Personal Musings

This blog is intended to be just a jumble of thoughts that hit me and need not necessarily mean anything.

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Location: Kerala, India

Water flows ...

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The advent of the Post-Intelligence era

How many men does it take to change a light bulb? One for reporting that the bulb needs to be changed, one for allocating money for the bulb, one for counting the money and handing over money, one for buying a new bulb, one for removing the old bulb, one for inserting the new bulb, one to verify that a bulb has been changed, one to supervise the bulb has been changed, one for backup just in case any of the above didn’t do their job, one to recruit all these people, one to oversee everyone worked, one to pay for all these people. Whooh!

In the past, one person could change the world. We had the Gandhis, the Mandelas, the Shivajis, the Marthanda Varmas who singlehandedly changed the history of entire nation state. But all this was before Artificial intelligence(AI). When people started seeing how useful AI really is, they started realizing that many of the job profiles don’t actually do much work. Our own Rashtrapathi Bhavan, for instance, has a job termed “Cyclist” whose profile says carrying letters from the gate of the Presidential palace to the post office(PIN 110004) inside with a monthly salary of more than 8000 and perks. A typical organization has 2-5 levels of managers whose only job is to ensure that the rest of the people do their job.


In the meanwhile, AI was evolving to become better at doing tasks one at a time. The assault of AI started with games(chess, Go, etc.), continued on to mundane office work, and has now already matured enough to replace job profiles from receptionists to software engineers! The advent of cloud computing, Internet of things and Big data, the magic trio, has transformed computing to an entirely new level. Industry 4.0 has ensured that productivity has increased manifold while bringing down the labor required. So what about the people who are losing job? Universal basic income-- the idea that every citizen is paid a fixed amount replacing all the subsidies-- is gaining traction among both socialists/left-liberals and capitalists. So how much money are we talking about. In India, the median monthly incomes of the five income quintiles are roughly 3000, 5000, 8000, 11000, 13000 respectively. The top 5 percentile makes about 18000 pm on an average. If we assume a payout of 10000pm, the outlay works out to 8 lakh crores! And that’s per month!



So how many do we need to change a bulb? With AI and robotics around, its probably NONE. But, the real question is: what kind of job would the rest of us do?

Open up: Life is good

We are often blinded by our own preconceived notions. Here’s how.

There was once a crow that got separated from his friends. He saw an empty pond and landed near it. Unsure about dangers of this unknown pond, he hesitated to go near the pond. He saw a rabbit come near the pond. It too hesitated and left without drinking water. A monitor lizard came running near the pond. It stopped, looked at the crow, and then returned back. A little while later, a crocodile came walking. It briefly entered the pond and then continued walking straight. Seeing so many animals avoiding the pond, the crow thought that the water in the pond had some problem and flew away.

After flying for a couple of hours, the crow saw one well around which lots of birds were sitting. It landed there and used its crowd handling skills to reach near the water. There was only a little water. The crow somehow managed to quench its thirst. Afterwards, it joined the regular chatter with the other birds. While in passing, it mentioned about the pond that it skipped. Listening to this, a stork told it, “What stupidity did you do? That was the best pond for us birds in this whole area. The bottom of that pond is so bad that no crocodile or lizard, not even a hare goes to that pond!”

The crow understood its mistake.

The crow missed drinking from the best pond because it had started with doubting the quality of the
pond. All later observations only added to its bias. In real life too, we often start with similar
preconceived positions and fail to reap rewards. So, next time when you enter a new situation, try to
openly meet the situation.

Electrification: past and future

Electrification in India recently came into focus, courtesy the Saubhagya initiative of the Government of India(GoI). Let us try to see where we stand over the years. In 1947, only about 1500 villages were electrified. Now, we are talking about 5.8 lakh village electrified. Where does our rural electrification stand today? 99.25% covered. In 1947, the installed capacity was 1362 MW. By August 2017, the total installed capacity has jumped up to 3,29,226 MW. Over the past 70 years, our installed capacity has been growing at a compounded annual growth rate(CAGR) of 8.15%. (For comparison, our GDP has grown by approximately 7.6%.) Another interesting statistic is the per capita consumption of electricity: 16.3 units in 1947, 1075 units in 2016. A CAGR of 6.25%.  In terms of per capita consumption, we don’t stand that well. In USA its 12,077; in European Union: 5,391.  

