Thursday, May 31, 2007

From June 14 NY Review of Books three free articles. Lee Smolin in "The Other Einstein" reviews a bunch of new Einstein books ( Excerpt:
"Why more books on Albert Einstein? Two years ago we marked the Year of Physics, celebrating the centenary of his great 1905 papers, including those on special relativity and the particle theory of light. There is already a definitive scientific biography, published by Abraham Pais in 1982. That Einstein had an interesting personal life, with many entanglements with women and at least one extramarital child, has not been news since Roger Highfield and Paul Carter's The Private Lives of Albert Einstein and Dennis Overbye's Einstein in Love, published in 1994 and 2000, respectively. His private letters continue to come to light, but do they really add anything to the portrait of Einstein's character drawn so perceptively by Overbye?

In his new book, Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Isaacson explains that
studying Einstein can be worthwhile [because] it helps us remain in touch with that childlike capacity for the sagas of [science's] heroes reminds us.... These traits are...vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity....

As he elaborates in a recent interview with Thomas Friedman, "If we are going to have any advantage over China, it is because we nurture rebellious, imaginative free thinkers, rather than try to control expression." "
In "The Specter haunting your soul"(, James Lardner review three books on Business America. Except:
"From their different vantage points, Uchitelle, LeRoy, and Bogle are writing about the breakdown of what some have called the postwar social contract, and about the rise of a new "money power" more daunting, in some ways, than that of the late 1800s and early 1900s. To gain their political ends, the robber barons and monopolists of the Gilded Age were content with corrupting officials and buying elections. Their modern counterparts have taken things a big step further, erecting a loose network of think tanks, corporate spokespeople, and friendly press commentators to shape the way Americans think about the economy. Much as corporate marketing directs our aspirations disproportionately toward commercial goods and services, the new communications apparatus wants us to believe that our economic wellbeing depends almost entirely on the so-called free market—a euphemism for letting the private sector set its own rules. The success of this great effort can be measured in the remarkable fact that, despite the corporate scandals and the social damage that these authors explore; despite three decades of deregulation and privatization and tax-and-benefit-slashing with, as the clearest single result, the relentless rise of economic inequality to levels so extreme that since 2001 "the economy" has racked up five straight years of impressive growth without producing any measurable income gains for most Americans—even now, discussions of solutions or alternatives can be stopped almost dead in their tracks by mention of the word government."
In"Bush's Amazing Achievement "(, Jonathan Freedland reviews three books about American foreign policy. And begins:
"One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker."

Math anxiety and gender

"A popular stereotype that boys are better at mathematics than girls undermines girls’ math performance because it causes worrying that erodes the mental resources needed for problem solving, new research at the University of Chicago shows.
The scholars found that the worrying undermines women’s working memory. Working memory is a short-term memory system involved in the control, regulation and active maintenance of limited information needed immediately to deal with problems at hand.
“Likewise, our work suggests that if a girl has a mathematics class first thing in the morning and experiences math-related worries in this class, these worries may carry implications for her performance in the class she attends next,” she added.
Researchers have been aware that stereotypes can undermine achievement in schools in many ways, but little research has focused on the specific mental processes that prompt this response.

In order to examine those mental processes, the team selected a group of college women who performed well in mathematics. They were then randomly assigned to two groups, with one set of women being told that they were being tested to see why men generally do better on math than women, and the other group being told simply that they were part of an experiment on mathematics performance.

The information that men do better in mathematics than women undercut performance drastically. The accuracy of women exposed to the stereotype was reduced from nearly 90 percent in a pretest to about 80 percent after being told men do better in mathematics. Among women not receiving that message, performance actually improved slightly"

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Implantable biocomputers

(via 3quarksdaily). From
"“Each human cell already has all of the tools required to build these biocomputers on its own,” says Harvard’s Yaakov “Kobi” Benenson, a Bauer Fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Center for Systems Biology. “All that must be provided is a genetic blueprint of the machine and our own biology will do the rest. Your cells will literally build these biocomputers for you.”

Evaluating Boolean logic equations inside cells, these molecular automata will detect anything from the presence of a mutated gene to the activity of genes within the cell. The biocomputers’ “input” is RNA, proteins and chemicals found in the cytoplasm; “output” molecules indicating the presence of the telltale signals are easily discernable with basic laboratory equipment."
There are also Indian names among the researchers:
"Benenson and Weiss worked in collaboration with undergraduate Keller Rinaudo, postdoctoral researcher Leonidas Bleris, and summer intern Rohan Maddamsetti, all at Harvard, and with Sairam Subramanian, a graduate student at Princeton. Their research is supported by Harvard University and a center grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences."

Friday, May 25, 2007


More information at
And a write up about Thurston:

IMO William Thurston is the greatest low-dimensional topologist ever. During Thurston60th, I will be in Princeton area; may be I will go and say hello to the great man.

