Dried Roses

Sunday cat pix

Another nap.

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LinkJune 1, 2008 in Cats

iTunes to Twitter

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To shore up my nerd credentials, I’ve just written a little applescript that sends information about the iTunes track currently playing to Twitter via Twitterific. In order to use it you need a Twitter account and Twitterific.
Download currenttracktotwit.scpt.zip. This is a zip archive: double click to decompress.

LinkJune 4, 2008 in Web/Tech

Wednesday garden pix

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LinkJune 6, 2008 in Garden

Sunday cat pix

From the archives at Sunday Cat Pix Studios (tours $5, alternate Tuesdays only) we reveal the source of Josie’s mysterious powers. This is a Flip-Pic: to make it flip, click the picture, move your cursor on & off of it. It may take a few seconds for the flip to occur.
Josie
Josie, 25 June 2007

LinkJune 9, 2008 in Cats

Sunday cat pix

This edition is for D. B., who is scheduled to have surgery tomorrow. I hope everything goes well! —Meanwhile, Musa naps on a second-floor sill. It’s her new spot; in the morning, sometimes there’s a robin in the tree just outside the window.

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LinkJune 15, 2008 in Cats

Statistical snake oil, again

Or: where is Darrell Huff when you need him? The Chronicle of Higher Education, drawing on the services of Academic Analytics LLC, presents lists of departments and institutions ranked by “productivity”. Here are the 2007 and 2006 rankings for philosophy:
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The numbers indicate by how many standard deviations a program exceeds the mean. Source: Chronicle of Higher Education. Left column: 2007. Right column: 2006.
The measure is based on statistics concerning publications, grants, awards and honors, and so forth. These are normalized and weighted to yield the composite scores you see above. It should be clear that although the scores are significant, the rankings aren’t. They’re too volatile. Only three departments manage to remain in the top ten from 2006 to 2007.
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It’s true that in sports the standings from one year to the next can vary just as much. They, however, are based on the unimpeachable won-lost record. A perusal of the puffery for the “Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index™ (FSP Index)” shows that arbitrariness enters into the formulation of the Index not only in the weighting of its various components but also in the methods used to calculate those components. One book is given the weight of five articles, and so on. Institutions can buy the raw data. But I wonder how many administrators, pressed for funds, will do so, and spend more money to have the data analyzed again. Yet that’s what you’d need to do to know how robust a measure the FSP is.
Unfortunately, the numbers will be used to make distinctions they cannot rightly be said to justify. Academic Analytics claims that “more universities than ever are using FSP on their campus”, and I believe them. What I don’t believe is that the FSP is as objective as they claim. Carnegie-Mellon, which ought to know better, highlights its no. 5 ranking in 2007; but a year earlier, as you can see, they weren’t even in the top ten. Michigan State’s index plunged from 2 to below 1.31 in one year. Were they exhausted after their stellar season?
It’s too bad that the Chronicle is lending its prestige to this dubious enterprise. An antidote to the FSP can be found at the International Mathematical Union which has produced a Report (pdfbar.png) on citation statistics. Here are the conclusions:
  • Relying on statistics is not more accurate when the statistics are improperly used. Indeed, statistics can mislead when they are misapplied or misunderstood. Much of modern bibliometrics seems to rely on experience and intuition about the interpretation and validity of citation statistics.
  • While numbers appear to be "objective", their objectivity can be illusory. The meaning of a citation can be even more subjective than peer review. Because this subjectivity is less obvious for citations, those who use citation data are less likely to understand their limitations.
  • The sole reliance on citation data provides at best an incomplete and often shallow understanding of research—an understanding that is valid only when reinforced by other judgments. Numbers are not inherently superior to sound judgments.
The last item, I think, may be irrelevant to the people who are most likely to be customers of Academic Analytics. I have in mind administrators or the people who hire them, people who think that a university should be run like a business. The point of appealing to the FSP and measures like it is to avoid judgment, substituting for it the authority of numbers.
(For more statistical snake oil, see “How to mislead with statistics”, 7 Dec 2004.)
Sources:
A ‘Nixon going to China’ momentGeomblog, 14 June 2008.
Abraham Mahshie. “Former executive spooks some, but not all, facultyColumbia Daily Tribune, (21 Dec 2007) p. 1A. Also here (pdfbar.png).

LinkJune 18, 2008 in Academic Affairs · Society | TrackBack (0)

Sunday cat pix

Musa finds a beam. Best wishes to D. B.!

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LinkJune 22, 2008 in Cats

Wednesday garden pix

Tiger lilies are blooming all over St. Louis right now. These are from the front yard.
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26 May 2008

LinkJune 26, 2008 in Garden

Sunday cat pix

From the unpublished archives: Musa makes like a tuff katt.
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Musa, 1 Nov 2007
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Actually this goes to show how shaky the inference from image to character can be. The image on the right is from just a few seconds before. Musa here looks like a perfectly placid elder kitten, innocuously engaged in washing herself.
I know that I have sometimes examined a photographic portrait with great care in an attempt to discern something of its subject’s character. But in doing so I was at the mercy of the photographer (or of whoever chose that image for publication). We understand this and yet I think we almost certainly forget it, or rather we are affected by the image before the eye turns skeptic. Skepticism doesn’t erase what is called into doubt; it overwrites the dubious image with a mostly transparent label that says “Beware”.

LinkJune 27, 2008 in Cats