Sunday, September 30, 2007

Anil Gupta on 'How local knowledge can boost scientific studies'

Anil Gupta of Honey Bee Network (see hereand here for descriptions of some of their work) talks about how local innovations can help scientific research:
"Local innovations could help inform scientific research, if only scientists would invest the proper resources into exploring them.

Scientists do not respond as enthusiastically as they should because they are often sceptical about the value of traditional knowledge. There are few opportunities for understanding the real potential of grassroots innovations and the rewards of validating or further developing them may seem limited.

Peer pressure can push scientists to focus on high-impact research with wide visibility and students shy away from work that won't guarantee them a successful career. Sometimes there is simply a lack of encouragement, or even authorisation, from research heads for such work.

A bias towards chemical-intensive technologies can also exist and often researchers are put off because the protocols for validating non-chemical grassroots innovations require different approaches.

Lastly, the pressure from local innovators and traditional knowledge holders to influence policies is feeble, fragmented and easy to ignore.

Providing incentives

Yet in my more than 25 years of experience serving on scientific committees, I have not found a complete lack of awareness of the need to work on grassroots innovations. So why has it taken so long to build the bridges between formal and informal science?

The NIF — set up by the Department of Science and Technology in 2000 to provide institutional support for scaling up grassroots innovations — works with the Honey Bee Network and has an annual budget of about US$300,000.

Having sold products developed by grassroots innovators across five continents, the NIF has proved that there is space in the global market for these types of goods. But the speed, scope and scale of these markets can become much bigger with the addition of formal scientific research."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Review of Indra Sinha's "Animal's People"

by Uma in Frontline. An earlier post by Uma in her blog.

Goitein, Geniza and Amitav Ghosh

While rummaging through my son's books I stumbled upon Amitav Ghosh's "In an Antique Land", found it engrossing and finished it in one sitting. As the cover quotes from Sunday Times:
"Ghosh's book is extraordinary; a travel book that reaches back into twelfth century as it touches on the dilemnas of our own times".
Cohen's article gives a description of how Amitav Ghosh started on the book:
"Later, the world-at-large got the chance—from an unexpected corner—to read about the thrills of the India trade as portrayed in Goitein’s Geniza. The story I am about to tell exemplifies Goitein’s global impact. I refer to the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh and his wonderful book, In an Antique Land, published in 1992. Ghosh, while an Oxford doctoral student in social anthropology in 1978, chanced upon the India trade while reading Goitein’s magnificent collection, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders (1973). In that medieval, cosmopolitan world of commerce and travel, Ghosh met up with one of Goitein’s twelfth-century India merchants and his Indian slave and business agent. The young scholar from Calcutta identified with his twelfth-century countryman and resolved to tell his story.
He began by choosing to do his anthropological fieldwork in Egypt. His quest later brought him to Princeton in 1985: he wanted to meet Goitein. But Goitein had recently died, so poor Amitav Ghosh got me instead, a distant runner-up. That began an association that lasted several years while Amitav researched the Indian trade documents in the Geniza, first in Princeton, then in Cambridge, England, reading the Judaeo-Arabic texts about his characters in the original, and writing chapters for his book. It is a riveting story, interweaving his own experience as an Indian living in Egyptian villages of the late twentieth century with that of Bomma, the Egyptian(?) slave of that Jewish merchant who travelled between Egypt and India 850 years earlier.
Ghosh’s book catapulted Goitein and his research into the world of fiction readers, for Ghosh was already known by 1993 for two acclaimed novels set in India. Indeed, In an Antique Land reads like a novel. Early on I told Amitav that his book, when published, would do more for the Geniza and for Goitein’s reputation as a scholar than any number of the books Goitein or his students had written or ever would write. I was not wrong. The book has sold many thousands of copies, and many of the reviews mentioned Goitein. Readers of the Washington Post learned that “S.D. Goitein, almost certainly the greatest scholar to have written on the social and economic history of the Near East, made brilliant use of the Geniza materials in his exhaustively researched, fluently written, and magisterial five-volume work, A Mediterranean Society.” Clifford Geertz, who knew Goitein during the years he spent as a long-term member of the Institute for Advanced Study, told readers of The New Republic: “It is on these materials that Goitein based A Mediterranean Society, his magnificent synthesis of medieval society in the region, oneof the most considerable historical works of our time.”
Goitein would have loved In an Antique Land, for he was deeply committed to broad educational goals."

