Friday, October 31, 2008

Idiot wind

What a classy response from Prof. Rashid Khalidi:

We did ask Mr. Khalidi whether he wanted to respond to the [McCain] campaign charges against him. He answered, via e-mail, that "I will stick to my policy of letting this idiot wind blow over."

I was unaware of the roots of the phrase 'idiot wind', until I found out, with some help from the internets, that it's a Bob Dylan song.

In other news, Francis 'The-End-of-History' Fukuyama is voting for Obama. On the other hand, Stephen Colbert has endorsed Obama (video), but he's not voting for him!

* * *

Update: WSJ's desi partner -- Mint -- joins other overseas business media such as The Economist and the Financial Times in endorsing Obama.

But why would Mint get into this endorsement game? Raju Narisetti, its editor, gives us his reasons.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lilavati's Daughters

Lilavati's Daughters: The Women Scientists of India is a collection of (auto)biographical essays of about 100 women scientists who have worked and are working in India. The name is drawn from The Lilavati, a twelfth century treatise in which the mathematician Bhaskaracharya addresses a number of problems to his daughter, Lilavati. Although legend has it that Lilavati never married, her intellectual legacy lives on in the form of her daughters - the women scientists of India.

Covering a range of disciplines in these essays about 100 Indian women scientists talk of what brought them to science, what kept their interest alive, and what has helped them achieve some measure of distinction in their careers. What makes a successful career in science possible for a woman? Many answers to this question can be found somewhere in the essays written by Lilavati's Daughters.

The book is directed towards the reading public. A young student with research ambitions will find this an important collection where she or he can learn firsthand of women who functioned and achieved their goals in the Indian social and academic environment. Others will also find the essays to be of value and interest for what they say. And as is often the case, also for what they do not say...

From the Press Release (pdf) issued by the Indian Academy of Sciences. This book will be released this Friday (31 October 2008) at IIT-D during the inaugural event of the Academy's annual meeting.

[The Academy's website says that the inspiration for this book is One Hundred Reasons to Be a Scientist (pdf), a collection of essays by leading scientists, and published by the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy. Given the inspiration, we may expect Lilavati's Daughters to be available online soon].

The Academy and IIT-D are also hosting a Symposium on Women in Science on Saturday (1 November 2008); a panel discussion on this topic will feature, among others, Dr. Vineeta Bal (National Institute of Immunology, Delhi), Prof. Saman Habib (Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow), Prof. Sujatha Ramdorai (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai), and Prof. Indira Nath (Blue Peter Research Centre, Lepra Society, Hyderabad) [see her interview at Nature Medicine].

The Academy's meetings are (usually) open to everyone. So, if this topic interests you, this Symposium should interest you too.

* * *

While on this topic, I should point you to Under the Microscope -- "Where Women and Science Connect" -- a social networking site for women in science and technology.

The site has a "Stories" section where members have answered the question, "What Got You Hooked on Science." The idea is similar to that of Lilavati's Daughters, but with all the contributions online already.

Thanks to Peggy at Women in Science for the pointer.

Quote of the Day

Maybe the most irrational tendency of them all is our belief that we are rational!
-- Dan Ariely

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Abstinence-only baby

From a series named "Trying Times": this one fits the topic well, but this one is hilarious. New Yorker rocks!

* * *

On the other hand, do you know how many ideas are generated by Onion's writers before they whittle them down to the eighteen that make it to the website every week?

Stayin' alive in the emergency room

Researchers say the Bee Gees song, from the 1977 hit movie “Saturday Night Fever,” offers almost the perfect pace for performing chest compressions on people who have had heart attacks. Emergency workers doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation are advised to press down on the chest 100 times a minute. “Stayin’ Alive” has 103 beats a minute.

That's from Eric Nagourney's report.

* * *

Audacity of Big Science: Also in today's Science section of the NYTimes, there's another story on a new, 2.7 billion dollar project that will track some 100,000 children from birth all the way up to their 21st birthday.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A desi libertarian party?

While searching for something else, Animesh finds an outfit called Jago Party which, from what appears on the first page, takes a hard line against "the corrupt and rapist" [Hang them!] and reservations [they "are only for trains!"]. When you take a look inside, you get economic libertarianism ["an ideal economic system should promote pursuit of self-interest by all individuals"] combined with an enthusiasm for a police state ["Death sentence for terrorism, corruption, murder & rape. Court judgment in three months"].

Scary stuff!

But it didn't scare Animesh, who wrote to these folks about their free-market ideology, and gets into a spirited conversation over e-mail with one of the party functionaries. And he gets an invitation to join the party!

Here's a bad sign: Jago's a party in a hurry. Well before building a grassroots organization (with real work in the real world), it has gone ahead and fielded a bunch of candidates in the Rajasthan Assembly elections. It reminds me of two other parties which have gone nowhere (or self-destructed) after making a splash in their early days. Going by these sad precedents, I expect Jago will not survive with its present extremist orientation for more than two years.

Links: US elections edition

  1. Anant wonders what's with the Indian blogosphere and the US election.

  2. Pipa wants Sarah Palin to read Alison Davis's article: Fruit Fly Research Illuminates Human Health (2000).

  3. Jane Mayer: The Insiders: How John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin.

  4. Rahul catches a great video: Obama-McCain dance-off.

  5. Lekhni on the Presidential Elections: "And then I wonder / if this is how he is now / when he is not even a citizen / how much worse / it would be when he / actually gets to vote?"

Bonus: George W. Bush endorses John McCain and Sarah Palin. On Saturday Night Live! Watch it:

Indian Science Congress: A waste of time?

Over at Lab Rats, Mint science reporter Jacob Koshy asks: Is the Indian Science Congress "a waste of time"? He links to this Indian Express story which quotes Prof. C.N.R. Rao (Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister) as saying, "“I am sorry to say so but the Science Congress has become more of a mela. ... I have become frustrated with it. I have my research to attend to and decided to stay away.”

I have never been to the ISC, but I know a few people who have. Here are some impressions (please add your perspectives in the comments):

  1. ISC lacks focus. Take, for example, ISC-2008 [pdf] held in Visakhapatnam. Its scientific agenda runs from transport systems to traditional and complimentary [sic] medicine to nanotechnology to linkages with social sciences to training the trainers. With such a broad coverage, you are lucky to find a few scientists whose work is of some relevance to yours. When travel money is so scarce, you would rather go to more focused conferences in your own field.

  2. It lacks focus in other ways, too. It tries to serve too many constituencies: politicians, researchers, college teachers, school teachers, and all kinds of students (graduate, undergraduate, high school, and in some cases, even primary school). I'm not even including journalists and the general public. There's no way it can please everyone; I get the impression that it manages piss everyone off!

  3. Since the Prime Minister attends this event (and makes a keynote speech), it attracts a whole bunch of science administrators and politicians. Their presence, in turn, attracts a bigger bunch of toadies people whose primary interest is in being seen in the company of biggies at the ISC. Science gets sidelined.

  4. ISC does have a few scientifically focused sessions, put together by leading scientists who lean on their friends to come and present their work. But these sessions are a sideshow.

  5. All of which are different ways of saying ISC privileges politicians -- of the regular kind and of the science kind -- over scientists and science. The conference organizers' primary interest is in pleasing the former. In the process, scientists get slighted -- for example, their lectures take place not in the posh plenary auditorium, but in shabby halls with poor audiovisual facilities -- and come away with strong feelings of disgust.

