Skip to content

Month: November 2012

Intelligence and Politics

“Intelligence can let you solve harder problems, but some problems are just resistant, and you get to a point that being smarter isn’t going to help you at all, and I think a lot of our problems are like that. Like in politics – it’s not like we’re saying that if only we had a politician who was slightly smarter all our problems would go away.” Peter Norvig, director of research in Google, Guardian

Why EU Commissioners Are Poor Politicians

Note: a highly-opinionated  piece re-posted from the EU blog I contribute to EU Commissioners might be seasoned bureaucrats but make for lousy politicians. Viviane Reding, currently responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, and Commissioner since 1999 (!) is surely a masterful mandarin, but doesn’t play the politics game very well. And by politics, I don’t mean the internal bickering between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament: I am sure she is a world champion at that – I mean politics as the art of pleasing the public while getting things done. Perhaps after so many years in the Brussels bubble Commissioner Reding has forgotten altogether that pleasing the public is part of the politics game as all. But when public support for the EU is hitting a new low, I can’t help but think that the feelings of the public should be high on the Commissioner’s mind. In September this year Viviane Reding announced that the Commission is coming up with a proposal to set a compulsory 40-% quota for women on boards of public companies. Immediately, nine countries (including the Netherlands and Britain) and a few fellow Commissioners (including several women) expressed very strong disagreement. This, however, was not enough to put the brakes – on 14 November, the Commission approved a watered-down version which ‘sets an objective of a 40% presence of the under-represented sex among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges’, a “flexi quota” and a statement that ‘given equal qualification, priority…

The International Journal of Indexing

This just needs to be re-posted [from Kottke]: [F]or the Society of Indexers, book indices are a topic that holds endless fascination. And I do mean endless. The Prime Minister of England wrote to the Society of Indexers at the society’s founding back in freaking 1958. “I can scarcely conceal from you the fact that I am at present somewhat occupied with other matters, so that I cannot say all that comes into my mind and memory on the subject of indexing.” … One of the longest running features of the society’s publication, The Indexer, is its reviews of indices which are snippets culled from book reviews that pertain to the book’s index… They also regularly publish articles that meditate on what it means to be an index, defend indexing, and a look at the history of indexing societies. These guys should definitely be invited to the World Congress on Referencing Styles.

The education revolution at our doorstep

University education is at the brink of radical transformation. The revolution is already happening and the Khan Academy, Udacity, Coursera and the Marginal Revolution University are just the harbingers of a change that will soon sweep over universities throughout the world. Alex Tabarrok has a must-read piece on the coming revolution in education here. The entire piece is highly recommended, so I am not gonna even try to summarize it here, but this part stands out: Teaching today is like a stage play. A play can be seen by at most a few hundred people at a single sitting and it takes as much labor to produce the 100th viewing as it does to produce the first. As a result, plays are expensive. Online education makes teaching more like a movie. Movies can be seen by millions and the cost per viewer declines with more viewers. Now consider quality. The average movie actor is a better actor than the average stage actor. As a result, Tabarrok predicts that the market for teachers will became a winner-take-all market with very big payments at the top: the best teachers would be followed by millions and paid accordingly. My prediction is that the revolution in education will also lead to greater specialization – maybe you can’t be the best  Development Economics teacher, but you can be the best teacher on XIXth Century Agricultural Development in South-East Denmark: economies of scale brought by online education can make such uber-specialization of teaching portfolios profitable (or, indeed necessary). Surprisingly or…


Obama Analytics Not only Nate Silver crunches numbers Marijuana Use and Driving Incidents More of these weird correlations Registry for Research Designs Why it’s not such a great idea The oldest town in Europe Unearthed   Bubbles. Jason Tozer [via Colossal]

Science is like sex…

‘Science is like sex – it might have practical consequences but that’s not why you do it!’ This seems to be a modified version of a quote by the physicist Richard Feynman that I heard last week at a meeting organized by the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (the major research funding agency in the Netherlands). It kind of sums up the attitudes of natural scientists to the increasing pressures all researchers face to justify their grant applications in terms of the possible practical use (utilization, or valorization) of their research results. Which is totally fine by me. I perfectly understand that it is impossible to anticipate all the possible future practical consequences of fundmental research. On the other hand, I see no harm in forcing researchers to, at the very least, think about the possible real-world applications of their work. The current equilibrium  in which reflection on possible practical applications is required, but ‘utilization’ is neither necessary nor sufficient for getting a grant, seems like a good compromise. Of course, I come from a field (public administration) where demonstrating the scientific contribution is usually more difficult than showing the practical applicability of the results: so my view might be biased. I am not even sure what fundamental research in the social sciences looks like. Even rather esoteric work on non-cooperative game theory has been directly spurred by practical concerns related to the Cold War (and sponsored by the RAND corporation) and has rather directly led to the design of real-world social instituions (like the…