Monday, October 28, 2013

Robert Shiller on sharing this year's Nobel with Eugene Fama

He doesn't really hide much, does he?


See also: How Shiller helped Fama win the Nobel by Barry Ritholtz.

* * *

But the [efficient markets] theory is commonly thought, at least by enthusiasts, to imply much more. Notably, it has been argued that regular movements in the markets reflect a wisdom that transcends the best understanding of even the top professionals, and that it is hopeless for an ordinary mortal, even with a lifetime of work and preparation, to question pricing. Market prices are esteemed as if they were oracles.

This view grew to dominate much professional thinking in economics, and its implications are dangerous.[...]

And ...

Professor Fama avoids theories that describe these risk premia as even possibly reflecting irrational behavior, and I think he’s wrong about that. [...]

I would not ... recommend that monetary or fiscal authorities seek inspiration from his theories on how to stabilize the economy. He doubts the existence of any bubble before this crisis, and his philosophy would have let banks fail at the beginning of it.


An ad that promotes ostentation with a positive social message. When I saw it yesterday, the view count was at 33,000; now it's over 164,000.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How do people react when someone says, "I'm a math major"?

On his G+ stream, +John Baez posted this video, and said this in his commentary:

I can't honestly say "math is hard" for me - at least, not compared to other things. For me it's always been one of the easier things to do well. However, that just meant I got far enough that I met people who were a lot better at math than me: actual geniuses. So her advice that you should give yourself some slack - that applies to me too. Trying to gain a sense of self-worth from doing something better than other people is self-defeating. I'm happiest when I forget that baloney and focus on the beauty of the task at hand. [Bold emphasis added]

Here's the video:

Saturday, October 26, 2013


  1. Economist: Trouble at the lab. "Scientists like to think of science as self-correcting. To an alarming degree, it is not."

  2. Economist on science in China: Looks Good on Paper. "A flawed system for judging research is leading to academic fraud."

  3. Richard van Noorden in Nature: Brazilian citation scheme outed. "Thomson Reuters suspends journals from its rankings for ‘citation stacking’."

  4. Krutika Mallikarjuna at BuzzFeed: How to Science as Told by 17 Overly Honest Scientists.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Talk at IISc about Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

This talk will address the history of sexual harassment as an employment concern and the issue in India - leading up to the Vishaka guidelines. More recently, Parliament has enacted a law on Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace.The talk will focus on the new act and duties of employers as well as how complaints can use the Act to have complaints of sexual harassment addressed.

The talk is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, 24 October 2013), and the speaker is Aarti Mundkur, Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore. Here's the speaker bio:

Aarti Mundkur is a founder member of the Alternative Law Forum (ALF), Bangalore. She was with ALF for 11 years mainly for women in distress, domestic violence and sexual harassment. She also served on the Juvenile Justice Board, Bangalore for two years. She has a masters degree in social work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and a degree in law from Bangalore University.

How to Nail a Diploma Mill

The BBC method involves a dog and its CV:

However, Newsnight found that getting the [American University of London] to provide a qualification without any study at all was easy. [...]

The real "Pete" is a dog living at Battersea Dogs' Home The programme drew up a one-page fake CV for a management consultant Peter Smith, known as Pete, living in South London, which included 15 years of made-up work experience and a fictitious undergraduate degree from a UK university.

The real Pete was actually a dog living in Battersea Dogs' Home.

* * *

Hat tip: Inside Higher Ed.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Samar Halarnkar Profiles Bhatnagar Prize Winners

Two of his recent Mint columns have been on the research by Prof. Yamuna Krishnan (NCBS) and Prof. Bikramjit Basu (IISc). Do check them out; from what Halarnkar says in the first -- "In the weeks to come, Frontier Mail will tell you what these scientists do and why it is important" -- we will get to read soon about the others as well.


