Archive for bibliometrics

Paris-Saclay campus debated in Nature

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2020 by xi'an

The newly created entity of the Paris-Saclay University is featuring in two editorials of Nature of 03 November for reaching a high ranking in one of the many league tables purportedly summarising the academic achievements of universities by a single number. This entity is made of the much older Université d’Orsay and of aggregated research institutes like Ecole Normale (formerly) de Cachan, Institut d’Optique, or Centrale Supélec, incidentally and uninterestingly located nearby my home. As an aggregate of high quality institutions, it is thus little surprise that it achieves a sufficient critical mass to reach a high ranking. Were the nearby Institut Polytechnique de Paris integrated as well, the ranking would have been even higher. (Why the two adjacent campuses did not merge defies rationality, but can be explained by politics and the long-standing opposition between Universités and Grandes Écoles in the French academic landscape.) I thus think the Nature editorial about the dangers to “the well-being of those on the academic front line” brought by the quest for high rankings is missing the point. By a fair margin. Indeed, it mixes the financial and institutional efforts made by [former president] Nicolas Sarkozy in creating a single campus with the funding of this mostly pre-existing campus [and in dire need of renovations, as exemplified by the new math department]. And seems to see the more competitive grant system in France connected with this creation when the [somewhat controversial] Agence Nationale de la Recherche in charge of the public-funded grants has been around since 2005. And I find that the unceasingly growing mille-feuille of aggregates, conglomerates, unions, initiatives, &tc. happening in the French academic landscape [like Paris Dauphine joining PSL a few years ago, whose status was confirmed today] are both blurring the picture and reducing the efficiency of the maneuvers by multiplying the administrative structures without creating a sense of belonging to a common institution. Plus ça change…

stop the rot!

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2017 by xi'an

Several entries in Nature this week about predatory journals. Both from Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. One emanates from the publication officer at the Institute, whose role is “dedicated to educating researchers and guiding them in their journal submission”. And telling the tale of a senior scientist finding out a paper submitted to a predatory journal and later rescinded was nonetheless published by the said journal. Which reminded me of a similar misadventure that occurred to me a few years ago. After having a discussion of an earlier paper therein rejected from The American Statistician, my PhD student Kaniav Kamary and I resubmitted it to the Journal of Applied & Computational Mathematics, from which I had received an email a few weeks earlier asking me in flowery terms for a paper. When the paper got accepted as such two days after submission, I got alarmed and realised this was a predatory journal, which title played with the quasi homonymous Journal of Computational and Applied Mathematics (Elsevier) and International Journal of Applied and Computational Mathematics (Springer). Just like the authors in the above story, we wrote back to the editors, telling them we were rescinding our submission, but never got back any reply or request of copyright transfer. Instead, requests for (diminishing) payments were regularly sent to us, for almost a year, until they ceased. In the meanwhile, the paper had been posted on the “journal” website and no further email of ours, including some from our University legal officer, induced a reply or action from the journal…

The second article in Nature is from a group of epidemiologists at the same institute, producing statistics about biomedical publications in predatory journals (characterised as such by the defunct Beall blacklist). And being much more vehement about the danger represented by these journals, which “articles we examined were atrocious in terms of reporting”, and authors submitting to them, as unethical for wasting human and animal observations. The authors of this article identify thirteen characteristics for spotting predatory journals, the first one being “low article-processing fees”, our own misadventure being the opposite. And they ask for higher control and auditing from the funding institutions over their researchers… Besides adding an extra-layer to the bureaucracy, I fear this is rather naïve, as if the boundary between predatory and non-predatory journals was crystal clear, rather than a murky continuum. And putting the blame solely on the researchers rather than sharing it with institutions always eager to push their bibliometrics towards more automation of the assessment of their researchers.

a discovery that mean can be impacted by extreme values

Posted in University life with tags , , , , , , on August 6, 2016 by xi'an

A surprising editorial in Nature about the misleading uses of impact factors, since as means they are heavily impacted by extreme values. With the realisation that the mean is not the median for skewed distributions…

To be fair(er), Nature published a subsequent paper this week about publishing additional metrics like the two-year median.

Le Monde puzzle [#851]

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on February 6, 2014 by xi'an

A more unusual Le Monde mathematical puzzle:

Fifty black and white tokens are set on an equilateral triangle of side 9, black on top and white on bottom. If they can only be turned three by three, determine whether it is possible to produce a triangle with all white sides on top, under each of the following constraints:

  • the three tokens must stand on a line;
  • the three tokens must stand on a line and be contiguous;
  • the three tokens must stand on the summits of an equilateral triangle;
  • the three tokens must stand on the summits of an equilateral triangle of side one.

I could not think of a quick fix with an R code so leave it to the interested ‘Og reader… In the next issue of the Science&Médecine leaflet (Jan. 29), which appeared while I was in Warwick, there were a few entries of interest. First, the central article was about Big Data (again), but, for a change, the journalist took the pain to include French statisticians and machine learners in the picture, like Stefan Clemençon, Aurélien Garivier, Jean-Michel Loubes, and Nicolas Vayatis. (In a typical French approach, the subtitle was “A challenge for maths”, rather than statistics!) Ignoring the (minor) confusion therein of “small n, large p” with the plague of dimensionality, the article does mention a few important issues like distributed computing, inhomogeneous datasets, overfitting and learning. There are also links to the new masters in data sciences at ENSAE, Telecom-Paritech, and Paris 6-Pierre et Marie Curie. (The one in Paris-Dauphine is still under construction and will not open next year.) As a side column, the journal also wonders about the “end of Science” due to massive data influx and “Big Data” techniques that could predict and explain without requiring theories and deductive or scientific thinking. Somewhat paradoxically, the column ends up by a quote of Jean-Michel Loubes, who states that one could think “our” methods start from effects to end up with causes, but that in fact the models are highly dependent on the data. And on the opinion of experts. Doesn’t that suggest some Bayesian principles at work there?!

Another column is dedicated to Edward Teller‘s “dream” of using nuclear bombs for civil engineering, like in the Chariot project in Alaska. And the last entry is against Kelvin’s “to measure is to know”, with the title “To known is not to measure”, although it does not aim at a general philosophical level but rather objects to the unrestricted intrusion of bibliometrics and other indices brought from marketing. Written by a mathematician, this column is not directed against statistics and the Big Data revolution, but rather the myth that everything can be measured and quantified. (There was also a pointer to a tribune against the pseudo-recruiting of top researchers by Saudi universities in order to improve their Shanghai ranking but I do not have time to discuss it here. And now. Maybe later.)

Microsoft wrote me an email

Posted in University life with tags , , , on November 23, 2011 by xi'an

I received the following and unsolicited email today from Microsoft Research:

Dear Christian,
Microsoft Research would like to tell you about Microsoft Academic Search (MAS) a search engine to explore publications, authors, conferences, journals and their relationships. Based on our data mining algorithm and data on the web, MAS has aggregated some of your information here.
This is our initial coverage into such academic area, we understand that our coverage is very limited, therefore the aggregated information might not be 100% correct or complete. We are working on finding and processing more data, better name disambiguation, and other enhancements. While you’re here, please check out interactive features like relationship path, and public APIs if you’re interested in using our data set in your research work.
We would love to hear your thoughts about how MAS can help your research and work. It would be great if you can take some time to fill out this short anonymous survey.
Best regards,
Microsoft Academic Search Team

which I find rather astounding. In the sense that the MAS team is basically asking me to correct the inaccuracies in a bibliometric tool I am not interested in! (The link to the survey was not working, not that I was particularly excited in answering! And there is no direct way to correct the information contained in the file, as opposed to google scholar citations…)