Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Filed under: HigherEd-India
Okay, may be it's only raining promises right now -- but the list of central institutions being promised for Seemandhra is pretty staggering!
... it is proposed to set up one Indian Institute of Technology, International Institute of Information Technology, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, National Institute of Technology and National Institute of Disaster Management.
It is also proposed to set up four universities – a Central university, a petroleum university, an agricultural university and a tribal university. [...]
With most of the super-speciality hospitals located in Hyderabad, the government has also proposed to set up an AIIMS-type super-speciality hospital-cum-teaching facility.
In the recent Union Cabinet meeting it was also decided to set up a National Institute of Design in Seemandhra.
Angus Deaton and Arthur Stone in Vox: What Good Are Children?.
Study after study has shown that those who live with children are less satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Is there something wrong with these empirical analyses? Or is it that happiness measures are unreliable? This column argues that the results are correct but that comparisons of the wellbeing of parents and non-parents are of no help at all for people trying to decide whether to have children.
That intriguing conclusion, according to the authors, is primarily because "non-parents are not failed parents, nor are parents failed non-parents." The happiness (or lack thereof) one group cannot be compared directly with that of the other.
Sunday, March 02, 2014
With the Open Day yesterday, our Institute opened its doors to science enthusiasts in and around Bangalore. Thousands of people (mostly kids who arrived in their school buses and vans) walked through our departments where our students put together exhibits, videos, demonstrations and live (and hands-on) experiments. This awesome annual event is organized around the
birthdays of J.N. Tata (the 3rd of March) and C.V. Raman (the 28th of February) the birthday of J.N. Tata (the 3rd of March) and the anniversary of C.V. Raman's discovery of the Raman effect (the 28th of February) [sorry about that error -- I should have checked; thanks to ahannaasmi's for the comment-alert].
He says some sharp things in a recent King's Review interview published under the headline How Academia and Publishing are Destroying Scientific Innovation: A Conversation with Sydney Brenner [Hat tip to Kumar A by e-mail]. His observations cover quite a few things, but two things jumped at me. Here is the first:
Today the Americans have developed a new culture in science based on the slavery of graduate students. Now graduate students of American institutions are afraid. He just performs. He’s got to perform. The post-doc is an indentured labourer. We now have labs that don’t work in the same way as the early labs where people were independent, where they could have their own ideas and could pursue them.
The most important thing today is for young people to take responsibility, to actually know how to formulate an idea and how to work on it. Not to buy into the so-called apprenticeship. I think you can only foster that by having sort of deviant studies. That is, you go on and do something really different. Then I think you will be able to foster it.
But today there is no way to do this without money. That’s the difficulty. In order to do science you have to have it supported. The supporters now, the bureaucrats of science, do not wish to take any risks. So in order to get it supported, they want to know from the start that it will work. This means you have to have preliminary information, which means that you are bound to follow the straight and narrow.
There’s no exploration any more except in a very few places. You know like someone going off to study Neanderthal bones. Can you see this happening anywhere else? No, you see, because he would need to do something that’s important to advance the aims of the people who fund science.
I think I’ve often divided people into two classes: Catholics and Methodists. Catholics are people who sit on committees and devise huge schemes in order to try to change things, but nothing’s happened. Nothing happens because the committee is a regression to the mean, and the mean is mediocre. Now what you’ve got to do is good works in your own parish. That’s a Methodist.
... and here's the second:
... I think peer review is hindering science. In fact, I think it has become a completely corrupt system. It’s corrupt in many ways, in that scientists and academics have handed over to the editors of these journals the ability to make judgment on science and scientists. There are universities in America, and I’ve heard from many committees, that we won’t consider people’s publications in low impact factor journals.
Now I mean, people are trying to do something, but I think it’s not publish or perish, it’s publish in the okay places [or perish]. And this has assembled a most ridiculous group of people. I wrote a column for many years in the nineties, in a journal called Current Biology. In one article, “Hard Cases”, I campaigned against this [culture] because I think it is not only bad, it’s corrupt. In other words it puts the judgment in the hands of people who really have no reason to exercise judgment at all. And that’s all been done in the aid of commerce, because they are now giant organisations making money out of it.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Richard Van Noorden in Nature: Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers. "Conference proceedings removed from subscription databases after scientist reveals that they were computer-generated."