Addendum (30th Semptember): While posting the above I did not realize that "In an Antique Land" is considered seriously by several anthropologists and has been a part of various graduate courses in anthropolgy and literature. For a layman like me it was a multi-faceted, engrossing and finally a humble book giving a glimpses of the changing world we live in and an elegy to a world that seemed to have diappeared with the advent of Portugese and other European powers to the Indian ocean trade. To be sure there is not much about women or common people of the earlier period, a point taken up by Claire Chambers in this article. Here is another intersting article which discusses Ghosh's book.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

India's economic rise not so clear cut

says Michael Blackman:
"SEEMINGLY from nowhere, Indian companies have emerged in recent years as big overseas investors, particularly in Europe and the US. And with each acquisition, the Indian media has been triumphant. Exactly why, is not clear.

India remains a capital-scarce economy and yet foreign direct investment (FDI) out of India is skyrocketing. Foreign acquisitions abroad have been funded partly by bond issues or loans raised abroad but even so, India's Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry said in March that they expected FDI outflow for the year to be $US15 billion ($A17.3 billion), and FDI inflow to be $US12 billion, meaning that India will actually have a net capital outflow for the year. The contrast with China could not be starker — China currently pulls in about $US6 billion in foreign investment every month.
All this when the Indian economy is supposedly growing at about 9 per cent a year. That so many Indian companies still want to diversify out of India is instructive about the true state of the Indian economy despite the headline growth rate."
His answer seems to be:
"India still spends comparatively little on infrastructure.

It spends far less than China, for example. One estimate is that for every $1 that India spends, China spends $7. It has some of the world's highest rail costs — moving a standardised container one kilometre in India has been estimated to be 53 per cent more expensive than in the US. And it takes an average of 85 hours to unload and reload a ship at India's major ports — 10 times longer than in Singapore.

Getting good managers in India is difficult. Many leave to work overseas. And that suggests another reason for investing in Europe or the US — good management talent in developed economies is not hard to come by in the way that it is in India, where too few good managers are being chased by too many companies.

Still, it is true that India's economy is doing well. But then, what economy isn't? Furthermore, India's economy is growing from a low base; it should be doing well. That an economy like India's records a 9 per cent growth rate should not be surprising. That a mature economy such as Australia's is likely to grow by 4.4 per cent this year, according to the IMF, is remarkable.

But then, World Bank data shows that when the world's economies are ranked by their average GDPs for the five-year period 1980-84 and then for 2001-05, India's position among the world's economies actually fell one notch; meaning that for the periods examined, India was doing little better than the average and worse than many.

India's economic performance today is good because in the past it has been so bad.

So it is no surprise that Indian companies remain cautious. They have endured decades of unbelievable red tape and little or no growth.

At last they have some surplus cash and, with relaxations on overseas investment and foreign exchange controls, they are lining up to diversify out of India.

But in doing this, they are not striking a blow for Indian pride. They're just being prudent."

"The bus always seems to be heading in the wrong direction"

Reading " The fallibility of human reason in everyday life" recommended by Tabula Rasa a few months ago, I do not find it as convincing as "stumbling on happiness" by Dan Gilbert or " Mistakes were made (but not by me)" by Tavris and Aronson. On page 67, Thomas Gilovich says " The belief that "the bus always seems to be heading in the wrong direction" is particularly interesting in this regard because of an important asymmetry between positive and negative events: Certain kinds of negative events can accumulate in ways that positive events cannot. I can become convinced that all the buses are headed in the wrong direction by observing quite a umber headed in the wrong direction before I encounter one going in my direction. Note that the opposite cannot happen..... If a bus is going in my direction, I take it. Because of this asymmetry, we can expect a certain kind of "bad streak" but not a complementary streak of good fortune."
There may be an element of this but there can also be real asymmetries as this well-known example shows. Suppose that the buses are going at one hour intervals in both directions but depending on one's bus stop, the following asymmetry can arise. At some stop (far from the mid point) there may be a gap of 50 minutes between the times when my bus arrives and the one in the other direction arrives and only 10 minutes for the other gap. If I go to catch the bus arbitrarily without checking the timings, it is five times more likely that I will notice the bus going in the opposite direction.

