Saturday, January 12, 2013


  1. Jeffrey Mervis in Science Insider: Ten Years In, an Innovative College for Undergraduate Engineers Snags Prestigious Award. The innovative college in the title is the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, and Mervis's report has an interview of its president, Richard Miller. Here's a bit about the selection process:

    Most of [the mandatory weekend of interviews] is done in a team, groups of five from all over the world. In the first exercise, we give them a box and tell them they have 3 hours to design a particular widget. So it's a bit of a contest. We actually don't care how the project turns out, but we are looking to see how they interact with one another. …

    The next exercise is to see how they deal with controversy. They have 30 minutes to develop a presentation, and every member of the group has to speak. And we sit in the back of the room and watch them. …

    The last piece is a one-on-one interview, in which we ask them what it means to lead a good life. … This is all part of defining what we call multiple intelligences, which is a direct outgrowth of Howard Gardner's work at Harvard [University].

    And Miller makes this point again in a comparison with other tech colleges:

    ... Say, for example, during that last part of the application process, where it's one-on-one, you're sitting in the room with the kid and he or she is talking and looking down at their shoes and rocking back and forth and not making eye contact. And you ask, "So what do you do when you're not solving equations?" And the student says: "Well, I play video games."

    Now at Olin, that would probably not get you admitted. Despite the fact he might have perfect test scores, and he may be the next prodigy in computer science, I'm not sure that he or she would fit in well at Olin and grow, and the other students might not get much from the interaction. So we might put that fish back in the pond, and he or she would show up at another university. And he may go on to win a Nobel Prize. But it wouldn't be an Olin kid.

  2. In Cleaning Up Science, Gary Marcus, an NYU professor, offers six suggestions based on recent articles in a special issue of Perspectives in Psychological Science devoted Replicability in Psychological Science: A Crisis of Confidence?. Here's the first:

    Restructure the incentives in science. For many reasons, science has become a race for the swift, but not necessarily the careful. Grants, tenure, and publishing all depend on flashy, surprising results. It is difficult to publish a study that merely replicates a predecessor, and it’s difficult to get tenure (or grants, or a first faculty jobs) without publications in elite journals. From the time a young scientist starts a Ph. D. to the time they’re up for tenure is typically thirteen years (or more), at the end of which the no-longer young apprentice might find him or herself out of a job. It is perhaps, in hindsight, no small wonder that some wind up cutting corners. Instead of, for example, rewarding scientists largely for the number of papers they publish—which credits quick, sloppy results that might not be reliable—we might reward scientists to a greater degree for producing solid, trustworthy research that other people are able to successfully replicate and then extend.

  3. Ivan Oransky at Retraction Watch: Paul Muchowski, sanctioned last month by the ORI for falsely reporting results, offers an apology.

  4. Daniel Cressey in Nature: ‘Rehab’ helps errant researchers return to the lab [via Retraction Watch].

  5. Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg in The Atlantic: Technology Porn for Book Lovers: A 1940s Guide to Printing [features a video on How Books Are Made].