Tuesday, December 30, 2014

For my Russian and Chinese readers. And for those from Ukraine and France.

I note that some of the readers of this blog are from Russia and China. I do not know the academic system in these countries, just how it works. I do know that in the natural sciences and engineering, there are rather more universal standards for performance, and those countries have very strong traditions in these fields over the last 100+ years.  But I also know that in many countries, there is a long history of bias and preferences that have little to do with the work you do, or that demand adherence to particular thoughtways. In the humanities and social sciences, those biases and preferences often play a much larger role. 

The crucial point is to be able to do work that is good and respected widely. 



(I know very little about doing work that is in accord with the biases and preferences. We know that what was called Jewish Mathematics, and was viewed negatively in Nazi Germany, in fact was the future of mathematics--so destroying one of the strongest mathematical cultures. Deutsche Mathematik and Deutsche Physik were dead-ends.) 


As for the Ukraine, I am pleasantly surprised. Especially given the stress the country is experiencing. I was brought up in Brooklyn, New York, at the end of the subway lines, and in my neighborhood there was a very wide range of immigrant ethnic groups intermixed with each other. Ukrainians were part of that mix. 


As for France, again I am pleasantly surprised. I know a bit about the French academic world, its hierarchical nature, the doctorat d'état or the habilitation, the grandes écoles, and some of the issues of mass higher education.  I hope what I write is useful, but I do not claim to have any particular knowledge of that world.

You are 38 or 40, and you find that you are without direction, financially strapped, no proper job in prospect...

My guess is that you will have to find work that may not pay adequately, but will enable you to get benefits, and then your natural skills and character will help you move forward. You need not abandon your artistic career, say, but a day-job will give you the confidence and support you need. 

I have over the years met men and women who are in their late 30s or so who find themselves in your position. Good people who have found themselves without an effective direction in terms of security and work. 

You need to find a wise friend who can help you think through what next. And in the next five years you can rebuild your work-life.

[In effect, I was in that position. At 40, I had published books and articles, done most of the right things, but by my own choices I did not have a regular academic job. It seemed that I had to give up a scholarly life, and thought of journalism or foundation work, etc.  For an academic to be in my position at 40 is not at all good, professionally and financially. What happened in my case, was that out of the blue X University called me up to teach one semester to replace someone. I figured I would then go look outside academia. There was no future at X. Having seen me perform, close up, during that semester they indicated they wanted me to join their department, and eventually it worked out. But, at my 40th birthday party this future was not at all in the cards. (For my 40th, I was given I a Boston Celtics jacket, not much use where I am now.) I was fortunate.]

Saturday, December 20, 2014

How to ask an important scholar to look at your tentative work, when you are just starting out.

How to ask an important scholar to look at your tentative work, when you are just starting out.

1. In effect you are showing your dirty linen in public, but presumably to an interested viewer.

2. The mathematician Robert Langlands (from British Columbia, Yale PhD) was starting out in his career at Princeton and he had spoken briefly to Andre Weil (professor at the Institute of Advanced Study) about some of his work. He followed up with a famous 16 page handwritten letter (good penmanship, by the way) describing what he was up to. Here is what Langlands wrote Weil--


Your opinion of these questions would be appreciated. I have not had a chance to think over these questions seriously and I would not ask them except as the continuation of a casual conversation. I hope you will treat them with the tolerance they require at this stage. 

If you are willing to read it [this letter] as pure speculation I would appreciate that; if not — I am sure you have a waste basket handy. ...

Eventually, Langlands' ideas crystallized in what is called The Langlands Program and The Langlands Conjectures. Some of its results were crucial to Andrew Wiles' work that led to the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem

One way of describing the Program is to say that it connects number facts with function facts, much as the factorials are connected to the sine function. (Recall 

sin x = x -x^3/3! + x^5/5! -x^7/7!

and n! = n(n-1)(n-2)... 1.) Studying the function's properties will tell you about the number facts, studying the number facts will tell you about the function's behavior.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

ICD 203 and ICD 206: Improving analytical practice in arguments and sourcing.

http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICD/ICD%20203%20Analytic%20Standards%20pdf-unclassified.pdf 



I am reading T. Fingar, Reducing Uncertainty (Stanford, 2011), where he describes changes in analytical practices post the infamous Iraq WMD National Intelligence Estimate. He describes intelligence analysts as using their training from graduate school, but the agencies wanted to make more rigorous the arguments and sourcing of such estimates and the Presidential Daily Briefing. The links above are to memos on standards and sourcing. Some of you may find them of interest in your own scholarly work, giving quite explicit guidance for making better grounded arguments.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Up to Us, as Faculty Members, to Make Tenure and Promotion Judgments


Originality, Independence, and Publication. Home Run Papers

1. In some fields, it is possible for a graduate student to have their article published in a respectable journal, while in others that is very very rare.