[Aside: Given that CSIR cannot rouse itself to put together a citation to accompany what are arguably the most prestigious awards in India -- see my little rant at the end of this post -- I think Halarnkar is performing a great service through these articles]

* * *

  1. Those incredible DNA machines

    Krishnan, who did her doctorate at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and post-doctoral work at the University of Cambridge, UK, has shown how DNA can be artificially woven into longer strands, like a weaver’s tapestry, or a child’s matchstick house. “Just in the way we make architectures on the macro scale with matchsticks and fevicol, we can do the same with DNA,” Krishnan tells me over email from Boston, where she has just given two lectures. Much like using fingers to assemble matchsticks, Krishnan uses chemicals called enzymes to manipulate strips, or sequences, of DNA to create nanoscale architecture: new structures smaller than 100 nanometres, invisible to the human eye. These DNA sequences can be copied, cut or pasted to create nanoscale machines of living matter. In contrast with non-biological options, DNA devices are biocompatible (unlikely to trigger the body’s immune system) and biodegradable (they can disintegrate harmlessly once their work).

    This May, in a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, Krishnan and her team demonstrated for the first time how two nanomachines constructed from DNA could test acidity in two different places inside a living cell, an advance from running a single DNA nanomachine at a time. Abnormal cellular acidity is a marker for many diseases, and the use of DNA devices promises tools for future probes or disease therapies.

  2. The Bone Creator

    At the heart of Basu’s investigations is electricity, more precisely the mastery of extremely mild electric currents, which course through and serve as the language of living cells. The idea that electricity informs cells how to grow is not new. Living things have a constant, though very gentle, flow of electricity. Over decades, scientists have even fiddled with voltages to create frogs with eyes on their back and hearts in the wrong places.

    What Basu does is apply electricity to grow bone, cardiac, nerve and even stem cells (which can grow into other types of cells) atop an artificial substrate, or surface, somewhat like butter on toast—except that this butter must spread itself on the diner’s urging.

    This is not easy. The bioengineer requires a precise knowledge of when and how much electric current to apply to cells growing on foreign foundations. “Cell division should not be affected and the cells should not die,” says Basu. “When two cells talk to each other, the material has to facilitate that crosstalk.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Elsevier Editors on Research Ethics

Via Ivan Oransky at Retraction Watch: The latest issue of Editor's Update, a periodical of sorts from Elsevier, is the first of a two-part "Ethics Special" with commentary from editors of Elsevier journals on publication ethics. In one of the articles -- Research misconduct – three editors share their stories -- Prof. Henrik Rudolph, Editor-in-Chief, Applied Surface Science, drops this bombshell:

The frequency of academic misconduct has been rather stable since Applied Surface Science started using EES in July 2005. Close to 10% of the papers we receive show some sign of academic misconduct, but since the total number of submissions is increasing, the absolute number is also rising. The most common issue we see is too large an overlap with previously published material, i.e. plagiarism. Cases are evenly divided between self-plagiarism and regular plagiarism. These submissions are most often identified in the editorial phase (by the managing editor or editor) and are rejected before they are sent out for review. [Bold emphasis added]

Monday, October 14, 2013

"You Complete Me"

What started as a romantic quote, got parodied in several films (e.g. this brilliant scene in The Dark Knight)before graffiti artist Banksy gave it his treatment.

* * *

Banksy is involved in this replication (of sorts) of the Joshua Bell experiment [Hat tip to Michael Nielsen]:

The Great Indian Debate: Lassi or Ladoo?

DNA reports that some IIT-KGP students are petitioning their alumnus and Senior VP at Google +Sundar Pichai that Google should choose Lassi as the name for the Android version to come after KitKat (which follows Jelly Bean, ICe Cream Sandwich, Honeycomb, etc., all the way down to Cupcake). Someone else suggested Ladoo, presumably because he is a big-time fan of Chhota Bheem.

"[But] Lassi or Ladoo is a definite no-no," according to a "market research professional" quoted by DNA.

