Sunday, December 30, 2012


This has to be among the best blog commentaries on open peer reviews of a published article: Another just-so story, this time about fists by T. Ryan Gregory at Genomicron is about a recent study that attracted tons of attention and coverage in news media:

To sum up, this is a paper that presents a small dataset of biomechanical analyses. It used an inappropriate sampling of subjects, and the only conclusions that can be drawn from the data are that the fists of trained martial artists are buttressed better than other arrangements of the hand. There is absolutely no information that is relevant to the question of why the human hand evolved as it did. (Note that this was not published in an anthropology or evolutionary biology journal). Moreover, to connect these observations with the evolutionary origin of human hand morphology requires some very unrealistic assumptions and a rather poor grasp of how one actually studies trait evolution.

The most impressive thing about this study is that it managed to gain so much attention with so little substance.

While we are on the topic of evolution, here are a couple more links:

  1. P.Z. Myers has started a series on αEP (or, Anti-Evolutionary Psychology; apparently, the symbol α is used in the sense of "anti" in immunological circles), and two posts are already up: αEP: Shut up and sing!, and αEP: The fundamental failure of the evolutionary psychology premise.

  2. Carl Zimmer has a nice summary -- in Of men, navigation and zits -- of a recent paper about sex differences in spatial abilities, and the proposal that "male spatial ability is not an adaptation so much as a side effect."

  3. These two short videos are noteworthy for their use of vivid physical metaphors for describing how a lot of evolution is due to just plain "dumb luck".

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Brothers in Harmony

Brothers in Harmony -- is my 400 words review in today's (22/12/2012) The Hindu, of the music concert by Trichur Brothers.

Here is the version I had sent to the editor.


When you read the two versions, you can observe the editor had done a good job this time, without mangling what the writer wanted to convey.

My thanks to the editor of 'Margazhi Reviews' -- in which section these appear -- for taking my 're-review' of the previous instance in stride and showing, at The Hindu, they care for the writers and importantly, the readers.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mobiles on a Plane

Why is the use of mobiles banned in planes? There are technical reasons, but what we are fed routinely -- that it might interfere with flight equipment on board -- is probably not all that important. I found this bit really interesting:

The truth is that the FCC never was concerned about the possibility of electronic interference when, in 1991, it banned the use of mobile phones on board aircraft. All it was really worried about was their impact on cellular networks on the ground. These work on the principle that, at any given moment, a mobile phone is within range of only one or two nearby masts. Each mast uses a set of channels different from those allocated to the masts closest to it, but the same as others further away. In this way, each channel can be used, and reused, to carry calls from multiple users.

Unfortunately, a mobile phone operating in an aircraft flying overhead might be within reach of any number of masts using the same channels. This could not only cause calls to be dropped, but would also confuse the network's software—reducing the mobile system’s overall capacity by blocking the reuse of channels.

There is also the added problem of an airborne phone moving too fast across the sky for the ground-based network to respond. The highest speed a mobile network is expected to cope with is that of an express train—not a passenger jet travelling at just below the speed of sound. A mobile used on an aircraft could traverse a tower too quickly to register with the network. If that happened, it would then bombard multiple towers along its route with repeated attempts to register, causing yet further network confusion.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

IITM Research Highlights

In an inspired move, IIT Madras website now carries a separate section on their research highlights. This is an idea proposed by Prof. S. K. Das, our current Dean - Academic Research; and was executed by Dr. Phanikumar and his team.

The main page would show a catchy image that leads to a short write-up about the research intended for the general reader. A separate link can be provided there for more technical details. Each 'research highlight' would stay on the main page for about two weeks, before going into an archive, subsequently ready for recycle in a future time.

Now for the shameless plug part (you saw it coming miles ahead, didn't you?): One of my recent research project happens to hog the main page for these two weeks.

Check it out.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Enthusiasm with the stamp of classicism

Enthusiasm with the stamp of classicism -- That is the version of a concert review (400 words limit) by me, which has appeared on The Hindu today (Dec 19, 2012)
Aswath Narayanan Music Concert Review -- is the version that I had sent.
If you are a Carnatic music buff, I am sure you could read more than those 400 + 400 words. Enjoy :-)

Saturday, December 15, 2012


  1. Planning Commission says, "Indian School of Mines could be converted as IIT."

  2. PTI reports, "UGC inspects 53 private varsities, finds 5 in order."

  3. Sridhar Vivan in Bangalore Mirror: Shop employee posed as college principal to fool inspecting team.

To end the post on a lighter note: What would a dog tweet? was the tweet-contest at New Yorker magazine's Questioningly blog last month. Among the noteworthy responses:

Success is the ability go from hydrant to hydrant without losing your enthusiasm.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Academy, the house of bards

Another Chennai December music season is going on. Here is a feature article written by me in today's Hindu (page 7 in Dec 14, 2012 print version)

Academy, the house of bards

Credit: The Hindu

The original version (which was a revised version from an earlier version) is here :-)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


  1. Ritika Chopra (Mail Today) updates us on how the new IITs have been (not) shaping up.

  2. Matthew Bailes at The Conversation: The Rise and Rise of the Science Politician.

Blacklisting Foreign Scientists

G. Mudur (The Telegraph) and R. Ramachandran (The Hindu) have reported today about American seismologist Prof. Roger Bilham's discovery that he now figures in a blacklist of "unwanted foreigners". His "crime" appears to be a paper -- written with an Indian collaborator, and published in Current Science, India's premier science journal -- on the seismic risk to the Jaitapur nuclear power plant. [See K.S. Jayaraman's summary of the scientific controversy triggered by that paper.]

There doesn't seem to be anything in these stories that the Indian government can claim as a net positive for itself.

India loses its moral high ground when Indian scientists face travel-related hassles in other countries [remember this   from   2006?], and a relatively unknown scientific controversy about the safety of the government's flagship nuclear power plant has escaped from scientific journals into mass media.

Monday, December 10, 2012

UC's New Logo

Here's the new logo of the University of California system:

It has led to strong protests:

One student posted a comment at The Daily Californian, the student newspaper at the University of California at Berkeley, comparing the new logo for the University of California System to the loading icon on YouTube. Another posted: "That was what I was thinking! Then someone had to ruin it for me with the toilet flushing comments, which I now cannot unsee...." [...]

More than 30,000 people have signed a petition against the new logo. [...]

One of the best comments about the logo comes from Steve Postrel:

[...] When I see the new logo, I imagine little enzymes acting like keys to unlock the stains in my laundry.

* * *

The picture of the logo is from Wikipedia.


  1. Karen Markin in CHE: Plagiarism in Grant Proposals.

    It's not news that software exists to check undergraduate papers for plagiarism. What is less well known is that some federal grant agencies are using technology to detect plagiarism in grant proposals.

