Thursday, April 29, 2010

Comprehensive History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh

by Tulika Press has come out in three volumes so far ( I bought them last year and started browsing through now). These volumes cover the periods upto 500 BC, 500BC to 624 AD, and 624 to 1000AD and edited and written by different scholars. The second volume has several interesting articles by P.V. Parabrahma Sastry like "Language, Literature and Script in Early Historical Andhra". The period 1000 to 1649 is covered in a book by Cynthia Talbot "Precolonial India in Practice :Society, Region, and Identity in Medieval Andhra".

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


andhrabharati has much interesting Telugu material on line and now
"We have built an on-line search interface
for SabdaratnAkaramu, C.P. Brown dictionaries,
and bUdarAju's AdhunikavyavahArakOSaM."
say SeshaTalpaSayee & NagabhushanaRao in a message in racchabanda
నిఘంటు శోధన

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From Madgascar's tapeworms to 'link economy'

Carl Zimmer has another nice article Why Madagascar’s Tapeworms Matter–To You. Excerpts:
"But, like it or not, tapeworms–or at least the pork tapeworm Taenia solium–has an intimate relationship with us. After all, it can only live in our guts as an adult, where it will dwell for years and grow over 20 feet long. Without us, these tapeworms would simply not exist. From the safety of our guts, they can shed six egg-loaded segments a day, each of which contains 50,000 eggs. If a pig swallows one of these eggs, it hatches in the animal’s instestines, drills its way into the abdominal cavity, and finds a muscle to infect. There it dwells in a barely visible cyst, for years if need be. In order to complete its life cycle, it must get into another human, which it does if a human eats a piece of infected, undercooked pork.
As hominins expanded their ranges both within Africa and beyond it, they carried their tapeworms along for the ride. As hominins scavenged new game, the tapeworms adapted to new intermediate hosts. Hominins gradually developed the skills and weapons to hunt game, offering still more opportunities for their tapeworms. Neanderthals and other hominins hunted wild boar as well, and it’s likely that we infected them with the ancestors of today’s pork tapeworms.

Starting about 11,000 years ago, humans domesticated pigs many times over, both in East Asia and in the Near East. Now the trip from host to host became riduclously easy for the tapeworms. Instead of waiting for its wild boar host getting speared by a hunter, it could make the journey on the dinner plate. Judging from the deep split in the evolution of pork tapeworms, the parasites must have made two separate shifts from wild boar to domesticated pigs, in both East Asia and the Near East.

The genealogy of the tapeworms also matches up nicely with the human history of Madagascar. People only arrived on the island 2000 years ago. They came from two directions. Bantu farmers sailed from the west from Africa across the Mozambique channel. Asians came from the east, traveling thousands of miles across the Indian Ocean from Indonesia. Malagasy culture emerged from the mingling of these two origins. That culture also includes the livestock that the Bantu and Indonesians brought to the island. And those animals brought parasites with them that had been separated for almost 700,000 years, reaching back to a time when our ancestors had yet to invent fire or spoken language."
The first bit reminded me of toxoplasma gondi, and the next bits of evidence for evolution, parallel evolution etc. I searched through mu blog and find some parallels and more links. It seems that what I started doing is a bit like what some were doing more intensively with something called 'common place book' long ago. From
Steven Johnson's The Glass Box And The Commonplace Book:
"Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations. It was a kind of solitary version of the original web logs: an archive of interesting tidbits that one encountered during one’s textual browsing. The great minds of the period—Milton, Bacon, Locke—were zealous believers in the memory-enhancing powers of the commonplace book. There is a distinct self-help quality to the early descriptions of commonplacing’s virtues: in the words of one advocate, maintaining the books enabled one to “lay up a fund of knowledge, from which we may at all times select what is useful in the several pursuits of life.”
Each rereading of the commonplace book becomes a new kind of revelation. You see the evolutionary paths of all your past hunches: the ones that turned out to be red herrings; the ones that turned out to be too obvious to write; even the ones that turned into entire books. But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will connect in a new way with some emerging obsession. The beauty of Locke’s scheme was that it provided just enough order to find snippets when you were looking for them, but at the same time it allowed the main body of the commonplace book to have its own unruly, unplanned meanderings.