2. Of course, jointly authored articles with their advisor/professor are more common and more likely.

3. As for Independence: While we might expect a junior faculty member coming up for tenure to have developed a research path that somewhat different than their teachers and advisors, it is rare if ever that happens with doctoral students. Doctoral students usually work within the purview of their advisor's field of interest and research program.

4. As for Originality: If you are working at the forefront of a field of research, you cannot help but be original. It's no big deal. If you are replicating earlier work since it was not sufficiently credible, or going over a long-standing problem, in general you will exhibit originality in the quality of your work.

5. While there is a demand for a publication or two by graduate students, in some fields, when they go looking for a job, I find that hard to believe, unless the field is not very deep. (But see #2 above.)

6. Home run papers: The baseball analogy is quite prevalent in economics and business, and perhaps in some other fields. I never hear about them in physics or mathematics, or the humanities, or most of the social sciences. 
          a. Make sure that the home-run paper is actually the responsibility of the candidate, rather than a joint production with more senior authors.
          b. Really significant work that has high impact usually demands some years of maturity and experience beyond the doctorate and the assistant professorship. 
          c. I don't know if the baseball analogy is appropriate for scholarship.

Citation Counting

If you are comparing citation counts for different scholars, keep in mind:

If someone has a very high citation account, make sure that their citations are not the result of working with a very prominent scholar, likely more senior, often at the beginning of their careers. They may well deserve the credit, but probably not.

If someone has begun publishing in year X, and the comparison person began to publish in X-10, be careful that the time to citation does not get in the way of your comparison. Some fields take some time for citations to accumulate. And of course, if you have been doing scholarship for 10 more years, you may well have accumulated lots more citations.

In any case, if there are many collaborators, and they are of equal strength as scholars, I am not sure how to count.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The "Home Run" Article

When evaluating scholars who work in economics or business, there is often a demand for a "home run" article: published in the right place, highly cited, a significant advance. I have not seen such a demand in other social sciences or in the natural sciences. In book publishing fields, in general the first book, often used to make tenure decisions, is rarely so influential and since it takes a while for books to be appreciated the citation data won't be helpful.

I also note that this is a requirement that seems to be honored in the breach at most institutions.

I find it interesting that the requirement is put upon scholars perhaps 5-7 years beyond their doctoral work, where articles may take 1-2 years to get through the reviewing process.

Departments that tenure a small fraction of their faculty, perhaps hiring from outside at that level, might well have this requirement and honor it.

What is striking is the expectation that such junior inexperienced scholars should be making such strong contributions.  Or perhaps, what is called a "home-run" is actually in a ballpark with close-in fences? In any case, early salience is taken as a sign of long term excellence.

My other thought is that perhaps economics and related fields are comparatively less profound and deep than other fields, and so it is possible for a junior person to make such a contribution. It's surely quite rare in physics or mathematics, for example, although the strongest scholars do stand out fairly early.

I don't know.

Tenure and Promotion Committees: When You Believe They are Wrong

Departmental or school tenure and promotion committees review a dossier of letters of reference, a CV, a personal statement, and perhaps other material. They present those findings to the department as a whole for a vote. Perhaps you believe their interpretation of the dossier is incorrect, whether it be denial or a tenure/promotion.

1. If you are on the committee, you might file a dissenting report. Or you might argue later on, whether in the faculty meeting or in letters to the higher-ups.

a. It does you little good to argue against a particular letter writer, as such, since you chose the letter writers.

b. So, what you do is to make a list of the main points brought out in the letters and in the committee report. You then present your argument in terms of those points. No ad hominem of the committee or letter writers. Rather, you will be presenting your position on those points, with whatever authority you possess. If there is counter-evidence, of course you want to present it. What you are trying to do is to make people think twice.

c. Don't distort the letters or whatever else you are referring to. Selective quotation, insults to the letter writer, etc. are all likely to have your position weakened.

d. Say you are the strongest person in the field in your department. Your judgment might well be given greater weight, but still you are making an argument. Your opinion, as such, may well be important, but it is vital that your argument be fair, to the point. If you do not believe the candidate's methods are appropriate, say why....