  2. Louis Menand in New Yorker: Today's Assignment: Arguments for and against homework for school children.

    Like a lot of debates about education, what Cooper calls “the battle over homework” is not really about how to make schools better. It’s about what people want schools to do. The country with the most successful educational system, according to the Economist study, is Finland. Students there are assigned virtually no homework; they don’t start school until age seven; and the school day is short. It is estimated that Italian children spend a total of three more years in school than Finns do (and Italy ranked twenty-fourth).

    The No. 2 country in the world, on the other hand, is South Korea, whose schools are notorious for their backbreaking rigidity. Ninety per cent of primary-school students in South Korea study with private tutors after school, and South Korean teen-agers are reported to be the unhappiest in the developed world. Competition is so fierce that the government has cracked down on what are called private “crammer” schools, making it illegal for them to stay open after 10 p.m. (though some attempt to get around this by disguising themselves as libraries).

    Yet both systems are successful. [...]

  3. Ranjit Goswami in University World News: Indian Exchange Programmes Must Start at Home:

    Student exchange programmes in India have tended to mean exchange at the international level.

    Despite the tremendous language, cultural and social diversity that various Indian states and regions enjoy, both at the interstate and intrastate levels, India has not considered whether there could be more effective, more affordable, more popular and more effective national-level student exchange programmes between institutions within the country, particularly in areas such as business studies or other applied academic programmes. [...]

    It is difficult to believe that an MBA student studying in Assam would not benefit from the cultural diversity and sharing of local history, culture and traditions that could come through an exchange programme with an MBA student in Tamil Nadu or with a student from a business school in Gujarat.

Sunday, December 09, 2012


  1. Chrostopher Shea in The Atlantic: The Data Vigilante. "Students aren’t the only ones cheating—some professors are, too. Uri Simonsohn is out to bust them." [Via Andrew Gelman]. Simonsohn's statistical sleuthing has already uncovered fraud by two scientists who have resigned their academic jobs. Here's a direct quote from Simonsohn in the article:

    When you have scientific evidence, ... and you put that against your intuition, and you have so little trust in the scientific evidence that you side with your gut—something is broken.

  2. Hannah Seligson in NYTimes: Hatching Ideas, and Companies, by the Dozens at M.I.T.. A profile of Prof. Robert Langer and his lab.

  3. James Surowiecki: Warren's Way -- a conversation over lunch with Warren Buffett, whose recent op-ed argues for a minimum tax on the wealthy.

  4. And, finally, the latest non-news from the OLPC world: OLPC cancels XO-3 tablet, downplays need for new hardware.


  1. This hilarious piece of pop science "news" deserves its place right at the top because it sets the right tone for what comes next: Brain Region Found that Does Absolutely Nothing at Collectively Unconscious.

    Dr. Ahlquist was rather surprised at the finding. “During a pilot study we noticed that this small section of the cortex did not show differential activity in any of our manipulations. Out of curiosity, we wanted to see whether it actually did anything at all. Over the months that followed we tried every we knew, with over 20 different participants. IQ tests, memory tasks, flashing lights, talking, listening, imagining juggling, but there was no response. Nothing. We got more desperate, so we tried pictures of faces, TMS, pictures of cats, pictures of sex, pictures of violence and even sexy violence, but nothing happened! Not even a decrease. No connectivity to anywhere else, not even a voodoo correlation. 46 voxels of wasted space. I know dead salmons that are more responsive. It’s an evolutionary disgrace, that’s what it is.”

    The stuff about "dead salmons that are more responsive" doesn't provide a link, but I guess it's about the work [pdf] that won an IgNobel this year.

  2. Gary Marcus in New Yorker: Neuroscience Fiction: What Neuroscience Really Teaches Us, and What It Doesn't. A good overview of the limitations of fMRI:

    ... [O]ur early-twenty-first-century world truly is filled with brain porn, with sloppy reductionist thinking and an unseemly lust for neuroscientific explanations. But the right solution is not to abandon neuroscience altogether, it’s to better understand what neuroscience can and cannot tell us, and why.

    The first and foremost reason why we shouldn’t simply disown neuroscience altogether is an obvious one: if we want to understand our minds, from which all of human nature springs, we must come to grips with the brain’s biology. The second is that neuroscience has already told us lot, just not the sort of things we may think it has. What gets play in the daily newspaper is usually a study that shows some modest correlation between a sexy aspect of human behavior, with headlines like “FEMALE BRAIN MAPPED IN 3D DURING ORGASM” and “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON POKER”

    But a lot of those reports are based on a false premise: that neural tissue that lights up most in the brain is the only tissue involved in some cognitive function. The brain, though, rarely works that way. Most of the interesting things that the brain does involve many different pieces of tissue working together. Saying that emotion is in the amygdala, or that decision-making is the prefrontal cortex, is at best a shorthand, and a misleading one at that. [...]

    The sort of short, simple explanations of complex brain functions that often make for good headlines rarely turn out to be true. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t explanations to be had, it just means that evolution didn’t evolve our brains to be easily understood.

Music Time

Imagine by John Lennon (whose death anniversary was yesterday):

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Hard and Soft Forms of Bigotry

Two posts appeared on my Google Reader just in the last couple of days. While they are triggered by the anniversary of atrocities committed many years ago (coincidentally, on the same day, the sixth of December), they really are about a slow, corrosive kind of bigotry.

First up, here is Sunil Mukhi on the twentieth anniversary of the outrage at Ayodhya:

... this fateful day still resonates in my mind after twenty years. Not because I was personally impacted, or anyone I know was personally impacted. But because this is when I saw the appallingly foolish and self-destructive fascist agenda unfurl before my eyes for the first time.

As of that date it suddenly became fashionable, even in a place like TIFR, to whisper (or hint) unpleasant things about Muslims. [...]


These "sophisticated bigots" did not personally bring down the mosque, nor would they ever engage in manifest politics. Their opinions surface only when they feel the atmosphere will tolerate it. Today the agenda of building a Ram temple at Ayodhya, and thereby miraculously converting India into a great country, is in shambles. This agenda has done terrible things to our social fabric but not one good thing for the nation's structure, morality or self-esteem, forget social or economic development (how could it possibly??). So at this time the bigots are hiding their views. But I don't intend to ever forget who they are, or what damage they did by conferring legitimacy on such an aberrant movement in India's history.

And here's Janet Stemwedel on the 22nd anniversary of the Montreal Massacre:

Most of the people who believe women do not belong in science and engineering classrooms, or in science or engineering jobs, or in other domains that used to be exclusively male, will never pick up a gun to enforce their will.

But, there are plenty who will send women the clear message that they are not welcome as equal participants in these domains. [...]

