens to be a Dalit. The journalists are out on bail, but the case against them has not been withdrawn. In a must read post, Vivek Reddy summarizes the case, and shows how these arrests are illegal -- from not not just one, but four legal angles. Here's the first:

First, the State Government cannot invoke the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act merely because a member of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe is insulted or humiliated. It can only be invoked when a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe has been insulted or humiliated only on account of he being a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe. If he is insulted or humiliated for any other reason, then this Act is inapplicable. This is the settled legal position and any other contrary view would imply that members of Scheduled Castes are immune from all criticism and insult, even if it is justifiable. To illustrate, if the effigy of Chief Minister Mayawati (who is a member of Scheduled Caste) is burnt in protest against some action taken by her or speech given by her, the provisions of this Act cannot be invoked because she is not being insulted on account of her being a member of Scheduled Caste. In the present case, the effigy of Krishna Madiga was being burnt not on account of he being a member of Scheduled Caste, but rather in protest against attack on the newspaper offices by the organization headed by Krishna Madiga. The State Government’s action goes against the purpose of the Act.

Diversity in American universities: Fact and fiction

First the fiction. Sometime ago, Onion published a 'story' titled Black Guy Photoshopped In:

In the spirit of celebrating diversity at Iowa State University, a black guy was digitally added to the cover of the school's 2001 spring-semester course catalog, school officials announced Monday.

And, here's a fact:

... Black students made up an average of 7.9 percent of students at the colleges studied, but 12.4 percent of those in viewbooks. Asian students are also more likely to be found in viewbooks than on campus, making up 3.3 percent of real students on average and 5.1 percent of portrayed students. [...]

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Two stories in the NYTimes this past week, and both highlight the potential benefits of parasitic worms: their presence in the guts somehow seems to help people fight allergies -- including asthma. "Worm therapy" may take some time to get official approval, but the promising results from studies are already gaining attention:

Trial participants raved about their allergy symptoms disappearing. Word about the study soon appeared online among chronic allergy sufferers, and a Yahoo group on “helminthic therapy” sprung up. [...]

Now [Dr. David Pritchard] is recruiting patients for a larger-scale trial of the therapy, and he said he hoped to publish his results within the next year.

Some allergy sufferers cannot wait. The moderator of the Yahoo group, Jasper Lawrence, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has started a clinic in Mexico, to offer the unproven therapy (a basic worm “inoculation” costs $3,900).

Indian media pwned

I saw this on Rahul's blog yesterday, and he has all the links. The gullibility is quite amazing.

The people behind this prank call themselves the Pen Pricks. They plan to reveal more. So keep a watch on that blog.

Here's an excerpt from Siddharth Varadarajan's op-ed in the Hindu today:

The Telegraph ran the story on Monday under the headline “Goa piano ‘thief’ found to be Nazi war fugitive.” It quoted “Intelligence Bureau officials” saying that Mr. Bach had come to India via Argentina, Bulgaria and Canada. The story was accompanied by a world map showing how Mr. Bach crisscrossed the world before ending up in Goa. The word ‘unconfirmed’ was inserted parenthetically next to Yemen, suggesting that the newspaper had confirmed all other aspects of the story.

The Telegraph story -- along with the infographic! -- in question is NOT here. Since the story has been taken off the newspaper's website, I'll just have to redirect you to Churumuri, where you can feast your eyes on the infographic.