Archive for July, 2009


July 27, 2009 Leave a comment

It seems that some website called has republished two of my articles, one on multiverses and Dyson spheres, and the other on impact factor.

I don’t mind their copy-pasting my views — the more people see it, the more fun. But why don’t they want to attribute it? Surely it doesn’t take too much effort to include a link to the original blog post?

Categories: Uncategorized

Vanity Index II

July 26, 2009 2 comments

I missed a couple of things in my previous post on the h-index and citations.

  1. Michael Nielsen points out that the h-index is essentially redundant, because for most scientists it is nearly equal to half the square root of their total citations. So the h-index doesn’t carry any more information that the total number of citations.
  2. The total number of citations greatly depends on the field of research. Medicine and related subjects get huge citations, mathematics very few.
  3. The same problem affects journal impact factors — medical and bio-technological journals have high impact factors in the 20’s and 30’s, while math journals languish under 2.

It seems like a sensible conjecture that impact factor of a journal increases with the total number of citations per year in the field. It may be the same function with different constant prefactors for different journals.

Total number of citations per year in a field should be a power function (n^2 seems likely) of the total number of papers written in the field per year.

Total number of papers should be directly proportional to the total number of researchers in the field. The proportionality constant may be different for different fields.

So the impact factor of a journal should be a function of the number of researchers in the field, multiplied by some constant factor depending on the journal. The function should be the same function for all fields.

On the other hand, if you want to have a high h-index, join a club where everyone writes a few (or several) papers every year, and cites everyone else in the club.

Categories: Education, Physics Tags: ,

Ramdev and Hinduism

July 17, 2009 1 comment

When the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and said that homosexuality could not be classified as a crime, Ramdev, a class-eight pass Yoga teacher who projects himself as a Yogi, an ascetic of the ancient mould, was irked no end. He has vowed to move the Supreme Court against this judgment, claiming that homosexuality is banned in Hinduism.

Well, I haven’t seen explicit proscriptions against homosexuals anywhere in the Mahabharat. Maybe I need to look harder. But there is something else I have seen there. Hinduism says that any man who does not have a son consigns himself and all his paternal ancestors to the fires of a Hell called Put. Which is what Ramdev has done.

All the yogis of ancient India had sons, at least according to the Mahabharat. Ramdev should have one before he issues edicts. Adoption does not count.

Categories: Uncategorized

Escalation of violence

July 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Wednesday saw a new level of violence in the politics of West Bengal, when nine Congress MLAs visiting Mangalkot were chased across paddy fields, stoned and beaten up, while their `police protection’ stood by and watched. The chief secretary of the state, perhaps in a poor attempt to emulate Marie Antoinette, asked why the MLAs always had to visit troubled areas like Mangalokot, Khejuri and Darjeeling.

Then on Thursday, Congress supporters took to the streets, torched buses, blocked roads and rail stations, made commuters walk home. Now congress has called a strike in the state.

The question of who started it is irrelevant. It is easy to blame the CPI(M) for letting law and order degenerate to the levels that MLAs can get beaten up. But if Congress takes the route of violence so easily, should they expect people to vote for them in the next election? Are they better than the CPI(M)? Or do they plan to project themselves as the lesser of the two evils? I am afraid the TMC will walk away with the election in that case, because many people have long memories of an evil congress.

Categories: Calcutta, Politics Tags: ,

The end of CPI(M)?

July 13, 2009 Leave a comment

Front pages carried the news today that V.S. Achuthanandan has been sacked from the politburo of CPI(M) — the party he helped found — without a vote. His fault was to have supported a CBI inquiry into the allegations of corruption against Pinarayi Vijayan. So CPI(M), which increasingly appears to be run solely by Prakash Karat, decided to punish a sitting Chief Minister for saying that the Law must take its course.

In a strange coincidence, Jyoti Basu passed out and almost passed away. Also on the front pages.

Categories: Politics Tags: ,

Vanity Index

July 13, 2009 3 comments

The scientists at a local research institute (that shall remain nameless) spent the last couple of weeks calculating their h-indices. Some of them are probably still doing it.

While the impetus for this research came from the top — they were asked to submit their h-index, citations and total impact factor every year for the last five years — it seems that many if not all took a real interest in calculating their own h-indices and everybody else’s, too. And comparing them, of course.

The h-index was of course at the centre of discussions. Few of the scientists knew the definition of the thing, and often misunderstood the definition even when it was explained to them. Not that it is particularly difficult — your h-index is the largest number n such that you have n papers with n or more citations each.  The way to calculate this is to arrange one’s papers in descending order of citations. Then your h-index is n if at the n-th place in this list you find a paper with n or more citations, and at the (n+1)st place you find  a paper with less than (n+1) citations. So if your h-index is 10, that means you  have 10 papers with 10 or more citations, but not 11 papers with 11 or more citations.

Of course you need to know the citations of your papers in order to do this. For high-energy physics, gravitation and cosmology or astrophysics, there is SPIRES. Or you could go to Google Scholar. There are also a couple of expensive options, the ISI Web of Science (WoS) and SCOPUS, neither of which may be accessed without an institutional subscription of about Rs.10 lakhs per year.

Of these SPIRES is undoubtedly the best in many ways, if — and that is indeed a big if — you stick to only high-energy physics, and maybe gravitation and cosmology. Astrophysics was included in their database comparatively recently, I am not sure how well astro papers are covered. But if your paper is cited by mathematicians — not particularly unusual — that citation is unlikely to get into SPIRES. Google records almost all papers and citations (yes, `almost’), but records many things more than once, so it is considered rather unreliable. WoS does not record citations from conference papers or unpublished preprints. I have not used SCOPUS, but I have been told by those who have that it is not better (in the sense of being more inclusive) than WoS.

The bosses generally prefer WoS, because a) they don’t do high-energy physics, and b) like many people they believe that if you pay lots of money for something, what you get is worth the money you pay for it. What they want is not just a number, they want to feel good about themselves, and they want something to boast about. If they have a high h-index or citation count, they feel comfortable advising the (relatively) junior scientists what they should work on, with whom, and so on, without being told to jump into the nearest body of water. Of course they are mostly safe from such abuse anyway, since the Indian middle class is unduly polite to people in power, and service rules of government scientists can be used to take disciplinary action against those who dare utter such things. In fact at the institute of this story the scientists were threatened with disciplinary action if they failed to submit the numbers. So the bosses don’t bat an eyelid when told that they have to squander millions of rupees of public money in order to get a boost to their vanity.

And they groom the next rung of scientists into this habit of comparing their h-indices the lengths of their citation lists.