Sunday, December 02, 2012


  1. Peter Whoriskey in The Washington Post: As drug industry’s influence over research grows, so does the potential for bias:

    Arguably the most prestigious medical journal in the world, the New England Journal of Medicine regularly features articles over which pharmaceutical companies and their employees can exert significant influence.

    Over a year-long period ending in August, NEJM published 73 articles on original studies of new drugs, encompassing drugs approved by the FDA since 2000 and experimental drugs, according to a review by The Washington Post.

    Of those articles, 60 were funded by a pharmaceutical company, 50 were co-written by drug company employees and 37 had a lead author, typically an academic, who had previously accepted outside compensation from the sponsoring drug company in the form of consultant pay, grants or speaker fees.

  2. Kate Masur in CHE: A Filmmaker’s Imagination, and a Historian’s. A historian critiques Spielberg's Lincoln.

  3. Louis P. Masur in CHE: Lincoln at the Movies. An overview of movies about Lincoln.

  4. Jeffrey Young in CHE: Welcome to Star Scholar U. About academic stars going rogue offering online courses under their own brand.

Searching Calvin and Hobbes

This is from S. Anand's post from 2010:

There were a few Calvin and Hobbes search engines around. None quite did what I wanted them to – which was to search the text, and show me the strip, with a nice scrollable interface.

So I set out to build one. I can’t remember when, exactly, but it was before Sep 11, 2002.

It took me many years. I’d spend several train rides and evenings typing this stuff out. My friends, employers and family were a bit puzzled, but just added it to my list of eccentricities and carried on. I was halfway there in 2005, pushed further in 2006, and with some help, I managed to finally complete it.

I was able to do a lot of cool stuff with this, like statistically improbable phrases and some amusing posts as well.

When his efforts were picked up by Reddit and Metafilter, he received a take-down notice, and all his stuff went offline.

How things change in just two years!

A search engine by Michael Yingling (who credits the script, "likely from S. Anand" posted online) has also been in operation at least since the time Anand got the take-down notice, but survived long enough to get a better treatment. When news about this site went viral recently, it received official sanction, praise, and reward.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Never Push when it Says Pull

I like essays. Even the entirely fictional ones. I like the most, essays that blur the difference between fiction and non-fiction. They are the creative ones that shape your thought through the unease they suffuse through their fine mix of facts and fantasy. Finding such essays, leave alone finding such essayists, is hard. It is an endeavor. In Tamil, several essays/short-stories by Nanjil Nadan repeatedly define this standard with ease. Recent collections titled "kAvalan kAvAn enin" and "sUdiya pU sUdarka" (that won him the sAhithya akAdemy award) are treasures that demand your thinking and action. Discussing these books is for another note.

While on a recent splurge at a local bookstore for such essay collections in English, along with the relative heavy-weights like "The Collected Essays" of A. K. Ramanujan, "Patriots and Partisans" by Ramachandra Guha, "Selected Essays" of G. K. Chesterton, "Readings" by Michael Dirda, "Inventing the Enemy" by Umberto Eco, "Some Remarks" by Neal Stephenson, I also picked "My Husband and Other Animals" by Janaki Lenin with a prompting from my dame and on a lark, Never Push When It Says Pull by a guy named Guy Browning, a relative unknown to me. But that is one reason we read books, don't we -- to meet over a course of their printed discourse made available for a price, strangers whom you could become life-long friends with.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


  1. Anirudh Krishna (Duke University) at Ideas for India: The root of poverty: Ruinous healthcare costs.

  2. James Choi at : How Noisy is Economics/Finance Peer Review?, with excerpts from this paper. I was quite surprised to read this:

    For economics journals, when two referees are consulted, the top-10p [percentile] paper receives two rejects with probability 14%, one reject and one non-reject with probability 47%, and two non-rejects with probability 40%. With three referees, the top-10p papers receives a majority of reject recommendations with 30% probability, a majority of non-reject recommendations with 70% probability.

  3. Annie Murphy Paul in NYTimes: It’s Not Me, It’s You, an essay on intelligence and stereotype threat.

  4. Felix Salmon: What education reformers did with student surveys.

Friday, November 23, 2012


  1. Julie Mitchell in CHE Conversations Blog: Sexy in STEM?

  2. The Telescoper: To Hype or Not To Hype? -- a detached approach to blogging that most people (including me) have settled down on.

  3. Joshua Gans at Digitopoly: What an academic article of the future should look like.

    See also his earlier post -- I’m a Mac. You’re a PC. There really are two types of people.

  4. Jonathan Beckman in FT: Bleak Encounters. "The Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award may provoke sniggers. But its real aim is to help banish poor prose."

IIT-M Platform for Pseudoscience?

Check out this blog post at Nirmukta about a recent talk on Vedic Science in which the speaker makes all kinds of wild claims about the scientific content in vedic and other texts from ancient India. [Don't forget to read the comments section, where quite a few IIT-M faculty, students and alumni have been posting their views.]

Pretty amazing, especially since this talk appears to be a part of a series of lectures hosted by IIT-M; in other words, it's not like this other talk organized by a cultural group/club at IIT-M.

Here's something that redeemed the event: The speaker faced a strong challenge from the great folks at IIT-M. You can find YouTube links to these snippets at the end of the post at Nirmukta. [IIT-M has a great tradition of gutsy protests.]

* * *

The speaker runs a research institute of vedic technology. See especially his boast about how "a pioneer institute like Indian Institute of Technology Madras has recognized a vedic research institute as its external centre for pursuing MS/PhD."

* * *

If you have the stomach for it, you can watch the fiasco unfold over a period of an hour or so. Since it's too painful (not to mention cringe-inducing) to watch, you are probably better off with the snippets from the Q&A after the talk.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Technology and Female Foeticide

The practice of female foeticide is more prevalent among relatively rich and educated families. This flies in the face of ideas about backward women being enslaved to old customs. But it is consistent with ‘modern’ women being more receptive to new technologies and wanting fewer children. These factors appear to override lower self-reported ‘son preference’ among women of higher socio-economic status.

There's more in Prof. Sonia Bhalotra's post -- Where have all the young girls gone? The rise in female foeticide in India -- at the Ideas for India blog.

Eww Overload: The BBB Project

... The project got a set of volunteers to run a cotton swab through their belly buttons, and then looked at all the bacterial species growing there. The results suggest that the belly button is a diverse environment, and the communities living there respond to the habits of their host. Notably, a few species that were discovered for the first time on human skin were found in an individual who hadn't bathed in a few years.

That's from Belly Button Biodiversity finds no two navels are quite the same by John Timmer.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

"Rise of the Poll Quants"

Tom Bartlett has a nice entry at The Chronicle on poll quants -- Nate Silver, Sam Wang, Drew Linzer and others -- whose statistical firepower has raised strong doubts about the mainstream punditry's claim to insights into who the American voters are likely to choose as their leader in today's elections.