Female Science Professor: Talking About a Toxic Environment. "Should you tell administrators and colleagues why you are leaving?"
In Pictures: Beautiful Science. A slide show of scientific maps and infographics over centuries. Great, great stuff. Especially, the polar area diagram, also called the Nightingale's Rose -- you can see a modern, animated version here.
Adam Gopnik's book review essay on atheism: Bigger than Phil. "When did faith start to fade?"
And here we arrive at what the [atheists], whatever their numbers, really have now, and that is a monopoly on legitimate forms of knowledge about the natural world. They have this monopoly for the same reason that computer manufacturers have an edge over crystal-ball makers: the advantages of having an actual explanation of things and processes are self-evident. What works wins. We know that men were not invented but slowly evolved from smaller animals; that the earth is not the center of the universe but one among a billion planets in a distant corner; and that, in the billions of years of the universe’s existence, there is no evidence of a single miraculous intercession with the laws of nature. We need not imagine that there’s no Heaven; we know that there is none, and we will search for angels forever in vain. A God can still be made in the face of all that absence, but he will always be chairman of the board, holding an office of fine title and limited powers.
Given the diminishment in divine purview, from Galileo’s time on, the Super-Naturalists just want the language of science not to be actively insulting to them. And here we may come at last to the seedbed of the New Atheism, the thing that made the noes so loud: the broad prestige, in the past twenty years, of evolutionary biology.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
“I no longer have the confidence that Penguin will stand by my book,” Mr. Varadarajan, a journalist and former editor of The Hindu newspaper, wrote. “I would be grateful if our contract is canceled, all remaining copies of my book with you are pulped, and copyright for the book is reverted to me so that I may freely distribute it electronically without the fear of any future, arbitrary withdrawal by Penguin in the face of pressure from the sort of intellectual bullies who have managed to have their way with Prof. Doniger’s book.”
In a statement on the Doniger case, Penguin — which withdrew the book before the legal case was resolved — cited a responsibility to “respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be,” and “to protect our employees against threats and harassment.”
But in his letter, Mr. Sharma, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, struck back at that logic. If Penguin refused to cancel his contract, he wrote, he would “resort to legal action,” on the grounds that “my books published by you are grave threats to Indian law as interpreted by you and to the safety of your colleagues and employees.”
Monday, February 17, 2014
This study is from over a year ago, but I came across it only yesterday. Here's an excerpt from The Marshmallow Study revisited: Delaying gratification depends as much on nurture as on nature.
For the past four decades, the "marshmallow test" has served as a classic experimental measure of children's self-control: will a preschooler eat one of the fluffy white confections now or hold out for two later?
Now a new study demonstrates that being able to delay gratification is influenced as much by the environment as by innate ability. Children who experienced reliable interactions immediately before the marshmallow task waited on average four times longer—12 versus three minutes—than youngsters in similar but unreliable situations. [...]
Children who experienced unreliable interactions with an experimenter waited for a mean time of three minutes and two seconds on the subsequent marshmallow task, while youngsters who experienced reliable interactions held out for 12 minutes and two seconds. Only one of the 14 children in the unreliable group waited the full 15 minutes, compared to nine children in the reliable condition.
Michael Bourne's meditation on this study alerts us to the possibility that the way the original study was presented to the public was essentially an appeal to our own tendency towards instant gratification: we are all suckers for simple stories that gel with our own worldview.
Jena McGregor at The Washington Post has an interesting story summarizing recent research on the changes over the last 30 years in the composition of top leaders in US firms: The resume that makes for a top executive.
... [T]he majority of these top executives now have undergraduate degrees from state universities, with only a fraction going to college at one of the Ivies. Nearly 11 percent of the top executives are foreign-educated, up from just 2 percent in 1980. And however few women there may be in leadership positions, they actually climbed the corporate ladder faster than men, spending fewer years, on average, in each job and taking a shorter time to get to the top. [...]