But all of this magic was predicated on one thing: that the words could be copied, re-arranged, put to surprising new uses in surprising new contexts. By stitching together passages written by multiple authors, without their explicit permission or consultation, some new awareness could take shape."
And much more from Foursquare to 'link economy' in Steven Johnson's article and comments. He concludes:
"The reason the web works as wonderfully as it does is because the medium leads us, sometimes against our will, into common places, not glass boxes. It’s our job—as journalists, as educators, as publishers, as software developers, and maybe most importantly, as readers—to keep those connections alive."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Miscel. links

Recent articles by MICHAEL BACHELARD on Indian students, mostly Punjabis, in Melbourne and the recent visa rule changes Tough times for young Indians who dare to dream
When the dream turns into a nightmare
Underpaid and exploited: 'many try to cheat us'
'Easy' migration, fake certificate lures laid for students

Two recent articles in EPW by people who travelled through Naxalite areas complement the recent articles on the plight of the forest dwellers:
Searching for a Third Way in Dantewada by Smita Gupta
Days and Nights in the Maoist Heartland by Gautam Navlakha

William Darlymple on Bhutto family and politics in Pakistan (via 3quarksdaily), in a review of Songs of Blood and Sword by Fatima Bhutto:
"Behind Pakistan’s swings between military government and democracy lies a surprising continuity of elitist interests: to some extent, Pakistan’s industrial, military and landowning classes are all interrelated, and they look after each other. They do not, however, do much to look after the poor. The government education system barely functions in Pakistan, and for the poor, justice is almost impossible to come by. According to the political scientist Ayesha Siddiqa, “Both the military and the political parties have all failed to create an environment where the poor can get what they need from the state. So the poor have begun to look for alternatives. In the long term, these flaws in the system will create more room for the fundamentalists.”

Many right-wing commentators on the Islamic world tend to see political Islam as an anti-liberal and irrational form of “Islamo-fascism”. Yet much of the success of the Islamists in countries such as Pakistan comes from the Islamists’ ability to portray themselves as champions of social justice, fighting people like Benazir Bhutto from the corrupt Westernised elite that rules most of the Muslim world from Karachi to Riyadh, Ramallah and Algiers."

Discussion of Krugman and Wells: Our Giant Banking Crisis - What to Expect in Economist's View. The article seemed reasonable to me but one of the comments says:
"Robin Wells and her husband provide an establishment review of establishment views. We're watching the manufacture of the "conventional wisdom", something institutions like the IMF must spin out by the boatload. Rogoff and Reinhardt are past masters of the art, and, having done absolutely nothing to prevent catastrophe, are, nevertheless, ready with timely observations for a popular audience."

Carl Zimmer on Why Athletes Are Geniuses:
"These studies are beginning to answer the question of what makes some people great athletes: They are just able to rewire their brains according to certain rules. As neuroscientists decipher those rules, they may find ways to give people better skills. In February 2009 Krakauer and Pablo Celnik of Johns Hopkins offered a glimpse of what those interventions might look like. The scientists had volunteers move a cursor horizontally across a screen by pinching a device called a force transducer between thumb and index finger. The harder each subject squeezed, the faster the cursor moved. Each player was asked to move the cursor back and forth between a series of targets, trying to travel the course as quickly as possible without overshooting. The group trained 45 minutes a day for five days. By the end of training, the players were making far fewer errors.

The scientists also trained another group of people on the same game, but with a twist. They put a battery on top of the head of each subject, sending a small current through the surface of the brain toward a group of neurons in the primary motor cortex. The electric stimulation allowed people to learn the game better. By the end of five days of training, the battery-enhanced players could move the cursor faster and make fewer errors than the control group. And the advantage was not fleeting. For three months Krakauer and Celnik had their subjects come back into the lab from time to time to show off their game-playing skills. Everyone got rusty over time, but at the end of the period, the people who had gotten the electrode boost remained superior to the others."

Jonah Lehrer on Classroom Creativity :
"Eric Barker recently referred me to this interesting study, which looked at how elementary school teachers perceived creativity in their students. While the teachers said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they actually didn't. In fact, when they were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures - the list included everything from "individualistic" to "risk-seeking" to "accepting of authority" - the traits mostly closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their "least favorite" students. As the researchers note, "Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity.""