ISC does serve a useful function: ceremony and celebration. It's a platform for recognizing scientists through awards and prizes. But even this crucial function is not being done well. Consider, for example, the India Science Prize, which is like a science Bharat Ratna with cash. Given the prestige associated with it, you might think that this Prize would be taken seriously. Well, you would be wrong: the first Prize went to Prof. C.N.R. Rao in 2004; and then, um, it went into a coma!

Bottomline: It's true that many serious scientists avoid going to the ISC. Even those who do go, do so because of pressure from administrators or because they are among the prize-winners. Over the years, I think even the politicians have caught on to the growing irrelevance of the ISC; the PM's participation appears half-hearted. I cannot recall any major science policy speech made at the ISC in the past decade.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Links ...

  1. Michael Nielsen looks at the most remarkable graph in the history of sport to show why Don Bradman is so truly, so fantastically special. Here's something from the comments thread:

    Bradman was famously interviewed in 1980, and asked how he thought he’d perform against contempoary opposition.

    “Oh, I reckon I’d average 50 or 60″, he replied.

    “But you averaged nearly a hundred in your career, and you played against some of the best bowlers in history!” said the reporter.

    “Yeah,” said Bradman, “But you’ve got to remember I’m 72 years old now.”

    Nielsen has another interesting post on the pre-history of the World Wide Web:

    "Berners-Lee didn’t succeed because CERN was doing fundamental research. He succeeded in spite of it."

  2. Rahul has a wonderful tribute to his doctoral thesis adviser, Prof. Sriram Sastry, who has won the 2009 2009 Lars Onsager Prize awarded by the American Physical Society.

  3. Malcolm Gladwell on University of Chicago economist David Galenson's work on two kinds of genius: Why do we equate genius with precocity?

  4. John Hawks on the utility of theoretical models in biology, excerpting six key ideas from a book by Peter Turchin.

  5. Doug Natelson: What's interesting about condensed matter physics?

  6. Sunil Mukhi, his father, and a budding passion for rock and roll.

  7. Finally, a wicked cartoon from XKCD.

Fun links ...

Perils of Web 2.0: Virtual hubby gets murdered in Second Life. [via Fabio Rojas].

Very quick advice for students applying to graduate school.

Gawker on a guy in New York "who ... [managed] to cultivate the Hindu God Ganesha in his backyard."

From the folks who gave us this novel and funny version of "12 Days of Christmas" two yeas ago, we now get Single girls, single girls set to the tune of "Jingle bells, jingle bells." While not novel (by definition), it's also not as funny as the first one. [Link via Neha].

* * *

At some level, it could be a bit of fun to watch an Ayn Rand worshipper squirm -- during Congressional testimony, no less! But, on balance, I think disgust overwhelms shadenfreude.

* * *

On the other hand, this (in praise of white racism, by Ta-Nehisi Coates), and this (on the socialist conspiracy to destroy capitalism, by Barbara Ehrenreich; via Cosma Shalizi and Henry Farrell) are great fun.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Links ...

  1. Doctorate degree at the age of 91. Wow!

  2. Kenneth Chang: Man Who Set Stage for a Nobel Now Lives a Life Outside Science [Thanks to Pipa for the link].

  3. Dan Ariely: Who enjoys humor more? conservatives or liberals?. Here's one of the jokes used in this academic study:

    Husband: When I get mad at you, you never fight back. How do you control your anger?

    Wife: I clean the toilet bowl.

    Husband: How does that help?

    Wife: I use your toothbrush.

  4. Michael North: Oxbridge interviews: expect the unexpected. Don't be fazed by weird questions - they're there for a reason. [Her's an example: "Would you rather be a novel or a poem?"]

  5. Blue: Phone-banking for Obama: The undecided voter.

Monday, October 20, 2008

PanIIT-2008: One day conference on Women in Science and Technology

Women in Science and Technology (WIST) is the title of a day-long event at the PanIIT-2008 this December. [Thanks to Prof. Neelima Gupte, Department of Physics at IIT-M, for the alert].

I knew about a session devoted to attracting women to technical fields (and I did mention this in passing in a previous post), but I was unaware that the session is a part of a bigger event that's going to run for an entire day.

Prof. Gupte and her colleagues have lined up a very impressive list of speakers. I was very happy to see quite a few familiar names in the list: Prof. Rohini Godbole (High Energy Physics, IISc), Prof. Chanda J. Jog (Physics and Astronomy, IISc), Prof. Rama Govindarajan (Engineering Mechanics, JNCASR), Prof. Shobhana Narasimhan (Theoretical Sciences, JNCASR), and Prof. Charusita Chakravarty (Chemistry, IITD).

* * *

Interestingly, a part of the day-long event will be devoted to under-representation of women in the IITs among both students and faculty. As it happens, I have expressed my strongly held view that JEE has a bias against women. Very briefly, here's the argument: even though women do as well as (or even better than) men in higher secondary exams, they don't manage to get through JEE in large numbres. This is because JEE's so freaking tough that it requires intensive coaching to which women do not have easy access. For example, the famed Bansal classes in Kota, Rajasthan, has a student body in which women form just 13 percent. Thus, I don't expect any improvement in women's enrollment in the IITs unless JEE's goal is re-oriented towards standardizing across India's school education boards.

* * *

Coming back to WIST, the program looks very promising. It'll be great if someone could blog about these events. If you are attending but don't wish to blog about it, perhaps you could e-mail me with your report, views and/or impressions?

Colin Powell redeems himself

Some 5+ years after mouthing all those lies to the world (at least to the UN) for a horrible war in Iraq, Colin Powell redeems himself. Not (just) because he endorses Barack Obama, but because of this:

I'm also troubled by, not what Sen. McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said, such things as, "Well, you that know Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is: What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

Lessig calls his monologue "the most important, most profound, more powerfully argued 7 minutes of this campaign."

Quite a few bloggers that I respect have picked up on this already: Rahul, Swarup, and Dilip.

Immediately after he said the stuff quoted above, Powell talks about a picture that he saw in a recent photo essay. You can see that picture here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Let me be frank: In the blogospheric comments about Paul Krugman's Nobel, this made me wince:

Who are the big losers? Avinash Dixit and Elhanan Helpman and Maurice Obstfeld have to feel their chances for the prize went down significantly. [Bold emphasis added by me]

And this one, too:

Krugman wins Nobel, 2 desis lose it. [Bold emphasis added by me]

Avinash Dixit is one of the two desis (Jagdish Bhagwati is the other).

Now, go read this enthusiastic, warm, and very classy tribute by Avinash Dixit, Krugman's colleague at Princeton and current President of the American Economic Asoociation:

I concluded my appreciation of Paul Krugman’s research on the occasion of his winning the Clark Medal by saying: “I am sure the Clark Medal is but one milestone of many to come in his career.” Now I can write this short article of continued appreciation on the occasion of his winning the Nobel Prize with the confidence and delight of a man whose forecast has come true.

The main new theme in Paul Krugman’s scientific contributions since the Clark Medal is of course the fulfilment of what was then a promising start of research on economic geography. This work has now transformed that subject from a somewhat arcane sideline into a flourishing research field.

