Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Popularity and reliability of research

Abstract of Large-Scale Assessment of the Effect of Popularity on the Reliability of Research:
"Based on theoretical reasoning it has been suggested that the reliability of findings published in the scientific literature decreases with the popularity of a research field. Here we provide empirical support for this prediction. We evaluate published statements on protein interactions with data from high-throughput experiments. We find evidence for two distinctive effects. First, with increasing popularity of the interaction partners, individual statements in the literature become more erroneous. Second, the overall evidence on an interaction becomes increasingly distorted by multiple independent testing. We therefore argue that for increasing the reliability of research it is essential to assess the negative effects of popularity and develop approaches to diminish these effects."

I came across this from the comments in Are we playing it too safe in cancer research? (Oops, Orac missed one).

Sleep and Learning

Jonah Lehrer in Naps, Learning and REM :
"Numerous studies have now demonstrated that REM sleep is an essential part of the learning process. Before you can know something, you have to dream about it."
That is why, there is not much point in doing one semester courses in one or two week crash courses. But, when one has plans of using them immediately, it works differently I think. Similarly, it is easier to learn new stuff when one is working on a problem and the stuff seems useful. I guess that one should not depend on any one simple prescription.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A slip of the tongue?

From Yahoo News and also reported by several news agencies:
"The U.S. president said he did not take seriously Ahmadinejad's call for him to apologize for criticizing Tehran, "particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process in Iran.""

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A dream example for situationists

The blue and the green via 3quarksdaily . More links and explanations in the comments.

Interesting Telugu blogs-5

Religion, history etc. discussed in a series of conversations with humour:పెడ్రో చెప్పిన చరిత్ర కతలు - Greek Bards and Philosophers and
పెడ్రో చెప్పిన చరిత్ర కతలు - Jews, Roman Empire and Christians . Interesting sentences in passing with an element of truth:
"...They cease being just stories, but they become the experience of a collective psyche of the country."
Possibly not of the whole country but of some dominant groups, text communities and possibly changing from region to region and from period to period.

Links to some Telugu sites

I have been sent the following links in response to an old request about links for online material and developing online dictionaries.

మీరు ఈ గుంపుని చూసారా : తెలుగుపదం

తెలుగు విక్షనరీ గూర్చి విన్నారా
ఈ సైటు గురించి విన్నారా : ఆర్కైవ్.ఓఆర్జి

ఇండియను డిజిటలు లైబ్రెరీలను చూసారా :
అలాగే కొన్ని సైటులలోనూ తెలుగు పుస్తకాలు చదువుకోదగిన రూపంలో
లభ్యం అవుతున్నాయి . తెలుగువన్ ని ప్రముఖంగా చెప్పుకోవాలి .
వీలుంటే ఈ సైటునీ ఒకసారి చూడండి (పైరేటెడ్)



5 చివరగా

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

David Mumford dontates Wolf Prize money

U.S. prof. gives Israeli prize money to Palestinian university (via Shivsankar):
"The American mathematician David Mumford, co-winner of the 2008 Wolf Foundation Prize in Mathematics, announced upon receiving the award yesterday that he will donate the money to Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah, and to Gisha, an Israeli organization that advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement.

"I decided to donate my share of the Wolf Prize to enable the academic community in occupied Palestine to survive and thrive," Mumford told Haaretz. "I am very grateful for the prize, but I believe that Palestinian students should have an opportunity to go elsewhere to acquire an education. Students in the West Bank and Gaza today do not have an opportunity to do that." "
More about Mumford here and here. He visited TIFR frequently and adopted an Indian child.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blogs with Telugu lyrics

There is a list here Blogs with Telugu Song Lyrics .
A few more (possibly some duplicates):
గీత లహరి
Annamacharya Samkirtanalu