The MRP may not have given his reasons, but I will give mine: Lassi and Ladoo are just too damned generic (like Cupcake and Donut). KitKat certainly appears to be a bad mis-step, and I suspect Googlers might want to correct for it by looking for something with character, class, and charm. And a lot of oomph.

My inner Banarasi has just the right thing for them:

Lavang Latha!

* * *

I'm visiting my alma mater in November for this mega event. The last time I visited some 15 years ago, I recall returning with a bag of these luscious little packages filled with sin and bliss.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


  1. Hugo Horta at University World News: Understanding the pros and cons of academic inbreeding.

  2. A Nobel Prize Winner on Why We Need Foundational Research: An interview of James E. Rothman, a Physiology/Medicine Prize winner this year, by New Yorker's Lisa Rosenbaum.

  3. Joshua Gans at Digitopoly: Harvard Business School Publishing crosses the ‘evil’ academic line.

  4. Sharon Begley (Reuters, March 2012): In cancer science, many "discoveries" don't hold up.

  5. Sara Rimer (NYTimes, November 2004): When Plagiarism's Shadow Falls on Admired Scholars.

  6. Survey - Science Fraud: The Hard Figures.

Shoba Narayann's Views On Women In Science Have Evolved

From this in October 2008 (see also: my post on that column):

I am a feminist. But I also feel that the male and female brains perform differently. Men are better at some fields than women. Although he got a lot of flak for his “gaffe” about women not being good at math, I happen to agree with Larry Summers. There are exceptions—Sujata Ramadorai being one—but in general, women somehow don’t do so well in math. None of the Fields Medal winners so far has been a women. Part of the reason why women don’t excel in certain fields could be that they don’t “grab” us. Engineering, for instance, is a male-dominated field perhaps because it doesn’t engage the female mind as much as say, photography or design.

... to this in October 2013:

So the first thing is to make everyone aware of this “unconscious bias” in their signalling. In a famous experiment, two identical CVs were sent to university professors. One CV belonged to a fictional “John”, and the other (identical) one belonged to a fictional “Jennifer”. John got more job offers and a higher starting pay. Just based on a male name. Jennifer was more “likeable”. It wasn’t just the men who succumbed to this bias. Women bosses offered John a higher pay too. So don’t tell me you are a feminist as if that makes it all okay. No matter how concerned a father you may be; no matter if you are a feminist—man or woman; no matter how evolved you think you are, the way we all react to girls is fundamentally different from the way we react to boys.

It may have taken Narayan 5 years to get to this point; still, it's always good to see this kind of change in the views of a regular columnist in a major media outlet.

DBT's Stand on Research Ethics

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), an arm of the Government of India that funds scientific research especially in biological and biomedical sciences, has issued a statement devoted to "the handling of allegations of research misconduct", and it is "intended to address situations where this foundation of integrity may be compromised."

The statement is a modified version of that from the Wellcome Trust-DBI India Alliance (which is acknowledged right at the beginning as being the primary source). It provides guidelines for individual organizations:

  • The organization has the responsibility to "investigate all allegations of research misconduct made against its staff and students."

  • The organization also has the responsibility to notify DBT "at the earliest opportunity ... whenever there is prima facie credibility in allegations of a serious nature"

  • The organization must "have in place formal written procedures for dealing with allegations of research misconduct"

This is a great initiative, and I am very glad to see DBT taking the lead to address this policy vacuum. I hope the other funding agencies will follow suit.

It is not clear if this statement has any teeth. I am saying this only because the it has only two instances of the word "must," as in "the organization must do this"; most of the other sentences go, like, "the organization is expected to this."

Which raises the question: what Will DBT do if an institution chooses to ignore one of the two "musts" in the statement: "must have in place formal written procedures ..."?

