Friday, May 04, 2018

UGC strikes back: INSA's Indian Journal of History of Science is not an "approved" journal!

After many people pointed out that the University Grants Commission's "White List" of "approved" journals had many, many predatory journals (see, for example, this recent report in The Hindu), UGC tried to make amends by issuing another list [pdf], which now consists of all the journals which are "removed" from the list of "approved" journals.

What is really galling is that in this pruning process, which killed some 4000+ journals, UGC has gone way too far on the other side, and removed a whole bunch of legitimate journals. [see this report from today's The Hindu].

I just learnt that The Indian Journal of History of Science, published by the Indian National Science Academy, has also been kicked out of the "approved" list!

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Obituary of the 100 Dollar Laptop

Way back in March 2014, OLPC News, which used to track all the OLPC-related news and developments, bid farewell to this pipe dream riding on poor people's money. Earlier this month, Adi Robertson penned a formal detailed obituary in The Verge: OLPC’S $100 laptop was going to change the world — Then it all went wrong. Buried deep within Robertson's essay (actually, right at its end), we find this:

There’s surprisingly little hard data about the long-term impact of OLPCs on childhood education, though. Zamora points to some case studies for individual countries, and says OLPC wants to commission more comprehensive research in the future. But the organization has mostly focused on anecdotes and distribution numbers as markers of success. “OLPC was always very averse to measuring how well they were doing versus the traditional school system,” says Gros. “There have only been a very limited number of attempts to actually measure how well students were doing with OLPC versus not, because it was very hard to do.”

Ames thinks that OLPC’s high-profile failures helped temper the hype around ed-tech programs. “There was a lot of worry that OLPC would crash and take everything with it — that there would be no funding in [educational technology], there would be no funding in tech development,” says Ames. “I think ed-tech in particular can still really draw on some of the same tropes, and hasn’t fully learned the lessons that OLPC should have taught it. But both of those spaces did have to mature to some degree, and stop being quite so naive in their tech utopianism.” Non-OLPC student laptop programs are still contentious. Maine Governor Paul LePage trashed his state’s initiative as a “massive failure” in 2016, and while it’s still running, its results have been ambiguous and difficult to measure. Mitra’s Hole-in-the-Wall project won a $1 million TED prize in 2013, but critics say he still hasn’t published any rigorous studies of its effects. Bender isn’t convinced that Mitra’s minimalist computing project proved anything. “We already knew that kids could learn to use computers. They’ve been doing that since day one,” he says. “What the project did not demonstrate is that kids could use computers for learning.”

Ames says the real question isn’t whether laptop programs help students, but whether they’re more effective than other programs competing for the same money. “I think that given unlimited funding, absolutely ... Learning about technology is very important,” she says. “That said, there’s always a tradeoff. There’s always some project that will be defunded or de-emphasized as a result of this.”

Thirteen years ago, OLPC told the world that every child should get a laptop. It never stopped to prove that they needed one.


... [B]ad papers take a lot of time too, so let us just write a good one.

Attributed to the Princeton economist Dilip José Abreu by his junior colleague Markus Brunnermeier, as reported in Rohit Lamba's essay on Prof. Abreu and his key contributions.

The full paragraph presents the context in which these words were uttered:

In the late 1990s, as Abreu started to develop an interest in financial markets, a young Markus Brunnermeier, now a leading financial economist, joined Princeton. The duo teamed up to write a paper that explained why financial bubbles sustain. Investors are uncertain of when others will start trading against the bubble, making it worthwhile to continue riding it until its painful burst. For example, in the prelude to the 2008 financial crisis, banks kept issuing subprime mortgage backed securities, even as it was becoming clear that the mountain of debt was going to collapse. The then chief executive officer of Citigroup, Chuck Prince, uttered the now iconic words, “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.” Bubbles emerge and persist in many such situations, breaking the hypothesis that prices internalize all possible information. It was as if Prince had received the Abreu-Brunnermeier memo, but a tad late. Brunnermeier is effusive in his respect for Abreu: “He has been a mentor… He sets very high standards for himself. As we worked through many models of bubbles and I grew anxious as an assistant professor, he joked that bad papers take a lot of time too, so let us just write a good one.” And boy they did.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

PhD recipients from US universities

NSF has a handy 24-page report [pdf] tons of interesting info on PhD recipients from US universities; published in March 2018, the report summarizes data going upt to the year 2016. [This page has a huge list of reports and data tables from NSF on S&E doctorate awards]

Fun facts: During 2006-16, US universities accounted for nearly 50,000 Chinese PhD graduates; followed by Indian (~25,000)and South Korean (~15,000) graduates. Together, these three countries account for over 50% of the PhD degrees awarded to non-US citizens.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

What if Facebook was actually called Policebook?

Apparently, a serial murderer and rapist was identified by the police when they used a DNA database (called GEDmatch, which appears to be a site meant for helping people find their relatives) to which he had voluntarily provided his DNA data. Science has an interview with Yaniv Erlich, a Columbia University geneticist, who had alerted to possible uses of a site such as GEDmatch in 2014.

An excerpt where Erlich makes a key point:

Q: There’s a lot of concern about privacy being compromised here, but people voluntarily put their data into GEDmatch.

A: It's not like people fully understand the consequences of putting their DNA into a public database. They think, “So many people use the website, so it’s OK.” Or: “Oh, it’s a website for genealogy.” What if it was called Police Genealogy? People wouldn’t do it. We don’t think about everything. We think about the most likely thing. [Bold emphasis added]

Avijit Pathak: "Debating Plagiarism: Indian Academia Is Producing Imitative Conformists"

Riffing off on recent cases of plagiarism by Indian academics, he poses a deeper question: "Is ... our thinking itself ... plagiarised?"

To illustrate his point, he presents an episode from his own days "as a student of sociology at a leading university in Delhi":

... Let me recall what I experienced as a student of sociology at a leading university in Delhi. My professor asked me to write a paper on caste. I met my professor and conveyed my wish. ‘Sir, I have read what you have asked us to read. However, in my paper I wish to write something more: the way I saw, experienced and analysed the institutionalisation and practice of caste, and through this account, I would learn and unlearn the texts you have suggested.’

The professor said, ‘No, you can’t write what you think, experience and feel. You are required to write the way the likes of M.N. Srinivas and Louis Dumont have thought about it’.

I followed his instruction and wrote a highly-mechanised but ‘academically impressive’ paper with predictable quotes and references from the big names. Needless to add, I got a good grade. In other words, I got the message: My style, my perception, my words do not count; what matters is a defined academic format, a style created by others. I have to be clever in the art of copying.