Month: October 2012

Nonsense paper accepted by mathematics journal

Last month That’s Mathematics! reported another landmark event in the history of academic publishing. A paper by Marcie Rathke of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople had been provisionally accepted for publication in Advances in Pure Mathematics. ‘Independent, Negative, Canonically Turing Arrows of Equations and Problems in Applied Formal PDE’…

Each of these sentences [of the paper] contains mathematical nouns linked by the verbs mathematicians use, but the sentences scarcely connect with each other. The paper was created using Mathgen, an online random maths paper generator. Mathgen has a set of rules that define how papers are arranged in sections and what kinds of sentence make up a section and how those sentences are made up from different categories of technical and non-technical words. It creates beautifully formatted papers with the conventional structure, complete with equations and citations but, alas, totally devoid of meaning. Nate Eldredge – the blogger behind That’s Mathematics! – wrote Mathgen by adapting SCIgen, which does something similar for computer science. Papers generated by SCIgen have been accepted for publication at academic conferences and journals that claim to carry out peer review.

The article is here and it also excerpts from the referee reports, for instance:

We can’t catch the main thought from this abstract. So I suggest that the author can reorganise the descriptions and give the keywords of this paper.

For the pointer I thank Mark Thorson.

Solve for the equilibrium

An environmental entrepreneur whose plan to dump iron in a patch of the Pacific Ocean was shelved four years ago after a scientific outcry has gone ahead with a similar experiment without any academic or government oversight, startling and unnerving marine researchers.

…The entrepreneur, Russ George, said his team scattered 100 tons of iron dust in mid-July in the Pacific several hundred miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaii, in northern British Columbia, in a $2.5 million project financed by a native Canadian group.

The story is here.

Italy estimates of the day

• According to the IMF’s economic data, Italian corruption losses are larger than the national economy of Serbia, which it ranks 76th in the world at $78.7 billion.

• This new economy would be roughly equivalent to the GDP of Italy’s eastern neighbor, Croatia.

• In 2011, the Italian government spent $1.112 trillion and brought in $1.025 trillion, a gap it could close almost entirely by recovering estimated corruption losses for that year.

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank Jonathan Weinhagen.

*Glittering Images*, the new Camille Paglia book

The subtitle is A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars and according to Paglia “The format of the book is based on Catholic breviaries of devotional images, like Mass cards of the saints.”

It presents powerful works of art and tells the reader to submit to them; for that alone it is better than most other books.  The influence of Harold Bloom, Paglia’s earlier teacher, is strong throughout.  The interpretations seem unsure as to whether they are summaries or revelations, bold challenges to orthodoxy or obvious truths.  I am glad I bought the book but still my itch for the Paglia of Sexual Personae — say the Edmund Spenser chapter (the book’s highlight in my view) — remains unscratched.

Here is Paglia on George Lucas, an excerpt from the latter part of the book.  I do not feel the need to criticize her main claim (Lucas is the greatest artist of our time), still her obsession with mythology and cinematographic technique to me misses the import of Lucas’s saga of glorious collapse, discussed only briefly, though I do like this bit: “Lucas crosscuts to the delirious destruction on Coruscant of the Great Rotunda of the Galactic Senate, with its thousand round balconies in cool tonalities of gray and black. This twinned ruination of industrial and political architecture is an epic Romantic spectacle…”

Recommended, but we are still waiting for the last three installments of Camille’s ouevre.

Mark Bittman on the food plan

He writes:

But there is no national food policy that says, for example, the United States will consume one billion pounds of almonds in the next year, so let’s grow 1.5 billion and there’s plenty for export. Let’s not plant 2.5 billion because that land could be used for tomatoes or something else. I mentioned it to my editor and we agreed that it sounds a bit Stalinist.

[Interviewer] Talk about politically toxic.

Right! But that aside, why would you not want to talk about what’s the best thing for the future of the United States? I would argue that the answer is not what amounts to an anarchic market of a million individuals deciding what they want to plant and then having this dogma that the market will decide. Growing a lot of almonds and exporting them to China is not the end of the world, but I do think that when you look at the Midwest, where the vast majority of land is used to raise corn or soybeans used for feeding industrially raised animals or producing corn syrup for junk food, really is. It is something that is not going to change until we say that land is too valuable to us to be used that way. We need more diverse and regional agriculture. What harm would there be in making a plan?

Mark Bittman has done some of the best writing about cooking which the human race has produced, ever, and he has done it repeatedly and on a large scale, toss in writing on food travel as well.  This discussion is…less good than that.

The link is here, and I thank Daniel for the pointer.

The origins of kimchi in Korea

Many would be surprised to discover that this seemingly traditional food was in fact first developed in the late 19th century.  Also, the most important ingredient of kimchi, red pepper, was first introduced to Korea in the early 17th century through either China or Japan.  The import of cabbage in the late 19th century from China explains the rather late emergence of cabbage kimchi.

That is from Seoul: A Window into Korean Culture, a very good book by Choi Joon-sik.

