Monday, December 31, 2007

Bhutan elections

The Kingdom of Bhutan holds today its first democratic elections. I don't know the results and I have no idea about the local politics. (For those interested, the results can be found here).
My interest in the country stems from the fact that the former king adopted as a measure of prosperity of the country, not the gnp or any other similar economic index, but the index of happiness! The index is called Gross National Happiness (GNH) and it is an attempt to define quality of life in more holistic and psychological terms than Gross National Product. The former king of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined this term in 1972. He wanted to build an economy that would serve Bhutan's culture based on Buddhist spiritual values. Like many moral goals, it is somewhat easier to state than to define. (Wikipedia provides a detailed article on the subject).

Comparison of Europe's and US research performance

An interesting article appeared recently (Dec 20, 07) on the web, entitled Europe’s poor research performance, that uses the Highly Cited Scientists data of the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI), to compare research performance in Europe and the US. (The full article can be found here).

I have some reservations on the approach they use that I have posted in their site. My reservations are appended below.

I find your article, and the idea on which is based, interesting. However, I feel that your method fails to capture important aspects of the data used, thus arriving at comparisons/conclusions that are not necessarily representative of the true situation. The reason is that the ISI HCR’s index, assigns a scientist -and the totality of his output/achievements- to the latest Institution he is affiliated with, and to the country where this Institution is located. This may, sometimes, be accurate but quite often not entirely true. While such an index is certainly an indication of the quality of an institution (a good scientist would choose to go to a good place), it does not take into account the fact that the scientist may have been “nurtured” elsewhere.To give a real example I came across, Lopez-De-Silanes Florencio, an economist HCR “from” the Netherlands, has a Mexican origin (and first degree), got his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993, was a Professor at Yale for 4 years, and has advised more than 10 governments around the world, before joining the University of Amsterdam in 2006. Seventy-eight of his 104 papers (contributing to his total number of citations) were published before he joined the University of Amsterdam. How can such a scientist be counted (solely) as a “European” in the US-Europe comparison? A similar problem of course arises with other indices used for scientific ranking, for example indices that give a substantial weight to the number of Nobel Prize winners affiliated with an institution. However a Nobel Prize winner, who is now at University X but did his award winning research at University Y, cannot be entirely “credited” to University X. Obviously, most of these indices favour the wealthiest institutions (beyond the obvious confounding effect).

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Health care in California

This is a major step forward, if indeed goes through.

With Congress stalled on enacting a nationwide plan, individual states are starting to take matters into their own hands. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has just won approval from legislators for a major health-care reform which will expand coverage to most of the state's uninsured. It took nearly a year of sometimes fractious haggling, but legislators in America's most populous state have done what many predicted they could not. They have approved a bill to extend health insurance to virtually everyone in the nation's most populous state - all 36 million of them.

University ranking in the US based on scholarly productivity

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published an interactive ranking of Departments with Ph.D. programs in US Universities. The ranking is based on what is termed Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index and is available for 2007 and for 2006. The 2007 index compiles overall institutional rankings on 375 universities that offer the Ph.D. degree. The index examines faculty members who are listed on each Ph.D. program's Web site, and includes a total of 217,254 names. The faculty's scholarly productivity in each program is expressed as a z-score, that reveals how far and in what direction a value is from the mean. ( A z-score of zero indicates that the program is at the national mean for the discipline).

The 2007 index for Statistics Departments is as follows:


Stanford U.



U. of California at Berkeley



Duke U.



U. of Wisconsin at Madison



Harvard U.



Carnegie Mellon U.



U. of Washington



Columbia U.