చిత్ర గీత సాహిత్యము

Mana Ghantasala

Telugu video songs:
Mana GhaTelugu Video Songs Watch Online or Download

Review of a book on private education schools

The Private Schools No One Sees: In the world’s slums, the poor have taken to educating themselves (via Evolutionary Psychology Discussion group). Excerpts:
"...what Tooley saw in the slums of Hyderabad, where he returned several times to visit schools, observe classes, and chat with students, parents, teachers, and owners. The schools’ physical structures were indeed mostly ramshackle, but they were assembled no worse (and often far better) than the homes of the neighborhood children who learned in them. The owners seemed responsible and often caring, the teachers engaged and capable. And the parents Tooley met were adamant that the tuition they paid—between $1 and $2 per child, per month—was money well spent. They would never send their kids to the local public schools, they said, where facilities were fancier but teachers were truant.
Development experts,” as Tooley calls them, have long believed that if citizens of developing countries are to be educated, their governments, helped by heaps of money from rich nations, must invest in free and universal public schooling. If the resultant public education is lousy—as it is in India, for instance—then it must simply be reformed through more money and more regulation. Meanwhile, the poor must be patient.

But the poor have run short of patience, Tooley found, and so they have rejected the development experts’ failed syllogism and created one of their own: You open a school, and we’ll pay you to teach our children. If they don’t learn, we’ll stop paying. Therefore, you will ensure that our children receive a solid education."

And the results of one study by experts:
"In mathematics, mean scores of children in government schools were 24.5 percent, whereas they were 42.1 percent in private unrecognized schools and 43.9 percent in private recognized. That is, children in unrecognized private schools scored nearly 18 percentage points more in math than children in government schools (a 72 percent advantage!), while children in recognized private schools scored over 19 percentage points more than children in government schools (a 79 percent advantage)."

P.S.Discussion in Sepia Mutiny http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/005836.html#comments
See comments 11 and 19.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Links, June 22nd

Discussion in Steve Hsu's blog on Bruce Charlton's answer to why are so many leading modern scientists so dull and lacking in scientific ambition? .
There is much Bruce Charlton's answer quoted there that I agree with. At the same time, I think that there is some flexibility in the system and the system is not uniform all over the world, for some non-conformists to survive. Moreover, compared to 60-70 years, there are many more cumulative achievements in science ) in mathematics, one has only to think of Fermat, Poincare conjectures. Still, there is much to worry about and I think that it is a useful discussion.

Bruce Wilder defines economics in the comments to "How Activists Make or Break Radical Innovations":
"The economy is something we do, something we make -- an artifact and outcome of social action. It's not the weather. It's not a gift of divine providence. It is an instrument for living in a material world, and an evolving product of strategic conflict and cooperation."
His version of "'social affiliation' seems less interesting to me:
"It's not just facebook and twitter, is my point -- and it is not just about "identity" but about translating individual ambition into the primacy of collective achievement in a highly organized world: learning voice for a world of no exit, and learning to find power and make a life out of highly-specialized insignificance."

Outlookindia has a few articles on racism in India :
Our True Colours and 'India Is Racist, And Happy About It'.

"Bands of Iron"

wins the Top Quark. A nice write up by Steven Pinker here The Winners of the 3 Quarks Daily 2009 Prize in Science. May be it is reading these posts; I just noticed that the garden spray that I am using uses Bernoulli Principle.

“I am Gokhale. She is Iyer. What are you?”

The answer is simply, `I don’t know…’ by Sujata Anandan via merit without antecedents in Kuffir's blog. Excerpt:
"It was a lesson well learnt but I realised that my father was romanticising too much. India had moved on from the early days of Independence and Nehruvian ideals. And while I was brought up completely without awareness of being either a Hindu or a Muslim, Brahmin or Dalit, everyone now wears both religion and caste on their sleeves.