Assorted links

Sheila Bair’s new book

I put this one in the jaw hits floor category, and for more than one reason.  (Sheila ran the FDIC during the financial crisis and her book is titled Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from Itself).

The book is remarkably full of information and substantive narrative.  Few books pack in so much and I mean this in a very positive way.  I learned something on virtually every page, even after having read many of the other crisis books.

Yet her running claim that she had a plan to end the bailouts, or abolish “Too Big To Fail” is absurd.  (Though most of these people do.)  She should be presenting only the more modest argument that it would have been better to distribute more losses on creditors, which indeed she did advocate.  Her narrative overreaches by a long mile.

Second, to a remarkable degree, she sees everyone else in the process as filled with fault and herself as never at fault.  She has zero qualms about ceaselessly flinging mud out the rear view mirror, and does so for even the tiniest and pettiest of squabbles, including ones the readers never knew or cared about.  Geithner by the way is villain number one but no one else on the scene matches her virtue and common sense and scarcely a page flies by when we are allowed to forget this.

She is beloved of sentences such as “Maybe the boys didn’t want Sheila Bair playing in their sandbox.”  Who am I to say she is wrong?  Reading this book now I know why!

This is arguably the most _______ book I  have read, ever, and I am still looking for the right word to fill in that blank.  It is in any case stunning.

From yesterday’s media, here is Sheila celebrating the departure of Vikram Pandit from Citibank.  I do support full free speech rights, but still I feel queasy when former top-ranking government officials — who have been privy to lots of inside knowledge — speak out on such specific matters and in such a negative way on particular individuals and firms, as opposed to making broader policy recommendations.  What are now the incentives for CEOs negotiating with the FDIC or for being honest with regulators the next time around?  Former government leaders and regulators should not be settling personal scores in public to such an extent.  Do you see many other accomplished statespeople doing the same?

This tract is a performance of terror, in good and bad ways.  Few books will teach you more about the politics of bureaucracy and regulation, though not exactly as the author intends.

Median illusions?

From Brad DeLong:

In the past couple of months I have gone pretty much every place I ever went between when I was 15 in 1975 and when I was 25 in 1985. Every place–every place–looks a lot better, richer, a lot busier now than it looked then. How can this be if it really is the case that media and living standards of stagnated since the early 1970s? They are not all 1% or even 10% places, not now and especially not then.

One answer is that between 1975 and 1985 I never went to Scranton or Detroit–but instead to places like Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Cambridge, Virginia Beach, greater Orlando, Park Slope, the Lower East Side, the Upper West Side, Jackson Hole, and other places some of which are top 1% places and the others of which are all urban edge Renaissance places benefiting mightily from increased congestion.

Another answer is that not just average income but density of economic activity matters–more dense places look more prosperous because there are more choices. But then shouldn’t the number of choices be factored into our estimates of the median?

But the answer I prefer right now is that our assessment of the prosperity of a place depends on the median dollar spent there rather than on the well-being of the median person there. And practically everywhere the median dollar today is being spent by somebody much richer with much richer tastes than the median dollar some 32 years ago was.

Or perhaps our estimate of economic growth are undershooting reality–even given that you see few signs of the computer and communications revolution out there on the street…

He and I share the same preferred answer.   I would add that, when walking around, we don’t “see” the higher prices for medical care and education in the same manner that we see the new plenty of electronics and espresso shops.

Where oh where are they?

Bringing the search for another Earth about as close as it will ever get, a team of European astronomers was scheduled to announce on Wednesday that it had found a planet the same mass as Earth’s in Alpha Centauri, a triple star system that is the Sun’s closest neighbor, only 4.4 light-years away.

Here is more.  Planets, planets everywhere…

Michael Pollan on Proposition 37

I am a big fan of the food writings of Michael Pollan, but his recent opinion piece on GMO labeling could be stronger.

His argument for voting “yes” on mandatory labeling is mostly mood affiliation, namely that this is part of some broader battle against “Big Food.”  He doesn’t for instance consider how the Proposition may damage many smaller farmers, or that GMOs seem to lower carbon emissions and otherwise help the environment.  Here is yet another discussion of benefits, or see this survey post.

His final and in fact main argument contains a simple error in economics, all too common among food writers:

…to date, genetically modified foods don’t offer the eater any benefits whatsoever…

He forgot to mention that they increase supply and lower price.  Quick question: how did the GMO products otherwise obtain market share?

For the pointer I thank Michael.

Eric Maskin on Patents

From a letter to the NYTimes:

… in the software industry, progress is highly sequential: progress is typically made through a large number of small steps, each building on the previous ones. If one of those steps is patentable, then the patent holder can effectively block (or at least slow down) subsequent progress by setting high license fees.

Moreover, like any other monopolist, it has the incentive to set such fees.

Thus, in an industry with highly sequential innovation, it may be better for society to scrap patents altogether than try to tighten them.

ERIC S. MASKIN
Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 8, 2012

The writer, a professor of economics at Harvard, is a 2007 Nobel laureate in economics.