2. If you are not on the committee, you are welcome to question the credibility of the letter writers. But you cannot be seen as biased or too selective. Credibility is questionable if the writer is too closely allied to the candidate, if methodological preferences seem to sway the letter writer, etc. Still you are likely to find yourself acting as in #1 above.

3. If you are in a higher-up position--chair, dean, university committee--you are welcome to act as in #2 if there is good evidence.  You may well have received a memo from a dissenting member of the faculty. But it is best to first read the dossier of that is presented by the committee, and then the later material.

4. What you are trying to do is to sway your colleagues. But you are also building into the record your dissent, and in so far as your dissent is fairly and accurately argued it will more likely be effective.

5. In the end, the university will survive.

If you believe the candidate should not have been tenured/promoted and the university decides otherwise, make sure the candidate gets the kind of mentoring that will make them more worthy of your good judgment.

If you believe the candidate should have been tenured/promoted but the university decides otherwise, help the candidate find a good position elsewhere. That you disagreed might well be confidential information, unless the dossier and related materials are to be public. That you believe the candidate is worthy is something you can share with the candidate as you help them go forward.

6. People often carry grudges for years, either because they have "lost" in this process. I am not talking about the candidate, rather the faculty and the committee. Again, the university will survive. And you have better things to do. If you don't, find another job.

7. As for legal remedies, I have no good advice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Inside Black Boxes: Survey Research, Fieldwork, Ground Truth, and "Effective Field Theories"


Often a presentation starts with some sort of data set they are analyzing. Some of the time they have generated the data set on their own with systematic and effective survey work, some of the time it is from various governmental or health files. What is striking to me is that whatever these people are studying is in effect a black box, when in fact they could enter the box and find out better how it works. Fieldwork is a very different style of research. Some times it is referred to it as "anecdotal," while I believe that "ground truth" is more appropriate. You want to see if what there is inside these boxes makes sense in terms of the characteristic of the box. To my mind, I want to understand the mechanism in the black box, the way the system or the thinking or the behavior internal leads to the measured external variables--that data set and its analysis. 

Now if you are a physicist, the objects you may be dealing with are fully characterized by a very small number of characteristics. But if you want to learn more, about how those characteristics are "generated," you need to go to much higher energies and much smaller distances to see inside the object you are studying. Of course, it is black boxes all the way down, or at least pretty far down. You can't interview a proton. But you can hit it with other protons, electrons, gamma rays, ... and so discover lots about what is going on inside.

What physicists now say is that they have "effective field theories." They are "effective" because there is no claim that they are ultimately the true story, but they do account for what you see at a certain scale, and you expect that if you go to a finer scale you won't throw out the effective field theory at the less fine scale. The effective field theory that we use today is called the Standard Model, and at larger scales and smaller energies, there are other effective field theories. We don't have a good clue (in terms of empirical or experimental findings) of what will be the effective field theory at smaller scales, "beyond" the Standard Model, although there is a rich landscape of speculations--none of which have any empirical support yet.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Blind Analysis of a Data Set

http://www.slac.stanford.edu/econf/C030908/papers/TUIT001.pdf 

is an article that discusses this in the context of particle physics.

Blind Analysis is a method used by particle physicists, who nowadays usually have very large data sets to analyze (typically terabytes and then some). They take a small fraction of the data set (say 1-3%), and develop their analysis methods (cuts in the data, ways of thinking there might be a signal, etc) using that small set to work it all out. What they are trying to do is to figure out how to see a small effect in a sea of noise and irrelevance (interactions other than the ones they are concerned with, which are very rare). When they are satisfied that they have done the best they can do, then and only then, do they run all the data through that "best" analysis method. With such a small test data set, they are unlikely to see anything very interesting so far. Rather, only after they put all the data through the system might there be any significant effects.

The basic idea is to prevent you from working over and changing your analysis method to get the result you might expect.  I guess this would be called data mining (although that is not the right term) or fudging.

I don't know if people then do some more analysis, revising their method, once they have had the blindfolds removed. 

Double-blind is the gold standard for medicine and biostatistics. I do not know if blind analysis is standard for social science statistical analysis. My impression is that people still try various regressors and various schemes to see if they can get good results. As I just said, I may well be wrong.

MK

Bupkis and Not-so-Bupkis in the US Budget

My colleague Ed Kleinbard sent me some of the CBO tables re the US Budget.

http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/45229-UpdatedBudgetProjections_OneColumn.pdf

I am ashamed to say I have never spent much time looking at these numbers. They are a revelation, I believe.