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Esther Duflo

Poverty's Researcher Esther Duflo who won MacArthur Foundation "genius" award also wins John Bates Clark Medal .
A link to her papers, a large number of them about India and an old interview.
P.S. Wikipedia article
P.P.S. Discussion of RCTs at
How good are RCTs in economics? and
Randomized Controlled Trials: panacea or mirage?
possibly related:
Where is economics headed?
More discussion and links in Esther-mania!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Delaying gratification

Jonah Lehrer surveys some new research on 'delay discounting' and suggests Thinking About Tomorrow:
"Needless to say, this data has many practical implications. For starters, it provides us with yet another tool in our cognitive kit when it comes to delaying gratification. While most techniques for fighting off errant impulses focus on reducing our emotional attraction to the reward - that's why, for instance, Walter Mischel teaches kids to draw a picture frame around the marshmallow - this new research suggests that an even more effective approach involves activating vivid, episodic associations about future events."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A quote from Econolog

The Looting Classes:
"Perhaps we have arrived at a point in this country where looting is the most rewarding economic activity. In that case, it will not take many years before the wealth available to loot starts to shrink."
One can always look for profits in other countries with the help of bills like Nuclear liability Bill, Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, ...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ancient mound agriculture

From the press release
French Guianan coastal savannas : a landscape shaped by humans and by nature:
"Raised fields that were built and exploited between 650 and 1250 AD
This study confirms first of all that pre-Columbian farmers built the vast complexes of raised fields found in Guianan savannas. This coastal fringe, considered inhospitable, is subjected to seasonal flooding (an alternation of periods of rain and drought). The Amerindians constructed mounds to make well-drained soil, permitting intensive sedentary agriculture. They thus efficiently applied agricultural engineering to exploit lands that are today considered unsuitable for farming. The researchers succeeded in precisely dating some of these fields: one of the sites dates back to the 12th century, while the second is yet another century older. The analysis of two types of plant microfossils —phytoliths found in the mounds and starch grains, found on fragments of ceramic cooking utensils discovered in ancient Amerindian villages— showed that these farmers cultivated at least three plants: maize —which, astonishingly, is absent from the panel of plants cultivated in the region today—, manioc (cassava) and squash. By constructing these well-drained islands, the Amerindians produced heterogeneity between the well-drained and elevated parts of these landscapes: the biogeochemical composition of the top 50 cm of soils of the two zones is still different today.

Landscapes co-constructed by Man and Nature
Once abandoned, these fields were taken over by Nature. Ants, termites, earthworms, plants and other organisms preferentially colonized these well-drained structures. These “ecosystem engineers” generated self-organized processes. These organisms transport organic matter and mineral soil to mounds and modify the structure and composition of mound soils. Owing to their effect on soil porosity, the infiltration capacity of rain water is nine times greater on the mounds than on the seasonally flooded plain, reducing the susceptibility of mounds to erosion. These biogeochemical mechanisms have thus permitted the maintenance of these elevated structures, where the concentration of resources initially created by humans is conserved."

Some photos in
It appears that the Taino of Haiti used similar methods Pre-Columbian Hispaniola - Arawak/Taino Indians:
"The Arawak/Taino had a developed system of agriculture which was virtually maintenance free. They raised their crops in a conuco, a large mound which was devised especially for farming. They packed the conuco with leaves to protect from soil erosion and fixed a large variety of crops to assure that something would grow, no matter what weather conditions prevailed."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Math in media reviews

"This page contains pointers to reviews of books, plays, films and television shows that are related to mathematics (but are not aimed solely at the professional mathematician). Links are given to reviews posted on the web. In some cases the source requires a subscription, password or searching the archives to access the review; in other cases the review may only be available in print, directly from the source."

More on the adivasis

Ramachandra Guha's old article Unacknowledged Victims . According to Outlook editors: "This essay was first published in the Economic and Political Weekly (August 11, 2007) under the title, "Adivasis, Naxalites, And Indian Democracy" and is republished here with the author's permission as it - unfortunately - remains as relevant today. The essay argues that adivasis as a whole have gained least and lost most from six decades of democracy and development in India. It presents evidence that they are even more deprived than the Dalits. However, unlike the Dalits, they have been unable to effectively articulate their grievances through the democratic and electoral process. The failures of the state and of the formal political system have provided a space for Maoist revolutionaries to move into. After analysing the reasons for the rise of ‘Naxalite’ influence, the essay concludes that there is a double tragedy at work in tribal India. The first tragedy is that the state has treated its adivasi citizens with contempt and condescension. The second tragedy is that their presumed protectors, the Naxalites, offer no long term solution either."