GoI is a continuum, even though the members of the cabinet change periodically. When we started, we did not have much of a grid to talk about. The administrations over the last 70 years have worked tirelessly to bring near 100% energy connectivity. Our per capita consumption has been steadily increasing despite our near 10% decadal growth of population. In the meanwhile, energy profile is also changing. An LED bulb of just 9W can replace a 60W incandescent bulb, and last four times more.  The brushless DC motors are bringing down energy need for fans and motors. The current focus on distributed power(Solar initiative) is trending towards meeting all energy needs with 12V DC powered by local renewable resources. These are exciting times for engineers of all streams to improve the quality of life of the common man in India. 

(Article word limit was 300. This article is soon to appear in Newsletter. All views expressed are personal. )

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

A working immigration

Any country that has at least a small part of its workforce filled by non-citizens need to ask a simple question: why are so many foreigners working in my land? I am not entering the domain of xenophobia. This is really a simple question to understand about job availability in the country.

People may immigrate specifically because they are getting a better pay than their native. People may come for higher studies and just kept on extending their stay. Then there are asylum seekers, running away from war or political oppression. As a nation, only the last category is a responsibility(under humanitarian grounds).

Why would you ant to let other people enjoy a better quality of life in your place while some citizen is suffering due to their presence? The best way is to ensure that all people who stay and earn in your land pay the privilege for having a better quality of life. Why can't all the immigrant pay 10% more taxes than a normal citizen as a premium for the privilege of being allowed to work in a place with better quality of life? A flat immigrant tax can also be applied to asylum seekers after they have stayed in peaceful surroundings for an year. This should prevent people who immigrate under the pretext of one thing or the other but were only interested to earn more than their home nation.

Nothing wrong in Immigration, as  long as it's legal, they pay taxes, they don't eat too much of the welfare schemes.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

New Financial Year.

First of all, a very happy new year.  No, I am not talking about a new calendar year. Today marks the beginning of the new Financial Year(FY17-18). In salaried man's terms, this is the year that we use for taxation purposes. (This use of a different financial year that starts at an awkward April 1 is just ludicrous. We should either start the fiscal year with the beginning of Gregorian year or with the start of the Saka year. But this is a different discussion.)

Most of you have just somehow managed to complete the tax requirements for the last FY, FY16-17 for which we will file returns in another 2-3 months. If you were like me in my younger years, you will probably have no money, not much bank balance to talk about, extra deductions  from salary in the last two months to ensure correct TDS has been deducted and mostly cursing yourself for spending too much money in the last two months. Can we decide to not repeat the mistakes for this new year.

Most of us have very badly timed insurance payments. We all have "helped" a friend meet his targets at the end of financial year. The amount is going to be small, but there would be so many LIC(it's usually LIC) policies. There is bound to be the last minute PPF payment, then an emergency 5-year tax saving FD just to cover up.

Why haven't I talked about ELSS? AFAIK, no colleague of mine have an ELSS.

Commonsense says, you are only going to pay a 10 or 20%  tax. It's cheaper to pay Rs. 20,000/- as tax rather than locking one-and-half lakh in some longer term deposit. I had a friend who used to be in perpetual fiscal trouble, who just paid the tax. Ten years later, all his loans had shifted to Bank loans instead of personal loans from relatives. For a person like him, it made more sense to payback high interest loans(what we call as blade rates). For such cases, it's just cheaper to pay taxes.

Rest of us can resolve to be a bit more prudent from this fiscal year.