So I try not to get angry when they ask me for my antecedents, though I still stick with the “I don’t know.” And when others flaunt their identities based on anything but their merit, I still squirm but let it be."
My own suspicion is that these identities accord status without having to work for it and that and endogamy perpetuate it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Evelyn Waugh: The Best and the Worst

Long ago, I read a few books by Evelyn Waugh. Though I liked some of them, I did not take to him. Here is an interesting article about him Evelyn Waugh: The Best and the Worst by Charles J. Rolo. A sample excerpt:
"This core of tragic awareness gives to Waugh's comic vision the dimension of serious art. The paradox, in fact, is that when Waugh is being comic, he makes luminous the failures of his age, confronts us vividly with the desolating realities; and when he is being serious, he is liable to become trashy. For without the restraints of the ironic stance, his critical viewpoint reveals itself as bigoted and rancorous; his snobbery emerges as obsessive and disgusting; and his archaism involves him in all kinds of silliness."
That was from 1954. A more recent article Two of a Kind , a review of book which compares George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh. The provocation for looking at Evelyn Waugh is a quote of his in CT: "It is a marvel of medical science that they could first locate the one part of Randolph that was not malignant, and, having found it, immediately remove it."

Bayt al-Hikma

Excerpts from The House of Wisdom:"How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization". Book recommended by Juan Cole. More excerpts about the spread to the west here. A review by James Buchan Invaders of the mind. Excerpt from the review:
"Why Muslim science and medicine remained in their medieval state in certain regions well into our lifetimes belongs to another book. For all Lyons's wonder and admiration, the falasifa were always out of the mainstream of Muslim thought; they are best understood as a sort of sect, like the Shia, and were just as vulnerable to charges of heresy."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another take on diversity

from Seed Magazine Scientists offer new insight into what to protect of the world's rapidly vanishing languages, cultures, and species.
See also ... a global effort is underway to collect and cache the genetic resources contained in seeds.

Max Liberman's comments on Lera Boroditsky's earlier work Sapir/Whorf: sex (pro) and space (anti):
"However, there are a few recent pieces of (pro- and anti-) Whorfian work that I can wholeheartedly recommend. On the pro side, Lera Boroditsky has been doing some neat stuff. Try her paper on Sex, Syntax and Semantics, for example. On the anti side, Peggy Li and Lila Gleitman have a great paper Turning the tables: language and spatial reasoning, debunking the theory (due to the MPI Language and Cognition group) that Mayan speakers have different customary spatial-coordinate systems from Dutch or English speakers."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Some science articles, June 14th

Cosma Shalizi reviews Flynn The Domestication of the Savage Mind Vis 2quarksdaily.) I rarely read articles about IQ tests. This one is probably the first. Excerpt:
"I am committed to the kind of culture IQ tests favor, as I suspect are most of the readers of this review. Progress of many kinds is difficult or impossible without scientific knowledge and the habits of abstract thought that go with it. Spreading this kind of thinking is a Good Thing, and worth great efforts. Yet it’s also true that thinking this way presupposes a specific kind of culture, and it is a mistake to confuse our favorite mental exercises with intelligence as such.

That mistake is particularly tempting because of how we use IQ tests. Up through the 19th century, members of elites mostly viewed democracy with emotions that ranged from ambivalence to terror, even in France and the United States. They saw the masses as incapable of thinking, let alone leading. Meritocracy was a later compromise with democracy: There would still be elite leaders, but they would be chosen on the basis of talent rather than birth. This ideal helped institutionalize IQ testing and reliance on that modified IQ test, the SAT.

Flynn’s arguments suggest that these fears and hopes were at most half right. The masses were not bad at thinking, or at managing their own affairs; they were just bad at thinking like intellectuals. Meritocracy, as Flynn says, is an incoherent ideal—even if we agreed on “merit,” and allocated rewards on that basis, the winners would use some of their resources to give their children unfair advantages. But spreading educational opportunities and opening up positions of influence to broader peaceful competition has been widely beneficial.