On the recent developmements from John Elliot Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi should lead policies on growing Naxalite crisis

Friday, April 16, 2010

The case against gene patents

"Last month, a federal court in New York handed a major victory to science and medical innovation when it ruled that patents were improperly granted to Myriad Genetics on two human genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. We participated in the case supporting the plaintiffs—which included prominent medical associations, geneticists and patients—because we believe the patenting of human genes is wrong as a matter of science and as a matter of economics.

Under the patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Myriad had total control over the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes since the 1990s. No other companies have been able to do research on the genes without Myriad's permission.

The court held that genes and human genetic sequences are naturally occurring things, not inventions. They are a part of all of our bodies and contain the most fundamental information about humanity—information that should be available to everyone. The researchers and private companies that applied for these gene patents did not invent the genes; they only identified what was already there.

Proponents of gene patents argue that private companies will not engage in genetic research unless they have the economic incentives created by the patent system. We believe that a deeper understanding of the economics and science of innovation leads to exactly the opposite conclusion.

Patents such as those in this case not only prevent the use of knowledge in ways that would most benefit society, they may even impede scientific progress. Every scientific advance is built on those that came before it. There is still a great deal to learn about our genes, particularly how they contribute to disease. Gene patents inhibit access to the most basic information.

As we move into an era where the sequencing of all of an individual's genes is common and necessary for personalized medicine, free sharing of information about genes will be vital to understanding the role of these variations in human disease and other traits. In order to translate this information into medical advancements, the basic data must be freely available to everyone to interpret and develop. Our genetic makeup is far too complicated for a single entity to hold the keys to any given gene and to be able to choose when, if ever, to share.

Patents are also not necessary for ensuring that genetic tests come to market. Currently, Myriad does not allow any other lab in the United States to perform full diagnostic testing on patients in order to tell them whether they are at increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Because of this monopoly, Myriad is able to charge more than $3,000 to perform the test, a prohibitively high amount that keeps some women from being tested and making informed health decisions.

Other labs have said they would be willing to perform the test for a few hundred dollars, if only they were allowed, and could also develop new tests in order to provide women with a second opinion about their results. The information provided by the tests is of enormous importance: The lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is as high as 85% for mutation carriers.

Any marginal social benefits of patenting genes clearly do not measure up to the profound costs of locking down knowledge. If, as a result of the refusal to grant a patent for genes, there is a slight slowdown in private research expenditures, it can and should be made up for by an increase in public expenditures.

Like basic mathematical theorems, genes are an example of "basic knowledge"—the kind of knowledge that typically cannot and should not be patented. Had Alan Turing's mathematical insights been patented, the development of the modern computer might have been greatly delayed. It's true that knowledge cannot be produced without cost, but there is a proven alternative: government- and foundation-supported research in universities and research laboratories.

The court's decision is a critical achievement, particularly for women. But the full benefits of this ruling will only be achieved if the decision is upheld. We see this ruling as a turning point in our thinking about our patent system, and more broadly, scientific research."
P.S. An earlier article inScientific American on the law-suit The Gene Hunt: Should Finders Be Keepers? .
A 2008 article in Nature Europe to pay royalties for cancer gene
Nature article on the current judgement Breast cancer gene patents judged invalid
Discussion in Economist's View

Indian government trying to encourage science in public discourse?

Activists voice concerns over Biotech Regulatory Authority Bill:
“whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of organisms and products…shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or with both”.
P.S. See also the discussions:
Biotech Bill: Sweeping powers, glaring omissions in Rediff business
A Law Unto Itselfl from The Outlook
Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research? from Scientific American

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How tea habit developed in India