It seems a strange route from Gudavalli to Princeton. I grew up in villages like Gudavalli, dominated by independent farmers who treated Dalits like dirt and considered Brahmins parasites (Added 5/29/07: This is my impression of those days. I am of the opinion that caste is an abomination and must go). There was not much talk of arts or science; just a few street performances, films and some songs. Those who could afford or borrow enough for university education mainly tried engineering or medicine. Some who finished engineering did not like working ‘under’ others and came back to farm. I finished school too early and could not enter an engineering college. My father decided that I should study mathematics and try for IAS. In the second year, I was exposed to some of Cantor’s set theory and suddenly it seemed that mathematics was not just formulae and calculations but was full of exciting ideas. Then I saw Felix Hausdroff’s ‘Set Theory’. There were statements like ‘invariance of dimension’, ‘invariance of domain’ which sounded metaphysical and I wondered how anybody could prove such things. That was what I wanted to study and understand. And went on to do just that. After a few years John Stallings who was visiting TIFR in 1967 said that Papakyriakopoulos did some great stuff. After Stallings left, I started reading Papa’s papers, the first papers in three dimensional topology I studied I felt at home and never really left the subject.

Then around 1977, Thurston fresh from killing ‘Foliations’ entered the subject and showed that we were just scratching the surface and the subject was completely different from what we were looking at. It was a stunning combination of geometry, imagination, seeing limiting behaviour and sometimes quantifying it. It did not seem worthwhile working in the subject without learning his ideas and techniques and they were new, strange and hard. In 1980, there was a conference in Maine to explain his ideas. Some of us old timers were discussing a well known problem that all of us worked on and did not make any progress. Thurston came by and asked what we were discussing. When we told him the problem, he immediately told us the solution using techniques we never heard of and none of us understood. There was complete silence only broken when Hatcher started scratching something on a piece of paper. It took us years to realize that the solution was simple and beautiful.

I always wondered why Thurston did not prove the Poincare conjecture. Some like Mikhail Gromov, who has broader sweep than Thurston, were more interested in theories and scope of theories than specific problems. But Thurston did show interest in solving specific problems. In some sense, the question was too narrow for him and he generalized it to the Geometrization problem for three manifolds. Perhaps getting in to Haken manifolds in the very beginning did not help. When Hamilton’s ideas came along, perhaps Thurston did not want to follow up on somebody else’s ideas.

In a peripheral way, I had a few encounters with Thurston. Around 1979, I had some minor results on some thing called Smith conjecture, not my main area of research and also spent a few weeks thinking about the general problem. Around the same time, the problem was solved by a combination of Thurston’s work and the work of Meeks and Yau on minimal surfaces. I asked Thurston in 1980 how he handled a specific case and I described a possible (theoretical) example. Thurston said that there was no such example. I went home, checked the theory behind the possible example and asked Thurston again the next day. This time, he passed and immediately drew the knot that I had in mind. And then he exclaimed that he had been ignoring such cases in his lectures. But with his broad sweep and power, such exceptions did not matter when he saw the general picture. By 1986, I picked some bits and pieces of Thurston’s work, just about enough that kept me going. I worked on a a problem for a couple of years and finally proved result using his techniques. When I met him again, I told him of my new result. He looked surprised for two seconds, then stared in to space for ten seconds and said ” of course”. I still treasure that two seconds of surprise that I caused him.

Since my Gudavalli days, I met many mathematicians, some of them like Gromov are considered great, and I even collaborated with a few brilliant ones. May be it is my rustic background, somehow I was never in awe of any of them. But Thurston seems to be a person who could have easily carried on mathematical conversations with Reimann or Poincare. Some say that he used to work hard.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jet lag problems

" Enjoy your flight. Sildenafil--better known under its brand name Viagra--could help fight jet lag after east-bound flights, and it might prevent health problems from shift work, scientists say. Viagra triggers the release of a compound, cyclic guanine monophosphate, that helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm. When hamsters injected with the drug were woken up 6 hours earlier than normal, they adjusted 25% to 50% more quickly than did controls, a team from Argentina report in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The doses needed in humans could be lower than those used for Viagra's most popular purpose, they add."
I do not know whether there is study of any difference between jet lag in east-bound and west-bound flights. In my case, the jet lag is worse in east-bound flights.
Another study reported at Excerpts:
"People at a research hospital in Boston have been living 24-hour, 39-minute days. They were part of an experiment to show that the 24-hour human sleep-wake cycle can be adapted to other biological rhythms like the longer days on Mars.

And it appears to be a relatively easy thing to do. All that seems to be needed is two 45-minute exposures to bright light in the evening.
While checking the biological clocks of young, healthy subjects, Czeisler's team made what he calls, "an amazing observation." They knew that all people don't operate on the same clocklike 24-hour cycle, but the differences they found were startling. The 12 men and women in the Mars study, who were 22 to 33 years old, showed circadian periods ranging from 23 1/2 to 24 1/2 hours.