PPF is one of the best places to park your money and reduce your taxes. This article talks a bit about PPF and why it's coveted. The article also talks about the new changes. Earlier PPF rates used to be fixed for the whole year. Now, the PPF rates are going to be revised every quarter. Basically, it makes more sense to put money in PPF at least once in three months now instead of paying everything in February or March. I have a friend who puts money every month. He says that its easier that way as money is automatically transferred via a standing instruction(SI). Best savings according to him are the ones that you yourself aren't that aware of. In my case, I put a Rs 5000/- earlier in the year, and additional amounts almost every quarter after my regular finance review.

Spread your insurance payments evenly throughout the year. If you choose quarterly payment, you might end up paying more towards insurance. But it's better to pay once three months instead of bearing the whole burden in one month. If you had bought too many insurance policies, converting it to a quarterly policy sounds like commonsense. As far as insurance goes, please stick to term plans. They are cheaper, saves taxes. If you want to get back money, just go for term insurance+ELSS.

SIP, systematic investment plan, is one of the best ways to put money in Equity Linked Savings Scheme, aka ELSS. This another long term investment. The only difference is that you can take out money after it has been in the ELSS mutual fund for 3 years. With ELSS, if things go horribly wrong, you might end up losing a bit of money. You to be extremely unlucky to be forced to take money with a 40% loss, as it happened in the 2008-09 market crash. But, the thing is, if market didn't really crash like that in the initial time, you would never face any loss under any rate. ELSS is not for taking money out in 3 years. It's the only tax saving instrument where you have the ability to withdraw in 3 years. Ideally, ELSS is something where you put the money for a long term, at least 8-10 years.

These are just simple methods to avoid the February-March mad rush at least in the next calendar year.

As usual, this is just personal opinion. This is not an investment advice. I am not qualified to give any investment advice. There are great professionals (CFAs CFPs) who can help fix your financial plan for an appropriate fees. They take fees, so they are not going to spoil your investments. Reputation is their main asset, and they wont spoil it.
Disclaimer: I have a decent amount in PPF. I have one insurance that I need to pay in March, rest are in January and February. I put money in one ELSS, hoping to expand it to one more this fiscal. Last fiscal I put about as much as my usual PPF. Personally, I am a big fan of five year FDs. (I am super conservative. I dont mind a base FD in a PSB at any interest rate that is +/- 200 bps from inflation as long as i have a guarantee that money wont be lost.) 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Emergency Credit Score rating

All of you would have faced a panic situation when you want to know that you are not declared a Vijay Mallya(Sorry Mallyaji, you have become a synonym for NPA for commoners like us!). Maybe forgot to pay some loan for far too long. Maybe delayed paying credit card for some time. Maybe forgot that mail and kept postponing to next week as there was some other emergency payment to take care of. This article from their excellent DYK(Did You Know ) is another good introductory article regarding credit scores. Basically, good credit score means you can easily get those 30-second-loans at attractive interest rates. Bad credit score means that you will be kicked like a football before you get a loan approved, or alternatively, the lenders might charge you in-exorbitant rates.

This post is just a quick run through of how I and my friend saw our credit score using CIBIL. I am using CIBIL because this seemed to be the fastest way to get it as per an article in livemint. (Note of caution for using CIBIL: their T&C. I also got stupid ad mails in my inbox.)

Before we start, it's our right to have one free credit score report every financial year. it's free, so better get it before the financial year runs out by March 31st.

Register
First, go to:
www.cibil.com/freecreditscore

You will be asked your Name, DOB, PAN Card, etc.

And they have that irritating captcha to fill.

In my case, I immediately got an SMS with my CIBIL TransUnion score. (My mom raised me good :-) )  I already have an e-KYC. I have already given away a lot of personal details when i had created my trading account.

In the case of my friend, he was asked to enter his credit card details, his other loan details. The details asked were name of bank, credit card number, maximum loan amount approved for you so far in the recent past, total loan approved in the last one year. He had to take another fifteen minutes to hunt the details from his accounts and furnish details. After that, he got the SMS without any score.

