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Archive for November, 2009

Is your number 24601?

November 28, 2009 Leave a comment

There seems to have been little debate on the unique identification number (UID) for every Indian. All discussion has been focused on how badly India needs this, but no discussion on why India needs such a system, and who will suffer from the failures of such a system.

Nandan Nilekani, erstwhile CEO of Infosys, was invited to head the project, leading to speculations that Infosys might benefit unfairly as a bidder for the project, which Infosys was quick to deny, of course. Still there was no debate.

Now Nilekani is saying that the UID will not be considered a proof of citizenship. This is very strange. Will they issue an Indian UID to non-citizens? That never seemed to be the deal. Does he also mean that the UID will not have citizenship information? Or that the UID cannot be used to confirm someone’s citizenship? If I have a UID, and my local voters’ list includes the UID,  will my UID card be sufficient to confirm my identity as a voting citizen at the time of elections?

What I found most interesting is Nilekani saying that the UID will be optional. So he is starting by giving up the possibility that every Indian will have a UID. So why is he in the job? For the privileges of cabinet rank? Or for the billions the UID project will generate for all the IT companies where he holds shares?

And will it be necessary to furnish the UID to avail of certain services of the government? Will private firms be able to check the database? Can the information stored against a UID lead to denial of service to an individual by private companies?

Update: Another article discussing some of the problems with the UID at this blog.

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Impacted wisdom of the UGC

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

The UGC has published a draft regulation (which they will probably adopt with minor modifications) regarding hiring and promotions of college and university teachers. There is an unreasonable emphasis on the impact factor of publications. And the impact factors have been categorized into various subjects in an intellectually-challenged manner. How does biology/medicine, with impact factors typically between 10 and 40, compare with mathematics, between 0.5 and 2?

My criticism of the impact factor itself is here.

Categories: Education

Access to research funded by the public

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

The news, via backreaction, that the Swedish Research Council has decreed that research funded by them must be made publicly available within 6 months,  and a similar rule of the National Institutes of Health, made me wonder:

How many papers are written in a year using research grants from the CSIR, DST, DBT, DAE and UGC? To be more specific, say 2007-8 financial year? How many of these papers — more specifically, the text, figures and data published in these papers — are accessible to the public, or at least to educational institutions in the country without an expensive subscription?

Somewhat tangentially to the debates regarding open access, I think research funded by the Indian government should be made more accessible to researchers in India, and if anybody gets paid for access to such research, it should be the academies of India.

Categories: Education, RTI question

Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Nehru famously said that he would hang the blackmarketeers and hoarders of food from the nearest lamppost (the best reference I could find on the net was a quote in this record of the parliament), but of course as prime minister he never did hang anyone for hoarding or even adulterating food. But now China has done it.

Beaux (and belles) de jour

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

The news media is going gaga over Belle de Jour — not Luis Bunuel’s film with Catherine Deneuve (a film which I must admit I did not enjoy greatly — found it a bit slow and meandering) but the blogger (whom, I must admit again, I never read until today)  turned out to be a scientist. I admire her courage for speaking the truth, at least for the moment, although it is not difficult to take a contrary perspective. And it made me think of our scientists. I am not thinking of women scientists — I was not making a literal comparison. I was thinking of all those who keep sucking up to senior scientists, more specifically to influential scientists, in the hope of getting a promotion, a prize, or even as little as a public pat on the back.

I have known such people for a while now, definitely noticed them more after getting a job and having several such people as my colleagues. Thankfully, some of my colleagues do not fall into that category. I was reminded of such people in the aftermath of l’affaire d’Ayyadurai, when the majority of comments at my blog and this one were either ad hominem attacks on Ayyadurai, or unqualified support for the Director-General of CSIR, and, anonymous! Belle de jour had lots of reasons to remain anonymous, but what reason do these people have?

Categories: Education Tags:

Court TV

November 19, 2009 Leave a comment

This blogpost about the new UK Supreme Court made me wonder: Why not televise the proceedings of the Indian Supreme Court? After all, the parliament is on tv!

Indian Science Journals

November 19, 2009 2 comments

Why are science journals published from India so bad? Here is a list of impact factors of Indian science journals. That list is from the year 2000, but the situation has improved only marginally, as this report about 2008 shows. Of course, impact factor may not be a very good measure of the importance of a journal, since it has more to do with immediacy than lasting impact, among other things. But even by other measures, Indian journals are ranked very low.

One could of course say `Who cares?’ So what if Indian journals are not very good, as long as the work produced by Indian scientists, published in foreign journals, are rated highly? Is the place of publication of journals relevant if the contributions are good? I do not have a good answer to that, although I would like to put the counter-question that since science progresses through good research, why do we care about who did that research? In other words, why do we care if Indian science languishes, if good science is being done somewhere in the world?

In any case, the quality and importance of research done in a country seems to have some sort of positive correlation with the quality of journals published from there — we should count Western Europe (minus the UK) as one country for this purpose. The evolution of such quality with time also seems to be correlated with the publication of better journals, as in the case of Singapore or China in recent times.

So if we agree (as many do, including myself) that India needs to publish better quality research journals, we should find some way of getting better quality research into the journals published from India. Our famous scientists, many of whom often shed crocodile tears for Indian science, refuse to publish any of their good quality work (in many cases, any work) in Indian journals. It is not clear to me why, since electronic archives such as this ensure that any paper (in almost all fields of science except medicine)  is seen all over the world even before publication. Research papers would be read from the archives and cited, regardless of where they are subsequently published.

But these scientists cannot be coaxed into publishing in Indian journals that easily. And if they do not publish there, these journals are not going to grow in stature. So I have a suggestion, one similar to what used to be the rule in post-WW2 Europe:

Any paper written using a grant from an Agency of the Indian Government must be published in a journal published in India. If a research grant is given jointly by an Indian and a foreign agency, a predetermined fraction of the papers written using it should be published in Indian journals.

If the Indian funding agencies follow this rule, Indian journals will start looking up again in a few years, be competitive in the world, and attract good research from abroad.