These natural differences cause some people to jump energetically out of bed in the morning, or to enjoy staying up late. Those with less than 24-hour brain rhythms tend to go to bed earlier and get up earlier. They are morning people. Those with a 24-hour-plus rhythm tend to stay up later. They are evening people. "Such individuals would have no trouble adjusting to a Martian day," Czeisler notes.
In other words, Czeisler and his team squeezed extra minutes into the subjects' biological day simply by exposing them to bright light for 90 minutes each evening. The switch seems to work by resetting the time when humans begin to release a hormone called melatonin, which gets their bodies ready for sleep."

Nature on Epigenetics

"Epigenetics is typically defined as the study of heritable changes in gene expression that are not due to changes in DNA sequence. Diverse biological properties can be affected by epigenetic mechanisms: for example, the morphology of flowers and eye colour in fruitflies.
In this Insight, we take a wide view of the epigenetics field, highlighting current topics of interest — from the influence of chromatin and chromosome organization on gene expression to the roles of epigenetic mechanisms in development and disease. And under this broad umbrella, the very definition of epigenetics is scrutinized. We hope that you enjoy these exciting reviews and thank the authors for their contributions."
At the top right of the page clicking on 'next' takes to the next article. All articles are downloadable now. List of articles:

Perceptions of epigenetics p396
Adrian Bird

Transcription and RNA interference in the formation of heterochromatin p399
Shiv I. S. Grewal & Sarah C. R. Elgin

The complex language of chromatin regulation during transcription p407
Shelley L. Berger

Nuclear organization of the genome and the potential for gene regulation p413
Peter Fraser & Wendy Bickmore

Epigenetic inheritance in plants p418
Ian R. Henderson & Steven E. Jacobsen

Stability and flexibility of epigenetic gene regulation in mammalian development p425
Wolf Reik

Phenotypic plasticity and the epigenetics of human disease p433
Andrew P. Feinberg

Dani Rodrik recommends

Let Their People Come : Breaking the Gridlock of Global Labor Mobility by Lant Prichett. It is available for purchase or download online at the center for Global Development (The president Nancy Birdsall's work was mentioned before in this blog). They also have an online survey for the next World Bank President.

Pankaj Mishra on some recent fiction

"What makes The Reluctant Fundamentalist and other recent novels by Kiran Desai, David Mitchell and Jeffrey Eugenides so uniquely compelling is their intimation of a new existential incoherence, their suspicion that by abolishing old boundaries and penetrating the remotest societies on earth, capitalism and technology have left no "elsewhere", exposing the human self to unprecedented risks and temptations.

In The Inheritance of Loss Desai powerfully evokes the truth of this new spiritual homelessness: "Never again could she think there was but one narrative and that narratives belonged only to herself, that she might create her own mean little happiness and live safely within it." In such recent films as Syriana, The Constant Gardener and Babel even Hollywood seems alert to the fact that the human self, inescapably plural and open-ended, increasingly finds itself in a bewilderingly enlarged and unforgiving arena.

In comparison, most of the literary fiction that self-consciously addresses 9/11 still seems underpinned by outdated assumptions of national isolation and self-sufficiency. The "reconsiderations" DeLillo promised after 9/11 don't seem to have led to a renewed historical consciousness. Composed within the narcissistic heart of the west, most 9/11 fictions seem unable to acknowledge political and ideological belief as a social and emotional reality in the world - the kind of fact that cannot be reduced to the individual experience of rage, envy, sexual frustration and constipation.

But then we haven't moved far in time from 9/11; the younger generation of American writers has yet to reckon with it. Recent novels may turn out to be only the first draft of a rich literature. Certainly, the conditions for it are already present. Writing in 1940, Rahv hoped that American literary life, which was largely determined by national forces, would be increasingly shaped by international forces. In ways still obscure to us, this has begun to happen as American power declines, and old collective assumptions of prosperity and security become unavailable. The present conservative stasis in America has its dangers. But it is unlikely to last. And, as happened after the first world war, uncertainty and confusion in the public sphere may quicken the sense of aesthetic possibility - or, at least, release literary novelists from the dominant American mood of 9/11 commemoration."
The older article by Pankaj Mishra on Indian fiction and his review of Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss" are also very interesting.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Focus on corruption

"... I am not sure that it is good policy for the Bank to prioritize corruption--as a rule--over other problems that developing nations face. As I have stressed in my work with Ricardo Hausmann and Andres Velasco, the binding constraint on growth differs from country to country. In some cases (Zimbabwe?), governance problems are indeed the most serious binding constraint. In many others, the problems lie elsewhere--in low savings, poorly functioning financial markets, low entrepreneurship, poor infrastructure, and myriad other syndromes of underdevelopment.