From The Triumph of Tea in India as Documented in the Priya Paul Collection
via Chapaty Mystery :
"But whereas I initially supposed tea-drinking to be as Indian, and perhaps as old, as the Vedas, I have come to know that it is, in the longue durée of Indian history, a very recent development;....
British interest in creating an indigenous consumer base for their export crop, reflected in the Indian Tea Cess Bill of 1903, did not immediately spark a great demand for tea, and was countered by the arguments of Mohandas Gandhi and other nationalists that the consumption of this "imperialist" and capitalist beverage (which required centralized large-scale cultivation and processing) was both physically and politically enervating for Indians (on the condition of tea estate workers, see, e.g., Piya Chatterjee's 2001 study, A Time for Tea).
The most dramatic expansion of tea consumption—and the development of relatively standardized chai (produced by boiling tea leaves in a mixture of milk, water, and sugar, with optional spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, or black pepper)—only occurred after 1947 and the ensuing transfer of majority ownership in tea estates (which, significantly, were exempted from the sweeping land-reform legislation of the Nehru-Congress era) and in tea wholesaling companies from British to Indian hands.
Indeed, the Tea Board of India (reorganized in 1953, to replace the aptly-named "Indian Tea Market Expansion Board" of the colonial era), declared the "imperial brew" to be emphatically "swadeshi" ("of the country"). An extraordinary poster, contained in the 2005 Kolkata exhibition and Bhadra’s accompanying catalogue essay (and reproduced as Figure 9), visually cements this ideological assertion, with its patterned juxtaposition of Gandhian and Congress Party spinning-wheel symbols (carkhā) with tea cups, and its central image of a modest, sari-clad spinner enjoying a refreshing break. Major companies now began aggressively marketing tea as an energy-enhancing drink conducive to both individual and national health and civility."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kochi franchise winners seek Sonia’s protection.

says an article in Business Standard Of intrigue and arm-twisting in high places. Via a comment in the Churumuri post
TWEET THIS: Shashi Tharoor & Globalisation 2.0*
By churumuri
. I wonder what is behind the proposed Nuclear Liabilty Bill or Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill (BRAI):Section 63.

Kim Plofker's book

on Indian mathematics, which has been mentioned before is now reviewed by the Fields Medalist David Mumford
(from the comments in one of the posts here and in Nanopolitan:Mathematics in India . An excerpt from the excellent review:
"I see nothing wrong with understanding the older discoveries in the light of what we know now—like a contemporary metallurgist analyzing ancient swords. Needham, the great scholar of Chinese science, wrote “To write History of Science we have to take modern science as the yardstick—that is the only thing we can do—but modern science will change and the end is not yet.” Nevertheless,it is much more satisfying,when reading ancient works,to know as much as possible about the society in which these mathematicians worked,to know what mathematics was used for in their society, and how they themselves lived."
It is interesting that Mumford mentions metallurgist and steel. Recently, I came across 'wootz steel' in a post of Kuffir: telangani steel. The Wikipedia article on Wootz steel says:
"According to traditional history Wootz steel originated in India before the beginning of the common era. There is archaeological evidence of the manufacturing process in South India from that time. Wootz steel was widely exported and traded throughout ancient Europe and the Arab world, and became particularly famous in the Middle East, where it became known as Damascus steel.
Legends of Wootz steel and Damascus swords aroused the curiosity of the European scientific community from the 17th to the 19th Century. The use of high carbon alloys were not known in Europe previously and thus the research into Wootz steel played an important role in the development of modern English, French and Russian metallurgy."
There are more references in Kuffir's post and currently there is a an international research project with base in Dharmapuri,Karim Nagar District, Andhra Pradesh.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Signs of getting old

It is getting more difficult to scratch my back. Afraid to start on any new topic since I am not be able to put the hard yakka to get anywhere with it. Scholars who have spent lifetimes on spcialized topics seem to have their own prejudices and so end up reading easy stuff on the internet which does not even scratch the surface. But there sre other things ons can do like babysitting for grandchildren helping those with stronger passions. In Australia one can even make money from the government by such activities. But one's Indian background seems to preclude taking advantage of such facilities.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Links, April 12th

Discussion of George Akerlof: Has the Efficient Market Hypothesis Led to the Crisis? at Economist's View.
Discussion of Stephen Marglin's "The Dismal Science. How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community" at BloggingHeadsFree Will: Dissident Economics and Rajeev Ramachandran's summary.

Review of 'Dismal Science' by Stephen Marglin and of 'The Soulful Science' by Diane Coyle.