Here's another quote from Dixit's post:

Krugman was the undisputed leader of the group that took on this task. To quote and paraphrase Stephen Jay Gould (The Flamingo’s Smile, pp. 335, 345), Krugman has won his just reputation because he grasped the full implication of the ideas that predecessors had expressed with little appreciation of their revolutionary power. [...]

And, another:

...[M]y delight at the recognition of the scientific achievements of this friend and colleague of over three decades is great. In fact it is doubled by the joy of my having played a part in creating the tools that are proving their worth – models of monopolistic competition and product diversity, and of entry deterrence.

Avinash Dixit may not have won a Nobel. But he's got great grace, style and class! Too bad there's no Nobel for these wonderful qualities.

* * *

The Sepia Mutiny post has an update on Jagdish Bhagwati -- the other desi who it claimed lost the Nobel. Here's he is, in NYTimes:

“Lots of people are saying to me, ‘Why didn’t you get it?’” said Jagdish Bhagwati, an economics professor at Columbia who helped Mr. Krugman publish one of his seminal papers when other academics thought it was too simple to be true. “Given the fact that I didn’t get it, this is the next best thing.”

* * *

This (not winning = losing) equation may work in sports where winning and losing depends directly on your own moves, and your own counter-moves against your opponent's moves. In the context of a prize, it just doesn't make sense, because the prize depends not just on what you do on the field, but (really) on the perceptions of a bunch of dudes and dudettes about your work's worth and importance. I have seen a lot of (real) losers who perceive an intentional insult when a jury selects someone else for a prize/award they covet. These people have a lot to learn from Prof. Avinash Dixit.

Restructuring UG programs in the sciences

The three science academies of the country have issued a position paper entitled Restructuring Post-School Science Teaching Programmes (pdf, 770 kB). The most far-reaching, and definitely the most important among its recommendations is the creation of a four-year BS program in the sciences. In fact, the paper follows up on the discussion meeting in May 2008 on this very topic.

But there are several other recommendations as well, which explicitly take into account the need for diverse and flexible undergraduate programs in science. Thus, the paper recommends retaining the current 3-year BSc + 2-year MSc model, but suggests that "these courses ... be restructured to provide integrated learning, rather than making the students specialise too early." It also has two other new and noteworthy recommendations which will provide interesting options for 3-year BSc graduates: (a) a 2-year professional degree (BTech) option, and (b) vocational courses in such job-oriented fields such as bio-medical lab techniques and computer applications.

The BTech option is a rehash of a program that IISc used to run up until the late sixties! [Interestingly, this program was converted into a 3-year BE degree program, which was replaced with a 4-yaer 'integrated' ME program, which died in 2000!]

I guess the target audience of this position paper is the UGC. But can UGC take a decision as important as the creation of a 4-year BS program (which, presumably, will be taught, at least in the beginning, in IISERs and Central universities) just in the sciences? Wouldn't it want to extend this program to humanities and social sciences?

Let me end this post with an excerpt that highlights the limitations of the current system, and articulates the need for a new regime:

The rigid bifurcation insisted upon at the first non-professional science degree course (B.Sc.), is severely limiting the competence of our country’s science graduates in the current global scenario of interdisciplinarity. An extreme of this compartmentalized education is the introduction of specialized courses like those in biotechnology, genetics, bioinformatics, nanotechnology etc., at B.Sc. level. In most of these programmes, the students hardly learn the basic science part and thus remain incompetent for basic as well as technological applications.

It is clear that the contemporary cutting edge questions in life sciences cannot be solved without knowing the concepts, tools and techniques employed by professional physicists and chemists and without developing adequate computational and mathematical skills. It becomes extremely difficult to demarcate specific subject boundaries in many emerging areas of science and technology, like those in smart materials, nanomaterials, micro (molecular) electronics, biotechnologies, biosensors, etc,. More broadly, it is difficult to distinguish between electronics and physics, materials science and chemistry, and between biology and biomaterials. Without understanding the basics of one field, it is no longer possible to exploit the possibilities offered by another. One of the major reasons for the relative poor innovative R&D activity in the country indeed is the lack of in-depth interdisciplinary teaching and the required level of flexibility in moving from one discipline to another.

Thanks to my colleague Prof. Ranganathan for alerting me about the position paper.

Links: Desi Academics Edition

  1. Shilpa Phadke: Indian Feminism 101. A great response to some seriously lazy reporting in IHT.

  2. Vikram Garg: The College Culture of the United States and India: Part 1.

  3. Suvrat Kher: Indian Geosciences And Thoughts On Bengali Geologists.

  4. Mekiea: Chandrayaan - Mineral Mapping of the Moon.

  5. Sunil Laxman: Life in the center of the earth (almost) .

  6. Arunn Narasimhan: Notes on using LaTeX for Blogging.

  7. Ashutosh Jogalekar: The Unbearable Heat Capacity of Being.

  8. Sri: Musings on Higher Education - I : The Role of Higher Education in Civilized Societies and II : Exams, Benchmarking and Mechanism Design.

  9. Animesh Pathak: : F**k me, I Have a PhD!

Bonus link, especially for those of you at or from IISc: Slogan Murugan has a great photograph from the 'Circle' Mariamma Temple. His 'slogan' for the photograph is even better! Thanks to FĂ«anor for the link.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Economist-blogger's Nobel

American progressives' happiness about Paul Krugman's Nobel is as strong as the unhappiness (and probably deep funk) of conservatives. Which has led to a fun contest which is now open for voting.

* * *

Krugman himself has a couple of light-hearted posts. The first one announced the award with a one-liner: "A funny thing happened to me this morning ..." And the second one linked to a fun piece by Andy Borowitz.

He also has a post explaining his Nobel-winning pieces of work in plain English.

* * *

Fellow econ-bloggers have been quite effusive in their appreciation/praise:

  1. Marginal Revolution: Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok

  2. Ed Glaeser: Honoring Paul Krugman

  3. Dani Rodrik: Four Cheers for Paul Krugman

  4. Crooked Timber: John Quiggin and Daniel Davies.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Kili Josiyam goes, but Sampoorna woman stays

Well, that's the gist of the changes in the PanIIT-2008 'Spouses Program'. Here's a pseudonymous reader's comment that alerted me about the small concession by the PanIIT-2008 organizers :

His Grey Eminence said:

I looked today (Oct.14) at the offending 'Especially for Women' section on the PanIIT2008 website, and if I'm not much mistaken, the following things are missing from it:

  1. Astrology
  2. Kili jotsyam
  3. Shilpa Shetty

However, I notice that H. Malini is still supremely Sampoorna, and all spouses are still female-only-please.

Small mercies. But a step in the right direction.

Small mercies, indeed.

So the letters from IITians (two of which were reproduced in this blog), blog posts (here, here, here, here and here) and a news story have had some -- but only some -- effect: PanIIT-2008 organizers have chosen to move from complete idiocy to a partial one.

As the commenter points out, there is still this underlying assumption that all the spouses of PanIIT-2008 delegates are women who need lessons from Hema Malini on what makes a complete woman.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Manoj Mitta on JEE-2008 madness

I think I have said before that the more I learn about JEE, the more convinced I am that it's a bad exam. The latest detail, which you will find in the graphics accompanying the latest ToI story by Manoj Mitta, is about the marks corresponding to the 80th percentile in each exam. Here are the data for the last three years:

Year   Maths   Physics   Chemistry

Remember, these marks are out of 160 (or so); in other words, in 2008, someone at the 80th percentile in any of the three would have got a score of less than 20 percent!