1. Revenues from the corporate income tax is rather small compared to individual income taxes, and is in fact something like 1% of the Gross Domestic Product. You'd think that corporate titans would be more concerned with their own income taxes--but this shows how corporate-spirited they are

2. Discretionary Expenditures divide into domestic and defence, and they are roughly the same.

3. The various mandatory expenditures (Social Security, Medicare,...) dominate the discretionary ones.

...  More to follow.

MK

PS. BUPKIS is a Yiddish term for something so small it does not matter.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Iraqistan Dollar Numbers



The Iraqistan wars cost about $3+trillions, and the discounted cost of future benefits to veterans is a bit less than $1trillions (they peak 20-30 years out), and there is another $300billions of unreimbursed care provided by families and others. Linda Bilmes of Harvard's Kennedy school is my source. By the way, the US GDP is about $17trillions, and the US Budget is about 21% of that, with a difference between revenue and spending of a few of those percent. The national debt is about the same as the GDP. One of Bilmes' points is that the Iraqistan war was financed by borrowing, and we will pay interest on that debt (say 3% of $3trillions is $90billion, and the defense budget is about $500+billions) so decreasing our future military spending. Other places I look place defense spending at $1.2trillions--I'm sure I am missing something here. 

Experts point out how GDP has lots of problems as a measure, that there are big pools of money in the budget that are restricted (entitlements and the like) so that the unrestricted budget or discretionary spending (including defense) is rather smaller, that tax expenditures ("loopholes" and specific exclusions) are large, $1+trillions (about twice as large as non-defense discretionary spending).

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Spellcheck, Read over for grammar, Use paragraphs and topic sentences.

Spellcheck, Read over for grammar, Use paragraphs and topic sentences.

I have been reading over some written work, and since it is the end of the semester and papers are due:

I find that most students shower and look at a mirror before they go out on a date or before a job interview. Every time you write you are being interviewed by the reader. So clean up the obvious problems (see below), and reread what you have written.

So: 

a. Be sure to spellcheck. Red underlining in Word.  (Note that proper names are usually indicated by italics.)  Blue underlining indicates something seems wrong: too when you mean to. If you have written material as part of a website, it pays to check out that material by pasting it into a blank Word document to see if you have any obvious problems.

b. Read aloud what you have written. Native speakers of a language usually speak grammatically, so if you read it out loud you will find things that don't sound right. Word uses green underlining for grammatical problems, but also for two spaces between words and other mistakes. If English is not your native language, the green underlining may be helpful, but it is not always reliable.
If you have typos, usually green underlining should help.

c. it's/its, to/too/two, there/their . . . are frequently confused by native speakers. Lots of other such homonyms. This is much like being color blind, and wearing mismatched clothing.

d. Make sure your written work has sensible paragraphs, each paragraph beginning with a (topic) sentence that summarizes the paragraph. (This is too rigid a prescription, but at least it is a start.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Learning from Special Ops

In McRaven's book on Special Ops in the military he lays down the principles of successful operations:

Planning should lead to a Simple plan.

Preparation requires Repetition (role-playing on a rough set) of the proposed actions, and Security so that the enemy does not know of the plan and preparation.

Execution needs Surprise, Speed, and a focused Purpose. Surprise and Speed deal with the friction of war, Purpose is moral.

What you want is Relative Superiority. The probability of success goes up as you perform preliminary key events, but you then have to build relative superiority so that the probability will rise sufficiently so that you can complete the mission.

All of these categories should be thought of descriptive and analytic, to be observed as present or failing in an account of an operation.


I am not sure what to do with this in ordinary life. But I like the category system.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

History and Justification: Forgetting When We Were Much Less Canonical

I have been reading about early Jewish history (David, Ezra, Nehemiah). What has interested me, here and in early Christian history, was how what we see now was once much less clear and canonical. Of course, this is a very limited viewpoint, since we are giving our attention to what at one time was rather inconsequential but in retrospect now is quite important.

My point here is that when we talk about projects, plans, and policies, and give them concreteness, that makes sense in terms of how they come to be articulated and canonized. However, if we are interested how things can be changed, we need to look at the more inchoate moments, the failures along the way, the transformations of the original ideas into orthodoxies.

Physicists are rarely so historical, for example. There is the currently correct theory. But it may be useful to have a sense of previous accounts or ways of thinking. I am not sure of this, but what comes to mind is Maxwell's fluidic electromagnetism, something we have more or less erased (since there is not ether).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Asking good questions at seminars, or when reading a paper.