Login - first time
We will get a mail with one time password from CIBIL. 
You have to login with your email address, this onetime password and a captcha to myCIBIL.
https://www.cibil.com/mycibil/

There is a reason why I am saying this. The moment you login, you will be taken to a password reset page where you will be asked to enter new password. After you submit, the CIBIL folks botch up a bit. You have to get back to the login page again, and login with your new password.


Finding the Report
Getting your score is straight forward. You can see your score. However, finding the report needs a bit of fiddling about. In your home page or dashboard as they would like to call it, look for View Report. This is the second tab, right next to Dashboard.

Now ask me, what's so tough if there is already a tab marked View Report. Well, you wont find a report when you click on the tab. What you have to do is look for a tab within this titled, Account Information.

In it, you will find a detailed report based on each credit source.
Credit card, name of bank, various dates(including date this information is certified).
Loan type, name of bank, loan account number, kind of loan,value, etc.

These people will only report data for last 36 months.

For credit card, they give 000 or XXX is all is well. Or else, they will mark the delay in payment.

In loans, they were putting some codes.

STD --standard: means Payments are made within 90 days.
If you dont repay within 90 days, they consider it as a Non Performaing Asset(NPA)
SMA --special mention account: things are going bad for this account
SUB--substandard: already the account has been made NPA for a year.
DBT--doubtful: its already 2 years since loan wasnt paid. marked substandard for a year
LSS-loss..... hope is gone that money will come back.

Another point to note: all adverse markings shall be noted in this report.

When suddenly you see a bad score, it really hurts. It feels like the way we have failed a paper for the first time.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The "private" matter

Do we, in India, have privacy? To be more explicit, is right to privacy a fundamental right?

What lawyers and judges will argue: Yes.

The reality: NO.

The Article 21 which is supposed to provide us privacy doesn't actually talk about privacy. An opinion piece by Chinmayi Arun on the The Hindu regarding the state of privacy is available here. Here is another article in legalservicesindia that talks about the history of privacy in India. What is clear is that we all believe that we have a right to privacy because the Supreme Court interpreted as such in a bunch of cases, and not because we actually have the right.

Suppose you gave permission for your child to go to a mall to watch a movie and "to also have food from the food court of the mall because he is anyways there". Your child understood the explicit permission granted by you to spend your money correctly. He goes to a movie and eats from the food court of that mall. Say, the next day he goes to buy a shirt from a shop in the mall. He grabs something to bite "because he is anyways there" in the mall. The question now is: did you allow the child to waste your money on a food by interpreting the exact words of your permission. Supreme Court said something, and the citizens interpreted that privacy is there. If Supreme Court says something else, will the right to privacy go? Or, has Supreme Court taken over the role of a benevolent dictator who grants their citizen some rights. We still live in a democracy, not a kritarchy(rule by judges).

The test of a fundamental right is not whether a person can fight for it and get it from a court. The test for it is whether the said right is possessed by him by default and only malicious intention can deny him that right. From this perspective, the right to privacy may be a sort of right we may deem to have. Any person who may want to deny that right can do so with impunity. The target of such a malicious person can't really do much about it, as they have to now prove that their liberty has been violated.

What is actually private and what is not private? Is 'not private' same as 'public'? Is not public same as 'private'? These are the questions that can't be answered because the right is written as a string of few words within some remote copy of a court order. Anyone asks me what is right to equality, we can just point to the articles 14 through 18 in the Constitution of India. But if you ask about privacy, there is no place to point out.

 With the advent of internet, things have become a bit more murky. The concept of identity online and identity in real world are entirely different. For identity in real world or an offline identity, there is a physical entity/person who maps directly with the identity. The physical person can be photographed, described, touched; basically, the physical senses can be used to ascertain the identity of the person. The online identity has no such mapping or means to validate. Online, the identity is just a handle. The knowledge/posession of a password or a login key is the only means to assert the identity of an online entity. Whoever knows the password of "OfficeOfRG", for example, is deemed to be the identity called "Rahul Gandhi". Whoever logs into a banking site using a username and the corresponding password is deemed to be the holder of the said bank account. Or, just because biometric identity stored against an Aadhar number matches with a person, it is assumed that the identity of a person is what the Aadhar database says it to be.

