Friday, January 02, 2009

More links ...

  1. T.V. Padma in India's top science institute must now tackle social needs:

    But excellence in basic sciences needs to go hand in hand with relevance to social needs. In 1927 Mahatma Gandhi visited IISc and remarked: "Unless all the discoveries that you make have the welfare of the poor as the end in view, all your workshops will be really no better than Satan's workshops." His message should not be forgotten.

  2. Nature editorial (probably paywalled): Experts still needed:

    But taken alone, publication citations have repeatedly been shown to be a poor measure of research quality. An example from this journal illustrates the point. Our third most highly cited paper in 2007, with 272 citations at the time of inspection, was of a pilot study in screening for functional elements of the human genome. The importance lay primarily in the technique. In contrast, a paper from the same year revealing key biological insights into the workings of a proton pump, which moves protons across cell membranes, had received 10 citations. There are plenty more examples of such large disparities between papers that may be important for a variety of reasons: technological breakthroughs of immediate use to many, more rarefied achievements of textbook status, critical insights of relevance to small or large communities, 'slow burners' whose impact grows gradually or suddenly after a delay, and so on.

    Such isolated statistics serve to illustrate a point that has been more systematically documented in the bibliometrics literature. Take, for example, an analysis of the correlation between judgements of scientific value using metrics, including citations, and those using peer review, in condensed-matter physics (E. J. Rinia et al. Res. Policy 27, 95–107; 1998). The study found disagreements in judgement between the two methods of evaluation in 25% of the 5,000 papers examined. In roughly half of these cases, the experts found a paper to be of interest when the metrics did not, and in the other half, the opposite was the case. The reasons for the differences are not fully understood.

  3. Farhad Manjoo in Slate: Advice on How to Blog:

    Write casually but clearly. ... [T]he best way to stick to a blogging schedule is to write quickly, and a good way to write quickly is to write as if you're talking to a friend. Marc Ambinder, the political-news maven at the Atlantic, told me, "I've found that I tend to write the way I speak. Short, staccato sentences, lots of parentheticals. That annoys purists, but it's uniquely my own voice, and I think it helps to build a connection with the reader." Also remember that your readers want you to get to the point. "Be clear, not cryptic," Salmon says. [...] Ryan Singel offers a great tip on how to accomplish this:

    Start every post with a good first sentence that describes the story you are going to tell. Assume your reader won't get past the first paragraph. Never start with anything like "Sometimes when I hear about stupid things in the news, I just want to hit the wall," or "I haven't written about this in a long time, but today there was a story ..."

  4. Daniel Lemire: Grabbing attention or building a reputation?

    I do not blog or write research papers merely to grab attention. Instead, I seek to increase my reputation. While attention fluctuates depending on your current actions, reputation builds up over time based on your reliability, your honesty, and your transparency. To build a good reputation, you do not need to do anything extraordinary: you just need to be consistent over a long time.

    Of course, you need to get some attention if you are building a reputation. However, on the long run, the saying build it and they will come, is true. Being present and doing good work is enough. You do not need flashy presentations. Remain lean and mean. Avoid high maintenance operations. Do good quality work.

  5. Daniel Little: Philosophy of X?

    ... [H]ow might the philosophy of science be helpful for working scientists? How can the philosophy of biology or economics be helpful to biologists or economists? And, for that matter -- why isn't there a philosophy of plumbing or long-distance bus driving?

  6. Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik in Scientific American: Magic and the Brain: How Magicians "Trick" the Mind:

    Thompson’s trick nicely illustrates the essence of stage magic. Magicians are, first and foremost, artists of attention and awareness. They manipulate the focus and intensity of human attention, controlling, at any given instant, what we are aware of and what we are not. They do so in part by employing bewildering combinations of visual illusions (such as afterimages), optical illusions (smoke and mirrors), special effects (explosions, fake gunshots, precisely timed lighting controls), sleight of hand, secret devices and mechanical artifacts (“gimmicks”).

    But the most versatile instrument in their bag of tricks may be the ability to create cognitive illusions. Like visual illusions, cognitive illusions mask the perception of physical reality. Yet unlike visual illusions, cognitive illusions are not sensory in nature. Rather they involve high-level functions such as attention, memory and causal inference. With all those tools at their disposal, well-practiced magicians make it virtually impossible to follow the physics of what is actually happening—leaving the impression that the only explanation for the events is magic.


  1. Hindu Atheist said...

    Dr. Abinandanan,

    I have been enjoying reading your informative blog for a while now.

    I'm not sure if someone else has already suggested this, but you may increase the width of your text block to reduce the scrolling length of posts. It's not important at all, but probably convenient for readers :)

  2. Abi said...

    Hindu Atheist: Thanks for the suggestion. The width of the text area is small -- 760 pixels -- mainly to ensure that it fits old monitors. I don't know how many people use such monitors these days (I use one at home!), but that's the main reason.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Reg: Nature article on citations and metrics here is another one (from PLoS computational biology) dealing with the proverbial angst of all scientists -

    I Am Not a Scientist, I Am a Number

    Ever wondered why do the statisticians make the scientist's life so complicated ? ;)

  4. Anonymous said...

    Reg: T.V. Padma's article -

    Assuming IISc has done and is doing a great job and there is a unanimous consensus of its/fundamental research's value to the nation, ever wondered why is there only one IISc so far, for a nation of one billion ? Maybe IISERs are a first step to rectify that imbalance....

  5. Anonymous said...

    Reg: T.V. Padma's article -

    Maybe you just need another "interdisciplinary center" in universities/IISc/IIT that can bridge across depts. to harness the potential of faculties to deliver/inspire/fund socially relevant research. And also collaborate with other special external institutes like IGIDR for scientific solutions to social problems.

  6. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    I agree with Jayant Haritsa's point in your earlier post that what happens in practice is "local relevance" is used as an excuse to do shoddy research. Let us first aim to raise our standards.

    I think "bringing it to the society" is a productization issue, as the MBA types would say, and should be left to industry. Of course, the government should think of incentives that will encourage industry both to productize the R&D from our institutions, and to perform their own R&D.

  7. madraskaari said...

    well if each and every thing in science had to fulfill the immediate needs of the poor then the labs would be no better than Santa's worshops...

  8. gaddeswarup said...

    "in practice is "local relevance" is used as an excuse to do shoddy research. Let us first aim to raise our standards."
    Here in Australia, this is a routine question in grant applications and is not taken seriously. Is this really a problem in India? In my days in India, around 70's, I used to know of cases of people building empires in 'pure' research. One consequence was that in some universities, the courses were all related to what they needed to produce research students in their specializations.

  9. Anonymous said...


    Agree with you. Maybe India just needs active and productive centers like the Earth Institute in many educational/technical institution
    to satisfy the social obligations that Dr. Sen kind of people demand.