Just mull over it a bit: 80th percentile corresponds to a mere 20 percent in each exam.

Now, we also know that the 20th percentile in 2008 corresponded to just 5, 0 and 3 marks in math, physics and chemistry, respectively; this low score was the cut-off used as a first filter. This implies that the middle three quintiles -- 20th to 80th percentile, representing about 180,000 people! -- are squished in the range of 0 to 20 percent!

Now, this sort of stuff would not matter (much) if the exam didn't care about those outside of the top quintile in each exam (Mitta says that using this filter across all three exams would still leave some 24,000 students!). But the IITs are not doing that. For some strange reason, since JEE-2006, the IITs have been using a procedure that plumbs the very crowded middle three quintiles.

When you have a procedure that makes you fish in this very crowded pool, you are not running an entrance exam, you are running a lottery.

[How bad is this lottery-like situation? We know some data on this question, thanks to Charu Sudan Kasturi's report in the Telegraph: practically every sixth rank-holder in JEE-2006 wouldn't be there if the IITs had chosen a different procedure. And in the rank range of 2000 to 5500, it's every fourth candidate who won the lottery that year!]

* * *

I believe the IITs are first rate institutions that insist on using a third rate entrance exam / procedure. Their entrance exam doesn't aspire to any statistical validity, nor to any reproducibility (and we knew that). They invest the rank order produced by such a flawed exam with a sanctity it just does not deserve.

In short, they have let JEE become a war between the IITs and coaching centres. And, in the process, they have taken their eyes off the primary purpose of JEE: to select the right kind of students -- bright, fresh (at the least, not burnt out!), and from diverse backgrounds.

Indian institutions in THE/QS lists

Via India, we have a bit more info:

University    2008 Rank    2007 Rank
IIT-D 154 307
IIT-B 174 269
IIT-K 242 401-500
Delhi U 274 254
IIT-M 303 401-500

The rankings website has announced subject-wise lists as well.

The technology list features all the five original IITs in the top 100. Bombay leads off at 36, followed by Delhi (42), Kanpur (70), Madras (74) and Kharagpur (83).

Here's something that surprised me: While IIT-B, the top Indian technology institution in THE/QS, has a composite score of 49.9, IIT-KGP (the last of the IITs in the same list) comes in with about 30 percent less at 34.5. Remember, these are normalized scores, wherein the top institution (MIT, in this case) has a perfect score of 100. I wonder what this means, though: Is IIT-B about 'half as good as MIT', but IIT-KGP is only 'a third as good'?

In the top 100 in the natural sciences, only IIT-B figures at 77. The lists for both life sciences and biomedicine and social sciences have only one Indian university: Delhi University at 95 and 82, respectively. No Indian university figures in the top 100 for arts and humanities.

Here's something interesting: IIT-B figures in two top 100 lists, while IIT-D figures in only one of them. In the list that has both, IIT-B is ahead of IIT-D. But in the overall list, Delhi outranks Bombay!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

IISc at Roorkee?

Well, Roorkee -- Rurki at the turn of the previous century -- was the other option that was seriously considered by a committee, before Bangalore clinched IISc with some strong help from the Mysore royal family which offered land and grants.

In a follow-up on his Outlook story last week, Sugata Srinivasaraju reports on an interesting phase in IISc's prehistory.

As the IISc completes its 100 years, we have naturalised its place in the geography of Bangalore. We assume that it was meant to be born in Bangalore and it was planned for Bangalore. IISc as part of Bangalore is perfectly integrated in our memory and mindscape. But the papers in the institute's archives put out a different story. Way back then, Bangalore had to actually compete with Roorkee or 'Rurki' to get the institute. Roorkee by then already had the first engineering college in the sub-continent -- the Thomason College of Civil Engineering. It was in fact the first temple of technical education in all of Asia [...]

India's first rail locomotive ran between Roorkee and Kaliyar at the time and the first irrigation works in north India had begun in the city.

Compared to this, Bangalore at that time was quite literally a city of 'boiled beans' (Bendakaluru). All its reputation came from either its proximity to Madras (now Chennai) or Mysore, the capital of the visionary Wodeyar kings.

Happy Birthday, Outlook!

Outlook, one of my favorite newsmagazines, is celebrating its 13th birthday in its latest issue, with a lead-off essay by Mukul Kesavan. Here's an excerpt where he talks about the spirit of the magazine:

... [T]he most interesting part of Outlook's persona ... is its commitment to a liberal and pluralist politics. Just as The Economist reports the world through a laissez faire lens, Outlook's sense of what's newsworthy in India is shaped by a peculiarly Indian take on secular fair play. Critics write that the magazine is politically skewed towards the Congress and against the BJP; if this is true, it's true only to the extent that the Congress conforms to the principles of a plural liberalism more closely than the BJP does or can. Is this unhealthy? Only if Outlook was the one newsmagazine on the stands.

But it isn't.There are other magazines that report the news differently, that give the State the benefit of the doubt, that try, in their reportage and their comment, to explain the logic of majoritarian politics, that report India in the language of 'realism' and realpolitik. Which leaves Outlook free to open its pages to diversity and dissent. For a newsmagazine to do a cover emblazoned with a Hindu swastika and a cover story exploring majoritarian bias, as Outlook did recently, is unusual. These first years of its life have seen the idea of a plural India contested, in office and out of it, as never before, by the Hindu right. What is remarkable is that in this uncongenial political climate, Outlook has built a large mainstream readership, thrived, and is now 13.

Vinod Mehta, Outlook's editor for all of its 13 years, reminisces about how two major scoops in the very first issue ensured a lot of free publicity.

[The first scoop was] an opinion poll in the Kashmir valley. (Organising the poll was a nightmare; insurgency was at its height. Most Kashmiri Muslims took the surveyors for IB men!) The headline on the cover was authentic and revealing: "77 per cent say no solution within Indian Constitution".

This was explosive stuff in pre-Arundhati Roy days.Back then, the notion of azadi amounted to secession, the break-up of India. It was not just anti-national, it was sedition, it was facilitating the dismantling of secular India. Not surprisingly, Mr Bal Thackeray's men began burning copies in Mumbai, demanding that I be put behind bars. The upside was that we were on the front pages of every paper. You couldn't buy that kind of publicity for love or money.

If bad luck comes in pairs, so does good fortune. [...]

$531 trillion

That's the size of the derivatives market. It was a 'mere' $106 trillion in 2002. [source]

For an explanation of the hugeness of this market, try Robert Feinman's post (see also this cartoon).


That's the number of deaths due to road accidents in India last year [source, via Chris Blattman]. For China, this number was 90,000.

I'm not sure how believable these numbers are, as they appear in the same report that goes on to quote someone -- without offering any qualifier -- that "In Delhi there are 110 million traffic violations a day." A day? 110 million violations?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Numerical Sex Positions

XKCD presents: A Guide to Numerical Sex Positions.

* * *

On a totally unrelated note, but still sticking with XKCD: these two recent log-scale comics are as fantastic as they are geekilicious.