The statement is also incomplete in the sense that it leaves certain things out -- for example, it does not talk about anonymous whistle blowing. Also, it has nothing to say about making the results of misconduct investigations public. I presume the document will be updated to fill these gaps over time; but it will happen only if the broader scientific community feels filling such gaps is important.

I am not sure how long the DBT statement has been in place (Vishu Guttal, a colleague at IISc, sent me this link a few days ago).

It will be very interesting to see how our universities, IIXs, and R&D labs respond to it.

As I said, it's a great initiative; still, it's only a start.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Computers and Mathematical Proofs

Apparently, mathematicians take a dim view of the use of computers in proving theorems. This blog post from the Heidelberg Laureates Forum gets a mathematician to articulate why:

Efim Zelmanov spoke up first, saying, “A proof is what is considered to be a proof by all mathematicians, so I’m pessimistic about machine-generated proofs.” He mentioned the four-color theorem, which was the first major proof to be solved using a computer, in 1976. One hundred twenty-four years after it was first proposed, Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken cleverly reduced the problem to checking the properties of 1,936 maps by computer. The result was hundreds of pages of hand analysis combined with thousands of lines of computer code. Many mathematicians hated this, not accepting the proof because it was impossible to check by hand. Michael Atiyah chimed in with a similar perspective: “We aim to get understanding in mathematics,” he said. “If we have to rely on an unintelligible computer proof, it’s not satisfactory.”

Here's another story from 2004 on the proof of Kepler's Conjecture on "the most efficient way to pack oranges":

A leading mathematics journal has finally accepted that one of the longest-standing problems in the field -- the most efficient way to pack oranges -- has been conclusively solved.

That is, if you believe a computer.

The answer is what experts -- and grocers -- have long suspected: stacked as a pyramid. That allows each layer of oranges to sit lower, in the hollows of the layer below, and take up less space than if the oranges sat directly on top of each other.

While that appeared to be the correct answer, no one offered a convincing mathematical proof until 1998 -- and even then people were not entirely convinced.

For six years, mathematicians have pored over hundreds of pages of a paper by Dr. Thomas C. Hales, a professor of mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh.

But Dr. Hales's proof of the problem, known as the Kepler Conjecture, hinges on a complex series of computer calculations, too many and too tedious for mathematicians reviewing his paper to check by hand.

Believing it thus, at some level, requires faith that the computer performed the calculations flawlessly, without any programming bugs. For a field that trades in dispassionate logic and supposedly unambiguous truths and falsehoods, that is an uncomfortably gray in-between.

See also: Dana Mackenzie in The American Scientist: The Proof is in the Packing.

Frontiers In Faculty Hiring: Setting Them Up For Success

Sreeradha Basu and Shreya Biswas have a story on the kinds of things IITs are doing to attract faculty: not just higher start-up money and travel grants for conferences, but also sign-up bonus, better housing, help in finding a position for spouses, etc. It's about time young faculty received some love:

In the past 10 months, IIT Kanpur has offered two to three top-notch candidates start-up grants of as much as Rs 1 crore, up from the usual Rs 25 lakh. During this time, it has made offers to 50 candidates, of whom some 30 have joined. "We have to think of ways to circumvent the fact that we have pay scale constraints," says Indranil Manna, director, IIT Kanpur.

IITs are focusing on research prospects, which academics often give more importance to than compensation. IIT Roorkee, for instance, has invested Rs 185 crore in research infrastructure in the past two years to attract potential candidates. An initial research grant of Rs 10 lakh is given to every individual who joins, says IIT-R director Pradipta Banerji. In the past few months, three faculty members have submitted proposals worth Rs 3.5 crore, which they will get.

IIT Kharagpur is toeing a similar line. The institute has increased the faculty start-up grant from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 28 lakh, which is now given within a month compared with six to 12 months earlier. "We are also giving total grants of Rs 14 crore for special research that is competitive and collaborative. If we see a huge interest in this, we will increase the overall quantum of grants next year," says PP Chakarabarti, director, IIT Kharagpur.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

War on Course Packs

ToI has an AFP story on the war course packs unleashed by the Cambridge University Press, the Oxford University Press, and Taylor & Francis:

A cramped, one-room shop tucked away in Delhi University seems an unlikely battleground for a publishing war that, academics warn, threatens quality of and access to education in the world's second most populous nation.

