Archive for the University life Category

LaTeX issues from Vienna

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2017 by xi'an

When working on the final stage of our edited handbook on mixtures, in Vienna, I came across unexpected practical difficulties! One was that by working on Dropbox with Windows users, files and directories names suddenly switched from upper case to lower cases letters !, making hard-wired paths to figures and subsections void in the numerous LaTeX files used for the book. And forcing us to change to lower cases everywhere. Having not worked under Windows since George Casella gave me my first laptop in the mid 90’s!, I am amazed that this inability to handle both upper and lower names is still an issue. And that Dropbox replicates it. (And that some people see that as a plus.)

The other LaTeX issue that took a while to solve was that we opted for one chapter one bibliography, rather than having a single bibliography at the end of the book, mainly because CRC Press asked for this feature in order to sell chapters individually… This was my first encounter with this issue and I found the solutions to produce individual bibliographies incredibly heavy handed, whether through chapterbib or bibunits, since one has to bibtex one .aux file for each chapter. Even with a one line bash command, this is annoying to the extreme!

Le Chemin [featuring Randal Douc]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , on September 17, 2017 by xi'an

My friend and co-author Randal Douc is one of the main actors in the film Le Chemin that came out last week in French cinemas. Taking place in Cambodia and directed by Jeanne Labrune. I have not yet seen the film but will next week as it is scheduled in a nearby cinema (and only six in Paris!)… (Randal was also a main actor in Rithy Panh’s Un barrage contre le Pacifique, as well as the off-voice in the Oscar nominated Rithy Panh’s L’image manquante.) In connection with this new movie, Randal was interviewed in Allociné, the major French website on current movies. With questions about his future film and theatre projects, but none about his on-going maths research!!!

zurück nach Wien

Posted in pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2017 by xi'an

Today, I am travelling to Vienna for a few days, primarily for assessing a grant renewal for a research consortium federating most Austrian research groups on a topic for which Austria is a world-leader. (Sorry for being cryptic but I am unsure how much I can disclose about this assessment!) And taking advantage on being in Vienna, for a two-day editing session with Sylvia Früwirth-Schnatter and Gilles Celeux on our Handbook of mixtures analysis project. Which started a few years ago with another meeting in Vienna. And taking further advantage on being in Vienna, for an evening at the Volksoper, conveniently playing Die Zauberflöte!

bye, Cassini!

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , on September 15, 2017 by xi'an

positions in North-East America

Posted in Kids, pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2017 by xi'an

Today I received emails about openings in both Université de Montréal, Canada, and Harvard University, USA:

  • Professor in Statistics, Biostatistics or Data Science at U de M, deadline October 30th, 2017, a requirement being proficiency in the French language;
  • Tenure-Track Professorship in Statistics at Harvard University, Department of Statistics, details there.

the “myth of the miracle machine”

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2017 by xi'an

In what appears to be a regular contribution of his to Nature, Daniel Sarewitz recently wrote a “personal take on events” that I find quite reactionary, the more because it comes from an academic. And I wonder why Nature chose to publish his opinion piece. Every other month! The arguments of the author is that basic science should be defunded in favour of “use-inspired” research, “mission oriented” programmes, “societal needs and socially valuable knowledge”… The reason being that it is a better use of public money and that scientists are just another interest group that should not be left to its own device. This is not a new tune, calls to cut down funding fundamental research emerge regularly as an easily found culprit for saving “taxpayer money”, and it is the simplest mean of rejecting a research proposal by blaming its lack of clear applicability. Of course, when looking a bit wider, one can check this piece bemoaning the Democrat inclinations of most scientists. Or that one that science should sometimes give way to religion. With the definitive argument that, for most people, the maths behind scientific models are so complex that they must turn to an act of faith… Yes, I do wonder at Nature providing Sarewitz with such a wide-ranging tribune.

the [h]edge of reason [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2017 by xi'an

I do not know if Julian Baggini chose the title of this book in connection with the second [appalling] Bridget Jones film or with the huge number of books with this title, but the proximity is somewhat unfortunate for a philosophy book!