Let me make a bolder claim. A development strategy that focused on anti-corruption in China would not have produced anything like the growth rate that this country has experienced since 1978, nor would it have resulted in 400 million plus fewer people in extreme poverty."
"Somebody has to watch, and someone has to watch the watchers. But when does breathing down the workers' necks get in the way of the work? That is a problem for policy makers who want to deter corruption but don't want the remedy to be worse than the ailment. For insight into these tradeoffs, Shawn Cole of the Harvard Business School and two colleagues looked at Indian banks, which use aggressive monitoring and severe penalties to keep lending officers honest.

The research results are described in the paper, "Are the Monitors Over-Monitored? Evidence from Corruption and Lending in Indian Banks," co-authored by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, who are at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We find evidence that vigilance activities result in reduced lending. The amount of credit declines sharply at the affected bank branch, as well as neighboring branches," the researchers report. "This effect is economically and statistically significant, persisting up to two years." "

An application of non-positive curvature

"An oceanographer buys a piece of whale flesh at a market in Japan. The clerk assures her the meat comes from a Baird's beaked whale, which is legal to hunt under certain circumstances. The scientist takes the meat to her lab, performs a DNA analysis of it, and finds that it is in fact an endangered right whale. Killing a right whale is a crime.

When the oceanographer reports her findings to the International Whaling Commission, the commissioners ask her one question: how certain are you?

Until recently, a scientist would not have been able to give a rigorous answer. The analysis depends on the scientist's understanding of the evolutionary relationships among different species of whales, and statisticians didn't know how to analyze the tree-shaped graphs that express those relationships.

Now, mathematicians have developed a new understanding of the mathematics of tree-shaped graphs, which makes possible the statistical analysis of evolutionary trees. The development will help biologists to make sense of the flood of newly available genetic information."
A very interesting article with a number of interesting references which I have yet to read.

Friday, May 18, 2007

My latest paper

available at
One more to go. Then, I can probably really enjoy my retirement.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

From on GM crops

I am travelling now and have not read these. Here is a message from
"Dear colleagues

How can farmers and food traders in the developing world ensure that GM
and conventional crop systems coexist successfully?

Read SciDev.Net's peer-reviewed policy brief by Eliana Fontes, project
leader at Embrapa — the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation —
for an authoritative overview of the issues:

A healthy mix: strategies for GM & non-GM crop coexistence

Successful coexistence strategies are important to address concerns
about GM crops causing health risks or environmental harm. To read more
about coexistence and why it matters in the developing world visit:

Online agri-biotechnology resource
For more information on GM and non-GM advances in agricultural
biotechnology visit our online dossier:

Please pass this information to friends and colleagues who will find it
a valuable resource."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Exporting I.P. by James Surowiecki

"Free trade is supposed to be win-win situation. You sell m your televisions, I sell you m software, and we both prosper. I practice, free-trade agreements ar messier than that. Since al industries crave foreign markets t expand into but fear foreig competitors encroaching on thei home turf, they lobby thei governments to tilt the rules in thei favor. Usually, this involve manipulating tariffs and quotas But, of late, a troubling twist in th game has become more common, a countries use free-trade agreement to rewrite the laws of their tradin partners. And the country that i doing this most aggressively is th United States.
Free-trade agreements that export our own restrictive I.P. laws may make the world safe for Pfizer, Microsoft, and Disney, but they don’t deserve the name free trade."
Both Dani Rodrik and Tyler Cowen seem to have liked this article. An interesting IP case here from one of the comments in MR:,1000000121,39287061,00.htm

Monday, May 14, 2007

A nice site for hyperbolic geometry

by a non-mathematcian Tadao Ito. See
What is hyperbolic geometry? Our purpose of this webpage is to enjoy seeing the Hyperbolic Non-Euclidean World with our own eyes. Seeing is believing. Not only observation, strong imagination is necessary for our adventure. Information and knowledge are somewhat useful, but imagination is the most powerful weapon we have.

In the Hyperbolic Non-Euclidean World we can see a panoramic view of much more than 360. The area of an infinitely large triangle is only (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) and the sum of interior angles is zero. Angles and lengths are not of different natures, but they depend on each other. Many great mathematicians did not believe these facts though they themselves proved these theories.

First, we will look briefly at what is called the Elliptic Non-Euclidean World, where we will be able to draw infinity into our hands. Then, we will enter the Hyperbolic Non-Euclidean World discovered by Nicolai Ivanovitch Lobachevsky and two other men, where we will be able to see many mysterious pictures. Before long, we will be in projective geometry which is more weird. For example, a tangent to a circle passes the center and the length of an infinitely stretched straight line is zero. Last, we will observe the compliment space of the figure-eight knot. We will experience the function of hyperbolic geometry. A space is characterized by its function. We will change "impossible" into "possible". All faces of a tetrahedron are glued to another tetrahedron without changing the shape of either. You will meet your clone. Morning coffee is the universe, and we drink it up.