The busy shop, where photocopiers churn out papers for a steady stream of students for a small fee, is at the centre of a court battle brought by three venerable academic presses over the interpretation of India's copyright law.

The lawsuit, filed by Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Taylor & Francis against Delhi University and the shop threatens production of "course packs" -- de facto "textbooks" made of photocopied portions of various books.

Course packs are common throughout much of the developing world -- where most university students cannot afford to purchase new or even second-hand textbooks -- and are seen as key to the spread of education there.

Many leading academics, including Prof. Amartya Sen, have taken a stand against the lawsuit by the publishing companies. On his Google+ stream, Prof. Tim Gowers of Cambridge posted a petition against the lawsuit, and offered this comment:

... It doesn't sound like a straightforward case to me -- probably CUP and OUP are technically in the right but not necessarily right to enforce that right so vigorously. In any case, I'm happy to give it more publicity, since it raises interesting and important issues.

From the comments on Gowers' post, I got a link to Prof. Shamnad Basheer's op-ed in The Hindu that lays out the arguments against the publishers' moves. The op-ed ends with this call:

In the end, this lawsuit must be seen for what it is: a highly pernicious attempt to fill the coffers of publishers at the expense of students! It must be resisted with all the moral and legal force we have.

Punishment for Inflated Claims in a Press Release

When misconduct in scientific research is proved, the punishment is graded according to the severity of the crime. Fabrication gets you fired (Jan Hendrik Schon, Diederik Stapel, Elizabeth Goodwin, Hwang Woo Suk, ...), while falsification (some minor forms, at least) and plagiarism get you some sanctions (you can't apply for a grant for n years, or your students get reassigned to some other group).

I know of only one case where someone was sent to jail, not quite for research miscondut, but for his use of fabricated data in a grant application. In other words, he was jailed for cheating the government using false information.

Here's a case of someone who was sentenced to house arrest for six months for saying certain things in a press release -- even though everything in the press release is factually correct!

Harkonen’s crime, according to the U.S. government, a federal jury and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, was willfully overstating in a press release the evidence for benefit of a drug his company made.

The press release described a clinical trial of interferon gamma-1b (sold as Actimmune) in 330 patients with a rapidly fatal lung disease. What’s unusual is that everyone agrees there weren’t any factual errors in the four-page document. The numbers were right; it’s the interpretation of them that was deemed criminal. Harkonen was found guilty of wire fraud in 2009 for disseminating the press release electronically. [...]

If you applied this rule to scientists, a sizable proportion of them might be in jail today,” said Steven N. Goodman, a pediatrician and biostatistician at Stanford University who submitted a statement supporting Harkonen’s appeal. [Bold emphasis added]

Monday, October 07, 2013

Science's Misguided War on Open Access

Science in the title refers to this journal.

A journalist at Science sent a bogus article to a bunch of journals and found -- surprise, surprise -- that more than half of them accepted it for publication.

Yeah, peer review at a lot of journals is a joke. What's new?

What's new is that Science chose to spin its experiment as showing the utter badness of the very concept of open access journals.

How did it come to this conclusion? By making a conscious decision to target only open access journals in its experiment.

I guess only a journal with the stature of Science can accept a study with such a strong conclusion without using a control group!

More importantly, coming from a journal that has had some serious peer review problems -- the who's-who of fraudsters, from Jan Hendrik Schön to Hwang Woo Suk to Diederik Stapel, have exploited its weakness for Sexy Science -- this spin is deeply dishonest. And people are calling it out on it. [also see the links in this   post].