It's a nice overview of what these quants are doing, and how they are doing it. Go read it.

Chris Rock's Election Message to White Voters

Direct link [via Chris Blattman]

Sunday, November 04, 2012


  1. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a special issue devoted to Gender in Academe. Women in science is the theme of several articles; start with a bunch of experts discussing the question Why STEM Fields Still Don't Draw More Women, and Sue Rosser's piece on how and why More Gender Diversity Will Mean Better Science. There are a couple of subject-specific news stories that are also worth linking: A Reboot in Recruiting Women Into Computer Science, and Is Biology Just Another Pink-Collar Profession?.

  2. Science Daily: The Academic Jungle: Ecosystem Model Reveals Why Women Are Driven out of Science, a summary of this paper by University of Queensland's Katherine R. O’Brien, Karen P. Hapgood.

  3. Richard Van Noorden in Nature: Global mobility: Science on the move. "The big picture of global migration shows that scientists usually follow the research money — but culture can skew this pattern."

  4. Philip J. Wyatt in Physics Today: Commentary: Too many authors, too few creators

  5. Dinesh Sharma in India Today: Top GM Researcher Falsified Patent Claim to Grab National Award. Dr. Kailash Bansal of ICAR's National Research Centre for Plant Biotechnology.

Verdict in the L'Aquila Earthquake Case: Scientists Found Guilty

I have been following the developments in this court case in Italy, and the verdict came in about a couple of weeks ago (and the scientists are likely to go on appeal):

Italian court finds seismologists guilty of manslaughter
At the end of a 13-month trial, six scientists and one government official have been found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison. The verdict was based on how they assessed and communicated risk before the earthquake that hit the city of L'Aquila on 6 April 2009, killing 309 people.

... In addition to the prison term, those indicted will be permanently banned from public service and will have to pay financial compensation to the families of 29 victims named in the indictment and to the city of L'Aquila, totalling €7.8 million.

The Nature editorial on this case makes it clear that this verdict is not about scientists' failure to predict the fateful earthquake:

Despite the way the verdict has been portrayed in the media as an attack on science, it is important to note that the seven were not on trial for failing to predict the earthquake. As members of an official risk commission, they had all participated in a meeting held in L’Aquila on 31 March 2009, during which they were asked to assess the risk of a major earthquake in view of the many tremors that had hit the city in the previous months, and responded by saying that the earthquake risk was clearly raised but that it was not possible to offer a detailed prediction. The meeting was unusually quick, and was followed by a press conference at which the Civil Protection Department and local authorities reassured the population, stating that minor shocks did not increase the risk of a major one.

In fact, an Italian official went so far as to say, “the scientific community tells me there is no danger because there is an ongoing discharge of energy”. The problem for the scientists appears to be that they did nothing to correct this "scientifically incorrect" statement.

Nature has another piece with protections extended to American and British scientists when they serve on advisory committees:

Many scientists contacted by Nature agree that better legal protection, along with transparent guidelines about the obligations of science advisers, are long overdue in Italy. “The case resulted from the fact that the legal role of scientific advisers is still not well defined in Italy,” says Mariachiara Tallacchini, who studies science-related legal issues at the Catholic University of Piacenza. “Countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States are more advanced in regulating science policy”.

John Beddington, the UK chief scientific adviser, agrees. “I do not think such an outcome would be possible in the United Kingdom, unless the advice was demonstrably grossly negligent or wilfully malicious,” he told Nature. “And in the case of civil proceedings, all advisers are indemnified by government.” Similar protection is granted to science advisers in the United States, where seismologists advising national and state governments would be immune from such prosecution.

Music Time: The King's Speech

The movie had the second movement of Beethoven's 7th symphony running in the background when King George VI makes his all important speech. You can watch the movie version of the speech; BBC has the original.

Here's the entire symphony; the second movement starts at 15:21.

Direct link

Music Time

An Ilayaraaja classic from Keladi Kanmani. Singers: K.J. Yesudas and Uma Ramanan.

Direct link.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Cute Overload: Why do children hide by covering their eyes?

BPS Research Digest summarizes recent research on this cute question:

... when the children thought they were invisible by virtue of their eyes being covered, they nonetheless agreed that their head and their body were visible. They seemed to be making a distinction between their "self" that was hidden, and their body, which was still visible. Taken together with the fact that it was the concealment of the eyes that seemed to be the crucial factor for feeling hidden, the researchers wondered if their invisibility beliefs were based around the idea that there must be eye contact between two people - a meeting of gazes - for them to see each other (or at least, to see their "selves").

This idea received support in a further study in which more children were asked if they could be seen if a researcher looked directly at them whilst they (the child) averted their gaze; or, contrarily, if the researcher with gaze averted was visible whilst the child looked directly at him or her. Many of the children felt they were hidden so long as they didn't meet the gaze of the researcher; and they said the researcher was hidden if his or her gaze was averted whilst the child looked on.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Higher Ed News of the Day

In a development widely seen as God's last ditch attempt to restore religious faith among IIT faculty and students, Mr. Kapil Sibal was moved out of the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Quick-gun reviews of Sibal's tenure at HRD ministry can be found here and here.

Music Time

A hit from this Tamil movie [which had several other hits by Ilayaraaja]:

Direct link

Friday, October 26, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to Dunk your Biscuits

Some of us, butter-toothed blokes, dunk our biscuits in tea or coffee before chewing on them. Dunked biscuits are tasty, but have their fender-bender moments. The dunking should be done within a critical time, else the soaked biscuit, before reaching our mouth, would bend in slow-mo back into the coffee with a 'splatch' or worse, spatter on the inside of our thigh like hot crow-poo.

Nevertheless, dunking biscuits is popular across the World -- be it in UK, where about five hundred burn themselves annually with a badly timed lift-up of the soaked biscuit, or in Indonesia, where the famous Tim Tam Slam is performed annually, wherein you slurp the tea or coffee through the specially made porous biscuits, before eating them in one piece.
During a recent 'academic meeting', while dunking a Good-day biscuit in hot coffee, I was wondering about the 'critical time' for safe-dipping. So I timed my Good-day dip much to the dismay of those around me, snicking (snacking) a few more biscuits from the passing tray. The time for safe-dip was just about 5 seconds; dip longer, it is bound to buckle when you attempt eating.

