Sunday, February 10, 2013

MoAR: more bad news than good, this week.

i don't think that this week's roundup will cheer you up. 7-:

the first two stories are about have's and have-not's, the next two are about setbacks in research and publishing, and the last one's about the downside of "quantifying everything" ..

1. the world might be flat, but what if you're not part of "the world" ..?

it's easy to forget that though "everything" is available on the web, some people might still not have the access to it .. especially those who need it.

on a related note, i worry about the future of public libraries ..
"Joshua sometimes does his homework at a McDonald's restaurant — not because he is drawn by the burgers, but because the fast-food chain is one of the few places in this southern Alabama city of 4,000 where he can get online access free once the public library closes.

Cheap smartphones and tablets have put Web-ready technology into more hands than ever. But the price of Internet connectivity hasn't come down nearly as quickly. And in many rural areas, high-speed Internet through traditional phone lines simply isn't available at any price. The result is a divide between families that have broadband constantly available on their home computers and phones, and those that have to plan their days around visits to free sources of Internet access.

~ from The Web-Deprived Study at McDonald's @wsj

2. name, email .. rank?

in the first lecture of the course i'd teach, i often spent the first minute or two introducing myself .. and then indicating who i was not:
you wouldn't call a corporal a general, right?
so: i'm not "professor" geminus.

these guys, though, have a similar rule but with a few other things in mind ..
"To ensure that we remain conscious of the adjunctification of CUNY, we ask that you do not call us ‘Professor.’ We are hired as adjunct lecturers and it is important that you remember that. You deserve to be taught by properly compensated professors whose full attention is to teaching and scholarship."

~ from "We Ask That You Do Not Call Us Professor" @thebillfold
well, if it really is the truth, then maybe the students should know, one way or another.

3. it might be wrong, but is it still interesting?

everyone is wrong on occasion.  for me, "on occasion" should be replaced with "almost all the time."  my ideas are wrong at least 95% of the time, in that they don't work for the intended task.

as some small consolation to myself, i happen to believe that ..

.. if you've never been wrong before, then you've never reached your limits;
if all of your ideas are working, then you're probably not getting enough ideas.

that said, these authors have my respect. it's not easy, admitting you were wrong about something ..
"On 10 December 2012, we submitted a paper “Rota’s Universal Operators and Invariant Subspaces in Hilbert Spaces” for publication, and we spoke about it several times before the more formal announcement at the RSME meeting in Santiago de Compostela on 25 January 2013. By that time, the paper had been read and no problems found by several other mathematicians. We have heard nothing so far from the journal to which it was submitted.

We regret to inform you, however, that a gap in our proof was discovered after the announcement at Santiago. After working for the past few days to bridge the gap, so far unsuccessfully, we are today formally withdrawing our submission to the journal.
So far at least, there have been no errors found in the paper besides the erroneous assertion that the work included in the paper proved the Invariant Subspace Theorem, while in fact it did not.

~ from "[a] Statement from Cowen and Gallardo" @cafematematico
i'm neither an expert in functional analysis or in psychology. the mood of this announcement sounds positive to me, though .. which might be crucial for these two researchers.

that sounded cryptic. by that i mean:

depending on one's training and personality, it can be easier to think creatively about
something when not under constraint
. it's the difference between looking (A) for
something interesting and (B) being driven to find a very specific something.

so my hope is that these guys keep in mind that they already have some good theorems
in the bag
. if they can still prove the conjecture, then great; in the meanwhile, if something
else interesting comes up from their investigations, then it already has the publicity to
make a good upcoming line of research.


for a while, everyone always told me to be optimistic .. which, to be honest, constantly got on my nerves. i guess i've finally been fully brainwashed! (-:

4. definitions can be important.

i encountered this one definition of "genius," the other day.
"The “scientific genius” Simonton refers to is a particular type of scientist; their contributions “are not just extensions of already-established, domain-specific expertise." Instead, “the scientific genius conceives of a novel expertise.” Simonton uses words like “groundbreaking” and “overthrow” to illustrate the work of these individuals, explaining that they each contributed to science in one of two major ways: either by founding an entirely new field or by revolutionizing an already-existing discipline.

Today, according to Simonton, there just isn’t room to create new disciplines or overthrow the old ones. “It is difficult to imagine that scientists have overlooked some phenomenon worthy of its own discipline,” he writes. Furthermore, most scientific fields aren’t in the type of crisis that would enable paradigm shifts, according to Thomas Kuhn’s classic view of scientific revolutions. Simonton argues that instead of finding big new ideas, scientists currently work on the details in increasingly specialized and precise ways.

~ from is scientific genius a thing of the past @arstechnica
on the one hand, there is a point to this:

professionally, it doesn't pay to have a completely new idea that is essentially unrelated
to all previous approaches. in the case of mathematics, the problem lies in who can possibly
check the work
, because there is an opportunity cost to learn something completely new
and separate from one's expertise.

on the other hand, i know of very few persons who can accurately predict history, even for
scientific trends (which draw on quantitative approaches).

the word "open" has a clear, standard definition in topology, but as for copyrights?
"One piece of evidence on researchers’ opinions comes from the open-access journal Scientific Reports, which since July 2012 has been offering researchers a choice of three types of licence. One is CC-BY. A more restrictive version, CC-BY-NC-SA, lets others remix, tweak and build on work if they give credit to the original author, but only for non-commercial (NC) purposes, and only if they license what they produce under the same terms (SA, or 'share-alike’). A third licence, CC-BY-NC-ND, is the most restrictive, allowing others to download and share work, but not to change it in any way (ND, ‘no derivative works’), or use it commercially."

~ from "Researchers opt to limit uses of open-access publications" @nature
there is a point to this, even apart from the discussion of profits, potential greed, and capitalism.

say that i take a great snapshot of a 4th of July barbecue, with a cute little girl holding a
pinwheel and grinning gap-toothed at the camera. would i have the right to forbid others to
use the photo if i have a personal objection? maybe a white supremacist group would want
to use it for their website --- it might give their theme of "america," after all --- if i chose
the wrong license, then i have no legal recourse from their use of it.

the same could be said for bio/engineering breakthroughs that lead to military weapons.

and then, what is a good definition of "lazy" ..?

lately i've been feeling unproductive .. not quite lazy, but just not effective. i think
it has to do with my not having to teach. it frees up a lot of time in the day .. which
means, shouldn't i be doing real work at some point?

i've not reconciled that feeling yet. this doesn't prove anything, but it does assuage my guilt a bit ..
"Now we also know that if you study absolute world class, best virtuoso violin players, none of them put in more than about four or so hours of practice in a day, because that’s the cognitive limit. And this limit actually shows up in a lot of different fields where people do intense training, that you really can’t do about more than four or so hours of this type of really mental strain.

And they often break this into two sessions, of two hours and then two hours. So there’s huge limits here. I think if you’re able to do three, maybe four hours of this sort of deep work in a typical day, you’re hitting basically the mental speed limit, the amount of concentration your brain is actually able to give.

~ from "Four hours of concentration" @johnbcook, via accidentalcreative
apparently it's not just musicians. it apparently worked for poincaré, too.

5. maybe numeracy isn't a bad ability to have.

i found this article off a friend's social media feed. if you've not seen it yet, it's worth a look:
"Modernity provides too many variables, but too little data per variable. So the spurious relationships grow much, much faster than real information.

In other words: Big data may mean more information, but it also means more false information.

Just like bankers who own a free option — where they make the profits and transfer losses to others – researchers have the ability to pick whatever statistics confirm their beliefs (or show good results) … and then ditch the rest.

~ from "Beware the Big Errors of 'Big Data'" @wired

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