I presume I got this book based on the subtitle “A rational skeptic in an irrational world”, although I knew nothing of the author and should have done some research before putting my stash of Amazon credit to use! (He has written so many books on philosophical themes that he reminds me of Michel Onfray… And not only for this reason, they also seem to cater to the same readership interested in light or “general public” philosophy. Or as I would call it, journalosophy…)

This thin conception sees rational argument not as a formal, mechanistic, rigid method but simply as the process of giving and assessing objective reasons for belief.” (p.5)

The core idea in the book is that reason is over-rated as an argument in philosophical or every day debate! And should come only as a foot soldier support for one’s beliefs, since those are primordial and unavoidable in leading one’s life, beliefs (!), and principles… Beliefs and presuppositions are central to those and cannot browbeated by reason. I was hoping for a stronger defence of rationality that would set reason at the centre of scientific, democratic, and everyday debates, but I feel the book ends up as at best lukewarm on that front.

“It is always rebarbative  to the philosopher to reach a point in an argument where it is necessary to  admit that others may be presented with the same chain of inferences yet justifiably reach a different conclusion.” (p.9)

The book almost immediately lost most of its potential appeal for me when I realised the very first chapter is about religion and the author seems to find particularly distasteful that “there are some who argue that faith defies reason” (p.17). Followed by a relativistic argumentation that sets religious people and atheists at the same ground level as having different “properly basic beliefs ” (p.21) and “evidence bases” and “rational coherence” (p.17).  Culminating in advocating a “rational Catholicism” (p.133, capitalised by my spell-checker!). At which point I feel we already are on the wrong side of the hedge of reason… From there, the same relativism permeates the whole book, backed up by the argument that there is rarely if ever enough evidence to conclude one way against another (as we would know, of course!). This is particularly jarring in the chapter about science, crucially entitled “Science for humans”, which argues that there is no such thing as pure science, because scientists always contaminate scientific arguments (and data?) with their beliefs and prejudices. As in e.g., “the question of whether or not an experiment or observation counts as critical – sufficient to settle a dispute – is itself a judgement (p.47). The more I read the book the more I felt it carried a postmodernist message, even when stating the opposite (p.238) as aiming at skepticism (p.234) or making fun of the most extreme illustrations of this obscurantism (p.100, p.125). Putting for instance some of the blame “on both sides”, post-modernists and anti-post-modernists alike (p.238)!

“Reason is thin ice on which we have no choice but to skate.” (p.245)

A last comment about the application of those relative principles to state government and society ruling (Part IV: The King). The attack on an ideal (Socratic or Platonic) society ruled by reason alone as unimplementable and not pragmatic and “a bad principle” (p.194) does not produce a better alternative proposal than conservatism (!) and the call to reason to fight populism with practical reason (Chapter 11) sounds self-defeating. When opposed with the relativism of the remainder of the book. If societal decisions should be based on rationality and there is no consensus on what rationality is, which is a reason for advocating pluralism, it seems impossible to reach agreement on how to govern and to find an implementable version of pluralism. Which brings us back to stage zero and the feelings leading to populism that the elites have no idea on how to run the polis. Except their self-interest. Speaking of pluralism, the author seems to agree (p.225) that secularism à la française [obviously to be distinguished from political exploitations like last year burkinigate!] is still a form of pluralism precisely because it excludes religion from the public debate. Because arguments can then [at least on principle] reach all members of the polis. (But then I do not understand how “unleashing religious voices in the political public sphere” [p.230] is compatible with this.)

“Some might believe that such a skeptical defence of reason leaves it thin and emaciated.” (p.236)

In conclusion, I am thus quite disappointed by the book and what I consider to be a rather shallow approach to the question of reason in the public debate. Thinning out rationality does not seem like a helpful step to fight anti-rational, fundamentalist, obscurantist, etc. forces, as it does not make these move one inch their ideological positions.

As an update, it is rather unfortunate that this review came out when the North-Korean crisis seems to push the World beyond the edge of reason with threats of nuclear attacks… Which brings us back to the boundless dangers of populism.