Is this safe-dip time universal? Is it valid for all other biscuits -- Marie with 9 or 18 holes; Krack-jack with 9 holes; Tiger biscuit with no holes; Bangalore Iyengar Rusk with random number of holes in differing sizes. What about dog biscuit?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When Darkness Falls and Other Stories

Ruskin Bond is one of the Indian authors who writes in English; well. His English is not strained and doesn't read 'translated' from a native Indian tongue -- especially when writing the thoughts and emotions of Indians. Another writer with such language ease is R. K. Narayan (I wouldn't put a Salman Rushdie in this league, not because he lacks skills in English -- far from it -- but his would often read pompous and 'high-browed'). Ruskin Bond lives as a bachelor, away from the cities and on the hills, not mingling with the 'literary crowd' and their intellectual cocktail parties ("The cocktails usually run away with the intellect"). But he has prevailed and been prolific with an impressive profile, decked with the Sahithya Akademi to Padmashree honors. Penguin India is re-releasing some of his earlier titles and I bought a bunch.

When Darkness Falls and Other Stories is a collection of stories written by him around 2001. The book is less than hundred pages and takes an hour to complete. Most of the stories are set in and around his hometown Dehra Dun, at a time when he was young and forming. The first story, which lends the name to the book title, is also the best. It describes the life of Markham, the man with a scary face -- result of an army-term accident -- who no one wants to engage or endure. Put up by his longtime friend, Markham dwells in a forgotten corner of the dilapidated Empire hotel in his hometown, rotting along with the furniture through the changing times. A lifetime of resigned acceptance and dormant frustrations manifest one day (rather, night) unexpectedly, irrevocably, and an era passes in an inferno. I liked this story because it didn't pretend to be a story; just events and experience and the rest is upto the reader.

There are other lighthearted stories like The Writer's Bar (supposedly visited by great writers like Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham... to boost the sales) or the Monkey Trouble (Ruskin's younger self describing the enjoyable childhood phase with a grandfather who loves to keep pets, much to the chagrin of the grandmother). The 'ghost stories' are the driest in content and charm, predictable and bland. But then, as one of the character says, "People can't live without stories". These are stories from a corner of India, events and experience told with a personal touch, in simple language. When Darkness Falls... is not the best by Ruskin Bond, but his regular is a better read than the self-professed nine-point someones in the market.

Monday, October 22, 2012


  1. G.B.S.N.P. Varma in Caravan: For Song’s Sake. "A man’s crusade to prevent Telugu film songs from fading into obscurity"

  2. Fëanor at Just a Mon: Rice -- a delightful tour of rice varieties from many parts of the world.

    In another post, he describes his participation in a BBC show on the novelist-poet C. K. Stead.

Nobel warning

Expecting (and demanding from) researchers -- particularly experimenters -- to spell out in every detail, what is to be expected out of their research program and its 'usefulness' is an efficient way to prevent crackpots from usurping research funds. It is also an effective way to dampen curiosity-driven research.

In his recent Nature piece, Serge Haroche, co-winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics for his, primarily experimental, work on quantum optics, warns:
During this long adventure in the micro-world, my colleagues and I have retained the freedom to choose our path without having to justify it with the promise of possible applications.

Unfortunately, the environment from which I benefited is less likely to be found by young scientists embarking on research now, whether in France or elsewhere in Europe. [...] Scientists have to describe in advance all their research steps, to detail milestones and to account for all changes in direction. This approach, if extended too far, is not only detrimental to curiosity-driven research. It is also counterproductive for applied research, as most practical devices come from breakthroughs in basic research and would never have been developed out of the blue.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rejection improves impact?

Research papers, rejected first-time elsewhere, when eventually get published, get cited more than others in that journal.

According to the recent Nature report by Philip Ball, based on the submission histories of 80,748 scientific articles published among 923 bioscience journals between 2006 and 2008 and related information provided by the papers’ authors (via emails), Vincent Calcagno, an ecologist at the French Institute for Agricultural Research in Sophia-Antipolis, and his colleagues
[...] found that 3–6 years after publication, papers published on their second try are more highly cited on average than first-time papers in the same journal — regardless of whether the resubmissions moved to journals with higher or lower impact.
Related article: Calcagno, V. et al. Science (2012).

To paraphrase Calvin's father, Rejection builds character!

From my limited rejection experience in engineering research, I haven't observed this 'citation trend' for my publications. But then, I may be way out of field and league.

(read the Nature report for contrasting observations from another study).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tumblr of the Week: Mansplaining in Academia

Academic Men Explain Things to Me. The blog asks women students and faculty to share their experiences when "a man tried to explain your field or topic to you, on the assumption that he must inevitably know more about it than you do."

A sample:

Mansplaining of Unread Paper

I am a senior postdoctoral researcher in Physics, with 8 years experience. In our weekly paper meeting, I was presenting a paper by another group working in my field.

“Unfortunately”, I said “the paper is flawed because they used method xyz, which is not appropriate here because of reasons a and b.”

“What!” A male PhD student, who had just started his thesis 2 months ago and who had not read the paper exclaimed. “They used method xyz despite reason a and b?! This cannot be true.”

“Yes, it is”, I replied, irritated. “They clearly say they use method xyz.”

“You must have read the paper wrong”, he concluded.

Music Time

White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Scary Sentences of the Week

Every single hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.

By comparison, smoking a single cigarette reduces life expectancy by about 11 minutes, the authors said.

From this NYTimes story by Gretchen Reynolds.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Birth of a Meme: Binders Full of Women

Binders Full of Women on -- where else? -- Tumblr [link via Andrew Sullivan and Ta-Nahesi Coates]

For context on Mitt Romney's poor choice of words, watch this clip from yesterday's debate:

Monday, October 15, 2012

From the Annals of Longest Gramatically Correct Sentence

... that made a spectacularly wrong assessment.
"I believe he has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous. If he can't learn simple Biological facts, he would have no chance of doing the work of a Specialist, and it would be sheer waste of time both on his part, and of those who have to teach him."
From the 1949 school report card of Sir John Gurdon, 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, when he was 15.

Here is an image of part of that report card.

Read more from this Telegraph article.


  1. Stefanie Cohen in WSJ: Fourscore and 16000 Books: There are already over 16000 books about President Abraham Lincoln -- there will be 20 more in the coming year, in addition to Spielberg's biopic.

  2. Enrico Moretti in CNN: The Key to Economic Success? Geography

  3. Greg Hampikien in NYTimes: Men, Who Needs Them? "... women are both necessary and sufficient for reproduction, and men are neither."

Video of the Day

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's speech in the Australian Parliament: "I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man [Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Tony Abbott]. Not now, not ever.":

Sunday, October 14, 2012

From the Annals of Gaming the System

This one, however, is about a failed experiment, a loss of two years and 2 million dollars, and lawsuit:

The Chows, who lived in Hong Kong, knew little about the US educational system, but they did know that they wanted an Ivy League education for their sons. And they had money to spend on consultants like Zimny, who, they believed, could help make the dream come true.

What transpired, however, turned out to be a cautionary tale for the thousands of parents who are fueling the growing global admissions-consulting industry.