How do you ask good questions of research presentations and papers? 

If the following are not answered, they have to be brought out.

The first thing you must do is ask, What is the story here? What is being claimed? 

Second, are there any obvious problems with the work, whether in the data, in the argument, in the theory, that make it hard to credit the work. In professional work, this should be rare. 

Third, is there a proposed mechanism that makes sense of what is being claimed: where a mechanism might be a market, a social interaction, a political process  ...

Fourth, what did the author(s) actually do?

Now, here are some other considerations.

1.  Imagine that you had only one shot, one chance to ask a question, and you had perhaps 100 words in which to phrase it. That might help you focus better. As important, if you put yourself in the shoes of the people who are being studied, say underground residents in Beijing, you might be able to think more clearly about what is interesting in the study of their lives. While we put a lot of emphasis in methods courses on hypothesis testing and the null, much research is about finding out what is going on--even roughly, and perhaps not with the confidence you might get with large N. 

2. External and internal validity are useful notions. In practical work, affecting policy and planning, one is trying to find out something at all. Of course, you want a sense of how reliable is that something. My impression is that your knowledge of the situation is very weak, and so that something is a vast improvement. Better to have an example or two to generalize from than nothing. 

3. Analogy and comparison are powerful strategies. If something is new or foreign to you, look for similar situations in what you know. That may well be biased and unreliable, but at least you are now starting out with something rather ignorance.

4. Most effects have many causes, and most causes have diverse effects. But can you at least connect two phenomena, even if they are not simply connected?  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"I always get an A." : Negotiating, our limited talents, and showing up on time.

Undergraduate students look better and better in terms of indicators.  We should be able to have stronger, better-prepared students in our classes. But there would seem to be a fraction, perhaps 1/4? that have yet to get the message. [I  believe that similar issues come up in promotion and tenure.] 

0. Some people just cannot show up on time. They are late for classes, meetings, with school work,  . . . And they seem to be owned by their phones and laptops, as if no one notices that they are rude and disrespectful. 

1. Students want the imprimatur of our approval and authority, but want to negotiate. So if they do not receive an A, say, they want to know exactly why, in terms of a rubric or specific failings. This makes sense, except that any such grading system is likely irreproducible at the level of perhaps 1/3 of a grade: we might grade the quality of the work as B+ or a B. So it could make good sense to negotiate. It could be that we assign points to particular features, as in a formal rubric, but then there is room to argue about those points. A student's prior is likely that the grade is unfair in that it undervalues their performance, rather than it is too generous. But we are not in a bazaar or in a financial negotiation, and as significantly, they have yet to learn that you need to leave something on the table so that your opposite is willing to deal with you in the future.
a. I have noticed, and this is at least a 25-years old phenomenon, that students will try to wear you down in a negotiation. (I am reminded of a crying baby who will not stop--for they really are needy.) If two students are negotiating, they can alternate, and if they are really talented they can act like inquisitors.

2. "I always get an A." "You are destroying my GPA." Again, the prior is that the previous grades were accurate, and that precision is great. Now if they have "always" received A's, is that for many performances, for undergraduate work but now they are in graduate school, or is it just two other courses? My inclination is to believe that they were lucky, or that their other instructors were too generous. 

3. "How can I get an A?"  As in "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?", the answer is "Practice," but also it may be that you need to have more talent than you possess: Hard work will only go so far. 

4.  In part, students are concerned that they be treated fairly. This is an appropriate concern, and an authority that is unfair or biased loses its legitimacy.

5. Basic skills need work. 
a. Spelling, grammar, and diction may well be inadequate. And, what is most striking is that have not spellchecked or noticed the red/blue... underlining Word and other such provide.
b. High School math has been forgotten: plotting a line, fairly simple algebraic manipulation. 

6. As important, those basic skills would appear to some to be irrelevant to their future professional ambitions. If they want to be pole dancers or gigolos, that may well be the case. (But then other skills and talents are required.) But in their first jobs, if they cannot produce coherent brief memos, without typos and in good form, if they cannot do some basic analysis of data, they are likely to be severely handicapped. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Wrangler and A Missionary (to Students)

I often say that I am a missionary, and my job is to take students as they are and do my best with them. You don't complain, you just move forward.

Recently, I thought that another description would be as a wrangler. Wranglers control and care for... horses, bugs (as in movies, where there are bug wranglers), or underwear (as in advertising photography, where an underwear wrangler makes sure the garments are properly put on and reveal just what they want to reveal).  That is, my job is to corral, control, and care for my students, who like most creatures want to go their own way even if that does not serve their interests or the university's.