U. of Michigan at Ann Arbor



Yale U.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Highly Cited Countries

Several of the shortcomings of the science citation index as a measure of the impact of scientific research (to which I referred in my previous post), may be overcome when the highly cited countries (or highly cited scientists) measure is used.
An interesting finding regarding countries is the following: Among the top 20 most cited countries in the world in all scientific fields in the last 10 years (January 1997-31 August 2007), when it comes to measuring citations per paper (cpp), Switzerland is first in the list with 14.32 cpp. United States is second with 13.63 cpp, the Netherlands third with 12.85 with England and Sweden fourth with 12.16 ccp.
This is surprising, given the supremacy of the US in science, the language issue and the fact that the vast majority of scientific journals are based in the US.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Citations and Quality of Research

From the THES (14/12/07): The quality of academics' research cannot be judged on the basis of the number of times their papers are cited by peers, a leading higher education think-tank has said.The Higher Education Policy Institute says in a report this week that "there must be real doubt" over the validity of plans by funding chiefs to allocate about £1.4 billion a year in "quality research" funding on the basis of journal article citations, as is planned after next year's research assessment exercise.
Hepi's report on the Higher Education Funding Council for England's proposed research excellence framework (REF) also implies that Hefce may be ignoring the advice of its own "appointed experts" in pursing the change. "Citation analysis does not measure quality, so there must be real doubt about whether it can be used as a basis for allocating QR (quality research funding)," the report says. "This is awkward in light of the commitment of Hefce to continue to allocate research funds on the basis of quality."
Hepi's director, Bahram Bekhradnia, who as a former Hefce director was the architect of the current RAE, said this conclusion "merely reiterated" what had already been said by a group of academics from the University of Leiden who were commissioned to undertake a scoping study on bibliometrics for Hefce. The Leiden group said that citation analysis measures research impact, not quality, and that it should be used only to allocate funding in conjunction with peer review. In the report, Hepi argues that the results of citation analysis and the current RAE, which most agree does measure quality, should be considered side by side to see how closely they match up.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

ANC in S. Africa and Liberal Party in the UK

Two new leaders emerged today.
In SA, a popular (for a long time) leader (Nbeki), although president of the country, lost his party support -and the party leadership- to a controversial politician (Zuma).
In the UK, another Blair-style politician with only 2.5 years of experience as an MP, will try to win support from the public which two succesive leader after Charles Kennedy did not manage to achieve.
The ANC result is one more indication that parties go for change when they feel that their leader does not offer the leadership they expect.
With the Liberal Party we see the adoption of Tony Blair's style by the Liberal Party (after the Conservative party), after failing in his own party.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bali agreement on tackling climate change

A new agreement on tackling climate change was forged late this afternoon when the United States caved in and agreed to support the Bali roadmap, according to Sydnay Morning Herald.
The US concession - 14 hours after the initial deadline passed - came after two weeks of talks and a day of high drama, in which conference head Yvo de Boer stormed out in tears and American delegates were booed and jeered.
"We will go forward and join consensus," US lead negotiator Paula Dobriansky told the 190-nation meeting to cheers and applause from the exhausted delegates.
Delegates rose to their feet and clapped and cheered as conference president Rachmat Witoelar banged down his gavel and declared that the roadmap had been adopted.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Free Press in the world

World opinion is divided on the importance of having a free press, according to a poll conducted for the BBC World Service. Of those interviewed, 56% thought that freedom of the press was very important to ensure a free society. But 40% said it was more important to maintain social harmony and peace, even if it meant curbing the press's freedom to report news truthfully.
Pollsters interviewed 11,344 people in 14 countries for the survey. In most of the 14 countries surveyed, press freedom (including broadcasting) was considered more important than social stability.

The strongest endorsement came from North America and Western Europe, where up to 70% put freedom first, followed by Venezuela, Kenya and South Africa, with over 60%. In India, Singapore and Russia, by contrast, more people favoured stability over press freedom. In those countries, around 48% of respondents supported controls over the press to ensure peace and stability. Around 40% expressed the view that press freedom was more important.
People were also asked to rate how free the press and broadcasters were in their country to report the news truthfully and without undue bias. Perceptions varied widely among developing countries, ranging from 81% giving a high rating in Kenya, to 41% in Mexico. In India, 72% of respondents thought their media were free, compared with just 36% in Singapore. But some developed countries which strongly believed in press freedom were critical of their own media's honesty and accuracy.
In the United States, Britain and Germany, only around 29% of those interviewed thought their media did a good job in reporting news accurately.
The survey also identified concern in some countries over the concentration of private media ownership in the hands of fewer large companies.
In Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Britain, more than 70% of respondents agreed with the suggestion that ownership was an issue because the owners' political views emerged in the news. Germans had a particularly poor view of their private media companies - with just 18% giving them a high rating for accurate news. But overall, publicly-run news organisations were viewed slightly more negatively than ones run for profit. Only in Egypt, Germany, Russia and Singapore did people rate the public media more than privately-owned media companies.