  1. Samanth Subramanian at India Ink: Happy 80th Birthday, Air India.

  2. Rukmini Banerjee of Pratham at Ideas for India: Why Indian education needs to get back to reality:

    What is the best advice to give an Indian education department official? This column argues that the best thing officials can do is drop the assumptions and stick to reality – otherwise many children will be missed out and left behind.

  3. Confirmation of Marc Hauser's fraud. While there was a lot of circumstantial evidence, Harvard played coy on Hauser's misconduct by not releasing its investigation report; so it's good to have ORI's report in the public domain.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Music Time

From the movie Azhiyadha Kolangal, a personal favourite [Music: Salil Chowdhury; Singers: P. Jayachandran and P. Susheela]. A video is available, but its audio is sad. You can listen to a much better version (click on AB3).

That last link takes you to The World of Salil Chowdhury, a true labour of love by a devoted fan, Gautam Chowdhury. The site has extensive cross-references to other versions of Salil's compositions; among the four variants -- Malayalam (1977), Tamil (1979), Bengali (1980)and Hindi (1989) -- the best is the Hindi version (click on AB3).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

From the Annals of Innovation -- Bag Tags

Yes, the airline baggage tags. In recounting all the wonderful innovations that have led up to the state of the art in tags, the article has some fascinating stuff about the materials that go into these tags:

Let’s look first at how an ABT is made. In the interconnected, automated, all-weather world of modern aviation, tags must be resistant to cold, heat, sunlight, ice, oil, and especially moisture. Tags also can’t tear—and crucially, if they’re nicked, they must not tear further—as the bag lurches through mechanized airport baggage systems. And the tag must be flexible, inexpensive, and disposable. Plain old paper can’t begin to meet all these requirements. The winning combination is what IATA’s spokesperson described as a “complex composite” of silicon and plastic; the only paper in it is in the adhesive backing.

Bag tags must meet another set of contradictory requirements. They must be easy to attach, but impossible to detach—until, that is, the bag arrives safely at its destination and the traveler wants to detach it. Old tags were fastened with a string through a hole, but mechanized baggage systems eat these for breakfast. The current loop tag, a standardized strip of pressure-sensitive adhesive, looped through a handle and pressed to form an adhesive-to-adhesive bond, debuted with the ABT in the early ’90s. And the ABT, unlike string tags and earlier loop-y tag ideas, is easily attached to items that lack handles—boxes, say. Simply remove the entire adhesive backing and the loop tag becomes a very sticky sticker.

Of course while tags must remain rigorously attached, they must also be easy for passengers to remove. Intermec’s spokesperson raves about the adhesive’s “excellent flow properties”—in layman’s terms, simply grab the loop from the inside, with two hands, and gently pull apart to remove the tag. A couple of other clever innovations: Like the tags themselves, the adhesive must be all-weather. Early adhesives couldn’t cope with extreme cold, so snowy tarmacs would end up littered with detached tags (and lost bags). Also, passengers don’t want sticky residue left on their bag’s handles—so the adhesive’s backing is designed to stay in place on the inside of the loop.

My Book

My book "Essentials of Heat and Fluid Flow in Porous Media" has been published a few days back by Ane Books (India) and CRC Press (International).

Start in this page to read more on the salient features, table of content etc. The two forewords [ here and here ] were provided by Prof. Andrew Rees (Uty. of Bath, UK) and Prof. Pradip Dutta (IISc. India). The preface explains the content and the acknowledgements express my gratitude to the academics whose association helped me remain positive.

The Indian paperback (student) edition should be available by next week in your local Tata Book House (I believe most of the IIXs house one) and such stores that sell technical books. The international (hard bound) edition should be distributed from Oct 31st, 2012. You can pre-order at Amazon (link in the above 'details' page).

If you are an instructor of a related course (graduate fluid mechanics or heat transfer) or a researcher from civil, mechanical, chemical and bio-medical engineering, you may find the content useful. If you want to suggest the book to your students and require an evaluation copy or want to suggest copies for your libraries, contact me.

Similarly, if you want to write a review of the book in a related research journal (or in your blog), please contact me and I could arrange a copy of the book for you.

I would love to hear your feedback, comments, suggestions and errata (it seems, 5% typos are expected by the publishers in the first edition).

And now for some related 'gyan', beneath the fold...

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


  1. Amrita Ghai in Down To Earth: When Supervisors Cheat. A review of Experiment eleven, dark secrets behind the discovery of a wonder drug by Peter Pringle.

  2. Connor Bamford in The Scientist: Solving Irreproducible Science: "Will the recently launched Reproducibility Initiative succeed in cleaning up research and reducing retractions?"

Innovation-Killing Patents

Alongside the impressive technological advances of the last two decades ... a pall has descended: the marketplace for new ideas has been corrupted by software patents used as destructive weapons.

In the smartphone industry alone, according to a Stanford University analysis, as much as $20 billion was spent on patent litigation and patent purchases in the last two years — an amount equal to eight Mars rover missions. Last year, for the first time, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and unusually big-dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products, according to public filings.

From this NYTimes story by Charles Duhigg and Steve Lohr who start with the story of a small speech recognition software firm that was driven out of business by a lawsuit by a bigger rival with patents.

The Rolls Royce of Chalk

Over at Williams College's Mathematics and Statistics Blog, Satyan Devadoss has an old post about one of the most important items in a mathematician's toolkit: chalk. His entire post is a build-up to this all important question:

3. So what is the best chalk out there?

I have wrestled with this question and spent a bit of time pursing this over my sabbatical last year. There have been rumors about a dream chalk, a chalk so powerful that mathematics practically writes itself; a chalk so amazing that no incorrect proof can be written using this chalk. I can finally say, after months of pursuit, that such a chalk indeed exists. It is called the Hagoromo Fulltouch Chalk.

For those lucky few who have used it, it can truly be called the Michael Jordan of chalk, the Rolls Royce of chalk. [Bold emphasis added]

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Music Time

A song based on the theme music of Seven Samurai [Direct link]:

A part of that movie's soundtrack is here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Evidence-based Presidency

From Michael Lewis' profile of President Obama:

“I want to play that game again,” I [Michael Lewis] said. “Assume that in 30 minutes you will stop being president. I will take your place. Prepare me. Teach me how to be president.”

This was the third time I’d put the question to him, in one form or another. [...]

This time he covered a lot more ground and was willing to talk about the mundane details of presidential existence. “You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” The self-discipline he believes is required to do the job well comes at a high price. “You can’t wander around,” he said. “It’s much harder to be surprised. You don’t have those moments of serendipity. You don’t bump into a friend in a restaurant you haven’t seen in years. The loss of anonymity and the loss of surprise is an unnatural state. You adapt to it, but you don’t get used to it—at least I don’t.” [Bold emphasis added]

Scientists in Legal Trouble

The lawsuit against the Italian scientists who mis-estimated the odds of a major earthquake in the town of L'Aquila is nearing its end. Edwin Cartlidge reports in Science Insider that the prosecutors are asking for a 4-year jail term for the scientists.