So, I could just go to the local centre to register myself as Indira Gandhi. The Aadhar database records my finger print and iris pattern, and puts my name as Indira Gandhi, a female. (And you guys know how easy it actually is. Remember, no one verified our identity when we went to get our Aadhar number.) I can now demand the GoI to give me one more LPG connection in the name of Indira Gandhi and gobble up all the subsidy. Worse, if I do any crime, I can say that its done by Indira Gandhi and not me because the finger print matches with Indira Gandhi. Sorry for using first person to explain this, but the concept is basically simple: Aadhar is an identity of what the UIDAI wants it to be. Aadhar is not the National Population Register which keeps track of the citizens of India.  

Therein lies the problem.


Fix?

Well, basically insert an article which could be titled as "Right to Privacy" somewhere preferably near article 21, perhaps even as 21A. Make a law termed "Right to privacy law" whereby all definitions on what is deemed to be private, both in the physical world and in the online world, could be clearly defined.
We would also need an amendment to the 'Aadhar Bill' that says that Aadhar information if used for any government scheme(whether it be for GoI or for a government of the state or union territory or local governing body), must be confirmed with the physical identity of the person as well.




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This is a personal blog of the author. All opinions expressed are personal.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Predation of researchers and their research potential



Before you continue, please read themotivation for writing this post: the article  written by Sambit Dash. As usual, nothing i say is against the author per se. Again, this is a topic i am not usually vocal about, but i thought i will share a few thoughts. I may be more wrong than right.
That's it for the disclaimer part.
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What is observed

It seems that there is now literature(Seethaathy,SG; Santhosh Kumar,JU;Hareesha,AS, 2016) to prove that Indians ace in publishing in predatory journals(a.k.a paid journals). We now have numbers as well. Over 51% of papers published in such journals of poor quality is by Indians. The short conclusion by the authors: publication pressure and lack of monitoring are the main culprits for this fall in quality. If numbers is all you want, there is one more older article(Gupta, BM; Dhawan,SM, 2008) that talks about publishing count and all. Here is a pdf presentation about status of science and technology research in India, presumably from 2013. This post is to break this myth that numbers matter much when it comes to quality.

Let me state up front that I am not going to bring data from publisher's sites. I am only going to use all information I have gathered from personal communication over the last 15 years with various people to present the ideas. So, sorry. No reference for data.

Whipping a tortoise won't make it run fast

In the good old days, researchers--the people who actually grind it out in the labs/field, collecting all the data with sheer hard work, and publishing it--never had to worry about where they published. Most people used to publish their research work according to their budget in places where they deemed fit according to their understanding. During those times, doing PhD under a good place under a a great guide/supervisor/mentor is all that mattered. This was also the time when teachers(lecturers, readers, professors) taught in class. Research scholars were self-motivated by default to do Ph D. There was no necessity to do research, and hence whatever research used to happen used to be of good quality. This was the era when the word of the guide was enough to award a Ph D degree, teaching professions didn't demand publication count, and people with M.Sc could work in pharma labs and still make a decent living.

Then, the Government of India(GoI), started having ideas. GoI suddenly thought that research in India is not that great. There were only a handful of universities that were having good research work. Naturally, someone wanted to know how good our researchers are doing.  Here enters the bureaucracy.

The easiest to way to say how good something is is by picking something quantitative and comparing based on that. So, the babus asked the question: how much research is happening in India. No one had any real clue about what is happening where. In fact, the way our universities worked was really simple: somehow get some money allocated, spend the money allocated, ask for more money. If you lived in any university environment in any part of India, chances are that you have absolutely no idea what work is happening in the rest of the university. If you knew some good work, it's because that work came in the news somewhere. In fact for some interdisciplinary research, it was not uncommon to have two scholars working in different departments publishing papers in the same field but not knowing about it till they bump into each other later outside the university. So, when people wanted to quantify, they just asked the question: how many papers have you published in international journals.