* * *

You have heard about XKCD's recent contribution to internet innovation, haven't you? [Thanks to Animesh for the e-mail pointer.]

Atanu Dey's message for IIT graduates

It's a pity he isn't one of the featured speakers at the PanIIT-2008. Here's his message to the PanIIT delegates:

Dear Fellow IITians:

[snip] ... We have all fed at the trough of public largesse. We’ve sucked at the teat of involuntary public generosity. We, the select, the few — our fancy education was funded by denying a very large number of the really poor the opportunity to even get a basic education.

So my precious sweeties, don’t you think that it is time that you actually paid the full cost of your education now that you can? Should we not today, now, here, at this very convention — and a very nice convention it is — decide that every one of the fortunate 300,000 should contribute at least the full amount spent on us for a fund which will do for others what was done for us?

Let me make the promise of paying Rs 20 lakhs today into this fund — the IIT Graduates’ Gift of Gratitude Fund (IITGGGF) — to be used for the future generations of IITians. I don’t have that cash lying around in my checking account but I am sure that I can get a bank loan today and pay back that amount I owe.

In other words, put up or shut up, my preciouses.

Thanks and may you all have a wonderful time congratulating each other on how wonderful you all are.

Quote of the Day - II (And Another Link)

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Perhaps, then, there are also no libertarians in financial crises.
-- Jeff Frankel.

The link is to this Crooked Timber post commenting on Alan Greenspan's views on the current financial crisis-meltdown and on what needs to be done.

Quote of the day (and a link)

I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.
-- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

I found the quote from this Tom Friedman column on Sarah Palin's assertion that "in the middle class of America, ... that [higher taxes or asking for higher taxes or paying higher taxes] is not patriotic."

[Aside: The Wikiquotes version reads, "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."]

Anyway, I wanted to use this quote to link to this Freudian Slips post about an important lesson any taxman or taxwoman must learn -- the earlier the better:

... [Y]es, that one file taught me that honest taxpayers are not a realm of fiction. They exist. I may not come across them very frequently. But I should accept one when I come across.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

750,000 jobs and 250 billion dollars: Just where do these numbers come from?

If you pay any attention to the endless debates over intellectual property policy in the United States, you'll hear two numbers invoked over and over again, like the stuttering chorus of some Philip Glass opera: 750,000 and $200 to $250 billion. The first is the number of U.S. jobs supposedly lost to intellectual property theft; the second is the annual dollar cost of IP infringement to the U.S. economy. These statistics are brandished like a talisman each time Congress is asked to step up enforcement to protect the ever-beleaguered U.S. content industry. And both, as far as an extended investigation by Ars Technica has been able to determine, are utterly bogus.

It took some serious sleuthing by Julian Sanchez who kept looking for where these numbers come from.

Ranking Systems Clearinghouse

The website of the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) has a section called Ranking Systems Clearinghouse to "provide a road map of this complex rankings landscape, offering annotated links to these national and international ranking systems and to research about rankings world-wide." [link via Inside Higher Ed].

It has tons of links to university rankings by many different kinds of organizations. For example, take a look at this page for international rankings of MBA and other professional programs.

THE/QS and ARWU rankings appear in this page devoted to international rankings. For national rankings, you might want to check out the pages for the US and India -- the latter seems so incomplete and meager!

THE-QS Rankings: IIT-D and IIT-B make it to the top 200

The league tables are here. IIT-D and IIT-B come in at 154 and 174 (moving up from 307 and 269, respectively).

These are massive jumps. Given that institutional changes take place over longer time scales, it's highly unlikely that they can be explained by things that IIT-D and IIT-B did in the last one year. Instead, the real reason lies in the difference in the methodology used in 2008 from that in 2007 [see below]. To the extent that the 2008 methodology is 'better' or 'more relevant', I think a fair conclusion is that India's top institutions are slowly getting the recognition that they have always deserved, but never quite got. Seen this way, their appearance in the top 200 is not the big news, but their omission from the previous lists is. Or, should be.

But I suspect that Indian media will not play this news in this way; they will probably highlight -- with ample support from the institutions themselves, and perhaps even the government (!) -- this or that initiative taken by the institutions (and the government), and cite them as the reason for the rank improvement.

What are the changes in the methodology? As of now, this page on the methodology does not explain what has changed between 2007 and 2008 that could tell us a bit more about the reasons behind the churn. But there are people -- Richard Holmes (at the University Rankings Watch blog) and Eric Beerkens -- who've been keeping track of what THE / QS has been up to over the years, and we will definitely get more details in the days to come.

But we do have some initial clues about the changes:

This year there has been only one methodological change, namely the separation of the lists in the academic survey section into international and domestic sections and then their recombination. This would probably work against universities that receive a lot of votes from their own countries and might explain why Hong Kong, Peking and several Australian universities have fallen quite a bit.

Also, it is likely that the geographical spread of the academic and employer surveys has expanded and that this has benefitted universities in Latin America, Africa and India.


On the other hand, the National Autonomous University of Mexico has risen from 192nd to 150th, the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi from 307th to 154th and Chulalongkorn from 223rd to 166th.

THE/QS list for ranks 201-500 will appear sometime next week. We will then know the fate of other institutions -- including the Delhi University which was at 254 last year. Also, later this week, subject-wise rankings will be released. So, keep an eye on this site!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Site stats bleg

Some of you might recall that I removed a couple of pieces of javascript code when this blog started being flagged as an 'attack site' sometime ago. Sitemeter was one of them. Since I like some of its functionality, I have switched it back on. Gingerly.

Do you think I should be worried? If Sitemeter is not a safe option, then what is? [I already have Google Analytics.]

Thank you in advance for any help, suggestion, warning...

Links ...

  1. In the middle of meltdown-bailout-crisis-rescue, John Quiggin offers a couple of examples of historical irony.

  2. Nick Kristol: racism without the racists. I like Ta-Nehisi Coates's response (and this follow-up) better.

  3. Sean Carroll: The Presidential candidates as trains.

UGC Pay Revision Committee report: a correction

Prof. M. Giridhar, a colleague in the Department of Chemical Engineering, writes in to point out an error in my earlier post. The specific correction is about the Chadha Committee recommendation that the number of years that'll make one eligible for full pension be reduced to twenty.

Here's his e-mail:

In your blog, you mention, "Chadha committee has asked that it be reduced to 20 years (from the current X years; at IISc, I believe X = 28)."

It is not 28 but 33. If you join IISc with a Ph.D, it is reduced to 28. However, if you joined IISc as a staff/scientist (as many did at some time) and you did PhD along the way, it is 33 years. The recommendation to reduce the period to 20 years is not an output of the committee. It was recommended by the [Sixth Pay Commission] for all staff and it is generally to be accepted.

The recommendation to reduce the period to 20 years is not an output of the committee. It was recommended by the sixth pay comm for all staff and it is generally to be accepted. Yes, good people are likely to leave but it is better for good (but frustrated) people to leave the system than work with medicore people and not get recognized.

The other recommendations are not likely to be accepted in toto. For example, professors of eminence will get the same pay as VC. That is not likely to happen.

Further, your article gives an impression (see the comments on your article) that [an IISc professor] will get the same pay as [a professor at, say, the Bangalore University]. It is not [correct]. The highest pay a Bangalore Univ professpr can get is the associate professor scale of IISc.