Affirmative Action Goes to Wachington

Even before the US Supreme Court sits down to hear arguments in the latest affirmative action case to land at its doorsteps, it has been getting tons of reading material from various groups. One of them [link, link] makes an interesting case: replace race-based AA programs with one that's based on factors such as parental income and education, wealth of the student's neighbourhood, etc. A class-based AA program, in other words.

The broad idea, I think, is to create something that would achieve the diversity-related goals of institutions (without using race explicitly as a factor), and still be acceptable to the public, the lawmakers, and the courts.

The case itself is scheduled for a hearing in the coming days and weeks, and the SCOTUS verdict will probably arrive early next year. It will be interesting to see how this case is decided, and the arguments used for supporting that decision.

* * *

During the Mandal II debate in 2006-07, Yogendra Yadav and Satish Deshpande argued for a reservation system [see this post for links] that would, in essence, provide additional points to students from disadvantaged backgrounds due to their caste, sex, education and income levels of their parents, etc. In the event, the UPA-I government decided to run with a fixed quota for OBC students; the Supreme Court accepted this scheme with just one modification -- the so-called creamy layer clause that would exclude students from wealthy families from the quota benefit.

Unlike the US, there is an expectation in India that admission policies should be based on completely objective criteria; this explains the emphasis on cut-off marks, entrance exam scores, and the like. It's probably this that led Yadav and Deshpande to propose their "deprivation index" so that admissions officials would still have some objective numbers to base their decisions on.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Misconduct Accounts for Two out Three Retractions

The big news of the day is the PNAS paper -- Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications -- by Ferric Fang, Arturo Casadevall and Grant Steen who looked into the reasons behind retracted papers in the PubMed database -- all 2047 of them. There is quite a bit of buzz -- see this post at Retraction Watch for some commentary and links to press coverage.

G. Mudur's news story in today's The Telegraph covers the Indian angle and presents some additional details which are only implicit in the paper. A couple of quick comments:

  1. PubMed has less than 200,000 papers by Indian researchers out of over 25 million entries. It's safe to say India accounts for less than 1 % of the papers in PubMed.

    But, India accounts for 3.4 % of fraudulent papers, 10 % of plagiarized papers, and 9 % of duplicate papers. [Look at the graphic in Mudur's story.]

  2. My own study last year had flagged just one Indian paper for fraud (specifically, falsification); but Fang et al appear to have flagged more than 25 papers for fraud.

    My guess is that this difference is probably due to papers that could have been flagged either way. For example, a bunch of PubMed papers (in addition to several tens more that are not in PubMed) from Prof. P. Chiranjeevi's group at Sri Venkateswara University at Tirupati could easily have been flagged for fraud because (a) it was a part of a massive, deliberate scam, and (b) the group also changed names of some of the chemical entities in their plagiarized papers.

    [I flagged them for plagiarism, primarily because that's what those papers really are; moreover, the retraction notices are not entirely clear about the nature of the offence].

Sunday, September 30, 2012


  1. Scary: Ben Goldacre's TED Talk on "drug companies and hidden data." Academics and journal editors also get a big share of the blame for undermining 'evidence-based medicine.'

  2. Remember the study on gender bias in science? One of the authors -- Corinne A. Moss-Racusin at Yale University -- has published a summary: Are Science Faculty Biased against Female Students?. And here are some blog commentaries:

  3. Philip Greenland and Phil B. Fontanarosa have an editorial in Science: Ending Honorary Authorship.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Music Time

Gustav Mahler's 7th Symphony (3rd Movement: Scherzo; full symphony is here) by Vienna Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


A bunch of links related to open access, copyrights, fair use, course packs, etc.

  1. Nature's Richard van Noorden breaks the story on a huge win for open access: tons of articles in high energy physics become available online for free due to a historic agreement between some 12 journals and an entity called Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics.

  2. Recently, the Indian outfits of the Cambridge University Press and the Oxford University Press (along with some other academic publishers) have filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Delhi University and one of the photocopying centers located in its campus. This move has led to a lively debate -- see Lawrence Liang's post at Kafila; a later post expands on this theme, and has many links to contributions by others.

  3. Zick Rubin in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Let's Spread the Word about Fair Use.

Colleagues in the News

  1. The S.S. Bhatnagar Prizes for this year were announced today, and it's great to see three of my IISc colleagues in the list: Prof. N. Ravishankar (Engineering), Prof. Arindam Ghosh (Physics) and Prof. G. Mugesh (Chemistry).

    Congratulations to the Prize winners!

  2. Last year's SSB Prize winners received their award at a CSIR ceremony this morning. That elite crew included a couple of IISc colleagues as well: Prof. U. Ramamurty and Prof. K.N. Balaji.

  3. A Forbes (India) article on academics with an interest in entrepreneurship carries a profile of Prof. Rudra Pratap, Chairman of IISc's Centre for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE). [There are profiles of several others too.]

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Scientist

It's great to see Prof. Satyam Suwas, a friend and colleague, among the scientists profiled in this Mint feature. The article by Komal Sharma seeks to inform the public about what a life in science is like, through self-portraits of three scientists at different career stages -- Prof. B.N. Jagtap (BARC, and Homi Bhabha National Institute), Prof. Satyam Suwas, and Prof. Yamuna Krishnan (an IISc alumna who is now at NCBS).

Here's an excerpt from Yamuna Krishnan's part where she talks about the "viscosity of the system" as a challenge:

Challenges: “Competing with the best internationally despite the viscosity of the system. For instance, if I need a chemical in India that needs to come from abroad (most of the time, this is the case), if it arrives within a month we are lucky. If one is in Europe or the US, the same chemical would take one-seven days to reach you.”


  1. Let's start with one from the Annals of Gimmicky and Useless Infographics The Economist: Comparing Indian states and territories with countries

  2. Ouch! When Surgeons Leave Objects Behind. "All sorts of tools are mistakenly left in patients: clamps, scalpels, even scissors on occasion. But sponges account for about two-thirds of all retained items."

  3. Historical Echoes: 150 Years after the Morrill Act, which led to the "creation of 'at least one college in each state [in the United States] where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific or classical studies, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts . . . in order to promote the liberal and practical education of industrial classes.'"

    Many of our leading universities (including MIT, Cornell, the University of California at Berkeley, and other universities that figure in U.S. News and World Report’s top twenty-five list) were born of this law.