A story about Rene Thom

Even though Rene Thom was one of my heros and I used to read any thing about him that I could find, I did not know this story about Thom:
"To algebraic geometry, Mr. Grothendieck brought an entirely new level of power and abstraction, so much so that his colleague RenĂ© Thom — a Field medalist and a great mathematician — acknowledged that he left pure mathematics because he was oppressed by Mr. Grothendieck's "crushing technical superiority." His technique was only a part of his genius. Mr. Grothendieck was a great mathematical visionary. Like mystics searching for the face of God, he was passionately concerned to see the unity of form behind various mathematical experiences. He did not simply solve isolated problems but, as Mr. Ruelle writes, enveloped them "in a rising tide of very general theories." " (via 3quarksdaily)

Peter Roebuck on T20

Like me, Peter Roebuckis a T20 convert:
"BEYOND all reasonable argument, Twenty20 was a resounding success. A vast audience was transfixed by the event. Soccer-mad youngsters switched over to the cricket. Shouts from downstairs indicated not that Manchester United had scored but that Yuvraj Singh had hit a six. Parents dismayed by their offsprings' coldness towards the game suddenly found those selfsame youths organising cricket parties. Television sets in pubs were switched to the game and the grounds were full of fun. Where the World Cup was po-faced, the game now laughed, not least at itself. Dammit, I am a convert.

Happily, the tournament produced a final to fit the occasion, pitting against each other two proud sides led by daring captains and full of passionate youngsters, two neighbours who for so very long could not play cricket across the divide. Two teams, also, that had cast aside their elders and given youth its chance. Pakistan and India were also the two best teams in the competition because they played with their hearts and also usually their brains."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Glenn Archer retires

Footy (Austrlian Rules Football) legendGlenn Archerretired yesterday. Footy is my favourite game and Wayne Carey is probably the best player I have seen but Archer epitomizes the heart and soul of football.

An inspiring story from Visakhapatnam

Madhukar Shukla at AternativePerspective links to this story in Al-Jazeera:
"Fatima and Shaikh Salary in a slum area in the Indian town of Visakhapatnam
Most of the high-paying jobs in India's $50bn information technology industry go to India's privileged elite.

But, with the help of her husband, one woman has managed to earn her university degree as well as a job at on of India's top IT companies. Rajesh Sundaram travelled to Visakhapatnam to meet her.

Fatima lives with her husband in a slum area in the Indian town of Visakhapatnam.

Her husband is illiterate, earning his money as a street food hawker. He makes about two dollars a day.

Six years ago, when Fatima was only 15, her parents took her out of school and arranged her marriage, a story common to many other young girls in her neighbourhood.

Fatima had been a brilliant student and she thought her marriage to Shaikh Salary, her husband, would mean an end to her dreams of becoming an engineer.

"When I said I wanted to be an engineer, my parents and others just dismissed my dreams," Fatima told Al Jazeera. "They said a girl from the slums could never get become an engineer or work for the big technology companies."

But, she says, Salary was different.

Fatima said: "When I told him about my dreams, he was very encouraging. He saved money from his meagre earnings to help me go to school and then to engineering college."

Poverty and tradition

Poverty and tradition still sees many girls in the slums drop out from school early
The couple received little help for Fatima's studies initially. They went hungry to pay for her books and university fees and Fatima's mother was even asked by neighbours to dissuade her from studying.

Rasia, Fatima's mother, told Al Jazeera: "The neighbours would say it is against our religion, they would ask me, 'Why you are allowing your daughter to go to school after she is married, what will you gain by that? Are you going to send your daughter out to work?'"

Very few girls in Fatima's poor, mostly Muslim, neighbourhood are encouraged to study. Poverty and tradition still sees many girl children in the slums drop out from school early. Most are married off and expected to raise children and do housework.

"They did not educate their daughters and so were opposed to my daughter going to school," Fatima's mother said.

Eventually, a charity gave Salary and Fatima a soft loan to part finance her engineering degree and despite the odds, Fatima worked hard and earned her engineering degree with distinction.


Salary was pleased for his wife, and told Al Jazeera that it was their love for each other that had helped them achieve their goal.

"I am a poor illiterate man. I did not want her to be like me," Salary said. "Now that she has worked hard and achieved so much, people will look at us with respect."

For the time being Fatima helps her husband at his kiosk in the evening, but soon she will begin a job at one of India's top information technology companies where she will earn $600 a month.

She will have to move away from the slums to another city for her new job.

Salary will move with her."
There are also u-tube links in the post.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cosma Shalizi's latest post

The erudite Cosma Shaliziwrites about Iraq:
"If James Wimberley can invoke Timur-i-Lang for a discussion of climate change, I feel free to resurrect his old interlocutor, the great historian and pioneering social scientist ibn Khaldun, in regards to our strategy in Iraq.
Why is the United States government unable to impose its will on Iraq? It is because it has too few soldiers, too far from home, among too alien a population. (If our army of occupation was a million soldiers strong, the fact that almost none of them can make themselves understood would be much less of a problem.) Some have suggested that the problem is insufficient will or solidarity on the American side, but this seems implausible; assuming we actually want there to be an Iraqi population to govern, simply killing more of them is unlikely to work (never mind the moral issues). What ibn Khaldun would advise, I think, is to find an Iraqi group which is numerous, has the solidarity needed to dominate the rest of Iraqi society, and can be brought into alliance with us; and he would advise us to look at either the deserts or the mountains. I submit that there is exactly one group which fulfills the necessary conditions: the Kurds.

