Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This just in: "Narcissism No Longer a Psychiatric Disorder"

Here's Tara Parker-Pope in NYTimes:

Narcissistic personality disorder, characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance and the need for constant attention, has been eliminated from the upcoming manual of mental disorders, which psychiatrists use to diagnose mental illness.

As Charles Zanor reports in today’s Science Times, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — due out in 2013 and known as D.S.M.-5 — has eliminated five of the 10 personality disorders that are listed in the current edition. The best known of these is narcissistic personality disorder. [Link added by me]

Charles Zanor's story, which Parker-Pope refers to, has a great headline: A Fate That Narcissists Will Hate: Being Ignored. This story will resonate with you even more if you think about your least favorite narcissist in your circle; here's an excerpt:

The second requirement for N.P.D. [narcissistic personality disorder]: since the narcissist is so convinced of his high station (most are men), he automatically expects that others will recognize his superior qualities and will tell him so. This is often referred to as “mirroring.” It’s not enough that he knows he’s great. Others must confirm it as well, and they must do so in the spirit of “vote early, and vote often.”

Finally, the narcissist, who longs for the approval and admiration of others, is often clueless about how things look from someone else’s perspective. Narcissists are very sensitive to being overlooked or slighted in the smallest fashion, but they often fail to recognize when they are doing it to others.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Awesome Lightness in Links

  1. Science is Bueauty features a picture on The Course of Science. Note especially a lone infinite loop on the left called "Management Directives"!

  2. Via Science is Beauty [have I mentioned it's absolutely awesome?]: An excellent set of pictures of Magnet Designs.

  3. Making Light features an awesome Amazon review of ridiculously expensive speaker wires -- yes, Speaker Wires!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Links ...

  1. Gretchen Vogel in Science Insider: Germany's High Court Preserves Restrictions on GM crops.

  2. David Sosa in Opinionator: The Spoils of Happiness: "Happiness isn’t just up to you. It also requires the cooperation of the world beyond you. "

  3. Thomas Benton in The Chronicle of Higher Education: On Gratitude in Academe

  4. Richard Larivier in WSJ: Saving Public Universities, Starting With My Own .

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This sounds so familiar ...

America's Great Scientists Rapidly Decreasing. Sounds familiar? This was the headline of a NYTimes Magazine story from 1910!

[By the way, check out the Sunday Magazine blog featuring "the most interesting articles from the New York Times Sunday Magazine from 100 years ago."]

Bonus Link: Maïa de La Baume in NYTimes: French Professors Find Life in U.S. Hard to Resist.

"The acceleration of French scientific emigration to the United States is recent and worrisome,” said the report, called “Gone for good? The expatriates of French higher education in the United States.”

Of the 2,745 French citizens who obtained a doctorate in the United States from 1985 to 2008, 70 percent settled there, the study found.

This just in: Harvard loses a tenured professor to Google

Actually, the news is over a week old. I don't really have a broader point to make about the two links below -- I mean, it's not all that difficult to imagine someone leaving a good, happy situation to a better and happier, situation. Still, the following two posts are worth reading for the way two smart people have articulated their thoughts about the kinds of things that contribute to their big decisions about changing (or, not changing) their career paths.

First, Matt Welsh on why he's leaving his tenured professorship at Harvard to join Google:

... The question for me is simply which side of the innovation pipeline I want to work on. Academics have a lot of freedom, but this comes at the cost of high overhead and a longer path from idea to application. I really admire the academics who have had major impact outside of the ivory tower, like David Patterson at Berkeley. I also admire the professors who flourish in an academic setting, writing books, giving talks, mentoring students, sitting on government advisory boards, all that. I never found most of those things very satisfying, and all of that extra work only takes away from time spent building systems, which is what I really want to be doing.