Paul Krugman on Building a Green Economy and commentary by Andrew Leonard Paging Paul Krugman: More apocalypse, please.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Iron deficiency

From Essential Iron:
"Long-Term Effects of Iron Shortage
"Iron is essential for the nerves in the brain to develop," says Steve Elliott, MD, of Pediatric Associates of Northern Kentucky. "If infants don't get enough iron at the start of life, they can have neuro-cognitive problems for the rest of their lives. These can affect motor skills, reading and math abilities. Even if iron deficiency is corrected, these children do not score as well in standardized tests later."

Some of the signs of iron deficiency that parents may notice include irritability or paleness. If the condition persists, children become anemic, a condition in which the body lacks enough red blood cells to carry the oxygen it needs for fuel.

"Children born full-term have some iron stores in their bodies, but it's vital for a child to take in additional iron through breast milk or fortified formula," Dr. Elliott says."
There is a discussion of a new paper An Empirical Analysis of the Gender Gap in Mathematics in the Marginal Revolution post The gender gap in math is weak in Muslim countries One of the comments suggest that in some cases the gender differences in math. ability may be in part due to iron deficiency: "The gender gap starts when girls hit puberty and begin to have their periods, which causes iron deficiency anemia and low iron levels in some girls, and low iron is associated with poor math ability.

So, my personal theory is that the math part of the brain is particularly sensitive to decreased oxygen levels in the blood. If women of a particular culture tend to eat more iron rich foods, or if a particular ethnicity is less susceptible to iron deficiency, then that might make a difference."
Another comment suggests cultural differences in some cases: "There is great heterogeneity among countries in the Moslem world. In the rich Gulf nations, almost every girl goes on to get a college degree, and tend to do much better in school than males because it is one of the few areas in which they are allowed to excel. Many males (possibly a majority, but it is hard to get reliable statistics) don't finish high school, because the excess oif wealth in these countries means that they'll never have to work, and will never be poor.

When I taught in the Gulf I was shocked by the quality differential between the males and females. The girls were almost all inquisitive, thoughtful and hard workers who knew how to get to the nub of an (academic) problem and ask good questions. Most of the boys basically had to be prodded with a stick to divine whether they were sentient or not."
Probably there will be many more discussions after the above paper of Fryer and Levitt.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Nature editorial on science education

This editorial in Nature Learning in the wild is drawing some flak in the comments section.
"Much of what people know about science is learned informally. Education policy-makers should take note.

The seemingly endless debate about how to improve US science education seems to make the tacit assumption that learning happens only in the classroom. As a result, the arguments tend to focus on issues such as curricula — specifying, say, what information pre-college students should be expected to learn at each grade level — and, as in US President Barack Obama's recent proposals to reform the No Child Left Behind policy, on the best way to hold schools to rigorous standards of student achievement.

However, researchers who study learning are increasingly questioning this assumption. Their evidence strongly suggests that most of what the general public knows about science is picked up outside school, through things such as television programmes, websites, magazine articles, visits to zoos and museums — and even through hobbies such as gardening and birdwatching. This process of 'informal science education' is patchy, ad hoc and at the mercy of individual whim, all of which makes it much more difficult to measure than formal instruction. But it is also pervasive, cumulative and often much more effective at getting people excited about science — and an individual's realization that he or she can work things out unaided promotes a profoundly motivating sense of empowerment.

The personal nature of informal science education is what makes it powerful. The question 'why is this relevant?' never even arises.
This suggests that policy-makers who focus exclusively on the classroom are missing an opportunity: even modest investment in informal science education could help to make the very large investment in formal instruction considerably more effective. Most of the necessary infrastructure is already in place: museums and zoos, for example, have been around for generations. Likewise, government funding mechanisms — agencies such as NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) — have been funding science exhibits, television specials and other informal science-education projects for many years."
One of the comments:
"Informal education is no panacea for science illiteracy. Every mind is hard won."
I think that there is much in what the editorial says and has been part of the education to some extent. Perhaps, nowadays, there is emphasis on teaching too much too early to cope with competetion. More experiments with the curriculum and the approximate right ages to teach different things as in Benezet's experiments mentoned in the previous post may be one way to go.
Related: Frank Oppenheimer's work with San Francisco Exploratorium and Benezet's experiments.
P.S. See also Why do Finland's schools get the best results? :
"According to the OECD, Finnish children spend the fewest number of hours in the classroom in the developed world."
P.P.S. Book Review: The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Lou Aronica and Ken Robinson.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Interesting teaching experiment