The 1500 Rs per month that is proposed is also not new. It is an extension of Rs. 4000 per year we [at IISc] get every year.

I asked Giridhar if the recommendation about 20 years was accepted by the Central Government for its employees, and he said yes. He also pointed to pages 363-365 of the Sixth Pay Commission Report (caution: it's a pdf, and it's over 650 pages1) for an analysis of this recommendation.

Monday, October 06, 2008

PanIIT: Spouses program is too sacrosanct

Chandra Ranganathan of the Economic Times is the first MSM reporter off the block in covering the PanIIT-2008's spouses program that many have found offensive to women. Her report [no link, yet. I couldn't find it online e-paper version] covers expressions of disgust and disapproval from at least three people (including Prof. Priti Shankar, whose letter appeared here). More importantly for this post, she also has the first official reactions from Mr. B. Santhanam, Chair, PanIIT-2008:

... [Mr. Santhanam] pointed out that there were 30 tracks and it was not fair to just pick one.

"There will be 3000 IIT alumni and 300-5000 spouses who would attend. And 95 % of the spouses are women. Our spouses programme committee comprises women including a COO, entrepreneur and a homemaker," he said.

Coming from someone who works in private industry, this is really weird. Let's say your company releases an ad that comes under fire for its insensitivity to women. You wouldn't insist on running that ad, would you? You wouldn't be sitting around giving interviews about how that ad is just one of 30 others for that product, and about how a team that created it had three women. And, oh, about how some of your best friends are women.

There's this mundane possibility that B. Santhanam thinks it's okay to ignore protests from IIT-alumnae -- including the first woman EE graduate from IIT and the keynote speaker in the PanIIT-2008 session devoted to "attracting women faculty and girl students to technical education." [No, I'm not kidding, about the second one. Check it out for yourself.]

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe B. Santhanam and PanIIT folks -- all those wonderful inspirers, innovators, transformers, integrators, differentiators -- have some genuine reasons for not wanting to change the 'Spouses Program'. Here are some possibilities:

  1. Changing the website is too technical. Joomla can be sooo hard.

  2. 'Nadi' and 'Kili' astrologers will get angry, and put a curse on IITs' brand equity.

  3. All those metrosexual spouses of women IIT graduates need to get a life! What the hell are they doing here, anyway?

  4. Won't we end up offending IIT-M's resident practitioners of gemology and palmistry? There are so many of them on campus than women IIT graduates! What if they start a counter-protest?

  5. Ohmigosh, we have ordered so much mehendi! It'll all go waste!

  6. Shilpa Shetty is so much more gorgeous than Amartya Sen. And her yoga postures are better than his.

  7. Who does this Ludwig dude think he is -- a PanIIT astrologer?

  8. Spouses of IITians need Hemamalini's lecture-demo on what makes a complete woman.

Secret Lives

... [N]ot many know that the diminutive slender loris inhabits the canopy on [the Indian Institute of Scienc's] 450-acre campus or that partridge’s nest in its grassland, or that 12 snake species live in the undergrowth.

It is only fitting therefore that Ms. Mhatre should name her coffee table book on biodiversity in IISc. as “Secret Lives”.

The pictorial book [will] be released in December to coincide with the institute’s centenary celebrations ...

That's The HIndu's Divya Gandhi reporting on Secret Lives by Natasha Mhatre.

On her blog, Natasha has been updating us on her progress with the book. While waiting for her book, you can feast your eyes on her wonderful photographs; her pics that appear in her blog come with an added attraction: we get to know about her subjects' habitat, lifestyle, etc., through the accompanying commentary.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Interview of IISc Director Prof. P. Balaram

It's a reasonably wide-ranging interview, and it's by Sugata Srinivasaraju of Outlook (there's also an accompanying article, along with a list of famous people who have had an association with our Institute). The occasion, of course, is the Centenary of the Institute. [In the excerpts below, all the bold emphasis is from me]

There cannot be a better advertisement for the Institute than this:

I spent all my adult life in IISc. You can't find a better place to work. It has a wonderful ambience. People are free to do what they want. By and large the discourse here is gentle. Many many people in IISc are involved in their work. They like what they are doing. They are completely involved in it. They are happiest when they are pursuing their research. If more number of people are happy, their happiness contributes to the ambience of the place. An academic research institution is a wonderful place. However lowdown in the academic hierarchy, there is nobody telling you what to do. You are really in many ways marching to your own tune.

And about some of the new initiatives at IISc:

... [W]e would now like the institute to modernise in a major way. We have begun the process of modernising our laboratories. We want the next generation of researchers to be doing research in laboratory surroundings that are distinctly more competitive from what we have had till now. We are also investing in new areas. We are making investments in areas of nano electronics, nano science, and areas of biology. We are constructing new buildings for the aersopace and physics departments. We are also putting into motion programmes that will bring many more international scientists to come and work here for reasonable periods. We want to increase international presence here and make it more heterogeneous. And we would like to expand in some other areas too. We are looking at the possibility of creating an inter-disciplinary research centre where we hope biologists, physicists, computer scientists, electronics and electrical engineers and people from other fields would all work together on some important problem of great practical use. One area that has been identified is energy and materials. Also synthetic chemistry. Last year, we created a centre for earth sciences and are in the process of creating a centre for neuroscience. My personal hope is that we should be able to expand the component of bio-medical research. Another programme that is still being talked about is if we should actually create an undergraduate programme as a bridge between science and engineering and try to create a unique programme that is not available elsewhere.

About the prospects for humanities and social sciences in the Institute:

Every place which is devoted predominantly to science and technology would vastly benefit by having a small section that dealt with humanities and social sciences. In fact, the setting up of the archives at the institute is itself an attempt to hope some historians of science would come and spend time here. We started a centre for contemporary studies sometime ago to bridge this gap, but these are still small efforts. I hope we will be able to do more.

Legacy and Output Metrics for Ranking Universities

Ponderer does the hard work of separating the metrics that measure current output from those that reward past achievements (Nobels, for example) in the ARWU rankings in natural sciences and mathematics [We had a nice discussion of ARWU here; my own views about ARWU are here]. He reports some very interesting findings:

perhaps not surprising to see Berkeley, Caltech, Harvard, Princeton, MIT on top - I believe that almost no matter how the rankings are conducted, those will be at the top. It is more interesting to see who follows the top 10.

Tokyo is a first outlier - gets a huge boost - only 34 in "Legacy", but 6th based on publication metrics.

Then we have a series of state schools: UCLA, Maryland, Colorado, Washington, Wisconsin, UCSD, Michigan, UCSB and Minnesota - all make top 20 based on output, despite being outside top 20 (except Colorado) based on legacy.

Ivies Cornell, Yale and U. Penn are much lower in this list than they typically appear in US News and other rankings. ...

Do US colleges really need the SAT?

A stunning new report has urged US colleges and universities to study for themselves to check whether they really needed the SAT and the ACT. The fact that this report was authored by a commission headed by Harvard's dean of admissions, William R. Fitzsimmons, gave it a lot of legitimacy and visibility.