The poll was conducted by the international research firms GlobeScan and Synovate, as part of a season of programmes marking the 75th anniversary of BBC World Service.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The 2007 corruption barometer

I have reservations about the method used to set up this barometer. However, as always, I believe that it is always possible to improve the methodology for any index devised, once it becomes available.
Here is this years results by Trancarency International.

Here is an extract of their press statement.
The public opinion survey, published today ahead of International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December, also found that citizens in countries across the globe continue to see political parties and parliaments as the institutions most compromised by corruption.
The Barometer, which surveys 63,199 respondents in 60 countries, offers a broad spectrum of data on common experiences of corruption, including which institutions most frequently demand bribes, where citizens see the greatest degree of corruption, and how they see both the future development of corruption and their governments' efforts to eradicate it.
“This year’s Global Corruption Barometer has made it clear that too often, people must part with their hard-earned money to pay for services that should be free”, said Transparency International Chair Huguette Labelle. “And they do not see enough commitment when they look to their governments and leaders. We are heartened though, that the public is increasingly demanding the accountability of the very institutions that most affect their lives, as this is a powerful driver of change.”

Windows XP for the $100 laptop

This is good news. It shows that once more that Universitites and private industry can find common grounds to their mutual benefit (and the benefit of society).

Microsoft is to begin field tests of Windows XP working on the so-called $100 laptop, or XO, early in 2008. It has not committed to offering XP on the XO laptop but hopes to release the operating system in the first half of 2008 if the trials succeed. The work, undertaken as part of the firm's plans to widen access to technology, forms part of a project to run Windows on flash-based machines. The Negrponte group has taken its first orders, with 100,00 bought by Uruguay and 40,000 by Peru, with an option for a further 210,000. The availability of Windows on the XO could boost take-up of the machine. There have been reports that some countries have been cautious about signing-up to the project because it does not run Windows, the world's most popular operating system. For Microsoft the challenge in porting XP to the XO machine has been in re-writing many drivers for the operating system that control functions like the laptop's webcam and wireless connections. "The potential payoff for students and schools from this work, of course, is that the tens of thousands of existing educational applications written for Windows can potentially run on the XO," said Mr Utzschneider.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Free wireless internet for students and staff

I found this piece of news very interesting. I don't know if such a convenience exists in any US state.

Students take note: you can now surf free-of-charge in restaurants, railway stations – or on park benches.


SWITCH and its partners, Monzoon Networks, Swisscom, TheNet and The Public Network are now offering free surfing at more than 2000 public hotspots.

Students and staff of the SWITCH PWLAN Universities can now surf the internet free-of-charge at more than 2000 public hotspots – something that has been made possible by the “SWITCH PWLAN” project set up by SWITCH. SWITCH PWLAN is being conducted jointly with the Wireless Internet Service Providers of Monzoon Networks, Swisscom, TheNet und The Public Network (TPN).
Wherever, whenever: surf, study and work free-of-charge all over the country
Popular hotspot locations are to be found at all the big railway stations, at airports, hotels, restaurants and cafes, in all branches of McDonald's and Starbucks restaurants and also on public squares or along entire roads.
This represents attractive added value for the Universities. Students and staff have free internet access at a large number of key points between their home and the University. The customers of the Wireless Internet Service Providers too, however, will also benefit from a considerable extension of the reception area at the Universities. Someone attending a conference at the University of Berne, for example, will now have internet access there.

