Sunday, July 30, 2006

Competition among scientists

I read the articles linked to on Nanopolitan under
`Just how competitive can scientists get.' It is unfortunate some
commentators have sought to read meaning into the fact that
the junior would-be colleague was a woman and the
curmudgeon was a man. I think gender has nothing to do
with it. There could just as well have been a gender reversal
between a junior colleague and the curmudgeon. There is
no need to bring in these superfluous things.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Violence against women

The media is full of the awful story about the murder of
this young woman who worked at a call-centre in
Bangalore, by a colleague and perhaps one time friend.
The amazing thing is the casual manner in which this
horrific crime has been committed. One would wonder
what could have driven this man to do this; the chances
of not getting caught were nil. Of course one does not
know how well-connected he is, and our own experience
with the countless crimes shows that the well-heeled will
probably get away with it. It must have been the massive
ego of this guy which led him to do this, as the media says
that the poor woman was not interested in him, etc..
However, there is one thing that one cannot avoid here.
Why are women, irrespective of class always the victims
of such terrible violence in our society? I am sure the
media is to blame for making violence, especially against
women acceptable. I don't know of any other society
that has had to invent phrases such as 'eve-teasing',
'dowry-deaths', increasingly 'acid-attacks'. Have you
ever known a woman to have carried out an acid-attack
against a man?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Language and the middle-east conflict

Nothing has horrified me more than the terrible devastation of the
war in the middle-east. No less sickening is the total media control,
especially on CNN and BBC, where I almost never find any views from
from the Palestinian or Lebanese side being heard. I must, however,
confess that things are so sickening that I am not watching much TV.
However, the following stuck to my mind and I dug out the transcript
from the following source from which I quote:

JAN EGELAND: It's destruction in block after block - mainly
residential areas. I would say that this seems to be an excessive
use of force in an area with so many civilians.

REPORTER: And if it's excessive use of force, that makes it a war crime?

JAN EGELAND: It makes it a violation of humanitarian law.

According to my table-top New Pocket Oxford Dictionary,

crime n. an offence against an individual or the state which is punishable by law

According to my online dictionary:

war crime n. Any of various crimes, such as genocide or the mistreatment of prisoners of war, committed during a war and considered in violation of the conventions of warfare.

So, why is Egeland so coy about referring to what is going on
as a war crime? Probably because if he does, then Israel would
have to be brought to court? Or is it that war crimes can only
be committed by the Rwandans, Burundians, by Charles Taylor of
Liberia, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and never by the
Israelis? Enquiring minds want to know.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Project Euclid

Due to limited subscriptions, I often write to my friend Ms. Josiane Moll,
who was the librarian at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, University
of Lausanne when I was a post-doc there, to send me copies of papers.
Recently I needed one from Communications in Mathematical Physics
and she sent it to me, and also informed me of this wonderful new service
called Project Euclid and I quote from their page:

Project Euclid is a user-centered initiative to create an environment for the effective and affordable distribution of serial literature in mathematics and statistics. Project Euclid is designed to address the unique needs of independent and society journals through a collaborative partnership with scholarly publishers, professional societies, and academic libraries.

In particular, one can now download free all papers upto 1996 from Comm. Math. Phys..

I wonder if there is such a service in physics as well.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Students going abroad for studies

One of my good students expressed his wish to apply abroad
for his Ph. D.. In other words, he wants to go after his M. S.
requirements are finished, although he could have stayed on
for his Ph. D.. While it is personally disappointing, since it
is so hard to find even half a good student, it is understandable
from his point of view. Even a mid-sized American University
would have a far larger faculty selection than we have and
the number of areas represented will be greater. There is also
the probably of picking and choosing from a huge variety of
experimental and observational programs each of which would
be desperate for good students. There is, of course, one more
thing. Any good student will notice that even if he or she wanted
to work in one of our 'better' research Institutes, it might be easier
to find such a position with a U. S. Ph. D. followed by a French
or German post-doc or two. So one has no choice but to wish
such students 'bon voyage'.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The NYT Standard Model article

Couple of friends forwarded the NYT Standard Model (SM)
to me, which is linked to the Interactions site
including Abi. Thanks very much for the article.
The author has referred to the SM as a gilded cage.
Be that as it may, does it really mean that this is
the end of the road? There are so many problems
of the SM that have to be solved, or are probably
too hard to solve. How about the old 'confinement
problem' (here's a review)? I read an article in the
CERN courier about the recent measurement of the
B-meson decay constant, a quantity that was earlier only
'determined' on the lattice. Now the experiment finds that
it is in agreement with the lattice determinations. Can one say
that when Maxwell discovered his equations for
electromagnetism, it was a gilded cage? After all
what Maxwell did for E&M, the inventors of the SM
did for electro-weak and the strong interactions. Perhaps
it will be a long wait before something new is found,
but in the meantime, it would be a good idea to figure
out what the shape and size of the gilded cage is,
whether there are any escape routes out of it, or is it
a part of a bigger cage? We have not lost hope.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Work, finish, publish

As promised in my previous post, here are a few priceless
thoughts on publishing. Publishing as a process of
creativity, summary of work done, expression of results
obtained and as a method of accounting to the public
why research should be supported. This is not about
writing a large number of papers. I remember the late
K. V. L. Sarma of TIFR, one of my early teachers
at a summer school in 1985 first quoting Michael Faraday,
who said of research (?) 'work, finish, publish'. I don't know the
precise reason for his saying this, but I guess what he meant is that
if one does not publish the results obtained in some
research project, it sort of follows you around. Publishing
is probably the final denouement in our
trade, of a job well-done (?). Don't get me wrong: this
is not about serializing results, and reporting work
piecewise to pad up the list of publications, or to inflate
it. Today, they say that there are many checks and
metrics that will take care of this kind of activity.
I recently read somewhere about this famous biologist,
Nobelist in medicine, who did not bother much about
where his papers were published, if at all. He would
often publish in obscure journals or his work would
be circulating as faded mimeographed preprints. But
this is for the great guys, not for mere mortals. It is
important that one is able to publish sufficiently good
work in sufficiently prestigious journals. Don't get me
wrong: this is not about worshipping impact factors
and H-indices, but you know what I am saying. And
finally, about publishing in Research News section of
Current Science and Resonance. I think
we owe it to the general public to explain what the
important milestones in our field are. I make my own
humble efforts to carry out this mission.

Monday, July 03, 2006

A good day's work

I often wonder what could constitute a good day's work.
After all, one does not teach much. The typical load
is 1 every 2 semesters. I have been teaching this first
course of nuclear and particle physics. I always learn
something when I do it. It is an example of applying
quantum mechanics to 'real systems'. Good students
should think of it as an opportunity to apply what they
learn in their QM I and II. Here, it is not just working
with square wells and boxes. It is also a case where
one can actually use scattering theory very effectively.
But I digress. Today's work was a good day's work
because I finished two different small projects. The
first to be finished was to finish was my contribution
to the conference proceedings for the
Linear Collider Workshop
, where I gave a talk.
When we had some summer students here, we had
worked very hard learning about the latest neutrino
experiments. We had decided to submit to
Current Science a Research News article on the
latest MINOS conclusions and to review other
experiments. Today, with the assistance of
Uma Sankar who is now a co-author we finished
it and submitted it to Current Science. That is
what I think is a good day's work. More on these
subjects (publishing, publishing in Current Science
and Resonance) later.