I think Michael Eisen owns the internet this week with these opening paragraphs:

I confess, I wrote the Arsenic DNA paper to expose flaws in peer-review at subscription based journals

In 2011, after having read several really bad papers in the journal Science, I decided to explore just how slipshod their peer-review process is. I knew that their business depends on publishing “sexy” papers. So I created a manuscript that claimed something extraordinary - that I’d discovered a species of bacteria that uses arsenic in its DNA instead of phosphorus. But I made the science so egregiously bad that no competent peer reviewer would accept it. The approach was deeply flawed – there were poor or absent controls in every figure. I used ludicrously elaborate experiments where simple ones would have done. And I failed to include a simple, obvious experiment that would have definitively shown that arsenic was really in the bacteria’s DNA. I then submitted the paper to Science, punching up the impact the work would have on our understanding of extraterrestrials and the origins of life on Earth in the cover letter. And what do you know? They accepted it!

My sting exposed the seedy underside of “subscription-based” scholarly publishing, where some journals routinely lower their standards – in this case by sending the paper to reviewers they knew would be sympathetic - in order to pump up their impact factor and increase subscription revenue. Maybe there are journals out there who do subscription-based publishing right – but my experience should serve as a warning to people thinking about submitting their work to Science and other journals like it.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Academic Writing

Two links from my G+ stream.

The first one is a Calvin and Hobbes strip.

The second is Josh Freedman's piece in McSweeny's: I fear my dissertation is not having the world-changing impact I thought it would. Money quote: "I still don’t get this Twitter thing, which turned out to be a huge impediment. My dissertation title itself happens to be more than 140 characters, so there were additional difficulties."


  1. Max Nisen in Business Insider: How Winning Awards Changes People. A commentary on the working paper entitled Prizes and Productivity: How Winning the Fields Medal Affects Scientific Output by George J. Borjas and Kirk B. Doran.

  2. Pam Belluck in Well, a NYTimes blog: For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov. Commentary on this study (paywalled).

  3. Drew Desilver at the Fact Tank: Chart of the Week: The world’s most popular web sites. [via Matt Yglesias]

  4. Laura Sydell at NPR's All Things Considered: Record Label Picks Copyright Fight — With The Wrong Guy. The "wrong guy" is Harvard's Lawrence Lessig.

  5. Gillian Tett in FT: Geeks can be girls.

Global Rankings: Why Do Indian Policy Makers Take Them Seriously?

Over at University Ranking Watch, Richard Holmes says what sounds to me to be quite plausible: a few high profile, highly cited papers could make a huge difference to an institution with a small research base. He cites two examples from this year's THE-TR rankings: the Tokyo Metropolitan University and the Panjab University, and suggests that their high profile papers are possibly related to the LHC collaborations.

In an op-ed (which he has posted on his blog with data tables) on the inconsistencies in global ranking exercises, Prof. Gautam Barua, former director of IIT-Guwahati, echos this view:

The high scores of Panjab and IIT-G vis-à-vis IIT-D could be explained by this. Panjab University's high energy physics group (and to a lesser extent IIT-G's) is part of global experiments at CERN and Fermi Labs, and papers from that project have very high citations. Thus, a small of group of international collaborations are providing a high score. Isn't the median number of citations per faculty a better measure than the average (there are other issues, for example, citations in the sciences are usually much more than in engineering)?

The global ranking exercises like THE-TR and QS rely on pretty dubious measures, including something called the reputation survey. Even on the so-called objective measures (such as citation metrics, which come with their own problems), they have screwed up -- remember Alexandria? Thanks to folks like Richard Holmes, we know how their "mistakes" and corrections and flip-flops have led to wild fluctuations in the ranking fortunes of Malaya over the years.

When a bunch of money-grubbing entities come along and tell the world that they will rank universities across the globe (irrespective of the vast differences among them), and end up doing a demonstrably shoddy job of it year after year, shouldn't we laugh them off the stage?