Welsh has posted a response from Michael Mitzenmacher, Area Dean for Computer Science at Harvard, on "Why I'm Staying at Harvard":

I suppose the question that's left is why I'm staying at Harvard -- that is, why I still like being a professor. (And thank you to those of you who think the obvious answer is, "Who else would hire you?") I enjoy the freedom of working on whatever I find interesting; being unrestricted in who I choose to talk to about research problems and ideas; having the opportunity to work with a whole variety of interesting and smart people, from undergraduates to graduate students to CS colleagues all over the globe to math and biology professors a few buildings down; the ample opportunity to do consulting work that both pays well and challenges me in different ways; the schedule that lets me walk my kids to school most every day and be home for dinner most every night; and the security that, as long as I keep enjoying it, I can keep doing this job for the next 30+ years.

Mitzenmacher balances the good bits with the not-so-good bits (which those wishing to become faculty members ought to keep in mind):

Of course I don't like everything about the job. Getting funding is a painful exercise, having papers rejected is frustrating and unpleasant, and not every student is a wondrous joy to work with. I sometimes struggle to put work away and enjoy the rest of my life -- not because of external pressure (especially post-tenure), but because lots of my work is engaging and fun. Of course that's the point -- there's good and bad in all of it, and people's preferences are, naturally, vastly different. I don't think anyone should read too much into Matt's going to Google about the global state of Computer Science, or Professordom, or Harvard, or Google. One guy found a job he likes better than the one he had. It happens all the time, even in academia. It's happened before and will happen again.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Links ...

  1. Female Science Professor answers a reader's question about on how to deal with "professors emeriti who are well-meaning but who have not found productive ways to spend their days without distracting the more-busy and without wreaking minor havoc on various parts of the department infrastructure."

  2. Celia Dugger in NYTimes: Campus That Apartheid Ruled Faces a Policy Rift -- the rift refers to the raging debate on the legitimacy of the use of affirmative action at the University of Cape Town.

    Affirmative action’s champion on campus is Max Price, the vice chancellor, who was himself detained as an anti-apartheid student activist in the mid-1970s. Dr. Price, who grew up as a child of white privilege, contends that preferences based on apartheid’s racial classifications provide a means to help those harmed by that system to gain critical educational opportunities.

    The university has an openly stated policy of admitting blacks who have substantially lower test scores than whites, but whites still outnumber blacks almost two to one — 45 percent versus 25 percent — among the 20,500 South African students at the university. In South Africa, 79 percent of the population is black and only 9 percent is white.

WTF of the Day: DST Seeks Your Ideas for Better Skin Whitener!

In partnership with Procter and Gamble, the Department of Science and Technology launched a brand new crowdsourcing initiative: DST - P&G Challenge of the Month -- a contest in which people suggest solutions to a specific technical challenge, with cash awards going to the "most suited solution."

This initiative was launched just this month. Here's the first "Challenge of the Month":

Innovative Whitening Technologies superior to Hydroquinone

Current best topical chemical active technology for skin whitening is hydroquinone. However, it induces skin irritation and sometimes hypo-pigmentation, thus not practical for cosmetics/quasi-drug usage. It is also banned (or may be banned) to use for cosmetics in several countries.

Challenge yourself to look for Innovative whitening technology or approach that could reduce facial hyperpigmented spot and lighten skin tone equivalent or better than hydroquinone.

The symbolism and the irony are just killing me ...

Monday, November 22, 2010

SRM University and Its Curious Relationship with the UPA Government

An update appears at the end of this post.

* * *

On the one hand, the UPA government's HRD Ministry is fighting hard in the Supreme Court to establish the legitimacy and authority of its 2009 review of deemed universities [1]. Among other things, this review placed the SRM (Deemed) University in the "deficient" category -- a category that includes institutions,

... which on an aggregate we find to be deficient in some aspects which need to be rectified over a three year period for them to ... [continue] as "deemed universities" [Source (18MB, PDF), Pages 21-26]

On the other hand, the government's own law minister graces the occasion, and delivers an address at SRM University's convocation this year.

And the Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister receives an honorary doctorate from that "deficient" university at the same ceremony.