I am both a missionary (in my attitude) and a wrangler (in my actions).

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Focusing Your Research: Memos, Advice, and Work--even in Tragedy, Illness, and Crisis

If you write yourself a memo, say every six months, to describe what work you are doing and where you think you might be going--say in the next two? years--you will find that it helps to focus your work. The memo need not be long, surely no more than a single-spaced page. It could be a list.

If there is someone whom you trust and believe is reasonably sensible, even wise, share that memo and see what they say. Indicate its tentativeness. For you are not asking for criticism of your work, you are seeking suggestions for a better path.

And of course, you need to work. Probably 5-7 days/week. If your work is thinking and trying things out, as in mathematics, say, then that is what you will be doing mostly. If it is archival work, for the moment , . . . If you are writing a paper, or writing a book (do it chapter by chapter, section by section, . . .

Don't let anything get in your way. Death of family or friends, chronic or serious illness, disappointments, bad news--perhaps you should stop for a week. But in general, work is healing--and you need not do it all day. An hour or two, snatched from the chaos around you, might be calming and good for you, no matter how bad things be.

If you have too many overlapping tasks, writing say two books at the same time, you might alternate, but for most of us one-at-a-time is likely better. So keep a notebook where you write down stuff relevant to the other tasks, or perhaps just annotate a draft.

If you are feeling ill, depressed, wasting away,... see your physician as soon as possible. Take your medications, practice your regimes, keep your appointments. 

Do not let mechanical stuff get in your way--committees, teaching in so far as it is more of the same, cleaning out your office or garage. Surely, they need to be done but a bout of work before those tasks is likely to be good for your soul. 

Finally, People are More Important than just about Anything. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Confidentiality

Recently, I got in hot water, when something I supposedly told someone turned out to be confidential and I was pointed to as the source. I am usually quite circumspect. But, I don't remember what I didn't say.

Whether it be about promotion and tenure, or journal reviewers, or faculty meetings, or personal information--no matter how outrageous it might be--you'll have to swallow it, or send a note to a higher-up with your concerns. The problem is that the higher-up might well hold it against you, or may share that note with some other higher-up who is not happy with your expressed concern.

Most of the time, I do not much recall any details of stuff that was confidential. Of course, it is rarely so confidential as portrayed, since it is likely that others have already spread the information, often others who know they should keep it confidential and are in higher positions.  (Confidential information is a currency, used by people to cement their relationship with others.)

Some universities and journals make it a policy of sharing letters of reference, reviews, and memos of administrative processes, often under the rule of open meeting laws. Others do not. From what I have been told, neither method assures better and more fair decisions.

Intelligent but Not Brilliant. Four Statements: I don't know. I was wrong. I'm so sorry. I need help.

In scholarly work, we depend on well-trained reasonably-intelligent people to advance the field and fill in its lacunae. Some people make major advances, sometimes by chance or good fortune, sometimes by their extraordinary imagination and persistence, and sometimes because what would appear to be an interesting but not spectacular piece of work (to all, including the author) turn out to have much wider implications than originally imagined.

In a novel I was reading, someone was described as "a very intelligent man who's not really brilliant." The problem arises only when you think you are brilliant, and "all" you are is very intelligent. "Very intelligent" is all you need, plus good work habits, diligence, and persistence. Don't worry if you are not spectacular--it does not matter.

----------------------------------------

The Four Statements are taken from Louise Penny's The Long Way Home, taught by the master detective to initiands as ways of approaching the tasks at hand when things might go awry.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Proofread your work.

Simple: Proofread your work before sending it out. Many programs check spelling, suggest grammatical issues, etc. Use them.

Priors, Confounders, Evidence for Policymaking vs. for Tests of Theory


--The quality of evidence needed for policy may well be less stringent than for testing a theory. That is, the study provides some information, even weak information, and that allows you to make a better decision.
--If there are confounders, what you might do is to ask if they are likely to make the results weaker or stronger. In other words, what is your prior about confounders and that should give you a feel if the confounders will wipe out the results, or merely weaken them.

Sitting in the background, again, are your prior expectations about results. Are the results surprising, confirming, confusing? You always have priors, so being explicit about them is a good idea. Imagine writing down the regression coefficients you might get, before doing the analysis, perhaps with some wide error bars, sealing them in an envelope, and then opening when you are through.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014