I, the author, am not a mathematician but a simple hobbyist. I had thought previously that Non-Euclidean geometry was old-fashioned. Indeed, Felix Klein wiped all mysterious matters from hyperbolic geometry. Later on, however, William P. Thurston dug out new mysteries. Today, hyperbolic geometry is not only an essential part of topology and knot theory, but it is applied also to physics, chemistry, biology and even the arts.

You know that we can enjoy a masterpiece of painting even though we can not paint it ourselves. Everybody has the right to enjoy true mathematics even if one is not familiar with math. It is not necessary for sightseers to know the laws or rules of the region being visited. All we have to do is to see how the mountains look and how the rivers run.
I began writing this webpage without any knowledge of hyperbolic geometry. I pursued whatever came to my mind on a given occasion. Sometimes I accepted a mathematician's idea without question. Anyway, the Hyperbolic Non-Euclidean World is very mysterious and captivating, so have fun! Let's take off on an academic sight-seeing flight, and enjoy panoramic views of infinity!

Can happen in other places too

"Brazil has one of the world's widest gaps between rich and poor, with 3.5 percent of landowners holding 56 percent of the arable land, and the poorest 40 percent owning just 1 percent. Given that police and judges usually do the bidding of the rich and powerful, those inequalities have proven explosive."

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

Mother's Day Wish: " More workplace flexibility for mothers" and I hope that more people will read "Mother Nature" by Sarah Hrdy.

Money and norms of science

(via 3quarksdaily). A review of "How Money Affects the Norms of Science" by David B. Resnick: Excerpts:
"The theme of The Price of Truth is that the ideal of science as the objective, disinterested pursuit of knowledge is just that, an ideal, and that modern science is intimately tied up with the business world, and with financial incentives of one sort or another. While there are some who would see this state of affairs as a travesty, Resnik is more pragmatic. Drawing on examples of classical scientists, and from the current practice of science, Resnik argues for a middle road, one in which there can be room for financial incentives to encourage science, but where there are adequate restraints on the excesses of money to maintain the more communitarian goals of science
Over almost two decades Resnik has published many books and papers on the ethics of science. The Price of Truth focuses on the potential for money to influence the practice of science, but the book does more than explore examples of potential conflicts. Over nine chapters Resnik explores the history of science and money, the nature of science and how money can undermine scientific endeavor, and some specific issues such as intellectual property, publication, and government funding of research and development. A brief concluding chapter returns to the underlying theme of truth and integrity in research."

As mentioned in earlier posts from, some universities from South Africa and a few other places seem to be ahead in this game with established useful research and bargaining with corporations from a position of strength.

Rodrik Effect

Andrew Leonard thinks that blog debates can be useful and describes what he believes is Dani Rodrik's contribution:
An excerpt one of the comments by Mark Thoma :'Now we are hearing a consistent message - there are winners and losers but net benefits overall, and the size of the losses, which are different and larger than we anticipated, make it imperative that we compensate the losers if we expect to keep the global trading system alive."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Another side of David Shulman

David Shulman is the Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies in the Department of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was born in Iowa but moved to Israel in 1967 at age eighteen. Named a MacArthur Fellow in 1987, Shulman is the author or coauthor of nineteen books, including The Hungry God: Hindu Tales of Filicide and Devotion, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
David Shulman is known to many Andhras for his tranlations of Telugu poetry (with Velcheru Narayana Rao) and his books with VNR and Sanjay Subrahmaniam : "Textures of Time", "Symbols of Substance" and others. He is also an activist and has a new book""With Dark Hope, Shulman has written a book of deep moral searching, an attempt to discover how his beloved Israel went wrong—and how, through acts of compassionate disobedience, it might still be brought back.". Excerpts can be found here:

Quotes of the day

"The solution of course is to stop pushing free trade upon the third world and thus allow it to develop. "
"India is one obvious case of a miscalculated protectionism."

Colony Collapse Disorder

Links to four reports in Perhaps the most comprehensive is "Please Lord, not the bees" by Peter Dearman. Excerpt: "Bees seem to desert their hive or forget to return home from their foraging runs. The hive population dwindles and then collapses once there are too few bees to maintain it. Typically, no dead bee carcasses lie in or around the afflicted hive, although the queen and a few attendants may remain. The defect, whatever it is, afflicts the adult bee. Larvae continue to develop normally, even as a hive is in the midst of collapse. Stricken colonies may appear normal, as seen from the outside, but when beekeepers look inside the hive box, they find a small number of mature bees caring for a large number of younger and developing bees that remain. Normally, only the oldest bees go out foraging for nectar and pollen, while younger workers act as nurse bees caring for the larvae and cleaning the comb. A healthy hive in mid-summer has between 40,000 and 80,000 bees. Perhaps the most ominous thing about CCD, and one of its most distinguishing characteristics, is that bees and other animals living nearby refrain from raiding the honey and pollen stored away in the dead hive. In previously observed cases of hive collapse (and it is certainly not a rare occurrence) these energy stores are quickly stolen. But with CCD the invasion of hive pests such as the wax moth and small hive beetle is noticeably delayed. ...".
See also organic bee farmer Sharon Labchuk's comments on the honeycomb size linked in the same article.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Some recent blog discussions by American Economists