If Flynn is right, knowing how many picture-puzzles different cohorts of Dutch teenagers could solve is actually a window through which we can see a momentous change, the “liberation from the concrete,” not just among a few clerics and scribes, but as the common condition of humanity. It would almost be damning this book with faint praise to say that it’s a valuable addition to the IQ debate (although it is); it’s an important take on what we have made of ourselves over the past few centuries and might yet make of ourselves in the future."

Holes of Silence(via Economist's View). Excerpt:
"We have created the analogue of a black hole in a Bose-Einstein condensate. In this sonic black hole, sound waves, rather than light waves, cannot escape the event horizon."

From a discussion in 'Evol. Psy. Discussion group'. Robert Karl Stonjek's first response to The Problem With Selfish Gene Theory (the first link may be available to only members of the group):
"A gene is where most intergenerational information is stored. Other information storehouses are RNA and there are epigenetic vectors. Prions are also candidate information storehouses, but to a very limited degree.

As a storage device it can be read, modified, added to and subtracted from. The agent of this change is entirely outside the gene, but the selfish gene analogy assigns agency to the gene itself, even if by analogy alone. Even so, selfish gene advocates continue the agency analogy far to readily and freely in my opinion.

By analogy, would we claim that the journal entry is the goal of science and that papers are the agent of scientific change? Clearly the aim of science is not to be stored in journals but to be expressed in the environment. Evolution is the same - expression is the goal, the purpose and the function of evolution. Sure, information needs to have intergenerational storage.

And we must give credit to what was once called 'junk DNA' for the regulatory role it is now known to perform, though this area of genetics is relatively new.

Thus the position of the gene is now one of being the most prominent known agent of intergenerational storage of certain kinds of information. We also known that there are more genes than can be stored in a single individual and so the replicator of the genes of a species is a population. It has long been known that it would be incredibly difficult to breed a population of a just about any species of animal from a single genome ~ one some clonal insects appear to have achieved this trick and their species footprint appear to be limited (few older than the last ice age, for instance).

Dawkins certainly drew our attention to the importance of thinking from the perspective of the gene and this continues to be an important perspective to take. But it is just another tool in the evolutionist's toolkit and by no means should it be the only perspective ever taken."

From The recent sequencing of the bovine genome will dramatically transform more than just the cattle industry(Seed Magazine):
"...“What’s special about the bovine genome is that it maintains protein similarities to the human sequences that are greater than those found in mice and rats. So it provides a better window for human biology.” And because the cow diverged from the human branch so long ago, analysis of its genome makes it possible to identify which human traits are well-conserved: These are the portions of the genome that haven’t changed much over hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary constraint and are thereby most essential to fitness (i.e., not junk DNA).
Over the last 100 years, 17 Nobel Prizes have been won on the backs of farm animals such as cows, sheep, horses, and pigs. A rural English doctor, Edward Jenner, revolutionized immunology in 1796 when he discovered that injecting people with the crusts of lesions from cows infected with cowpox provided immunity to human smallpox. (The word vaccine in fact comes from the Latin root for cow, vaca.) “That’s how the smallpox epidemic plaguing Europe in the 18th century was stopped in its tracks,” says Lewin. Cryopreservation of sperm for artificial insemination was first performed in cattle in the 1940s before the technology was applied to humans in the 1950s. And since 1960, hundreds of thousands of pigs and cows have provided valves to pump the blood of human hearts.
Being strictly herbivores, cows derive most of their protein from the bacteria residing on the grass they eat. These microbial populations live in the ruminant’s gut and are very efficient at breaking down complex cellular structures like cell walls in plants. Lewin predicts that mimicking this cellulytic process and understanding the cow’s microbial degradation process may prove vital in producing biofuels. "