Unique in Europe
For Christoph Graf, Head of the Security division at SWITCH, this cooperation between Universities and the business world is unique in Europe. The Swiss University community has thus achieved a further key milestone en route to location-independent networking.

SWITCH is planning to extend the project to all the Universities in Switzerland.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

PISA 2006, Reading

Reading is the area with the largest gender gaps. In all OECD countries in PISA 2006, females performed better in reading on average than males. In twelve countries, the gap was at least 50 score points. In Greece and Finland, females were 57 and 51 points ahead respectively, and the gap was 50 to 66 points in the partner countries Qatar, Bulgaria, Jordan, Thailand, Argentina, Slovenia, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia and Croatia.

• Across the OECD area, reading performance generally remained flat between PISA 2000and PISA 2006. This needs to be seen in the context of significant rises in expenditure levels. Between 1995 and 2004 expenditure per primary and secondary student increased by 39% in real terms, on average across OECD countries. However, two OECD countries (Korea and Poland) and five partner countries/economies (Chile, Liechtenstein, Indonesia, Latvia and Hong Kong-China) have seen significant rises in reading performance since PISA 2000.

• Korea increased its reading performance between PISA 2000 and PISA 2006 by 31 score points, mainly by raising performance standards among the better performing students.

• Hong Kong-China has increased its reading performance by 11 score points since 2000.

• Poland increased its reading performance by 17 score points between PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 and by another 11 score points between PISA 2003 and PISA 2006 and now performs at 508 score points, for the first time clearly above the OECD average. Between the PISA 2000 and PISA 2003 assessments, Poland raised its average performance mainly through increases at the lower end of the performance distribution. As a result, in PISA 2003fewer than 5% of students fell below performance standards that had not been reached by the bottom 10% of Polish students in PISA 2000. Since PISA 2003, performance in Poland has risen more evenly across the performance spectrum.

• The other countries that have seen significant performance increases in reading between PISA 2000 and PISA 2006 – Chile (33 score points), Liechtenstein (28 score points), Indonesia (22 score points) and Latvia (21 score points) – perform, with the exception of Liechtenstein, significantly below the OECD average.

• A number of countries saw a decline in their reading performance between PISA 2000 and PISA 2006, comprising nine OECD countries (in descending order) – Spain, Japan, Iceland, Norway, Italy, France, Australia, Greece and Mexico, and the partner countries Argentina, Romania, Bulgaria, the Russian Federation and Thailand.

PISA 2006, Mathematics

The results on mathematics for PISA 2006.
Some comparisons with the 2003 results.

In Mexico mathematics performance was 20 score points higher in PISA 2006 than in PISA 2003 but at 406 score points it is still well below the OECD average. In Greece, mathematics performance was 14 score points higher in PISA 2006 than in PISA 2003. In Indonesia, mathematics performance was 31 score points higher in PISA 2006 than in PISA 2003 and in Brazil it was 13 score points higher in PISA 2006 than in PISA 2003.
Mathematics performance in 2006 was significantly lower in France (15 score points), Japan (11 score points), Iceland (10 score points) and Belgium (9 score points), and in the partner country Liechtenstein (11 score points).
Overall gender differences in mathematics were less than one-third as large as for reading, 11 points on average across OECD countries. This has not changed since PISA 2003.

PISA and the USA

Some interesting findings for the USA.
There was no measurable difference on the combined science literacy scale between 15-year-old male (489) and female (489) students in the United States. The OECD average was higher for males (501) than females (499) on the combined science literacy scale.
On the combined science literacy scale, Black (non-Hispanic) students (409) and Hispanic students (439) scored lower, on average, than White (non-Hispanic) students (523), Asian (non-Hispanic) students (499), and students of more than one race (non-Hispanic) (501). Hispanic students, in turn, scored higher than Black (non-Hispanic) students, while White (non-Hispanic) students scored higher than Asian (non-Hispanic) students.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Rudd and the Kyoto Protocol

Kevin Rudd was sworn in as Australia's new PM, and immediately signed documents to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This is the true meening of delivering election promises.