Friday, April 25, 2014

creeping precariousness

reading the precariat charter and its increasingly obvious why the usual tension between conservative and socialist parties is failing everyone. to translate this into UK University "employee" terms, the increasing casualisation (e.g. uncertain contracts of research assistants, unspecified hours/duties of faculty, not to mention anciliary staff - e.g. in our canteen on zero hour contracts) isn't being fought by any political incumbent group...

pathetic lip service by the tories and even more pathetic by labour, just doesn't cut it-

here's a simple example why even (what Guy Standing calls the "Salariat") the senior academics aren't immune from this creeping evil:-

each year, I fill in a Time Allocation Survey, where I  am given a random week to choose, and I write down the hours I spend on a variety of tasks, loosely grouped into teaching, research, administration, including preparation etc

so then this is collated and normalized to some standard euro-week (e.g. 37.5 hours) to avoid revealing the fact that we're working more than legal hours (under working time directive etc)  - for me, I can't find a week in the last 10 years of filling in these forms where I see less than 65 hours.

I don't mind "working" 65 hours  - actually, (as per Standing's book) a lot of this time is "ludic" or something some people wouldn't regard as work, but do pay me ok for - on the other hand, a bunch of stuff people do regard as work (pointless timesheets for euro projects) is not accounted for in my list of duties

lets not even get started on billing my time on research contracts

then there's the erosion not just of our salaries, but of the terms&conditions (e.g. pension scheme - our pathetic union bargained away parity with civil service and medics 25+ years ago in exchange for retaining a final salary pension - well, good luck with that thin end of the wedge, and that's going too slowly).

The conservatives who welcome this flexibility do so under some false notion that the ability to move jobs at a moments notice, or be moved, more like, means people are motivated to work harder - no evidence whatsoever of that - the uncertainty just means people spend more time worried/stressed, which is the opposite of conducive to effective thinking/working.

The socialists think that everyone should be doing labour, and have no respect for the fact that most people spend most their time doing things that matter, but aren't 19th century industrial revolution style factory-make-work any more, so the majority of our effort (e.g. caring for relatives, counciling stressed colleagues, helping plan stuff, clearing up after a staff party) is not accounted its social value.

The charter (linked above) calls for a new Voice for this (i.e. a renewal of collectives that can speak (and presumably bargain) for us - this is interesting - the various movements (indignados, occupy etc) are namechecked as emergent pieces that might lead to such a thing, which would be good - one thing (seeing the many people going through UK University right now, exiting with debts higher than I ever had in my life, with, in some cases, several years of unemployed or unpaid employment to look forward to), the constituency for such a movement is not  the proletariat anymore (if there's much left of such a thing anyhow), but contains a large fraction of pretty well educated people (even more so in, say, Spain and Greece).

Interesting times....

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Global Eyes-ation & Stuff

Latest readings from the University of Fenland include:
1. How to rebuild the world from "scratch" if not everyone and everything is destructed:- The "knowledge", but not for london cabbies:)

2. Arguably more useful, and certainly more, how to cook&eat your way around the cuisines of the world - a bit quirky, in the best possible way, and v. funny
The Edible Woman^H^H^H Atlas

3. Do you know the origins of the terms Bear and Bull, as in markets? It seems no-one is sure, but it seems also that they correlate with Anabolic and Catabolic
processes in the human body, in a Bad Way, (as in the oscilliation between dog and wolf (Quebecois for Crepuscule too - entre chien et loup)) - read
the dog ate my home loan:)

4. Any book that accuses the labour party of a century of stupidity, but is somewhere to the left of karl marx must be worth a read - this is better than that - its radical in the best possible way:
feeling precarious?

5. Barely fictionalised accounts from the front line returnees - this is the effect:

6. while this is most of the cause - a cause not worth fighting for at all - the muslims aint....coming, that is

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bibliometrics and Science - Failure to Understand the Basics of the Discovery Process

SO I've read yet another well meaning article on bibliometrics (like the H-Index) and why they might be ok for evaluating groups or sub-disciplines (disagree) but they are definitely not ok to evaluate individuals (agree, but for different reason).

This time, this paper on Bibliometric Indicators of Young Authors in Astrophysics: Can Later Stars be Predicted? hit the twittersphere, hence caught my attention.

Look, all these papers treat the research publications world like some high school statistics project. Ok, why not raise the game a bit.

Let's suppose that scientific discovery is a complex natural phenomenon. Let's suppose there is such a thing as progress :-)

OK so what would the time series of discovery look like? My simple minded hypothesis is that it is (like many other natural processes in a complex world) a self-similar arrival process.
So how do we characterise such a time series? well, it isn't captured in a single statistic like "mean", or even two (mean + variance) - the point of such, essentially fractal structures in time, is that they are characterised by very complex descriptors, and, crucially, prediction is hard - exactly why the weather, and associated phenonomena like flooding, and volcanic eruptions, are hard to predict on an individual basis, although, collectively, we can model broad trends. Surprise surprise (literally and figuratively:)

So science doesn't depend on a random walk in a well structured but sparse or even poisson point random space, where walking faster gets you more results. Nor does success depend on hard work (more sweat, more kudos). While a slightly more random walk might get you an inherently more surprising result, it isn't necessarily going to yield more results. And more work only pays off after the discovery, when you want to present it properly (I am sure history is littered with holes made out of discoveries that were cool, but so badly reported they were ignored and lost).

So predicting the next big discovery by a specific scientist is a bit like saying that a raindrop is going to fall on a particular rain gauge at a particular minute of a specific hour on a special day. OK if you are the bookie setting the odds, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Monday, April 07, 2014

writing like its in the bag

there's this type of informal writing that just missing the goal, the target, like it wants to enagge with you visciously, but the speaker hasn't quite got the peg to hag the metaphor upon, and some words are just de trop, perhaps naive manque.

normally, as if there is such an as if, the problem comes around to framing, err, the problem - sometimes, the audience is abused, left holding their misapprehensions in their handbags, but usually, its just that the writer can't. that is. write. for sh. it stand's to reason, isn;t it, that some people just don't have the gift of the grab-all, the momentricious blue steel glare made of pure glyphtitude, that indietinguished suits you SIR epidemic enthusiasm for exapansionist gestures. oh dear, there i gove again.