Friday, June 12, 2009

From EPW editorial of June 6th, 2009

Fracured Social Sciences:
"...what emerges is that we are today presented with two contrasting depictions of that same social reality which are also contradictory in what they are saying. The first account argues that the failures to meet its development goals are structural to the system and the State. Democracy is contingent to this reality and those in power, it is argued, can easily abrogate it if they feel threatened by its growth.
The second account argues that democracy has become, in some sense, irreversible
in India. It does not deny the failures of the development State, but seems to imply that these failures can be rectified. Crucially, the research which is emerging
from the study of democracy and its practices seems to suggest that it is the poor and marginalised who are convinced about this power of the vote. Underdevelopment, then, can be dissolved and overcome by struggles and negotiations
within democracy.
One of the challenges before social sciences in India today is to transcend this
contradiction within its own body and work towards a richer and better understanding of the linkages between democracy and underdevelopment."

May be both the processes are going on at the same time with tension between them varying from place to place until TBTF institutions emerge.

Science blog contest from 3quarksdaily

The Seven Finalists for the 3QD Science Prize 2009.
Unfortnuately, I only browsed through some of the posts and read only one in detail
Bands of Iron which I found excellent. It did make to the final seven.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On the outlook of societies

from Rajib Abortion & religion - an international view:

"What significance does this have? People tend to assume that their beliefs are driven by specific and distinctive individual abstract principles and beliefs, but these data suggest that cultural Zeitgeist matters much more Within a given society a group X may have a particular disposition, but the general outlook of the society shapes their ultimate mean viewpoint far more than their distinctive group identity."

What about immigrants? From In the blood:

"Even after controlling for income, education and other relevant economic and social factors such as work history and age, views about redistribution in an immigrant’s home country are a strong predictor of his own opinions. Indeed, this measure of “cultural background” explains as much as income levels, and three-fifths as much as income and education combined. These results hold even for immigrants who moved 20 years before they were surveyed; they cannot be attributed to people not having had time to adjust their views."

Mathematics in retirement

I always wanted to do mathematics without insitutional affiliations but that was possible only in retirement. Here is a recent note Splittings and C-complexes. Part of my share of the work was done in Vivekananda University, Belur Math at the instance of Swami Vidyanadhananda.
Now, without the pressure to publish, I can wait for comments and see how it goes. In any case, it clarified some things that I wodered about off and on. Some more papers that I put in the archives which may or may not be published are:
Delzant's variation on Scott complexity and Annulus-Torus decompositions for Poincaré duality pairs. The last one is too long and I hope that some one will simplify it.

Monday, June 08, 2009

On the evolution of morality and culture

From Blood and Treasure:
"TWO of the oddest things about people are morality and culture. Neither is unique to humans, but Homo sapiens has both in an abundance missing from other species. Indeed, that abundance—of concern for the well-being of others, (even unrelated others), and of finely crafted material objects both useful and ornamental—is seen by many as the mark of man, as what distinguishes humanity from mere beasts.

How these human traits evolved is controversial. But two papers in this week’s Science may throw light on the process. In one, Samuel Bowles of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico fleshes out his paradoxical theory that much of human virtue was forged in the crucible of war. Comrades in arms, he believes, become comrades in other things, too.

In the other paper, Mark Thomas and his colleagues at University College, London, suggest that cultural sophistication depends on more than just the evolution of intelligence. It also requires a dense population. If correct, this would explain some puzzling features of the archaeological record that have hitherto been put down to the arbitrary nature of what has survived to the present and what has not."

Like many I wondered about these topicsoff and on but do not have enough grasp on the literature for any informedcomments. Informed comments on such topics are usually in Rajib's blog, for example, in this post:

Group selection, red in tooth and claw .

