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).

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Thanks to the Silent Minority

"What is 1 divided by 0?" my high school mathematics teacher asked us twenty five years back.

Sweaty naked kneels clashing, compressed were we, in small benches misaligned in the general direction of the black board, which was more white than black.

We chorused "zero".

Short, strong, white flanneled and bare footed -- our village Swami Vivekananda -- our teacher smiled; then asked, "what is 1 divided by 1?"; we answered correctly. "What is 1 divided by 2?" Of course, "it is 0.5," we piped. So "What would be 1 divided by 4?" "0.25."

And then he paused. By now even us last-benchers sitting inside a little ramshackle of a room with thatched roof and limestone stained walls, got ourselves enthused.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Stuff Indian Government Says

No time to start a Tumblr blog, so I'm just going to go with a new label for this. Interpreting 'government' quite broadly (to include official pronouncements of all kinds), here are two recent examples:

  1. "Family matters should be argued only by married people, not spinsters. You [an unmarried lawyer] should only watch. Bachelors and spinsters watching family court proceedings will start thinking if there is any need to marry at all. Marriage is not like a public transport system. You better get married and you will get very good experience to argue such cases."
    -- Justice K. Bhaktavatsala, Judge, Karnataka High Court. [Source: Kafila: Petition to Chief Justice of India – Remove Justice Bhaktavatsala of Karnataka High Court

  2. "Indian tradition doesn't permit a lady to smoke."
    -- V. Shekhar, Senior Advocate for the Ministry of Health, during oral arguments in a lawsuit about smoking movie characters. [Link via Indian Homemaker.]

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

For your reading pleasure

A veritable rant about India's college and university teachers by Justice Markandey Katju (though he bashes school teachers as well). There are many words to describe the article, and vacuous and confused seem the least offensive.

Here's a teaser:

I posed them another question: the test of every system is one simple question. Does it raise the standard of living of the masses or not? I said that the huge amount of money being spent on higher education in India is not raising the standard of living of the Indian masses because over 75 per cent of Indians live in dire poverty. There is massive unemployment, skyrocketing prices, huge problems of health care, housing, etc.

Apart from that, I asked them how many Nobel laureates have our universities and other institutes of higher education produced. Hardly any.

Snake Oil of the Second Decade of the 21st Century

Satish Jha makes a play for his candidate, the OLPC:

Schools require buildings, teachers, equipment and electricity. OLPC becomes a school in a box, removing all these needs. To create this infrastructure would require $2,000 per child (Rs. 1.1 lakh), OLPC costs a fraction of that. In 65 years, we haven’t been able to build a learning infrastructure in the country. [...]