Archive for May, 2009

Comment section for research papers

May 29, 2009

If only there was one, how much would have been the fun! PHDComics speculates!

Break or no-break –That is the question

May 26, 2009

The semester has come to an end; almost all the administrative responsibilities are completed. This is time for some solid research. I am starting the vacation with a trip to Bangalore, where, I will be delivering a lecture at Micro-09. I will make sure that I post the presentation slides either here or at Materialia Indica.

I am planning to be in Bangalore till early next week; so, there will be a lull in blogging. On the other hand, I might live blog the workshop — in which case, there wouldn’t be. So, let us see how it goes!

Diversities: tamed and untamed

May 25, 2009

Ashish Nandy in Tehelka (link via Swarup):

In our society, we live with radical diversities — diversity that is not based on tamed forms of difference. The US is a perfect example of tamed diversity. You get every kind of food and dress and cultural activity in America. You think you are very cosmopolitan if you can distinguish Huaiyang food from Schezwan food, or South Korean ballet from Beijing opera, or Ming dynasty china from Han dynasty china in a museum. This is diversity that is permissible, legitimate, tamed.

Radical diversity is when you tolerate and live with people who challenge some of the very basic axioms of your political life. Like most of South Asia, Indians have an old capacity to live with such diversity. A powerful example is Sajjad Lone contesting the election this year. Nobody objected that a secessionist wants to take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. Everyone spoke of it glowingly. I consider that a tolerance for radical diversity. In such a society, all excesses are ultimately checkmated.

A great read (though I am not sure how much of it is correct — it is one thing to think that negative campaign did not work and that arrogance was not forgiven by the Indian electorate, but it is entirely another if it was really so — though, it does feel really, really good to think so).

Biologists: who counts and who doesn’t

May 23, 2009

M Robertson in the Journal of Biology:

While there can be no question about the contribution of mathematics to many fields in biology, there is a curious tendency on the part of numerate biologists (often immigrants from the physical sciences) to insist that they are an essential part of the equipment of a biologist and none should be without it. This seems, on the evidence, extreme.

In short, the account of the segmentation clock in our review this month is an illustration of emergent properties at two levels, at one of which – the level of devices – no great mathematical sophistication is required; while at the other, where devices are engaged in complex systems, mathematics may be mandatory.

There seems no need for the kind of snobbery displayed (it is said) by the highly quantitative founding biologists at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, in whose early history exphysicists played a crucial part, and who are alleged to have referred to their nearby colleagues at Woods Hole as biologists ‘who don’t count’.

Take a look!

Incomplete, authoritarian, suppressive and brutal democracy

May 23, 2009

Oh, what a fall was there, my countrymen! Then I and you and all of us fell down, while bloody treason flourished over us.

Ram Guha in the Telegraph:

Over the past few years, the government of Chhattisgarh has had a particularly undistinguished record in this respect. The burning of adivasi villages under the government-sponsored Salwa Judum has been documented in a series of independent reports. Then there is the unconscionable incarceration without bail of the respected social worker and doctor, Binayak Sen, on the very flimsy charge of carrying a letter from one Naxalite to another. Now comes this savage act of retribution against a group of law-abiding, peace-loving, and utterly non-violent Gandhians.

Supporters of the Chhattisgarh government deflect such criticism by pointing to the fact that the chief minister of the state has won a series of elections. But democracy does not begin and end with the counting of votes. Those elected to political office are sworn to uphold the rule of law, and to honour the ideals of the Indian Constitution. This holds true at the national as well as provincial levels. It applies equally to Congress-led governments as to Bharatiya Janata Party-led ones. So long as incidents such as the demolition of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram occur and recur, India will not count as much more than a 50 per cent democracy.

I think Guha is too liberal in his marking scheme when he gives 50% after all the atrocities that he documents — I say, give 15% and fail!

The goden rule of publishing

May 21, 2009

For every paper for which you are the author/co-author, make sure that there is enough information in the paper such that anybody who is so inclined can reproduce your work.

If you are reviewing a manuscript, you should also demand enough information with the same question in mind, namely, if somebody wants to reproduce these results can she do it using the information given in this paper?

These two seem to be the take-home lessons from this post by Dr. Free-Ride!