Andrew Gelman in What should they teach in school? links to this post When Less is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in Schools . Both posts have many interesting comments. The second post describes an experiment from 1929:
"Benezet followed his outrageous suggestion with an outrageous experiment. He asked the principals and teachers in some of the schools located in the poorest parts of Manchester to drop the third R from the early grades. They would not teach arithmetic--no adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing. He chose schools in the poorest neighborhoods because he knew that if he tried this in the wealthier neighborhoods, where parents were high school or college graduates, the parents would rebel. As a compromise, to appease the principals who were not willing to go as far as he wished, Benezet decided on a plan in which arithmetic would be introduced in sixth grade.

As part of the plan, he asked the teachers of the earlier grades to devote some of the time that they would normally spend on arithmetic to the new third R--recitation. By "recitation" he meant, "speaking the English language." He did "not mean giving back, verbatim, the words of the teacher or the textbook." The children would be asked to talk about topics that interested them--experiences they had had, movies they had seen, or anything that would lead to genuine, lively communication and discussion. This, he thought, would improve their abilities to reason and communicate logically. He also asked the teachers to give their pupils some practice in measuring and counting things, to assure that they would have some practical experience with numbers.

In order to evaluate the experiment, Benezet arranged for a graduate student from Boston University to come up and test the Manchester children at various times in the sixth grade. The results were remarkable. At the beginning of their sixth grade year, the children in the experimental classes, who had not been taught any arithmetic, performed much better than those in the traditional classes on story problems that could be solved by common sense and a general understanding of numbers and measurement. Of course, at the beginning of sixth grade, those in the experimental classes performed worse on the standard school arithmetic tests, where the problems were set up in the usual school manner and could be solved simply by applying the rote-learned algorithms. But by the end of sixth grade those in the experimental classes had completely caught up on this and were still way ahead of the others on story problems."
Gelman gives links Benezet's work "L. P. Benezet (1935/1936). The teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment. Originally published in Journal of the National Education Association in three parts. Vol. 24, #8, pp 241-244; Vol. 24, #9, p 301-303; & Vol. 25, #1, pp 7-8."
P.S. One of the comments in Gelman's post suggests goole search "cook education experiment" and lead to articles like Cook notes that virtually no research conducted by the educational evaluation community has been done by randomized experiment.
Link to Benezet's papers and some related articles Benezet Centre .

Some online Telugu books

Vamsi maganti links to various online Telugu books available at DLI మరో 2600 DLI పుస్తకాల లిష్టు
See also Teluguthesis and their twitter
P.S. Possibly the last of this series of posts from Vamsi Maganti చివరి 1200 DLI పుస్తకాల లిష్టు - ఆనందో బ్రహ్మ!!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Learned folly

Cosma Shalizi links to several posts of Mark Liberman One Must Imagine Liberman Happy starting with Can Derrida be "even wrong"?. Excerpt:
"My colleague would open one of Derrida's works to a random page, pick a random sentence, write it down, and then (above or below it) write a variant in which positive and negative were interchanged, or a word or phrase was replaced with one of opposite meaning. He would then challenge the assembled Derrida partisans to guess which was the original and which was the variant. The point was that Derrida's admirers are generally unable to distinguish his pronouncements from their opposites at better than chance level, suggesting that the content is a sophisticated form of white noise. On this view, as Wolfgang Pauli once said of someone else, Derrida is "not even wrong.". "
My friend Pavaman once cured Venkateswara Rao's addiction to philosophy by a random reading (mixing up phrases from different sentences and asking Rao to explain, which Rao patiently did)of Sartre.
The latest of the posts "debunking reactionary appropriations of neuroscience as carefully as though they were actual attempts to advance human knowledge, and not meretricious myth-making" by Liberman The defend-your-turf area?
P.S. More about Cosma Shalizi in the later half of the article The Tenure Tracts. Mark Liberman and Andrew Gelman should have also been mentioned in the article. Excerpt:
"If there’s one thing Shalizi can’t stand, it’s misinformation bandied about in the name of science. “A lot of the time, when I’m motivated enough to post something, it’s because I think someone is ‘being wrong on the Internet,’ as the saying goes—and this cannot stand,” Shalizi says. “It’s usually something I’ve read more than once and it seems such a pack of lies, or utter misunderstandings, that I feel like writing something. I wish I wasn’t so destructively motivated, but I am.”