  4. With Tilghman's Resignation, Another Pioneer Female President Moves On. Prof. Shirley Tilghman has announced that "she will resign at the end of the academic year as Princeton University's president. [...] Other departures in the last three months include Ruth J. Simmons, the first female president of Brown University and the first black leader of any Ivy League institution, and Susan Hockfield, the first female president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

IgNobel 2012

The 2012 IgNobel prizes have been announced. Two that deserve my awe are
NEUROSCIENCE PRIZE: Craig Bennett, Abigail Baird, Michael Miller, and George Wolford [USA], for demonstrating that brain researchers, by using complicated instruments and simple statistics, can see meaningful brain activity anywhere — even in a dead salmon.

Related research Reference 1 [pdf] and Reference 2 published in Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1-5.
LITERATURE PRIZE: The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.

Related Reference: "Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies," US Government General Accountability Office report GAO-12-480R, May 10, 2012.
Check here for the rest.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gender Gap, Sexism and Scientists

In the following excerpt from Scott Jaschik's story in Inside Higher Ed -- Smoking Gun on Sexism? -- what is really fascinating is the finding that both male and female faculty members were nearly the same in their anti-women bias. See the highlighted bit in the third paragraph below:

... a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers evidence of bias among scientists -- male and female scientists alike -- against female students. The study was based on evaluations by scientists of hypothetical student applications for a lab manager position, with the application materials identical in every way, except that half of the pool received applications with a male name and the other half received applications with a female name. The faculty members surveyed -- 127 professors in biology, chemistry or physics -- were told that their analyses of the applications would be used to help the students. And they were asked to evaluate the students' competence and "hireability" and to consider how large a salary they would recommend and how much mentoring they would offer the student if hired.

The scientists evaluating these applications (which were identical in every way except the gender of the "submitter") rated the male student more competent, more likely to be hired, deserving of a better salary, and worth spending more time mentoring. The gaps were significant.

Female scientists were as likely as male scientists to evaluate the students this way. For instance, the scientists were asked to rate the students' competence on a 5-point scale. Male faculty rated the male student 4.01 and the female student 3.33. Female scientists rated the male student 4.10 and the female student 3.32. On salary, the gaps were also notable. The average salary suggested by male scientists for the male student was $30,520; for the female student, it was $27,111. Female scientists recommended, on average, a salary of $29,333 for the male student and $25,000 for the female student. [Emphasis added]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Quote of the Day

Even jerks have the right to free speech, but they are still jerks.
-- Salman Rushdie in an interview with Jon Stewart [Video embedded below]. The New Yorker has excerpted Rushdie's latest book Joseph Anton about his life after The Fatwā.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Salman Rushdie
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


  1. Rahul Siddharthan's op-ed in The Hindu, The Real Questions from Kudankulam, drew a response from Atul Chokshi, a colleague in our Department. Rahul has posted his reply on his blog.

  2. Subhra Priyadarshini has a good piece at the Nature India portal on research on social wasps being carried out in Prof. Raghavendra Gadagkar's group at IISc. Prof. Gadagkar is the author of articles with such cool titles as We Know that the Wasps 'Know' and A Subaltern View of Eusociality.

  3. New Prof at the Academic Garden: Are You a Student? A hilarious story (with a pretty nifty twist in the tail), parts of which must be familiar with faculty members blessed with youthful looks.

  4. Annie Zaidi: Smoke That! A column about issues raised by recent utterances of Justice Bhaktavatsala and Senior Advocate v. Shekhar [see also this recent post: Stuff Indian Government Says].

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Anirudh Krishna on Falling into Poverty

Like many other urban and middle-class Indians, I was raised to believe that people must be poor for some faults of their own. But these grandmothers’ tales disappeared like smoke when confronted with the reality that I experienced. Our team probed the factors associated with falling into poverty or remaining poor among a total of 35,000 households. Drunkenness, drug abuse, and laziness together accounted for no more than 3% of all instances (see Krishna 2010).

People are not poor because they wish to be poor or because of some character defect. Most have become poor due to influences beyond their personal control. These are the factors toward which preventive poverty policies must be geared. I will write of these factors in my next posting.

That's Prof. Anirudh Krishnaa, a professor of public policy and political science at Duke, discussing his research at the Ideas for India blog.

I came across his paper -- Escaping Poverty and Becoming Poor: Who Gains, Who Loses, and Why? -- way back in 2006 [I blogged about it at HtOHL; BTW, that site is no more, but lives on at the Internet Archive]. Krishna has gone on to write a book on this research: One Illness Away: Why People Become Poor and How They Escape Poverty.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Quote of the Day

Blogging is not writing. It's just graffiti with punctuation.
-- Dr. Ian Sussman, a character in Contagion (2011). [video]

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

From the Weird, Wacky World of ...

... retraction notices, here's the latest, which retracts this 2011 paper by AIIMS researchers.

Specifically, the editor holds out this threat:

Authors must make sure their work is accurate and complies with professional ethical codes. Similar cases will be referred to retractionwatch.[Bold emphasis added]

I can almost hear the ethical transgressors quaking at the spine-chilling, hip-screwing horror of getting reported to Retraction Watch!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The most perfect academic publication

I remember seeing this paper several years ago, and may even have linked to it. Even so, this paper from 1974 is so perfect that it deserves another link [thanks to Gautam Menon for the reminder/alert]: The unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of “writer's block” by Dennis Upper.

Improbable Careers of Materials Engineers

A fascinating bit (caught by Guru) from the obituary of Verghese Kurien, Milkman of India [thanks to Guru for this good catch]:

“What do you know about pasteurisation,” an interviewer asked the young man who had applied for a Government of India fellowship for a Masters in Engineering abroad. “Something to do with milk?” was the uncertain reply. The year was 1946. In his biography From Anand: The story of Verghese Kurien , M.V. Kamath recounts the story of how the youngster was selected to do a Masters in dairy engineering by a government committee that was impervious to his pleas that he be allowed to specialise in metallurgy instead.

As it turned out, Michigan State University did not have dairy engineering, and Verghese Kurien was able to do metallurgy and Physics. But when he came back to India in 1948, it was to a small and unknown village in Gujarat called Anand that he was sent, to work out his two-year bond at the Government creamery on a salary of Rs.600 per month. Hating his job, he waited impatiently for his fetters to loosen. That did not happen. What it did was that V. Kurien, by the conjunction of politics, nationalism and professional challenge, decided to stay on. He would transform rural India.

Verghese Kurien, who became a legend in his lifetime for building a cooperative movement that transformed the lives of poor farmers while making India self-reliant in milk production, died on Sunday in Nadiad at the age of 90. ... [Bold emphasis added]

* * *

Update: I forgot to add a couple of other names to the list of materials engineers who are better known for their exploits / achievements in other fields: Manohar Parrikar (politics) and Sidin Vadukut (journalism).