What are we going to get next -- the commerce minister at the IIPM convocation giving away MBA degrees [issued by IMI, Europe]?

* * *

Update: Wow! Note the contrast [Hat tip to Dr. Katte]:

The varsity [Bharati Vidyapeeth, a deemed university in Pune, Maharashtra] was found deficient in standards by a human resource development ministry panel last year. “Bharati Vidyapeeth has been found lacking in standards by the P.N. Tandon committee. I want to keep a distance from such a controversial conference,” a vice-chancellor of a central university said.

The conference he/she is referring to is actually a conference of vice-chancellors of Indian universities, supported by very generous funding from the UGC itself.

* * *

[1]: See, for example, this, this, and this.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Grad School Advice: The Beginning and The End

  1. Female Science Professor on what is appropriate in a prospective grad student's first letter asking "if I will be taking on new students in the next academic year." Her article is filled with very good advice; I want to excerpt here a particularly perceptive part:

    Of course, the questions that students really want answered aren't appropriate to ask, at least not to me directly: Am I a mean adviser or a nice adviser? Do I expect my students to work nights and weekends? Am I a control freak, or do I have a sink-or-swim advising philosophy? Will I scream at them if they don't run a spell checker before handing me a document, or will I merely sigh?

    To find out that kind of information, you will have to write to my current and recent graduate students—something I encourage potential applicants to do.

  2. McSweeny's has a fantastic FAQ on The "Snake Fight" Portion Of Your Thesis Defense. [Warning: It's from McSweeny's!]

    Q: Why do I have to do this?
    A: Snake fighting is one of the great traditions of higher education. It may seem somewhat antiquated and silly, like the robes we wear at graduation, but fighting a snake is an important part of the history and culture of every reputable university. Almost everyone with an advanced degree has gone through this process. Notable figures such as John Foster Dulles, Philip Roth, and Doris Kearns Goodwin (to name but a few) have all had to defeat at least one snake in single combat.

    Q: This whole snake thing is just a metaphor, right?
    A: I assure you, the snakes are very real.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Orchestral Version of 4' 33'' by John Cage

Watch [Hat tip: Jason Kottke]:

BTW, that YouTube page has quite a few links to "performances" of 4' 33".

Here's a previous post on Cage ;-)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why are Private Universities Seeking So Much of Public Land -- And Getting It?

Let me lead off with an excerpt from Amy Kazmin's report in FT on the latest legal trouble that could be fatal for Vedanta University:

Anil Agarwal, the Indian billionaire who controls Vedanta, the UK-listed mining group, has suffered a setback to his philanthropic ambitions, hard on the heels of legal problems this year involving some of the group’s Indian operations.

Mr Agarwal’s plans to build a $3.3bn (£2.1bn) university in a coastal area of impoverished Orissa, starting with a $1bn endowment from his personal fortune, have fallen foul of the law – and a powerful Hindu deity, Lord Jagannath.

The Orissa High Court has ruled that the Orissa government’s acquisition of about 6,500 acres of land – including 500 acres from Puri’s famous Jagannath temple – and the land’s subsequent transfer to Mr Agarwal’s eponymous foundation to build Vedanta University was illegal.

The court has ordered that the land be returned to its original owners. The judgment – in response to a clutch of public interest lawsuits challenging the land acquisition – will bring a formal end to the long-stalled plans for the university, which Vedanta had already concluded was unlikely to ever get off the ground in Orissa.

Thanks for the tip-off to T.T. Ram Mohan, who also points to a Business Standard column by Kalpana Pathak -- Land largesse for corporate universities -- that raises serious questions about private universities / institutions seeking vast quantities of public land -- and getting it. Here's Ram Mohan:

The ruling has brought to the fore the question of land being acquired for setting up of private universities and colleges. BS has an interesting feature on the subject today. The article notes that the Anil Ambani group has recently been alloted 110 acres by the MP government for its foray into education while ISB got 70 acres of land in Mohali. The land allotment is disproportionate to the requirement in many cases. Where it is made over to private parties, the suspicion of a land group is bound to be there.