They comprise a reasonable fraction of the Iraqi population; their effective 'asabiyya is demonstrated by the fact their militias, a.k.a. peshmerga, already control Iraqi Kurdistan militarily; and they have, notwithstanding the unpleasantness of the 1970s and 1980s, a by-now long-standing alliance with us. Our strategy, then, should be to offer them our support in a bid for military and political domination over the rest of Iraq — with the understanding that they are to leave Turkey strictly alone. That is, they not only get Kirkuk, they get Baghdad and Basra, and not just the north's oil but all of Iraq's oil. Of course, this will be horribly undemocratic and bloody, and it will make anyone even remotely sympathetic with Arab nationalism hate us even more, but I suspect many in Washington would view those attributes as features rather than bugs in any policy."
P.S. (17th March, 2005). Just noticed a update where Cosma says that he is not seriously advocating this.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

End Poverty in South Asia

is is a new blog by Shanta Devarajan, the Chief Economist of the South Asia Region at the World Bank (viaBayesian Heresy). If this comment from the second post is any indication:
"I left Champaben’s house with a renewed appreciation of how both markets and governments have failed poor people; how poor people are essentially helping each other; and how they do so with charm, grace--and humor. I want to go back.",
it will be an interesting blog to follow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bleak Prospects for Young Researchers in USA

says The Chronicle of Higher Education :
"It is the best of times and worst of times to start a science career in the United States.

Researchers today have access to powerful new tools and techniques — such as rapid gene sequencers and giant telescopes — that have accelerated the pace of discovery beyond the imagination of previous generations.

But for many of today's graduate students, the future could not look much bleaker.

They see long periods of training, a shortage of academic jobs, and intense competition for research grants looming ahead of them. "They get a sense that this is a really frustrating career path," says Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

So although the operating assumption among many academic leaders is that the nation needs more scientists, some of brightest students in the country are demoralized and bypassing scientific careers.

The problem stems from the way the United States nurtures its developing brainpower — the way it trains, employs, and provides grants for young scientists. For decades, blue-ribbon panels have called for universities to revise graduate doctoral programs, which produced a record-high 27,974 Ph.D.'s in science and engineering in 2005. No less a body than the National Academy of Sciences has, in several reports, urged doctoral programs to train science students more broadly for jobs inside and outside academe, to shorten Ph.D. programs, and even to limit the number of degrees they grant in some fields.

Despite such repeated calls for reform, resistance to change has been strong. Major problems persist, and some are worsening. Recent data, for example, reveal that:

Averaged across the sciences, it takes graduate students a half-year longer now to complete their doctorates than it did in 1987.

In physics nearly 70 percent of newly minted Ph.D.'s go into temporary postdoctoral positions, whereas only 43 percent did so in 2000.

The number of tenured and tenure-track scientists in biomedicine has not increased in the past two decades even as the number of doctorates granted has nearly doubled.

Despite a doubling in the budg-et of the National Institutes of Health since 1998, the chances that a young scientist might win a major research grant actually dropped over the same period.

The job market in science is now shifting faster than graduate programs can keep up, leading often unhappy Ph.D.'s to hunt for careers far from the academic homes where they hoped their degrees would lead."

Steve Hsu responds:
"The article covers a lot of ground, but one thing that I think could have been emphasized more is that, no matter how dismal the career path becomes for US scientists, there there will still be foreigners from India, China and eastern Europe willing to try their luck, as well as a sprinkling of American-born obsessives (like me) who should know better. However, a significant number of talented Americans will simply choose to do something else."
Some of the responses to Hsu's post are also interesting.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Gulzar Natarajan on Urban Poor