  1. Inside Higher Ed: Dramatic Challenge to SAT and ACT.

  2. Inside Higher Ed: After the SAT Report, What Next?

  3. NYTimes: Study of Standardized Admissions Tests Is Big Draw at College Conference

Let me quote from the NYTimes report:

... [Fitzsimmons] also affirmed what many of those present had been saying for years: that the SAT and other standardized admissions tests are “incredibly imprecise” when it comes to measuring academic ability and how well students will perform in college. He said colleges and universities needed to do much more research into how well the tests predict success at their individual institutions.

Links ...

  1. Rahul Siddharthan: Crony capitalism, Tata style.

  2. Rahul Basu: Blasts and Arrests and How low can a 'national' party sink.

  3. Sunil Mukhi: "If America can outsource, so can Heaven!"

  4. Gmail Blog: Tip: Read your mail without touching your mouse.

  5. Boston Globe: Ig Nobel prizes celebrate a different kind of science [via Swarup].

UGC pay revision: some observations

Just a quick follow-up on the last post.

  1. In a clear case of grade inflation, universities and colleges will now use the more standard designations of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and Professor. In the process, the designations of lecturer and reader are being dumped.

    Why is this grade inflation? A lecturer (who will now be called assistant professor) at a college need not have a PhD; a masters degree will do. Heck, in engineering colleges, even a bachelors degree will do.

  2. However, I have no problem with this scheme. I think it's a good way to standardize across all institutions of higher education, so that eventually, they will all have similar norms for their fresh recruits.

  3. But the Chadha committee has muddied things by creating several sub-divisions within each designation: thus you have at least three different kinds of assistant professors: normal, senior and selection grade! Similarly, professors come in three flavours: normal, senior and 'of eminence'. Thus there are a total of eight levels, which implies that a faculty member may expect to go through a promotion-related exercise -- with all its associated pressures -- every four years or so. Which seems quite pointless to me.

  4. Finally, I noted in the previous post that someone with an ME or MTech degree will start with a salary of about Rs. 29,000 per month. If you add the house rent allowance (about 6,000 in a big city) and transport allowance (Rs. 3,200), the total salary will go up to Rs. 38,000.

    The implications of this for a fresh recruit at an IIT would be interesting to ponder. Since he/she would have a PhD and several years of post-doc experience, I would guess that he/she can expect a bare salary of about Rs. 40,000 per month (as opposed to the current bare salary of about Rs. 25,000). If the person chooses to stay off-campus, he/she will also get house rent and transport allowances, bringing the gross salary to close to Rs. 50,000.

    [Caution: All this is speculation. A couple of unknowns: UGC itself is yet to take a decision on the new salary structures. Further, IITs will have to wait for the Goverdhan Mehta committee to finish its job, and we don't know what that committee is going to recommend!]

What do you think: Is Rs. 50,000 per month an attractive salary? Sure, it's more attractive than Rs. 30,000 a month. The question is: if you wouldn't consider an IIT faculty position for Rs. 30,000, would the new salary make you change your mind?

Bonanza for university and college teachers?

The Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, adapted for university and college teachers, have just been released by the UGC Pay Revision Committee (PRC) headed by JNU Vice Chancellor Prof. G.K. Chadha. this press release has an extended summary. If everything goes well, university and college teachers will start enjoying their new, enhanced salaries from November.

[Another such committee, headed by IISc's ex-Director Prof. Goverdhan Mehta is looking into pay revision for faculty members at IITs, IIMs, IISc, and other such institutions; it has been asked to submit its report within three months.]

The newspaper headlines point to a (minimum of) 70 percent increase in faculty salaries at all levels. Let me check if this is correct, using university professors as an example.

As some of you may be aware, university professors start at a basic salary of 16,400 (which is what associate professors in IISc, IITs and IIMs start at). In January of 2006, including the dearness allowance (which accounts for inflation), the bare salary (without other allowances, such as house rent subsidy, city dwellers' subsidy, etc) was about Rs. 30,000.

According to the Chadha commirtee recommendations, university professors would start at a salary of 37,400. In addition, they are eligible for a grade pay of Rs. 11,000, and an academic allowance (a new feature) of Rs. 1,200. Thus, the new salary works out to Rs. 49,600/-, which is about 65 percent more than the original salary of Rs. 30,000.

[What about someone with an ME or MTech degree, joining a college as an assistant professor? He/she would start with a salary of Rs. 25,100 per month -- 15,600 at the start of the pay band + three increments of 3 percent each + 6,600 of grade pay + 1,500 of academic allowance (see below) -- in January 2006. Adjusting for inflation, the pay+increments will go up by about 22 percent, yielding a starting salary of salary of about Rs. 29,000 now. In addition, he'she will also be eligible for other allowances -- see below.]

The Chadha committee recommendations pack quite a few other attractive features. Let me highlight the following:

  1. If you live in any of the big (Class A1 or A) cities -- apparently, there are 13 of them ;-) -- your transport allowance will go up from the current Rs. 800 (approx) to Rs. 3,200 (plus inflation adjustment).

  2. For each child (upto a maximum of two children), an allowance of Rs. 1000 has been recommended; if the child is in a hostel, this goes up to Rs. 3000. I believe this is a new feature.

  3. Under leave travel concession (LTC) benefits, while the number of visits in a four-year block remains at one for anywhere in India, it will go up to three (from the current one) for your home town.

  4. There are recommendations about how the faculty member and the university will share funds coming through industrial consultancy projects. Since I don't have any idea about what the current norms are, I'm not able to comment on them. On the face of it, they appear liberal: faculty members can get 100 %, 70 % and 50 % of the consultancy fees depending on whether they add up to 30 percent, 100 percent or more than 100 percent of their salary.

  5. There's a very curious recommendation is about the number of years of service for becoming eligible for full pension: Chadha committee has asked that it be reduced to 20 years (from the current X years; at IISc, I believe X = 28).

    Frankly, this recommendation puzzles me: I can see at least one way in which it could boomerang on universities: faculty members -- particularly capable ones -- may choose to leave after 20 years to take up positions in private colleges and universities, enjoying the benefits of a government sector pension and a private sector salary.

Thus, the Chadha committee has used both salary and perks to make university and college faculty positions more attractive. Let's see how many of these recommendations will be accepted and implemented. While the UPA government is in a hurry to spread happiness among key constituents, it cannot afford to alienate other key constituencies!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Meltdown-Crisis-Bailout-Rescue links

  1. The US Treasury Department has issued a new one-dollar bill [via Fabio Rojas].

  2. The effect of the financial melt-down on ... sex workers.

Academia vs. industry

Here's an observation from someone with a PhD:

Question: What was your first job after graduate school? What did you have to learn about the business world?

Webb: I think the biggest surprise to me was how quickly you can be considered an expert outside academe. As in many fields in academe, graduate students in engineering are constantly reminded by their professors and peers that everyone else knows more than they do and that they will never, ever know enough. Colleagues and faculty members will use their decades of experience to attack you mercilessly during presentations just to make sure you never feel remotely secure.

But in my first job after grad school, I only had to work on a task for a few months to find that I had suddenly become the company's expert in the area. This was intimidating at first but also empowering and liberating. I still prepared and braced for the probing attacks, but I found people were more interested in sharing ideas and improving the result than in demonstrating their intellectual superiority. [Emphasis in bold-italic added by me]

Thanks to Zuska for the pointer.

Indian version of the Bayh-Dole Act?

