Archive for University of California Berkeley

the exponential power of now

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2020 by xi'an

The New York Times had an interview on 13 March with Britta Jewell (MRC, Imperial College London) and Nick Jewell (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine & U of C Berkeley), both epidemiologists. (Nick is also an AE for Biometrika.) Where they explain quite convincingly that the devastating power of the exponential growth and the resulting need for immediate reaction. An urgency that Western governments failed to heed, unsurprisingly including the US federal government. Maybe they should have been told afresh about the legend of paal paysam, where the king who lost to Krishna was asked to double rice grains on the successive squares of a chess board. (Although this is presumably too foreign a thought experiment for The agent orange. He presumably prefers the unbelievable ideological rantings of John Ioannides. Who apparently does mind sacrificing “people with limited life expectancies” for the sake of the economy.) Incidentally, I find the title “The exponential power of now” fabulous!


Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2019 by xi'an

A very interesting piece about prison abolition in the NYT. Centering on Ruth Wilson Gilmore an US advocate for the abolition of prison sentences and a geographer at Berkeley. Interesting because the very notion of abolition sounds anathema to many and I rarely meet people sharing the conviction that prison sentences are counter-productive, often in a major way. And not only at a philosophical (à la Foucault) or utopian (à la Thomas More) level, quite the opposite in that Gilmore also fight all the myths attached to incarcerated populations in the US, from the inmates being most non-violent drug traffickers to them being relatively innocent, to them being mostly black, to them providing cheap labour… The article also draw a convincing parallel between the sharp rise in incarceration and desindustrialisation in the 1970’s. (And also the rise in the incarceration rhetoric as a political campaign cheap argument.) And the way Gilmore (along with Angela Davis) involves the local communities against the building of new jails based on local needs rather than philosophical or ethical arguments… She clearly has an impact at this local level, but it is harder to see whether the society as a whole is moving towards different and more efficient and more productive ways of handling crime and violence.

Nature tea[dbits]

Posted in Books, pictures, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2019 by xi'an

A very special issue of Nature (7 February 2019, vol. 556, no. 7742). With an outlook section on tea, plus a few research papers (and ads) on my principal beverage. News about the REF, Elsevier’s and Huawei’s woes with the University of California, the dangerous weakening of Title IX by the Trump administration, and a long report on the statistical analysis of Hurricane Maria deaths, involving mostly epidemiologists, but also Patrick Ball who took part in our Bayes for Good workshop at CIRM. Plus China’s food crisis and ways to reduce cropland losses and food waste. Concerning the tea part(y), a philogenetic study of different samples led to the theory that tea was domesticated thrice, twice in Yunnan (China) and once in Assam (India), with a divergence estimated at more than twenty thousand years ago. Another article on Pu-Ehr, with the potential impacts of climate change on this very unique tea. With a further remark that higher altitudes increase the anti-oxydant level of tea… And a fascinating description of agro-forestry where tea and vegetables are grown in a forest that regulates sun exposure, moisture evaporation, and soil nutrients.

Charles M. Stein [1920-2016]

Posted in Books, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2016 by xi'an

I have just heard that Charles Stein, Professor at Stanford University, passed away last night. Although the following image is definitely over-used, I truly feel this is the departure of a giant of statistics.  He has been deeply influential on the fields of probability and mathematical statistics, primarily in decision theory and approximation techniques. On the first field, he led to considerable changes in the perception of optimality by exhibiting the Stein phenomenon, where the aggregation of several admissible estimators of unrelated quantities may (and will) become inadmissible for the joint estimation of those quantities! Although the result can be explained by mathematical and statistical reasoning, it was still dubbed a paradox due to its counter-intuitive nature. More foundationally, it led to expose the ill-posed nature of frequentist optimality criteria and certainly contributed to the Bayesian renewal of the 1980’s, before the MCMC revolution. (It definitely contributed to my own move, as I started working on the Stein phenomenon during my thesis, before realising the fundamentally Bayesian nature of the domination results.)

“…the Bayesian point of view is often accompanied by an insistence that people ought to agree to a certain doctrine even without really knowing what this doctrine is.” (Statistical Science, 1986)

The second major contribution of Charles Stein was the introduction of a new technique for normal approximation that is now called the Stein method. It relies on a differential operator and produces estimates of approximation error in Central Limit theorems, even in dependent settings. While I am much less familiar with this aspect of Charles Stein’s work, I believe the impact it has had on the field is much more profound and durable than the Stein effect in Normal mean estimation.

(During the Vietnam War, he was quite active in the anti-war movement and the above picture from 2003 shows that his opinions had not shifted over time!) A giant truly has gone.