Drug Monkey’s alternate view point

May 20, 2009

DrugMonkey on Cutler’s interview (to which I linked to here):

So if you look at it from the standpoint of one of the Cutler lab’s competitors they are being offered a chance to get in on a Science pub on something that they may not have even realized they had. Even if they did have something, their first assumption had to have been “Holy schmoly, the Cutler lab is ready to submit at any moment so we’ll get scooped if we don’t accept!”. As another commenter at Janet’s place, Neuro-conservative, pointed out:

Note that Cutler’s lab got first and last authorship on the Science paper. For all intents and purposes, the other guys were scooped.

So the devil really is in the details here with respect to how far along the Cutler lab was, how collaborative the interactions were from the first contact between labs and how accurate the characterization that the collaborating labs didn’t realize what they had. It could be the case that the labs all really did start from a nascent idea of Cutler’s and build substantively forward. Or, the Cutler lab might have been essentially ready and able to go it alone and generously offered to bring along some competitors who otherwise would have been really screwed.

Or….a really, really cynical person might see this as a brilliant power move to ensure that you most-likely competitors would not be trying to scoop you nor even be able to edge their way into one of those lame co-publication games.

I would really like to hear the interviews with the competing labs that Cutler got to well as those who took a pass on the offer.

Brain as a sexual organ

May 20, 2009

Chat speculates!

Thirty-five thousand years ago is about the time that our direct Cro-Magnon ancestors were displacing Neanderthals in Europe. They had something going for them — more agile minds? language? imagination? Maybe the source of their success was not reproductive efficiency, as such, but eroticism. That is to say, maybe the conceptualization of sex was a driving engine of cerebral facility and language. The Playboy bunny. The Harlequin romance. Foreplay. Dirty dancing. Maybe sexual fantasy prepared the way for art and religion and technological innovation. Maybe the brain evolved as a sexual organ, and then found other things to do.

Personal experiments on doing science cooperatively

May 19, 2009

JS: Can you explain your experiment in cooperative science, and what motivated you to do it?

SC: Well, first off, the idea that it was an experiment is a tad misleading. It was a personal experiment in how I wanted to live my life — not a scientific experiment. Perhaps I can publish it in the Journal of Irreproducible Results one day, if I am so lucky.

The background is this. After several years of work I found myself sitting on a major discovery in one of the most competitive fields in plant biology. “Competitive” in science is usually code for “cut throat”, and can be associated with scientists who abuse their power to get ahead unfairly. I thought to myself — what is the one thing that those “cut throat” types would not do in my situation — because I really do not want to end up like them. Contacting people I might of scoop seemed like an interesting approach. My colleague, ethicist and friend Coleen Macnamara thought it was a great idea, which was encouraging. I sent emails out to people who I determined were sitting on the same jackpot discovery as me, but I gathered that they didn’t realize it. That got the ball rolling.

Go here for the full interview which is a must-must read!

A shocking career advice

May 18, 2009

Thanks to a commentor of one of my earlier posts, I found this piece of Gian Carlo-Rota, which is a must-read. I found the third lesson to be very surprising — not for its content — but because somebody is willing to state it in such explicit terms:

After getting my degree, I worked for a few years in functional analysis. I bought a copy of Frederick Riesz’ Collected Papers as soon as the big thick heavy oversize volume was published. However, as I began to leaf through, I could not help but notice that the pages were extra thick, almost like cardboard. Strangely, each of Riesz’ publications had been reset in exceptionally large type. I was fond of Riesz’ papers, which were invariably beautifully written and gave the reader a feeling of definitiveness.

As I looked through his Collected Papers however, another picture emerged. The editors had gone out of their way to publish every little scrap Riesz had ever published. It was clear that Riesz’ publications were few. What is more surprising is that the papers had been published several times. Riesz would publish the first rough version of an idea in some obscure Hungarian journal. A few years later, he would send a series of notes to the French Academy’s Comptes Rendus in which the same material was further elaborated. A few more years would pass, and he would publish the definitive paper, either in French or in English. Adam Koranyi, who took courses with Frederick Riesz, told me that Riesz would lecture on the same subject year after year, while meditating on the definitive version to be written. No wonder the final version was perfect.

Riesz’ example is worth following. The mathematical community is split into small groups, each one with its own customs, notation and terminology. It may soon be indispensable to present the same result in several versions, each one accessible to a specific group; the price one might have to pay otherwise is to have our work rediscovered by someone who uses a different language and notation, and who will rightly claim it as his own.

Other lessons are also too good to pass up.