Saturday, October 31, 2009

as with economics, so with science - british government refutes expert advice

the latest fiasco in british government denial of expertise involves drugs - but why should we be surprised when this is a government that since Tony (technophone) Blair, has been run by people whose only training is legal and who subscribe to medieval superstitions (e.g. religion)
and prefer the advice of marketeers and gurus than doctors and scientists (or even people who just do business properly!).

shocking if it wasn't actually going to also do harm, which makes it bordering on criminal ignorance.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Poppys and stuff

last day in october (a hallow's eve!) you're "supposed" to wear a poppy - well I suppose I wont because although I respect and am in awe of people who go fight to defend me, I am not enamoured of the folks that decided the last two times to send these guys "in my name" - no you didn't - and there's no way for me to unbundle this in a poppy without insulting people.

meanwhile, wallace and grommit should do a movie called
12 Angry Dogs

also recently, it occurred to me that the Cambridge Man-o-Science center should build a very small homunculus - that would be their crowning achievement..

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

to a first approximation....

to a first approximation....the second approximation
isn't any more accurate...

Monday, October 26, 2009

blairite society

ASBO - anti social-behaviour orders
sound like something you get in a restaursnt - like
anti-pasti -

waiter, here's my order for some SBs before we get on to the main event

the main event will be 42 days without Al Dante - this is just sufficient as every good Tuscan knows, to cure the most obstinate Florentine Ham...

I suspect Tony BLair wasn't a closet catholic at all - he is an afficionado of that ancient secret society of the lodge of flock wallpaperers, whose rituals include
stripping all the old varnish from their law degree certificates and prostrating themselves before a bowl of steaming pasta - the flying spaghetti monster rears her ugly head one more time...

you can tell I've been reading Dan Brown..

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

UK's proposed Research Evaluation Framework and "Impact"

One of the problems with this debate is that we are all so self deprecatory as
a community that we miss some important things about the big picture.

RCUK are trying to justify their budget to the treasurey and lord Mandelson
(both roles may change in the next 1-2 years:)
about science spending - note Joe Public is not in this debate - we are not being asked to
justify our existence in the wider arena -

my view is that in the last few years,
public appreciation of science has been very high
(note I say "appreciation", not "understanding")
due to efforts of great popularisers like
Attenborough and Jones and Hawking and many others.

I think it would be quite easy to win the fight that
science research is worth doing in public - that's not the problem - the
"adversary" we have to convince is the senior civil service and
the government in power (as Anthony Finkelstein correctly implied, and
Ross Anderson indicated)....

So what are we looking at in the changing evaluation framework...

1. transparency - is each project (or person) worth funding?
2. scale - is the total budget defensible? (the REF)
3. efficiency - are peer review and the REF/QR mechanism
good ways to assess how to allocate money, and which is better...

A Lot of what is going on is we
are being groomed in a concerted campaign
to believe that this is finely motivated,
(this grooming reminds me
of the way marxism, and free market philsophies
were put over on societies at points in history,
or wars are justified to populations) ...

The peer review system already is quite transparent
(if quite expensive) -
What I dont know why the same word is used
in the new project form 2 page impact statement,
as is used in the HEFCE Proposed REF ...

but what is obvious is that impact at the REF level is to do with QR,
so should be assessed on aggregates,
not on individual fine grain, and also
should be assessed on long time scales (not 10-15, but 15-50 years).

There are two obvious reasons for this
1. research high impact events are black swans.
2. however, the rare events considered as some time series
(probably self similar)
are in fact products of a large aggregate of work in reality
(indeed large deviation theory about such time series come
from collection of feedback processes over
multiple time scales) -

the lower impact work
that may have very low biblimetric impact
for example (typically drawn from some zipfian distribution)
are far from irrelevant - they are the background from which emerge
the succesful results - without all the searching,
we wouldn't get the significant events. (this is not simply
about negative results - its about predictability of impact).

What should be done in the REF?

I propose we accept the _collection_ of fine grain data,
but we object to the simple formual used -

the impact needs to be attributed,
and that is where the formula is clearly silly -

attribution of work in research is hard to do,
and the longer the time scale, the wider you have to look -
but we have quite a well known algorithm for attribution -
its called


I quite like things like pagerank,
satnav, cell phones, wii games controller/console,
PVRs with online programme guides, engine management systems,
programmable dishwashers, washing machines, ovens,
etc as examples of CS impact...we should get a big list together and
divy it up amongst us...there's plenty to go around...

p.p.s. at the other extreme
economic impact is rarely large, but some cases can justify an entire programmes
existence - for example, DARPA programme manages used to enjoy telling US congress
that 1 single tax year, cisco paid enough tax to justify the entire ARPA research budget
developing the Intenet (on the order of 600M dollars)...

if you're interested about the problems of research assesment,
one interesting source is the analysis of programme ctte
reviews from a number of conferences - for example, see

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Science fiction title fashions


The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54' N, Longitude 77° 00' 13" W

The City and the Stars
Altered Carbon

The Neutronium Alchemist
The Difference Engine

woken furies
more than human

childhood's end
the goblin reservation
more than human

Thursday, October 15, 2009

word splay

Esplionage is a word I accidentally uttered could be
swimming in a sea of meaning, if it was esperanto, but it isnt - why don't you tell me what it might mean? :_

When looking at Chelsea tractors delivering kiddies to school in and around Cambridge each morning, narrowly avoiding being crushed by one of these farm vehicles set loose in the narrow streets of this ancient city, I wonder at the marketing wisdom of the automotive industry:-

Rage Rover
Free Loader
Porsche Crayon?

i dunno

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Detente and MAD

used to be about mutually assured destruction of capitalism v. communism

now we have capitalism v. the biosphere
or mammon v. gaia

who will win? well we'll never know.

just reading Stephen Baxter's "Flood" which is quite depressing, really.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Real reason for Polanski's arrest is.... suppress the release of the movie The Ghost, based on Robert Harris' fine book, a thinly disguised story about Tony Blair's memoirs, which has some fairly devastating material about the war, and a really shocking denoument - my guess is (conspiracy theory alert!) that Tone asked Obama to tell the Swiss to get Polanski before the edits were done

its clear the film is on hold, at least until they find someone else to finish the thing, which could be some time - time enough maybe for Tone to become first European President???

Friday, October 02, 2009

market dogma and impact

so reading more about herding and cascades - interestingly enough, cascades can be demonstrated to happen without appealing to behavoural economics - but behavoural economics means that they happen sooner because of herding behaviour....oh well.....another nail in the coffin for the dogma of markets - the more i read of the 1980s BS people wrote, the more it looks like the old Marxist style rants - one big hammer so everything looks like a nail. sad sad sad.

meanwhile, having an impact is an interesting problem (to which UK government funded researchers anre now required to address themselves) _ looking at the Mcleod fine book on the history of inventors, it is very much a matter of hit or miss whether some one thing out of millions is the one that succeeds - many people had a go, for example, at making telegraphs work, and radio work, and so on, but the guys that get their name on the thing (Edison, Morse, Marconi, Bell, etc) are just ones that got lucky, really...although in some cases, they were also extremely fine (and possibly ruthless) business minds as well as (maybe) being creative in the tech. arena. Its part of what I said before here - "realizing the applicability of an invention" is crucial, in both senses of the word "realize" -

1/ intellectually grasping the commercial or social benefit the "new" idea will have.
2/ building it and getting it out there as a product or service in the Real World (TM)