BS notes that a good engineering institute can be set up on 10 acres and a management institute on 5. So why are private institutions asking and getting so much land? It also notes that Infosys' Mysore training facility is on a 337 acre campus. This is not even a degree-granting facility, it is strictly for a private company. Interestingly, Shiv Nadar and Aziz Premji are acquiring and pay for the land they need for their educational ventures instead of seeking concessional land from the government.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kumari L. Meera Memorial Lecture

This is for the Bangaloreans (and those who plan to be in Bangalore on 23 November 2010): The nineteenth lecture in this series is entitled "The Graver Side of Light," and will be delivered by Prof. Rajaram Nityananda of the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, Pune.

Anant has the full announcement, with all the details.

Do You Know PowerPoint?

Executive devil interviewing another: "I need someone well versed in the art of torture -- do you know PowerPoint?"

From this cartoon in the New Yorker.

G.V. Ramanathan: How much math do we really need?

Ramanathan, an emeritus professor of math, statistics and computer science at U-Illinois at Chicago, asks this question in a Washington Post column.

How much math do you really need in everyday life? Ask yourself that -- and also the next 10 people you meet, say, your plumber, your lawyer, your grocer, your mechanic, your physician or even a math teacher.

Unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everyday life. That courses such as "Quantitative Reasoning" improve critical thinking is an unsubstantiated myth. All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss. Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.

Those who do love math and science have been doing very well. [...] As for the rest, there is no obligation to love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner. Why create a need to make it palatable to all and spend taxpayers' money on pointless endeavors without demonstrable results or accountability?

Link via Edward Tenner's post -- Is Math Overrated? -- at The Atlantic.

Cindy Royal's Open Letter to Wired: "I'm breaking up with you"

... You’re better than this. You don’t need to treat women in this light to sell magazines. You have the power to influence the ways that women envision their roles with technology. Instead, you’re not helping. Like Jon Stewart said (stealing his quote criticizing the now defunct TV show Crossfire), “You’re hurting America.”

So, I’m breaking up with you ...

Read the whole letter.

But-heads ...

... "are phrases that announce ‘I’m lying‘." So says Erin McKean in a Boston Globe piece -- I hate to tell you -- and, "They've also been dubbed 'false fronts,' 'wishwashers,' and, less cutely, 'lying qualifiers'."

... When someone says “I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but...” they are maneuvering to keep you from saying “I don’t believe you — you’re just trying to hurt my feelings.”

... When someone says “It’s not about the money, but...”, it’s almost always about the money. If you hear “It really doesn’t matter to me, but...”, odds are it does matter, and quite a bit. Someone who begins a sentence with “Confidentially” is nearly always betraying a confidence; someone who starts out “Frankly,” or “Honestly,” “To be (completely) honest with you,” or “Let me give it to you straight” brings to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quip: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

“No offense, but...” and “Don’t take this the wrong way, but...” are both warning flags ...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Did this guy write the Inter-Academy Report on GM Crops?

... In the past year, I've written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won't find my name on a single paper.

I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.

Read more about this Shadow Scholar at The Chronicle of Higher Education [Thanks to Animesh for the e-mail alert].

Coming back to the question posed in the title, I think the answer is, "Unlikely."

Not because the Shadow Scholar is incapable of producing a report on GM crops, but because he doesn't plagiarize.

What Rahul Said: Part 2. The Science Academy Smack-Down

Go read Rahul's post on an undated INSA document which seeks to explain how that academy sees the now-discredited report on GM crops and its own role in its preparation.

Let me just say that the document betrays an arrogance that is so breathtaking (we're not even talking about the mis-spelling of the name of the minister who asked for the report on GM crops!) that it fully deserves ridicule and scorn.

And ridicule and scorn are what it gets from Rahul.

Don't miss it: go read The Science Academy Smack-Down!