Have you heard about it? I certainly hadn't until I met Mrinalini Kochupillai, an IP lawyer who visited our Institute as a part of her research into, among other IP-related things, how top S&T research organizations deal with their IP. She and her co-bloggers have a bunch of posts on the Spicy IP blog. Worth checking out if you are an academic with an interest in this field. Start with the most recent posts by Mrinalini and Shamnad Basheer, and work backwards.

Here's an interesting bit from Shamnad's post:

In fact, the cost of operating a technology transfer office (TTO) often exceeds the money made from technology licensing. CSIR bears out this point well. While it generated approximately US$1 million in licensing revenues in 2004–2005, it spent more than twice that amount on filing patents.

From the US, where the Bayh-Dole Act has been around for nearly three decades, here's a depressing factoid:

... data gathered by the Association of University Technology Managers, a trade group, show that fewer than half of the 300 research universities actively seeking patents have managed to break even from technology transfer efforts. Instead, two-thirds of the revenue tracked by the association has gone to only 13 institutions.

For a pernicious side effect of this Act in US universities, take a look at Ponderer's post.

* * *

Oh, btw, Spicy IP bloggers have been having a lot of fun discussing the Hari Puttar - Harry Potter controversy as well! Again, start with the latest post and work backwards.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Stephen Colbert on faith in free markets

Bottom line:

Being eaten alive by the market is better than admitting that government should have any role.

Stephen Colbert is in great form in Ye Of Little Faith:


Philip Pullman on religion

Philip Pullman comments on the stupidity of those who clamor for banning books, films, and art -- "they never learn." Along the way, he has this to say about religion:

... [W]hen it comes to banning books, religion is the worst reason of the lot. Religion, uncontaminated by power, can be the source of a great deal of private solace, artistic inspiration, and moral wisdom. But when it gets its hands on the levers of political or social authority, it goes rotten very quickly indeed. The rank stench of oppression wafts from every authoritarian church, chapel, temple, mosque, or synagogue – from every place of worship where the priests have the power to meddle in the social and intellectual lives of their flocks, from every presidential palace or prime ministerial office where civil leaders have to pander to religious ones.

My basic objection to religion is not that it isn't true; I like plenty of things that aren't true. It's that religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good.

BTW, did you know that god actually prefers atheists?

Kota, the cram-school capital of India


"Bansalites rock, IIT rocks, Lyf after IIT rox."

That's an example of 'aspirational' graffiti Bellman found on a metal bench at Bansal Classes. ;-)

* * *

There's a lot of interesting stuff in Eric Bellman's WSJ story. For example, we learn that over 40,000 students go to Kota every year, and that about a third of the JEE-2008 rank holders are Kota students. Thus, if you use the numbers for JEE-2008, you'll find that a Kota student is about 340 percent more likely to get a JEE rank than a non-Kota student.

Yet, the pass-through ratio is barely 7 percent, even for Kota students. As opposed to 2 percent for non-Kota students.

Another interesting piece of info: women form about 13 percent of the students in Bansal Classes.

Bellman's piece is interesting throughout. Here's a bit about the transformation of the town:

The success of Bansal Classes spawned dozens of imitators, many of them started by Mr. Bansal's former employees. Some even teach students how to ace the entrance exam to get into Bansal Classes.

Cramming has been the salvation of Kota, an industrial center in the 1970s that then fell on hard times. In the past three years, new malls, restaurants, hotels, Internet cafes and clothing stores began to spring up to serve the 16- and 17-year-old cram kids. Many homeowners have added second and third floors to rent out to students.

Balwan Diwani, manager of Milan Cycle, a bike shop in Kota, says bicycle sales have surged to more than 2,000 a year from fewer than 200 five years ago. Mamta Bansal, no relation to the school founder, quit her job as a maid to start a service to deliver boxed lunches and dinners to 30 students as they study. "We try to make what their mothers would cook for them," she says. "I have had to learn how to make dishes from Gujarat, the Punjab and southern India."

Local schools also have benefited: Cram students have to attend regular classes so they can pass their high-school exams and graduate. Some high schools have early morning classes so cram students can finish early and move on to cramming.

"There used to be a lot of hooliganism and goons," says Pradeep Singh Gour, director of the Lawrence and Mayo Public School in Kota. "Now the entire city is like a university campus."

* * *

While on this topic, take a look at this ToI story by Neha Pushkarna about the enormous JEE success of students from Andhra.

Pan-IIT: Letter from an IIT alumna - 2

This e-mail is from Prof. Rama Govindarajan who's a faculty member at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore. She's an IIT-D alumna, Bhatnagar Prize winner (2007), ex-neighbour, and friend.

Many thanks to Rama for agreeing to share with us her e-mail to the folks at Pan-IIT:

Dear Madam/ Sir,

IIT is a beloved institution for me, so I need to point out the following.

I was unhappy to see the program for spouses in the PAN-IIT get-together, to try and make them "complete women". My spouse does not want to become a complete or incomplete woman. He will therefore of course not accompany me. I feel that spouses who are female would expect a more intellectually stimulating program as well.

Secondly I expect a scientific outlook from the IITs. Astrology etc. would seem not to belong in a meeting of this nature.

Thanks a lot.

With best regards
Rama Govindarajan
BTech Chemical Engineering, 1984.

Pan-IIT: Letter from an IIT alumna - 1

The e-mail is from Prof. Priti Shankar, a colleague in the Department of Computer Science and Automation.

Prof. Shankar's e-mail speaks for itself, so I don't need to add any comment -- except to highlight that she is the first woman Electrical Engineering graduate from IIT-D.

I thank Prof. Shankar for agreeing to share her e-mail with us here:

Dear Organizers,

As the first woman Electrical Engineering graduate of IIT Delhi (1968) I was really offended by an announcement on your PAN-IIT site. The offensive piece relates to the programme for spouses of "IIT" alumni. When the rest of the developed and developing world is making a concerted effort at gender fairness, IIT-M a prime center of excellence in Science and Technology has chosen to ignore, in one sweep, women IIT graduates, many of whom have made sterling contributions to industry, teaching and research. The underlying assumption seems to be that all "spouses" are women. Even more surprising is the programme charted out for the spouses!

The Mystic trail with its promises of insights into astrology, palmistry and the like, promotes obscurantism, totally out of place in an institution devoted to science and technology.

About the choice of women chosen as role models the less said the better. There are so many eminent women writers, doctors, scientists and social activists who have done the country proud with their achievemnents and who would be able to hold the interest of all spouses (male or female!). I am sure the IIT labs, the library, would make an interesting tour too. I urge you to please consider modifying the programme as it is totally out of place in this day and age and will make us the laughing stock of the global scientific community!

Priti Shankar

* * *

On the infamous 'Program for Spouses' at the Pan-IIT Global Conference, go here, here, here, here, and here.

Meltdown-Bailout Links

  1. PhD Comics unpacks the implications of the economic meltdown for, who else, academics.

  2. There are wonderful cartoons (along with some commentary and some links) here and here. In particular, the cartoon in the second link is a pretty nice visual representation of what financial derivatives are all about.

  3. Dan Ariely on revenge as a possible explanation for the opposition to the Bailout.

  4. This one doesn't have anything to do -- or does it? -- with the meltdown, but it's quite funny! [Thanks to Chirru for sharing on Google Reader]