Off on a final math. trip to complete some work started in 1994; noting the following links for future reference. There are recently interesting discussions in blogs by American Economists. and vigorous comments. I have barely followed the discussions, but felt that there was unusual candour after Dani Rodrik’s entry. I do not know the political or other allegiances of the various economists. Many seem to be well-known economists(?) and in Round one probably divided along the main American political lines.
Round 1
Prominent economists discus supply side economics (in USA) and do not seem to agree on what happened and how. Links at the end of a Mark Thoma post
Round 2
Daniel Drezner on Dani Rodrik’s entry in to the blogosphere . Continuation and links in various places including Economist’s View.
Discussion on whether free trade lowers ‘prices’.Rodrik summarizes :
Trade and prices: an attempted summary
Can we all agree on these?
1 Trade policy works through its effect on the relative prices of goods, not through the price level.
2 Depending on what side of the change in relative prices they find themselves, any specific group of consumers or producers can be made worse off by a move to free trade.
3 A corollary: there is no guarantee that free trade raises real wages.
4 The Carlos Diaz-Alejandro rule: For almost any particular conclusion you want to arrive at, there is some economic model that will take you there.
5 Throw in some scale economies (dynamic or otherwise), and then just about anything can happen (including free trade making some countries worse off).
6 The positive spin: This does not diminish the value of economic modeling; it simply means we have to be more careful with generalizations and be more explicit about the assumptions that lie behind our reasoning.
7 Bottom line: It is possible to have an illuminating (sometimes), intelligent (mostly), and entertaining (almost always) economic debate in the blogosphere.
See also the list on page 13 of
Growth Strategies. Excerpts: “A key theme in these works, as well as in the present paper, is that growth-promoting policies tend to be context specific.

The paper revolves around two key arguments. One is that neoclassical economic analysis is a lot more flexible than its practitioners in the policy domain have generally given it credit. In particular, first-order economic principles—protection of property rights, contract enforcement, market-based competition, appropriate incentives, sound money, debt sustainability—do not map into unique policy packages. Good institutions are those that deliver these first-order principles effectively. There is no unique correspondence between the functions that good institutions perform and the form that such institutions take. Reformers have substantial room for creatively packaging these principles into institutional designs that are sensitive to local constraints and take advantage of local opportunities. Successful countries are those that have used this room wisely.
The second argument is that igniting economic growth and sustaining it are somewhat different enterprises. The former generally requires a limited range of (often unconventional) reforms that need not overly tax the institutional capacity of the economy. The latter challenge is in many ways harder, as it requires constructing a sound institutional underpinning to maintain productive dynamism and endow the economy with resilience to shocks over the longer term.” A shorter paper by Dani Rodrik on the same theme. Round 2 blurs in to
Round 3
Mark Thoma discusses the benefits of international trade (mainly for USA) and Rodrik’s response is summarized in“ The Globalization numbers Game” . Many comments indicate skepticism about the quantity of benefits to USA now, but this may NOT apply to other countries.
Some comments from other economists so far:
Angry Bear and maxspeak
Why should we bother about the discussions in USA?
This paper by Marion Fourcade starts with “This article relies on an analysis of the institutionalization of economics worldwide during the 20th century to argue that the logic of professional development in this particular field has come to be increasingly defined in global terms. “ and concludes “Global jurisdictions, then, constitute an essential source of legitimacy and resources for “core” economists, too. Since the more peripheral places of the world economy are more vulnerable to the professional influence of economists (both local and foreign), they, in fact, constitute a fundamental space where individual experts and organizations fight key intellectual and jurisdictional battles through the ongoing economic reconstruction of societies—a process that is not, and never will be, settled.”