Vijayawada Municipal Commisoner, Gulzar Natarajan in his recent posts considers some points discussed inThe Economic Lives of the poor by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. Banerjee and Duflodescribe how some of the poor earn money in several countries. In one example from A.P. :
"Walking down the main street of the biggest slum in the medium sized Southern Indian city of Guntur at nine in the morning, the first thing one notices are the eateries: In front of every sixth house that directly faced the road, by our count, there was a woman sitting behind a little kerosene stove with a round cast-iron griddle roasting on it. Every few minutes someone would walk up to her and order a dosa, the rice and beans pancakes that almost everyone eats for breakfast in South India. She would throw a cupful of the batter on the griddle, swirl it around to cover almost the entire surface and drizzle some oil around the edges. A minute or two later, she would slide an off-white pock-marked pancake off the griddle, douse it in some sauce, fold it in a newspaper or a banana leaf and hand it to her client, in return for a rupee (roughly 15 cents, at PPP).
When we walked back down that same street an hour later, the women were gone. We found one inside her house, filling her daughter’s plate with lunch that she had cooked while making the dosas. She told us that later that day, she was going out to vend her saris, the long piece of decorative cloth that Indian women drape around themselves. She gets plain nylon saris from the shop and stitches beads and small shiny pieces on them, and once a week, she takes them from house to house, hoping that women would buy them to wear on special occasions. And they do buy them, she said confidently. All the other dosa women we met that day had a similar story: once they are done frying dosas, they do something else. Some collect trash; others make pickles to sell; others work as laborers."
Gulzar Natarajan in his post "Alternate lives of the Urban Poor" describes describes some of their main customers (I remember eating in such places with my father):
"Typically houses in urban slums are very small and do not have full fledged kitchens. Most often there is a single room which has a makeshift kitchen in one corner. Most slum dwellers have to get up early and go for work, and therefore have limited time available for cooking the morning breakfast. Further, South Indian breakfasts are inherently difficult in preparation and takes inordinately long preparation time. Early morning hours are valuable for slum residents for a number of reasons. Apart from their personal tasks, the women have to catch and store water (which is typically released for a couple of hours in the morning), wash vessels and clothes, get children ready for school, and also prepare lunch for the entire family (typically both husband and wife work during the daytime).

Further, a majority of slum households have atleast one tenant. The houseowner rents out a portion, generally a room, to supplement his income. (They get around Rs 500-1000 every month from this). The tenants generally do not have the space for establishing a kitchen and invariably rely on these eateries for their breakfast. These tenants are a substantial customer base for these food vendors. "
In an earlier post "Lottery Bonds", Natarajan discusses the relevance of Tufano's ideas to help the poor in saving.

On social segregation and economic inequality

Julie Rehmeyer reviews in sciencenews
the recent paper Is equal opprtunity enough? A theory of persistent group inequality by Sam Bowles, Glen Loury and Rajiv Sethi. Excerpts from the review;
"...the power of segregation may be even greater than commonly thought. The study shows that even when there is no history of discrimination between two groups, social segregation alone can cause dramatic economic inequities to develop.
They imagined a situation in which discrimination that had historically existed between two groups of people came to an end, so that people from both groups who had equal skills subsequently began earning equal wages. The researchers then asked whether, over many generations, the income of the two groups would tend to equalize or whether the disparity would persist.

The model incorporated the idea that parents tend to invest more heavily in giving their children the skills that employers value when they expect that investment to pay off later in higher wages. It also included the fact that children are more likely to succeed when they are surrounded by other children who are succeeding. For example, studies show that having friends with strong vocabularies helps a child to pick up more words with less effort.

The latter effect makes informal, social segregation particularly damaging, the researchers found. People who have been subject to discrimination in the past are less likely to have acquired the skills needed for high-wage jobs, compared with those who were not subject to discrimination. Their children, then, are less likely to pick up those skills naturally at home. Furthermore, in a socially segregated society, children will mix mostly with peers from their own group. As a result, children from the less-advantaged group will be less able to pick up high-wage skills from their friends.

These impediments make parents' investment in their children's future wage-related skills less likely to pay off, leaving parents less inclined to make the investment than parents in a socially advantaged group. The children are thus likely to have less economic success in adulthood.

"If you have enough integration between the social networks of the two groups, the inequality will go away over generations," Sethi says, but otherwise, the inequality could get worse, the study shows.
The positive side of the study, however, is that integration has a powerful effect in ending inequalities. "If equality between groups is a social objective," Sethi says, "the way to do it is through integration." "

Saturday, September 15, 2007

These keep another generation going

From Dilip D'Souza's blog:
"The email, messages, calls and letters have overwhelmed us. But perhaps none more than the man who wrote to the Times of India (September 7):
I was saddened to read about the death of JB D'Souza, ex-chief secretary of the Government of Maharashtra. ... I have not come across another civil servant like him. I served under him when he was Director of Relief and Rehabilitation, Chandrapur, for the resettlement of Bangladesh refugees.