Monday, November 15, 2010

What Rahul Said

Rahul Siddharthan has a must-read post on the latest twist to l'affaire Kundu. As I said in my previous post, Rahul's work played a key (and to me, definitive) part in the unraveling of Kundu's version (along with that of the committee headed by Prof. G. Padmanaban) of this story, and he makes the following point about the broader lesson in the Kundu affair:

To me, this case is not really about Kundu. It is about our complete lack of appreciation of scientific ethics, and our tendency to “close ranks” when trouble arrives. To succumb to this tendency even after an international journal has conducted its own investigation and made its own decision, and to justify it with a paltry two-page report, merely makes us a laughing-stock.

Rahul is also right to urge the Indian Academy of Sciences to look into the discredited report -- "superficial, authorless, reference-free, and partially plagiarised" -- on GM crops produced recently by it along with five other science academies of this country.

A New Twist to the Kundu Story: Did a Government Panel Shield the Accused?

Drop everything and read The Telegraph story by T.V. Jayan.

In case you didn't know about l'affaire Kundu, here's the back story from early 2007 when the Journal of Biological Chemistry retracted a paper by a team led by Gopal Kundu of NCCS, Pune, because several experimental figures were used more than once (in two different papers) with different labels. A committee headed by Prof. G. Padmanaban (former Director, IISc) gave Kundu and his team a clean chit -- a verdict that was contested vigorously by quite a few (see this post and the links in there; the key, at least for me, was the set of animated GIF images put together by Rahul Siddharthan).

The controversy generated by this debate was reported to have led to several more "official" investigations, and it was rumoured that Kundu was exonerated by some high-level committee (whose report was never made public -- which is really, really strange), bringing a closure to this case.

Except that the Indian Academy of Sciences at Bangalore decided to re-open this case, and have it investigated by its own panel on scientific values. This new investigation found Kundu guilty.

And the guilt is serious enough that the Acadcmy has imposed some sanctions on him. [Whether the sanctions really match the seriousness of the crime is a different issue! I just want to keep this post restricted to the guilty verdict itself.]

It is this second act that's the focus of T.V. Jayan's story in The Telegraph. Jayan gets it just right when he says that the Academy's "unprecedented" action "appears to vindicate claims by some scientists that the government-appointed panel had tried to shield the accused." And, Nandula Raghuram, a member of the Society for Scientific Values, is quoted by Jayan:

This episode shows that the government mechanisms to deal with this case had been compromised.

There are several other things in the new revelations (in Jayan's report) that are worth commenting on -- I just don't have the time right for a longer post now; do read the story!

Friday, November 12, 2010

How does India's Regulatory Regime Manage to Keep Philanthropy out of Higher Ed?

Here's an excerpt from an interview of Richard Levin (an alternate link), President of Yale University, by Prashant K. Nanda of MInt:

... There is a lot of philanthropic interest in higher education of India. I hope Parliament will open the market up to those philanthropists to build universities. They can give some money to Yale, but that will not have the impact.

India is very brand conscious and it seems it wants foreign universities to set up shop here. That will help, but that is not the answer. The answer is great Indian universities and Indian brands. You have done it with companies—you got Tata, Reliance (Reliance Industries Ltd and Reliance-Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group), Infosys (Technologies Ltd), you got Wipro (Ltd). These are great global brands now. You can do the same with Indian universities rather than co-branding like Yale-India Campus or Harvard-India Campus.

The headline -- Allow Private Sector to Have a Big Role in Higher Education -- gives us the impression that Levin doesn't realize the extent of private sector participation in Indian higher ed. Here's a quick reality check from a paper by Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta -- Mortgaging the Future? Indian Higher Education (Brookings-NCAER India Policy Forum 2007-08, Volume 4, 2008, p. 101-157; pdf):