Monday, May 07, 2007

The wisdom of Freud

From (via Mark Thoma)

"But what Freud did believe was that governments - like individuals - must strive to examine and to acknowledge as clearly and unsentimentally as possible the motivations behind policy. If one acts on a delusional premise, one's actions will only coordinate with their real world object randomly, if at all.
Near the conclusion of "Civilization and Its Discontents," Freud wrote, "One thing only do I know for certain and that is that man's judgments of value follow directly his wishes for happiness - that, accordingly, they are an attempt to support his illusions with arguments.""
Here is a long article about wisdom:
Excerpt: 'From the outset, it’s easier to define what wisdom isn’t. First of all, it isn’t necessarily or intrinsically a product of old age, although reaching an advanced age increases the odds of acquiring the kinds of life experiences and emotional maturity that cultivate wisdom, which is why aspects of wisdom are increasingly attracting the attention of gerontological psychologists. Second, if you think you’re wise, you’re probably not. As Gandhi (who topped the leader board a few years ago in a survey in which college students were asked to name wise people) put it, “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom.” Indeed, a general thread running through modern wisdom research is that wise people tend to be humble and “other-centered” as opposed to self-centered."

Pennington Public Library in Srivilliputtur

From (via UMA of
"What, however, was a pleasant surprise is that the library has a complete, well-bound set of Government Gazettes from 1952. That's something unlikely to be found in too many other places in the State."

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Gadgets for the poor

"A new breed of industrial designer is confronting Third World poverty with innovative products aimed at encouraging rural entrepreneurs.
By creating simple, efficient gadgets for poor countries, the designers aim to provide Africans, Asians and Latin Americans with the means to generate cash on local markets.
Low-cost water purifiers, crop preservers, wireless lighting, drip irrigation and load-carrying bicycles are among the simple but ingenious products being mass-produced under the humanitarian design trend.

An exhibition of more than 30 such devices opened Friday at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, turning the Fifth Avenue mansion's garden into a global village.

On view are shelters, water purifiers and monsoon storage units, solar lighting systems, a solar-dish kitchen, a pit latrine kit and two-wheeled transporters. There's even a hand-powered laptop computer, price $100, on display in one of the huts made of cardboard and plastic.

"Design for the Other 90 Percent," which closes Sept. 23, underlines designs for the needs of the 5 billion people across the globe who have little or no access to the products of wealthy countries.
The designers in the show stress self-help.

"What poor people need most is a way to make money," says Martin J. Fisher of KickStart International, purveyor of a portable press that makes building blocks from soil and lightweight hand pumps to irrigate fields.

Writing in the show's catalog, he explains that KickStart insisted on selling its pumps because "no giveaway program can be sustainable. By selling our pumps, we create a sustainable supply chain."

Paul Polak, whose International Development Enterprises sells drip-irrigation systems in India and Africa, underlined keeping prices low. "Affordability isn't everything; it's the only thing," he writes.

Other products on display include the Big Boda load-carrying bicycle, which can transport 100 pounds of goods to market, a ceramic charcoal stove, a LifeStraw purifier that makes any surface water drinkable, and the Water Storage System that stores 10,000 liters of monsoon rain in a plastic bag inside a hand-dug pit."

Friday, May 04, 2007

Mercury has molten core

"Chefs have long used a simple trick to differentiate between a raw and hard-boiled egg. By spinning an egg and watching how it behaves when the spin is disrupted, it's easy to tell whether its interior is solid or liquid.
Applying a similar test to the planet Mercury, astronomers have found strong evidence that the planet closest to the sun has a fluid core. The research, led by Jean-Luc Margot, assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell, appears this week on the Web site of the journal Science.

Margot and collaborators conducted a series of observations over five years using a novel technique to detect tiny twists in Mercury's spin as it orbits the sun. The twists, called longitudinal librations, occur as the sun's gravity exerts alternating torques on the planet's slightly asymmetrical shape.

They found that the magnitude of the librations was double what would be expected for a completely solid body -- but explainable for an object whose core is molten and not forced to rotate along with its shell."

Implicit bias

After reading items like and, I drifted to and
and took the Caste IAT. Apparently, I prefer scheduled castes to forward castes.

Boston Globe on Blogging Economists

Boston Globe says:
"A blog debate on free trade between Harvard economists Dani Rodrik and Greg Mankiw attracted thousands of readers to Rodrik's newly launched site, giving non-economists a unique forum to engage some of the biggest names in the business.
Rodrik acknowledged that his blog was more time-consuming than he had anticipated, and he finds himself writing at odd moments, like the middle of the night when he gets up to care for his baby son.
Drezner, who started his blog in 2002, said it helps him showcase his writing skills and gives him a chance to engage the likes of Rodrik and others in discussions that might not have happened outside of cyberspace.
Indeed, it is that sort of public debate between leading economists that seems to be attracting the Web crowds."
Links to these discussions are in the previous post "Some Economics Links 30/4/07".

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A recent debate at Nanopolitan

Which I have not really followed seems to be throwing up lot of interestng links. I just srarted looking at some of the links in the post The two from the first comment are very interesting. Just noting for future reference. Must look at the discussion someday.

Two reports on cannabis

Based on the same research, two reports with somewhat different emphasis:
The BBC report headlines:
Cannabis 'disrupts brain centre'
Thousands are thought to be dependent on cannabis. Scientists have shown how cannabis may trigger psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.