No! We treat them like they are superstars.

We welcome them to our living room, and have a tête-à-tête in which we ask them to "educate" us on what we need to do to get more Indian institutions in their top 200 or top 400 or whatever.

And we give their top-400 lists a privileged position in our higher-ed policies.

Forget about growing a spine -- it's time people grew some self-respect.

Friday, October 04, 2013

A Genome Biologist meets St. Peter... The Pearly Gates. An evaluation ensues to decide whether he goes to Heaven or a warmer place. Sample this:
GB: Hey, I'm not worried. I was a good scientist, a good citizen, a good family man, I think, too. I never...

St Peter: Yes, yes, I'm sure, but you see, none of that matters. The only thing that matters is your IF.


St Peter: Your impact factor. That's all we use now. If your IF is above 10, then you enter here. If it's lower, well...

GB: My impact factor? What the hell - oops, sorry - is that?
Did he manage to enter Heaven?

(What goes, when Abi upped the citation count of a recent citation-rant...)

Trust the West to Find the Best

Here's one from the Interdisciplinary Department of Huh?-Who-knew?

The awesome twosome, Times Higher Education (THE) and Thomson Reuters, informed us all that we have had this hidden gem among us all along: Panjab University is the best in Asia in citations [bold emphasis added]:

Ranked in the 226-250 bracket in The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-14 announced in London, Panjab University (PU) is ranked 32 in Asia. But besides the fact that PU is the best among Indian universities - even leaving behind the IITs - it is also the best in Asia when it comes to its research being cited in journals and studies across the world.

PU's score for citation, 84.7 on a scale of 100, is higher than the University of Tokyo, Japan, which has been otherwise ranked 1 in Asia and has a world ranking of 23 as per the study. Tokyo's citation score is 69.8. The citation score was based on the frequency with which research of those from PU was used by other researchers.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Moronicity of Relying on Citation Counts

It is well known that papers in mathematics cite less than, say, those in biomedical research (obligatory link a favorite post by Cosma Shalizi). Moreover, papers in mathematics are outnumbered by a huge margin by those in biomedical research. Put together, they take us to a blindingly obvious conclusion: math, as a research activity, might as well be dead for a university interested in raising its position in the ranking pecking order based primarily on a single citation-based metric.

Even within the same field, competent papers in a new, emerging sub-field (e.g., fullerenes in the 1980s, carbon nanotubes in the 1990s, and graphene in the 2000's) acquire lots more citations (and do so a lot more easily and quickly) than equally competent papers do in an old, established field (fullerenes in the 1990s, carbon nanotubes in the 2000s, and presumably, graphene in the 2000-teens).

All that's just a preamble to a link to yet another cry for sanity, this time from economics (now, that's a surprise!): Citations: Caution, Context, and Common Sense by David Laband at Vox. In a section headlined "Citation counts provide limited information," the author gets to what a blind, moronic insistence on citation metrics might mean within the field of economics:

[...] During the course of my 32-year career as an academic economist, the field of economic history has been slowly, but surely, dying off. Papers written by historians of economic thought rarely, if ever, are published in top economics journals and draw relatively few citations as compared to papers written on currently fashionable subjects such as the economics of happiness or network economics. Does the fact that a historian of economic thought has a much lower citation count since 2000 than a network economist imply that the latter is a ‘better’ economist than the former?

The answer to this question depends entirely on how one defines ‘better,’ and in turn, on why the one is being compared against the other. But the fact is such comparisons are being made constantly now, in a wide variety of academic and institutional settings, all over the world.

Convocation Speeches

It has been a loooong while since one of these posts appeared here. Here are some classics (one of them is pretty old, and the other two are from this year).

  1. Tim Minchin at the University of Western Australia (2013): video (also embedded below), text.

  2. George Saunders at Syracuse University (2013): text, noisy video.

  3. David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College (2013): audio at YouTube, text.