The manipulation of objectivity: an excellent demonstration

In a fine paper published today in the New York Times Amy Qin explained to the Readers of the journal how the struggle for scientific reputation drives scientists, this time from China, to publish fake research. Quantitative measures, specifically  impact factors  play the main role in career promotions. (What I believe is much better than promotion based on political loyalty).  “In June, Sichuan Agricultural University in Ya’an awarded a group of researchers about $2 million in funding after members got a paper published in the academic journal Cell.”. Why not? Cell has an impact factor 30, and I would like to believe that a journal with such a well-deserved long-term reputation still has a reliable peer review system. (We, editors of journals with much lower impact know very well how difficult to find reliable reviewers).

I think the key paragraph of the paper is this: “In America, if you purposely falsify data, then your career in academia is over,” Professor Zhang said. “But in China, the cost of cheating is very low. They won’t fire you. You might not get promoted immediately, but once people forget, then you might have a chance to move up.” The bad news is that fraud techniques are more and more sophisticated, but the banning from the participation in the scientific game for 99 years might have some repulsive power.

I might be too optimistic…

The “best” and the “most” mania

It is time now to discuss our love to ordered lists. BBC E-cyclopedia defines listmania as ”media obsession to categorise anything into lists, be they musical artistes, memorable sporting moments, quotations, words of the year etc etc”. A list of reasons are given why our brains and mind love lists. Believe or not (why not?) I spent six minutes to collect the list here starting from cnn and use at most one click:

  • 8 best Istanbul hotels
  • 5 ways you’re losing money without even realizing it
  • 7 best places to stay in Napa Valley
  • 12 amazing hotels perfect for animal lovers
  • The best photos from the solar eclipse
  • 10 of the best beaches near airports
  • 8 tips for surviving long flights
  • 4 questions to ask yourself before retiring .

Our brain process external information perceived by all of our sensory systems. The incoming information is useful only if we are able to comprehend, and lists help to organize new information. Many of us prepare To-Do lists. It is a prioritized lists of all the tasks that we need to carry out generally ”soon”. So, first we make a list of everything that we have to do, than make a ranked list with the most important tasks at the top of the list, and the least important tasks at the bottom. Actually it is not so simple to prepare a To-Do list, and the question is whether we have some ”best” algorithm of constructing one. There are different features of tasks we have to do it, say urgency, expected penalty for postponing, the time to should assign to do the job, etc. You certainly can not postpone to pick up your kid from the kindergarten. If your boss asks you to tell your quick opinion about a situation (maybe in a form of list) at noon, you will decide whether you do it before or after lunch (well, an eager beaver could do instead of lunch). Some people believe that a LONG To-Do list is the proof of their value and indispensability. Not speaking about the sad fact that cemeteries are full with indispensable people, successful people are able to outsource their tasks, as most famously Tam Sawyer did with the whitewashing of the fence.



The tragedy of being the SECOND best

”Feeling second best is probably the worst feeling in the world.” The Filipina American author Melissa de la Cruz wrote ”I’m tired of being your best friend. I’m tired of being second best. I won’t settle for that anymore. It’s all or nothing, Schuyler. You have to decide. Him or me.”

I can’t help it, I should go back to soccer, discussing the final of the soccer world cup in 1954, when Germany (that time West Germany won 3:2 against Hungary. While the West German football team’s World Cup win was a real turning point in post-war German history. The aftermath in Hungary is a particular illustration of the effect of a sport event in a poor country for politics.

Children bestseller writer (and attorney; it might be an excellent combination) Rachel Renée Russell in an article in Dork Diaries ”When you feel like you’re always second best” kick around the feelings of middle school girls:”I feel like I’m always second best. I’m always the backup friend, the third wheel. When my teachers tell us to get into pairs, I’m always the one left out. All my friends partner up, and I’m left standing there awkwardly. I’m sick of being everyone’s second choice. No matter how hard I try, I’ll never be good enough. Please help me!” RRR is ready with a possible answer ”So, what if instead of waiting, you picked someone yourself? What if instead of looking dejected, you plastered a big old grin on your face, walked right up to someone before she could choose someone else, and said, “Want to pair up?!?”” Not only middle school girls have this problem: ”Being second is to be the first of the ones who lose” as the arguably the most influential Formula One driver Ayrton Senna (1960-1994).

Abel Kiviat was the 1,500m silver medalist in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. He supposed to win when Arnold Jackson ”came from nowhere” to beat him by a mere one tenth of a second. About 70 ((!!) years later, at age 91, Kiviat admitted in an interview: ”I wake up sometimes and say: ‘What the heck happened to me?’ It’s like a nightmare.”

The classic studies in psychology on Olympic medalists clearly state that silver medalists tend to be miserable because they’re comparing themselves to the gold medalists; bronze medalists, on the other hand, are comparing their outcome to those who came in fourth and beyond, and so they tend to be more pleased with themselves than the silver medalists — even though the silver-winners technically beat them. The men’s epee individual competition in the Olympic in Rio de Janiero in 2016 is analyzed. I will tell details of the story in the book itself.

and the winner ….

The English author Kazuo Ishiguro has been named winner of the 2017 Nobel prize in literature, praised by the Swedish Academy for his “novels of great emotional force”, which it said had “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

With names including Margaret Atwood, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Haruki Murakami leading the odds at the bookmakers, Ishiguro was a surprise choice. ( The Guardian )

Who will win this year the Nobel prize in literature?