The Guardian,,2069736,00.html headlines;
Cannabis chemical curbs psychotic symptoms, study finds.
One of the active chemicals in cannabis inhibits psychotic symptoms in people with schizophrenia, according to a study which compared it with a leading anti-psychotic drug.
More from The Guardian report:
"Most cannabis research focuses on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient that produces the high. Recent studies have shown THC makes symptoms of schizophrenia worse and triggers the condition in a small proportion of users.

But the new research shows that another chemical, cannabidiol (CBD), has the opposite effect. "One possibility is that there are good guys and bad guys within cannabis," said Markus Leweke, of the University of Cologne. He and his team compared the effects of CBD and a leading anti-psychotic drug, Amisulpride, on 42 patients with schizophrenia. After four weeks the symptoms of both groups had improved, but those treated with CBD suffered fewer side-effects.

"Maybe the cannabidiol ameliorates some of the effects of the THC and maybe it actually might be good for you if you are psychotic," said Robin Murray, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London. They reported their research at the second International Cannabis and Mental Health Conference in London.

There is anecdotal evidence that the number of patients in the UK with psychotic symptoms linked to cannabis use is increasing. Professor Murray speculated that this may be linked to the increased THC content of herbal cannabis sold on the street. Cannabis on sale today has roughly doubled in strength in the last decade."

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What is in a name?

From the article 'Names really make a difference' in The Guardian:
“Parents are being warned to think long and hard when choosing names for their babies as research has discovered that girls who are given very feminine names, such as Anna, Emma or Elizabeth, are less likely to study maths or physics after the age of 16, a remarkable study has found.
Both subjects, which are traditionally seen as predominantly male, are far more popular among girls with names such as Abigail, Lauren and Ashley, which have been judged as less feminine in a linguistic test. The effect is so strong that parents can set twin daughters off on completely different career paths simply by calling them Isabella and Alex, names at either end of the spectrum. A study of 1,000 pairs of sisters in the US found that Alex was twice as likely as her twin to take maths or science at a higher level.”
There may be several local and 'global' reasons for gender proportions in various professions. From an earlier article about the growing gender gap in computer science:
“Born in contemporary times, free of the male-dominated legacy common to other sciences and engineering, computer science could have become a model for gender equality. In the early 1980s, it had one of the highest proportions of female undergraduates in science and engineering. And yet with remarkable speed, it has become one of the least gender-balanced fields in American society.
In a year of heated debate about why there aren't more women in science, the conversation has focused largely on discrimination, the conflicts between the time demands of the scientific career track and family life, and what Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers famously dubbed ''intrinsic aptitude."
But the history of computer science demonstrates that more elusive cultural factors can have a major impact on a field's ability to attract women.
A Globe review shows that the proportion of women among bachelor's degree recipients in computer science peaked at 37 percent in 1985 and then went on the decline. Women have comprised about 28 percent of computer science bachelor's degree recipients in the last few years, and in the elite confines of research universities, only 17 percent of graduates are women. (The percentage of women among PhD recipients has grown, but still languishes at around 20 percent.)
The argument of many computer scientists is that women who study science or technology, because they are defying social expectations, are in an uncomfortable position to begin with. So they are more likely to be dissuaded from pursuing computer science if they are exposed to an unpleasant environment, bad teaching, and negative stereotypes like the image of the male hacker.
When Tara Espiritu arrived at Tufts, she was the rare young woman planning to become a computer scientist. Her father is a programmer, and she took Advanced Placement computer science in high school. Because she scored well on the AP exam, she started out at Tufts in an upper-level class, in which she was one of a handful of women. The same men always spoke up, often to raise some technical point that meant nothing to Espiritu. She never raised her hand. 'I have not built my own computer, I don't know everything about all the different operating systems," she said. ''These people would just sit in the front of the class and ask these complicated questions. I had no idea what they were talking about."
Now a junior, Espiritu is majoring in engineering psychology, which examines how product design affects human use.
The classroom experience that turned off Espiritu had its roots in the early 1980s.
Many computer science departments imposed GPA requirements or tried to make introductory classes more difficult in order to weed out the multitudes, said Stanford professor Eric Roberts.
Those who were driven out were not the worst students, but those who felt more marginal, Roberts argues. They could have been men or women, but studies have shown that women generally have less previous computing experience and less single-minded passion for technology.
Introductory classes zeroed in on programming and other technical aspects of the field, rather than explaining big ideas or talking about how computing can impact society, many professors say. That approach led to a misconception among students that computer science is the same thing as computer programming.”
Some remedial action:
“When Souvaine joined the Tufts faculty in 1998, she was dismayed that there were few female students in the introductory course. So she and a colleague designed a new freshman seminar focused on problem-solving and real-life applications.” Read on.