When asked how much time and effort that takes, he says, “Quite a bit, to be honest. Part of that is the fact that I’m way over trained as an academic, and part is also wanting to leave people no excuse or way out,” Shalizi says. “If I can show that they’re just totally wrong, thoroughly wrong, then I will try to do that.”"

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Some economics related links

Justin Fox in Wresting the Economic Debate Away from the Economists responding to
The Return of History by David Brooks:
"...about why economists had gained so much influence over the past half century and historians had lost so much.

One answer I offered was that economists had managed a remarkable balancing act between making the guts of their work totally incomprehensible — and thus forbiddingly impressive — to the outside world while continuing to offer reasonably straightforward conclusions. The basic form of an academic economics paper is a couple of comprehensible paragraphs at the beginning and a couple of comprehensible paragraphs at the end, with a bunch of really-hard-to-follow math or statistical analysis in the middle. An academic history paper, on the other hand, is often an uninterrupted cascade of semi-comprehensible jargon that neither impresses a lay reader nor offers any clear conclusions.
Why does any of this matter? Mainly because the ways in which scholars interpret the world can (with a time lag and a lot lost in translation) have a big influence on the way the rest of us see things. Over the past half century, economists have come to utterly dominate thinking about economic matters, and begun to insinuate themselves into lots of other fields too. Business education, and business advice, has certainly become much more economics-oriented. Which isn't all bad. But even an economist would agree that we could use more competition in the marketplace of ideas. Right?"
Felix Salmon comments on Justin Fox post in Economics without mathematics with many interesting comments and links like Robert Waldman's comment:
"Often the plain English parts of papers exclusively reflect the preferences of the author(s) and are unrelated to the evidence or mathematics in the paper."

From The IMF's new wisdom:
"Most bad policies result from either the power of special interests or ideologically driven mistakes. The fund appears to be gradually rethinking some of its ideologically driven mistakes, which is a good thing for the institution – and because it is influential, for the world. But the problem is that it is still run by "special interests""

Nuclear liability Bill

A deeply flawed bill deferred at last minute seems to be facing further difficulties. See
India and U.S. likely to clash over nuclear liability bill by Siddharth Varadarajan, and
Design flaws in Westinghouse reactor may delay India contract.

From an earlier comment Capping nuclear liability is a non-starter by Soli J. Sorabjee, a former Attorney General for India says "There can be two views about the advantages or disadvantages of foreign investment in India in the nuclear energy sector. But there can be only one view: health well-being and protection of our people are paramount and must override dollar considerations. Foreign multinationals are not solicitors of the fundamental rights of our people. The Bhopal Gas case is a burning reminder.

Any legislation that attempts to dilute the Polluter Pays and Precautionary Principle and imposes a cap on liability is likely to be struck down as it would be in blatant defiance of the Supreme Court judgments. Moreover, it would be against the interests and the cherished fundamental right to life of the people of India whose protection should be the primary concern of any civilised democratic government."

Wordsmiths of Telugu films

Jyothi reminded me that the expression veeratadu came from the film Mayabazar వేసుకోండి వీరతాడు.
The dialogue writer was Pingali NagendraRao, who was quite famous for inventing new words, expressions from Pathalabhairavi onwards. I found a few more links to articles about some of the wordsmiths of telugu films whose phrases and lines from films have become part of the language now. Some of these are Arudra, Devulapalli Krishna Sastry, Malladi Ramakrishna Sastry,Srisri, Pingali of course, Kosaraju, Dasaradhi, Ravi Narayana Reddi.
తెలుగు సినిమా పాట
వీరతాళ్ళు వేస్తాం, వస్తారా?!
మాయాబజార్ – పాండవులు లేని భారతం
తెలుగు సినిమా పాటల్లో కొన్ని రచనా విశేషాలు
P.S. హలా అంటున్న గజ్జెలకోడి !!! links to a website dedicated to Pingali

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Kalyan Mukherjea RIP

Kalyan Mukherjea passed away on the evening of March 31 after a few weeks of illness. I will miss him.