Recent news on Indian students in Melbourne

Bashings undermine image blitz from The Age and
Indian students in Oz to be trained in self-defence skills from Samachar.com
Here is an article from The Outlook by Namrata Goswami'Racism' Down Under
where the views are similar to my impressions. One excerpt:
"Higher education sectors in Melbourne like hospitality, teaching etc have been taken over by the private sector which is mostly unregulated by the government. Most of these private institutes attract students from India and China with the promise of world class courses, accommodation and jobs but end up ‘way short’ in reality."
I met student from Hyderabad yesterday who utilized one of these private sector organizations with are cruiting adency in Hyderabad. Apparently it costs about 2 to 3lakh rupees for bribes and applications for various certificates and there was no orentation advice. He was told that he could go and do whatever he liked. I know of one private institute which provides these courses in Melbourne. It did provide jobs for many Indians here. When I enquired about part time work for an Indian student, I was told that he could teach their institute! There are stories that one of the 'owners' was beaten up by disgruntled students and left for USA. A few who worked in that institute are now starting their own institute.

The passion of Benjamin Kaila

During the last few years Benjamin Kaila has organized Ambedkar Scholarships with a small group of friends (see also Friends for Education International) though he himself had some job problems off and on in USA. I came to know of his efforts through Shivam Vij and have been in touch with him. Yesterday I sent this link to him
Cowherd excels in Class XII exams

and he already got in touch with the student and arranged a small loan. Since there were communication problems (Ramakant could not speak either English or Telugu), Benjamin has alerted a small network of friends that he developed.
Here is an old write up on Benjamin Kaila To Learn With Dignity by Shivam and a more recent one Change Makers Inc in Tehelka.

P.S. Photos of some of the beneficiaries of the micro loan program organized by Benjamin Kaila are in the photo section of this blog.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Future directions in science?

In Generalization and truth, MaxLiberman said:
"Generalization is the essence of rationality. But the ways that human languages encourage us to generalize can cause enormous damage to rational thinking, especially in combination with the natural human preference for clear and simple stories over complicated ones."
I hope that the following series is not in this vein WHAT'S NEXT? Dispatches on the Future of Science (via3quarksdaily).
P.S. A review in the New Scientist here.

Kim Plofker's book on Indian mathematics

Kim Plofker's book on Indian mathematics which has been mentioned before Indian mathematics miscelleny is reviewd by Pervez Hoodbhoy in Naure An Indian history of numbers. It seems to be a lazy review. Having gone through her long article in The Mathematics of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, India, and Islam: A Sourcebook, I am not planning to read her new book any time soon and assume that it is good. Excerpts of thelater book are available here. Here is a review of the later book in which Kim Plofker's contribution is discussed in some detail by Clemency Montelle.

Why I follow blogs

From my comment in Qalandar:
Many thanks for the detailed comments. I have been following topics outside mathematics only for five years or so and so my comments may be quite uninformed. This interest was sparked by roughly two events. One was the war in Iraq and I felt that I could not ignore the outside world any longer. Secondly, after about 50 years of professional life with most of the reading and communications in English, I suddenly started remembering Telugu songs that I have not heard for 40-50 years. I started following blogs and other sources both in English and Telugu. At first Telugu blogs and sites were disappointing with a lot of abuse and language that did not seem equipped to express difficult ideas and nuianced thought. Then suddenly lot of young people started blogging in Telugu and already the usage is much better than before and many topics from science to philosophy are discussed reasonably in some of the blogs. Internet and blogs seem to be making a lot of difference. I think that the situation may be better in languages like Tamil, Bengali, Urdu..
Secondly, I find many books are appearing published in India written by many living in India of high standard on history, etymolgy.. Some are in English (like 'Comprehensive History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh') but there are also books and translations in Telugu. For example P.V. Parabrahma Satry's 'Kakatiyas' isrecently translated in to Telugu is a nice complement to Cynthia Talbot's book.
Some of these changes seem to be coming from the cumulative power of number of bright people using the new facilities rather than a few outstanding individuals. I have seen David Shulman's articles but I have also seen posts by some bloggers working in IT with detailed knowledge of vedas. So it may not be too long before more work with reasonable methodologies will emerge from the subcontinent.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Telugu (film) music blog

Musicologist Raja

He has a column in Koumidi and used to write in the defunct Haasam.