Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Stand up for Research" petition update

Here's an email I received this morning - sign the petition if you have not yet done so! (I posted earlier about this topic here and here; and this page is a collection of links in support of the campaign, in addition to links that make the general case for curiosity-driven research.)

Dear colleague,

I wanted to update you on the progress of the “Stand up for Research” campaign.

More than 12,500 academics have now signed, making this the biggest ever such petition UCU has run. The signatories represent all disciplines, applied as well as pure research and come from every kind of university, defying the way in which the proposals trade research communities off against one another.

You can also read more about the campaign in the forthcoming edition of UC magazine, in which Professor Philip Moriarty from Nottingham University argues that “The imposition of impact criteria in peer review and in the REF is nothing less than an assault on core academic principles and the ethos of university research. It will also, perhaps counter-intuitively, be immensely damaging to the long-term socio-economic impact of academia.”

We now have only THREE WEEKS left to make this statement impossible to ignore.

Please help us do this by forwarding the link to the page to someone you know and asking them to sign it:

Yours sincerely

Jonathan White

Friday, November 13, 2009

Journal special issues for conferences - why bother?

Question: why do we bother with special issues of journals for conferences?

In an effort to appear scholarly, I googled a bit and found this article ("If Special Issues of Journals Are Not So Special, Why Has Their Use Proliferated?" by Richard T. Mowday in the Journal of Management Inquiry). That article considers special issues devoted to specific research subfields, rather than conferences, so is not very relevant to my question. (Various arguments for and against are dismissed as invalid, but they don't include the ones I mention below.) The topic arises in this blog post (Lance Fortnow, "Are conferences worth fixing?") but the topic is merely touched on in some of the comments.

My general understanding is that your conference paper is supposed to acquire a seal of approval from being invited to the special issue. The other motivation is that the journal paper should appear more rapidly than usual, but this does not always happen in my experience, and the delay of having to coordinate one's paper with half a dozen others is partly to blame. So we return to the "prestige" motivation. The trouble is, that the journal hosting the special issue, is not necessarily the one you would have submitted the paper to, in the absence of a special issue. Some people decline the invitation to the special issue (and submit to a different journal), and that seems to severely undermine this purpose of a special issue.

Am I right that special issues are supposed to be prestigious? I realise that any answer is to some extent, a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Full professorship in Economics/Game Theory and Computation

Note, this is the first of three positions we will be advertising (see below), in an aim to build an internationally leading research group in this area. An official advert with details on how to apply, will appear on Nov 12th at the URL given below.



Salary negotiable

The Department of Computer Science was ranked in the top 10 UK Computer Science departments in RAE2008, and building on this success, seeks to significantly expand current research around existing strengths at the intersection of economics/game theory and computer science.  To this end, we invite applications for a full Professorship to be attached to the newly established Economics & Computation Research Group.

Led by Professor Paul Goldberg, the Group carries out research in the computational foundations of economics/game theory and economic theory in computer science. In addition to Prof Goldberg, the group currently has three other faculty members: Dr Martin Gairing, Dr Piotr Krysta, and Dr Rahul Savani.

Current areas of research activity in the group include:

* algorithmic game theory;

* mechanism design and auction theory;

* complexity of solution concepts, algorithms for solution concepts;

* optimisation problems in economics;

* computational social choice.

We welcome applications from candidates in these areas, as well as more application-oriented areas, such as recommender systems, and related areas, such as computational finance and computational economics.

Two further faculty positions have been approved for this group, and will be advertised after the professorial appointment. It is expected that the successful candidate will be actively involved with these appointments.

The successful candidate will have an excellent track record of research leadership at the intersection of computer science and economics/game theory, and will join a dynamic, world-class Department.

Informal enquiries may be directed to the head of group:

       Professor Paul W. Goldberg

       phone: +44 151 795 4259

** Job Ref: A-570583


Further details and an application pack will be available from the following URL after 12 November:


Thursday, November 05, 2009

EPSRC's Schlimmbesserung

I was recently circulated a letter from EPSRC (UK's main scientific research funding body) announcing that, in order to "alleviate pressure involved in our peer review process" they would
  • no longer accept uninvited resubmissions of proposals

  • constrain "repeatedly unsuccessful applicants" to submit only one application over a 12-month period

In the letter there is a definition of "repeatedly unsuccessful applicant" which does not bear repeating here.

I have figured out what is wrong with this policy: far from relieving pressure on peer review, it has the opposite effect. Note first that the research proposals that now end up getting prohibited were always easy to criticize, while the proposals that survive this cull are the ones where you have to think hard about how they rate in competition with each other. That does not in itself explain why it becomes harder to review a proposal --- the reason why it gets harder, is that a reviewer now has a much heavier responsibility to "get it right": if a proposal fails, someone's research agenda has just been closed down permanently (they can't resubmit) and in the worst case, they get personally blacklisted, just for good measure.

Based on some brief web searches, it seems that Schlimmbesserung is a variant of a more standard German word Verschlimmbesserung, meaning an improvement that makes things worse. (The claim is that English-speaking fans of long German words usually prefer "Schlimmbesserung". This page is informative.)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Stereotyping universities

God, I hate being stereotyped. I don't think I'm absent-minded, nor do I wear a mortar-board. When Peter Mandelson says that universities should not be "islands or ivory towers" (see here) he is of course insinuating that universities are just that, out of touch with the real world, and so on. Well, it's a salutary reminder of what it must be like to belong to a social or racial group that gets itself stereotyped on a more frequent basis. Mandelson's remark forms part of a dismal-looking package of proposed reforms to the higher education system that purport to enhance the "customer experience"... not much in the way of concrete proposals, which is probably just as well, it's mainly a vague attempt to get universities perceived as just another industry. Mind you, if that's where he's coming from, can someone point out to him that we are, at least, a net exporter? Bloody politicians - they're all the same, got nothing better to do than spend half their time spouting off whatever cheap populist slogans it takes to get elected (not that we can accuse Mandelson of getting elected), and the other half making fabulous sums of money on after-dinner speeches and consulting contracts. All right, back to marking my COMP209 class test...