He was ... dedicated to the welfare of the common man, a visionary but practical, unassuming but bold, strict but friendly in and out of the office, patient and well-organised. He never lost his cool: and his respect for subordinates was exceptional. ...

UV Joshi
We had never heard of this Joshi, never heard my father mention him. But after this letter, we tried to reach him via a friend in the Times, then via another friend who knew whom to call at the hostel accommodation Joshi had listed as his address. Drew a blank. "Give us his room number", they asked, and we were lost right there.

Then, after dinner two days later, the bell rang. At our front door, a slender scruffy man with twinkling pale eyes, unshaven and tired, 78 years old and pants torn at one knee. "I am Joshi", he said, and we knew at once. He had taken the train from town, then walked from the station -- two km, near enough -- searching for the building, asking all the way. Sat with us, switching from fluent English to fluent Marathi to fluent Hindi. Has a son in the Army who has abandoned him. Lives with a friend in Nagpur. Felt he had to come see us, to "pay my respects". Looked often at the framed photographs on our table, affection and sadness in soft eyes. We told him, your letter brought tears to our eyes. Just telling him so brought more."

Raj Chetty

Caren Cheslerin a series about young American economists writes about Raj Chetty, son of old friend V.K.Chetty in The American:
"While his study on dividend taxes was influential, Chetty hopes to have his greatest impact in another area: social programs that help cushion risk. In a study entitled “Consumption Commitments and Risk Preferences,” published this year in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Chetty and Berkeley colleague Adam Szeidl contest the popular belief among economists that unemployment insurance is too generous. George Akerlof, who also teaches at Berkeley and won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001, describes Chetty’s insight in the study as revolutionary. “He had a new way of looking at the problems of the unemployed,” Akerlof says. “Raj emphasized that they find it very difficult to meet their prior commitments. For example, they must pay their rent or their mortgage, and these commitments very much add to the difficulties of being unemployed. Economists were just not thinking of that until Raj came up with it. This is a very big innovation in the theory of unemployment.”

Chetty believes that if he can bring models and theories into better alignment with real-world evidence, he will help shape economic policy. It’s an ambition that runs in the family: his father, V. K. Chetty, was an economic adviser to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the 1980s, helping her privatize the government-run cement industry as India’s economy began to make the transition from socialism to free-market capitalism."
Since none of children took to academics, I seem to be gloating in Veerappa'a son's success. V.K. Chetty himself was considered a brilliant economist after his thesis on 'Chetty money', but my impression is that he did not fulfil his potential. Probably got caught up in the caste prejudices that he encontered in his younger days. It seems that caste still takes an inordinate toll on the energies of Indians.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Neglected diseases

Free access articlesin Nature:
"Tropical diseases affect more than one billion people, yet there are few effective treatments. And despite much research activity, scientific innovations with therapeutic potential are not making it out of the laboratory. The articles in this Outlook examine what can be done to stimulate the development of effective medicines and deliver them to the people who need them most."
Some other free access articles from Naturehere.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Helping Low-Income Families Save More

Gulzar Natarajan in 'Lottery Bonds'links to an article of Robert Schiller and ideas of Peter Tufano about'Helping Low-Income Families Save More'. Excerpt from Schiller's article:
"According to Tufano, the fundamental problem in encouraging low-income people to save is that they need the money not just to manage their lives years in the future, when they retire, but also to deal with short-term crises. But if government programs designed to promote saving by low-income people don’t tie up their money for many years until retirement, they will often succumb to temptation and spend the money frivolously.

Tufano approaches the problem with real sympathy for these people, and a realistic idea about how to help them: premium savings bonds. In addition to normal interest payments, these bonds have an attached lottery – an enticement to keep the money in savings. Low-income people manifestly enjoy lotteries, and they will acquire the habit of looking forward to the lottery dates, which will deter them from cashing in their bonds. But if a real emergency arises, they can get their money."
From the podcast, it appears that Peter Tufano himself came from a family which struggled to save for his education.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A novel about Srinivasa Ramanujan

Amardeep Singh talks about The Indian Clerk, a novel about Ramanujan by David Leavitt. There are also links to an interview with the author and some excerpts from the novel.

"Indians are privately smart..."

From an interview with V. Raghunathan, author of "Games Indians Play: Why We Are the Way We Are" and a former professor at at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. I guess that this kind of statements have to be taken with a grain of salt but it is possible that certain attitudes and practices may be prevalent with certain sections at a given time. I noticed that with economic discussions, even though there are heated discussions in Indian blogs and many refer to western blogs, very few Indian seem to take part in western blogs even when the discussions are about Indian economic matters. I wonder whether many of them are shy.