In the case of engineering colleges, the private sector, which accounted for just 15 percent of the seats in 1960, accounted for 86.4 percent of seats and 84 percent of all engineering colleges by 2003. In the case of medical colleges, the private sector dominance is less stark, but the trend is unambiguous: the proportion of private seats has risen from 6.8 percent in 1960 to 40.9 percent in 2003. While we do not have precise data, the situation in more than 1000 business schools suggests that 90 percent are private. Even in general education, there is now a mushrooming of private, self-financing colleges. In Kanpur University (in UP), the number of such colleges outnumber state assisted colleges 3 to 1, while in Tamil Nadu, self financing colleges comprise 56 percent of general colleges and 96 percent of engineering colleges (Srivastava, 2007). ... Even as political parties rail against de jure privatization, de facto privatization continues unabated. [page 23]

The problem, therefore, is not about the level of private sector participation. It's about the kind of private sector participation: real philanthropy as opposed to fake "trusts" set up by businesspeople, politicians, crooks, thugs and muttheads.

Seen this way, the question about private sector in India's higher ed (which Levin also alludes to) is this: what is it in our legal-regulatory regime that allows all these bad elements in, but keeps real philanthropists out?

I'm yet to figure out an answer to this question.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.
-- George Bernard Shaw

I found the quote at Science is Beauty, a curator of awesome stuff on science from all over the web.

For a quick taste of what this blog offers, check out this dance of a milk drop on coffee.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Science in India: "Quantity need not mean a loss in quality"

The Nature India portal features an interesting column -- The Quality - Quantity Conundrum -- by two colleagues of mine, Prof. Gautam Desiraju and Prof. M. Giridhar. [Note: the site requires (free) registration.] Here's a quick excerpt:

An earlier analysis on the contributions of the best 10 research institutions in these countries to their overall publication records showed that the premier Indian institutes contributed nearly 30% over the span of 25 years. This is in keeping with the sluggish Indian curve in figure 1. However, in China, the contribution of the top institutes has decreased from 53% to 39% during the period of 2002 to 2008, which coincides with the exponential overall growth in that country. Clearly this means that the second and third rung research institutes have begun to participate actively in research. This can only be possible if trained manpower who studied in the top institutes went on to teach and do research in these institutes.

* * *

While much of their analysis is admirably data-driven, I wish they didn't take a loose, evidence-free swipe at the reservation policy:

There is also a real need now to assess the consequences of the caste based reservation system. Where has 50 years of reservation taken us, in a world where no quotas are applied in competitive activity?

The issue may appear in the form of a hard-nosed question about the consequences of reservation, but this sort of rhetoric is intellectually lazy -- as lazy, in fact, as that flowing in the opposite direction: where has 60+ years of upper caste domination of higher education and scientific research taken us?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Links ...

  1. Great Migrations at The Big Picture blog. Awesome pics.

  2. I don't know if this is a good use of neutron scattering, but this video of brewing coffee (in this kind of espresso maker) is pretty cool.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Links ...

  1. Prithwiraj at Oracle but not Clairvoyant: The Chanakya Formula (the story line of the next blockbuster from Dan Brown!)

  2. John Rennie at The Gleaming Retort (a member of PLoS Blogs): Height, Health Care and IQ

  3. Kenneth Chang on what the mid-term elections mean for science funding in the US: Money for Scientific Research May Be Scarce With a Republican-Led House. Really scary:

    An analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science looked at what would happen if all of the agencies were cut to the 2008 amounts. The National Institutes of Health would lose $2.9 billion, or 9 percent, of its research money. The National Science Foundation would lose more than $1 billion, or almost 19 percent, of its budget, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would lose $324 million, or 34 percent.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Links ...

  1. A short one from Onion: Americans Bravely Go To Polls Despite Threat Of Electing Congress.

  2. James Kwak at Baseline Scenario: Beyond Crazy -- A nice rant on the new "accountability measure" at Texas A&M which has compiled "a report showing a profit-and-loss summary for each professor..."

  3. Colin Macilwain in Nature: Scientists vs engineers: this time it's financial: "As public funds dwindle [in the UK], long-standing divisions between engineers and scientists over their status in society will be laid bare."