It is difficult to deny that Nobel prize can be identified with being ranked as #1.  Two days before the winner will be announced journalists are writing nice articles about the chances.  Chances – odds using the terminology  of betting – reflects  the “wisdom of crowd”, well, if you believe a gambler is wise… Historically Ladbrokes is known as a main betting firm founded in 1886.  Articles published today   in New Republic and  in The Guardian are based on the list of Ladbrokes.  The odds of the first three are:

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o 4/1
Haruki Murakami 5/1
Margaret Atwood 6/1.
Well, this are the so-called objective numbers…  Let’s wait two more days.


The Best & Worst Places for Expats in 2016

As you already know I am spending some reasonable (?) time to uncover the applied  methodologies behind different ranking procedures. Here is a  survey about ranking countries from the perspective of expats.  I am not sure why, 67 countries are listed only. The long survey describes the methods and results. Here I copy the main findings only:


  • Taiwan named best expat destination in the world
  • Malta pushes Mexico off the podium
  • Taiwan and Malta perform well in all areas of expat life
  • Ecuador loses ground in terms of Working Abroad and Quality of Life
  • Kuwait, Greece and Nigeria remain last on the list

Personalized ranking?

Emmanuelle Tognoli in her kind comment suggested: As we develop computational literacy in the decades to come, perhaps we will adopt “personalized rankings” just like we do of “personalized medicine”: each and everyone will be able to weight the factors (rank=30% teaching + …) and write their own equations (or have a website write it for them with sliders) to see their unique customized rankings depending on their own priorities. 

I find her suggestion that  might lead to a method to set subjectively the parameters of an objective framework. As I see, two Korean scientists (Gae-won You and Seung-won Hwang published  already ten  years ago with the title: Personalized ranking: a contextual ranking approach .  I take the liberty to copy the abstract for further common thinking:

“As data of an unprecedented scale are becoming accessible on the Web, personalization, of narrowing down the retrieval to meet the user-specific information needs, is becoming more and more critical. For instance, in the context of text retrieval, in contrast to traditional web search engines retrieving the same results for all users, major commercial search engines are starting to support personalization, improving the search quality by adapting to the user-specific retrieval contexts, e.g., prior search history or other application contexts. This paper studies how to enable such personalization in the context of structured data retrieval. In particular, we adopt context-sensitive ranking model to formalize personalization as a cost-based optimization over context-sensitive rankings collected. With this formalism, personalization is essentially retrieving the context-sensitive ranking matching the specific user’s retrieval context and generating a personalized ranking accordingly. In particular, we adopt a machine learning approach, to effectively and efficiently identify the ideal personalized ranked results for this specific user. Our empirical evaluations over real-life data validate both the effectiveness and efficiency of our framework.”


A list of beautiful universities in the US

The 10 most beautiful universities in the US

There are many beautiful universities in the US.  As I am reading this list… how objective is the list? Of course, beauty is not necessarily objective, as we all know. How  will this list influence the number of applications next year? Do you know any other universities you would like to see on this list?

World University Rankings 2018: results announced

Here is a new list . If you try to understand the methodology reading public sources (as I do now), read. (Friend from CEU, you are not listed, since :universities are excluded from the World University Rankings if they do not teach undergraduates”.

“The Times Higher Education World University Rankings are the only global performance tables that judge research-intensive universities across all their core missions: teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook. We use 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons, trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments.”

Of course, there are out of blue weighting factors. As concerns the large categories, their numerical values were set as:

Teaching (the learning environment): 30%

Research (volume, income and reputation): 30%

Citations (research influence): 30%

International outlook (staff, students, research): 7.5%

Industry income (knowledge transfer): 2.5%.

If you dig a little deeper you will see the role of reputation surveys.

Dear Reader: How do you see the adopted method from the perspective of objectivity-subjectivity?





How to lead the popularity list? Own a soccer ball!

[I take the liberty to copy the first two paragraphs of the book to illustrate my recollection to a story how a a class of boys in the elementary school answered unanimously for the question ’Who is your best friend?”]

It is not possible to play soccer if you don’t have a ball! But we had one! We played! I grew up in Budapest (well, in Pest and not in Buda, as my wife did; but I promised her not to make jokes anymore about the cultural differences in the two parts of the city) soon after the war. The elementary school had students (actually boys; no co-ed existed that time) from Angyalföld, (the now disappearing working class’ Land of Angels) and Újlipótváros (‘New Leopold Town’) particularly popular among middle-class intellectual citizens of Jewish origin. While there was an obvious social contrast in the background of our parents, (and I don’t speak here about the sad family stories hidden by their (well, our) parents from the New Leopold Town kids), the love of soccer bridged the gap. In the early nineteen-fifties Hungary had the worlds’  best soccer team led by Ferenc Puskás, whose left foot made him one of the greatest players of all time. This book is about ranking, and I think I share the opinion of many others, who believe that he was one of the two best-known Hungarians of the 20th century (Béla Bartók is arguably the other). The Hungarian team was unbeaten during thirty three games from 1950-1954 and the run ended in the 1954 World Cup final in a historical loss against West Germany (it was the first big postwar success of the new Germany). I will go back to this story later analyzing the sadness of being second best. So, soccer was extremely popular, almost all of us played almost every day for eight years.

But now we are in a classroom of forty boys. ”Who is your best friend?” – we had to write the answer for the question asked by our teacher. Thirty seven votes went to Péter Erdélyi. He had a wonderful sense of humor, but it was not the reason of his big win. His dad was a director of a state owned (what else?) company called ”Cultural articles” dealing with expensive soccer balls. Well, we lived in a poor country, so everything which manufactured was expensive. So, Péter was the only boy in the class who had a real soccer ball…

Please note, that a teacher asked us, and our answers were anonymous. We really were so thankful to have the chance to play with a real soccer ball, that we felt Péter was our best friend. No doubt he led the popularity list in the whole year.