Mismeasurement of science

Peter Lawrence in Current Biology says that 'modern science. particularly biomedicine, is being damaged by attempts to measure the quantity and quality of research'.
Very interesting article (via Greg Mankiw).

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I go to a bookshop

and find that I am probably vain. Yesterday I saw 'Poincare's Prize" by George Szpiro and noticed that there was a reference to me and immediately bought the book to show off to my family. Strangely, at the time I wrote the paper, I was not particularly interested in the Poincare conjecture. Much earlier, I got hooked by mathematics after reading a popular book 'Men of Mathematics" by E.T. Bell. It soon became a passion and going to a research institute seemed an easy way of learning good mathes. I was not sure whether I could do a Ph.D. but it seemed one could always go back home and teach in some college. I kept reading what I liked and what I could understand and slowly one could find some problems in research papers and connect the dots. That seemed to be about it. While reading Papakyriokopoulos's paper, it occured to me that I could improve his conjecture and wrote a note. It did not take more than a week and since I was not particulaly interested in the conjecture, i left it at that. Somewhat later, I noticed that those conjectures had to be wrong since Papa's approach implied that every homology 3-sphere would be real 3-sphere. I was surprised that nobody mentioned it; may be it was due to respect and affection for Papa.
But as time went on, I found that I spent more time on research and less on reading. Problems kept bugging me and it was not always easy to prove what seemed to be correct. I found myself working 14-15 hours day trying to prove what should be correct. I became more and more specialized and by the time I realized the Poincare conjecture was part of a bigger programme, I did not have the strength or technolgy to either work on it or understand the solution when it appeared. So it goes.
By the way, the book is interesting, with many stories about Poincare and the origins of topology that I did not know.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Fabric 'safe enough to eat'

I came across this story in Made to Stick. In 1993, Bill McDonough, an environmentalist and Michael Braungart, a chemist were hired by the Swiss Textile manufacurer Rohner Textil,which produced textiles for Steelcase chairs to create a manufacuring process without using toxic chemicals. As McDonough says in
Newsweek Interview:
"... we designed a fabric safe enough to eat. The manufacturing process uses no mutagens, carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, heavy-metal contaminants or chemicals that cause ozone depletion, allergies, skin desensitization or plant and fish toxicity. We screened 8,000 commonly used chemicals and ended up with 38. When inspectors measured the effluent water, they thought their instruments were broken. The water was as clean as Swiss drinking water. A garden club started using the waste trimmings as mulch. Workers no longer had to wear protective clothing. And it eliminated regulatory paperwork, so they've reduced the cost of production by 20 percent."
Braungart and McDonogh went on to build MBDC,a product and process design firmto promote and power the next 'Industrial Revolution" though intelligent design. More about their programmes can be found in the article by Nicolas Boullosa at faircompanies site. From Boullas article:

"With its headquarters in Charlottesville (Virginia, USA), MBDC was founded to work with any business that asks for its help in employing strategies of product and process design based on eco-effectiveness, ideas developed in Cradle to Cradle.

The American company divides its activity into distinct areas: consulting on the design of products related to eco-effectiveness; education and training based on the ideas developed in its philosophy; and strategic consulting related to the environment for large firms.

Surprisingly, given the radicalness of the change proposed by eco-effectiveness, McDonough and Braungart don't seem to have problems finding clients or large-scale projects. MBDC has worked, since its birth in 1995, in the integration of the regenerating ideas of Cradle to Cradle in projects of BASF, BP, S.C. Johnson, Nike, Ford Motor Company, Visteon, Volvo, Herman Miller, Victor Innovatex, Designtex, Rohner Textil, Pendleton y Miliken & Co.

C2C certification

MBDC has created a certification, C2C Certification, for those products that accomplish the criteria established by the consultancy's "environmentally-intelligent" design concept. "

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A strange solution for preserving biodiversity

" The rapid expansion of oil-palm crops in equatorial regions has raised concerns about its potential detrimental effects on southeast Asia's biodiversity, leading to intense media debates between environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the oil-palm industry.
We think that this debate has been fuelled, on the one hand, by the NGOs' lack of awareness of the socioeconomic realities in countries that produce palm oil, and, on the other, by the crop growers' failure to appreciate both the threat to southeast Asia's unique biodiversity, and the conservation potential of non-pristine habitats. To break this agriculture–biodiversity deadlock, we suggest a new strategy of using revenue from oil-palm agriculture to fund the acquisition of land for the establishment of private nature reserves.
In our view, because the oil palm is such a high yielding and lucrative crop, a unique opportunity exists for NGOs to acquire relatively small tracts of existing oil-palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia and use the revenue generated to establish a network of privately owned nature reserves for biodiversity conservation."