Interestingly, the education backgrounds of top corporate leaders are becoming much more equal over time. In 1980, just 32 percent of leaders went to a public university. By 2001 that had grown to 48 percent, and in 2011 the number reached a majority, with 55 percent of corporate leaders going to state colleges. While the percent of Ivy Leaguers has dropped slightly, from 14 percent in 1980 to 10 percent in both 2001 and 2011, those with degrees from private non-Ivies has plummeted, falling from 54 percent in 1980 to just 35 percent in 2011. [...]
That’s not to say elite schools don’t still hold sway among MBA-holders and the very top leaders. If you look at the three most senior executives in each organization (say, the CEO, CFO and chairman), 21 percent have an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school, compared with 10 percent overall. Additionally, 40 percent of all the executives who hold MBAs got them at one of the top 20 ranked business schools in the country, many of which are at Ivy League universities.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Filed under: Art
Over at WSJ's India Real Time blog, a neat story -- How Gandhi Made It to Police Headquarters -- on a huge portrait of Mahatma Gandhi painted on a side wall of the Delhi Police Headquarters. This mural was done, with official permission, of course, as a part of a street art and graffiti festival at Delhi.
The pics alone are worth a click!
If you set up a marketplace of outrage you have to expect everyone to enter it. Everyone now wants to say, ‘My feelings are more hurt than yours’.
-- Monica Ali, quoted in Kenan Malik's op-ed in The Hindu.
* * *
In an utterly abject move, Penguin India has reached an out-of-court agreement with a fringe outfit to "withdraw and pulp all copies" of Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: An Alternative History. There have been many expressions of dismay and outrage at the way the
publisher pulper caved in, and quite a few point to the irony in the fact that the same pulper stood solidly behind one of its celebrated novelist who faced a fatwa not too long ago:
Kenan Malik in The Hindu:
Twenty five years ago on February 14, the Ayotollah Khomeini issued his fatwa on Salman Rushdie, for the “blasphemies” of his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. It is perhaps disturbingly apposite that this should also be the week in which Penguin, the publishers of The Satanic Verses, should so abjectly surrender to hardline Hindu groups over Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, agreeing to withdraw it from publication in India. The contrast between the attitude of the old Penguin and that of the new Penguin tells us much about how much the Rushdie affair itself has transformed the landscape of free speech.
Arundhati Roy's open letter to Penguin:
Tell us, please, what is it that scared you so? Have you forgotten who you are? You are part of one of the oldest, grandest publishing houses in the world. You existed long before publishing became just another business, and long before books became products like any other perishable product in the market—mosquito repellent or scented soap. You have published some of the greatest writers in history. You have stood by them as publishers should, you have fought for free speech against the most violent and terrifying odds. And now, even though there was no fatwa, no ban, not even a court order, you have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement. Why? You have all the resources anybody could possibly need to fight a legal battle. Had you stood your ground, you would have had the weight of enlightened public opinion behind you, and the support of most—if not all—of your writers. You must tell us what happened. What was it that terrified you? You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least. [Bold emphasis added]
See also: Wendy Doniger's statment in which she promises a longer article on this issue soon.
Then there's also this telling 'reveal' in this interview of a leader of the fringe outfit; it's an apt illustration of the novelist Monica Ali's quote at the beginning of the post.
Why does it matter so much to you about what someone writes about Hinduism?
If someone makes a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad, Muslims are outraged around the world. So why should anyone write anything against Hinduism and get away with it? [...]
Sunday, February 09, 2014
NDTV has a Walk the Talk interview of Prof. C.N.R. Rao. Shekhar Gupta, the interviewer, may appear a bit of a bumbler on science-related matters, but he's sharp at other times -- watch his glee when he probes Prof. Rao for his views on the pseudoscience of the M.M. Joshi kind!
There are lots of things in there, here are a few to watch for: his work on high Tc superconductors, his appreciation of Neville Mott, and his description of science as a kind of healthy virus.