Downloading Wisdom from Online Crowds

Knowledge.Wharton discussesDownloading Wisdom from Online Crowds. Excerpt:
"Specifically, Saiz, in the real estate department, and Simonsohn, in operations and information management, argue in a new research paper that the likelihood that a topic is discussed online, in relation to a given location, correlates with its relative prevalence in the real world. "We are interested in the possible 'wisdom' resulting from the aggregation of a very specific kind of judgment, namely, the determination of which topic is worth writing about," they write in a paper titled, "Downloading Wisdom from Online Crowds." For example, they wanted to discern which countries, U.S. states and big U.S. cities people perceived as the most corrupt. So they plugged the appropriate terms into a search engine called Exalead. By assessing how many documents contained the word "corruption" within the same paragraph as the location's name, they came up with corresponding corruption rankings."

New ILO report on labour productivity

FromILO Press Release:
"The ILO report, entitled “Key Indicators of the Labour Market (KILM), fifth Edition” indicates that the U.S. still leads the world by far in labour productivity per person employed in 2006 despite a rapid increase of productivity in East Asia where workers now produce twice as much as they did 10 years ago.

What’s more, the report also shows that the productivity gap between the US and most other developed economies continued to widen. The acceleration of productivity growth in the US has outpaced that of many other developed economies: With US$ 63,885 of value added per person employed in 2006, the United States was followed at a considerable distance by Ireland (US$ 55,986), Luxembourg (US$ 55,641), Belgium (US$ 55,235) and France (US$ 54,609).

However, Americans work more hours per year than workers in most other developed economies. This is why, measured as value added per hour worked, Norway has the highest labour productivity level (US$ 37.99), followed by the United States (US$ 35.63) and France (US$ 35.08).

Increase in productivity is mainly the result of firms better combining capital, labour and technology. A lack of investment in people (training and skills) as well as equipment and technology can lead to an underutilization of the labour potential in the world.

“The huge gap in productivity and wealth is cause for great concern,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “Raising the productivity levels of workers on the lowest incomes in the poorest countries is the key to reducing the enormous decent work deficits in the world.”

In East Asia where productivity levels showed the fastest increase, doubling in ten years, output per worker was up from one-eighth in 1996 to one-fifth of the level found in the industrialized countries in 2006. Meanwhile, in South-East Asia & the Pacific productivity levels were seven times less and in South Asia eight times less than in the industrialized countries, the report reveals.

In the Middle East and Latin America & the Caribbean, the value added per person employed is nearly three times less than it is in the developed economies; in Central & South Eastern Europe (non-EU) & CIS the level is 3.5 times less, and four times less in North Africa. The widest gap is observed in sub-Saharan Africa where the productivity level per person employed is one-twelfth of that of a worker in the industrialized countries."
More information atILO site.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Disney Metaphor

From Made to Stick:
".. Disney calls its employees "cast members". This metaphor of employees as cast members in a theatrical production is communicated consistently throughout the organization.
... street sweepers are some of the most highly trained cast members, since their very visible public presence - coupled with the fact that they are Disney employees - makes them an obvious target for customerts' questions about rides, parades and rest room locations. Having them think of their role as performance, rather than maintenance, is key part of the park's success. "Employees as cast members" is a generative metaphor that has worked for Disney for fifty years"

Another cracking article by Ramguha

Ramachandra Guha spares neither left nor right and gives some insights about promotions in government service in this Telegraph article(via Guru):
"I come, finally, to the rank careerism displayed in connection with this most contentious deal. On August 12, a Delhi newspaper published a leading article with the title “Trust the Treaty”. The caption gave away the line of argument. But what was significant was not what was being said but who was saying it. The article was written by S.K. Singh, at the time the governor of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Seeing his byline, I rang a friend in Delhi. “Surely it is unconstitutional for a serving governor to go out and bat for the government like this?” I asked. “Treat the article not as a violation of constitutional propriety but as a job application,” answered my friend. “He wants a bigger state.”
He was right. It was not just that his transgression was not noticed; it was actually rewarded. In the reshuffle of governors announced last week, S.K. Singh was shifted from Arunachal Pradesh to Rajasthan — a more populous state, a much more important one, and closer (in all respects) to Delhi."
This may not be very new. I remember a prominent mathematician who refused to sign a petition for mathematician activist Banwari Lal Sharma's release during the Emergency.