GoI suddenly gave people a magical formula: publish in an International journal and you get branded as good researchers. The more you publish, the better researcher you become. Probably, that wasn't enough of a motivation, but the babus fixed what to measure. This PIB Note(Reply to Rajya Sabha by Minister of Science and Technology, Shri S Jaipal Reddy) basically explains what they have been doing and what's wrong with the whole exercise.

Another enlightened mind thought that Indians are not publishing because they are not suitably motivated. So, they just made PhD mandatory for getting an professor post. You know the way things work in India. There were some loopholes left for some extremely important people without PhD to get a promotion because, as you guessed it, they have worked too much for the university and obviously we cant expect a veteran to register for a PhD degree now. Looking at the way things stood, they just made it mandatory for even Assistant Professor posts to be filled by only people with PhD. (I am consciously omitting the currently-doing-PhD-part for brevity).

Now, what does PhD and teaching posts have got to do with quality publications? If you thought that this question is weird, it's OK. You will be among the 99.9999% of the people who naturally map research publication with professors in some university lab(wearing a white coat surrounded by test tubes). No one, especially in India, knows that most people don't teach in some university after getting a PhD. Even rarer people have heard about companies where they do research. Yes, I am talking about commercial entities who actually recruit people to solve real problems given to them by industry. And, NO, most of their recruits are usually smart graduates or post-graduates or graduates with years of experience.Do they publish research papers? Yes. But companies are more interested in patents than in papers. Patents have commercial value, peer-reviewed technical articles/papers don't have (unless it's a market-research company which can sell white papers to make money.) Of course, the babus in the ministry didn't know that research happened in lots of places.

So, the accountants in the ministry rightly argued that to manufacture more papers, we need more factories. Obviously, as making new factories(aka universities) is tough, we will just stack more machinery(aka professors) in existing factories. Then it dawned on them that most machinery are just outdated and not making papers as they first thought. Obviously, replacing them with machinery that can mass produce papers will be anti-labour. So, it's enough to mandate that all new machinery will enter job after they produce a few papers, and they will get career progression only if they continue to produce papers. (My apologies, if I unknowingly hurt anyone by using the analogy of machines.)

Another event happened in the meantime. The sudden demand for Indian engineers in software industry flooded the education market. IT/ITeS industry was happy about recruiting any engineering graduate. When they still had shortage, they started recruiting any graduate. This naturally resulted in the huge demand for teaching faculty. Private colleges started to crop up every where. When a college crops up, it has to be staffed by qualified teachers. That means, the overall demand for qualified teachers started rising. Basically, the government realized that if all the staff in all the colleges were mandated to come up with papers if they had to get a job, obviously the number of publications will increase.

Their logic was undeniable. And, like the VIKI of Asimov's 'I, Robot', the babus started giving more and more focus to numbers.

Apples from Peach tree

The rules were changed to give researchers in universities more incentives to publish papers. OK, let me be a bit more frank and open here. All existing and aspiring teachers were given the ultimaum: get a PhD degree by publishing journal papers or you won't get a job or promotions. They might as well have said: publish or kill yourselves. Leaving the dramatizations aside, the babus started truly believing that a change of rule will change the results. The final table with numbers will magically change by this "smart" rule they introduced. (How I wish they were taught about "process for the sake of process" in their training years.)

To quote from the script of Kung Fu Panda(2008)
 Oogway[points at peach tree]: Look at this tree, Shifu. I cannot make it blossom when it suits me, nor make it bear fruit before its time. 
Shifu: But there are things we *can* control. [kicks the tree so that peaches fallShifu: I can control when the fruit will fall! [he slices a peach and throws the pit to the groundShifu: I can control where to plant the seed! That is no illusion, Master! Oogway: Ah, yes. But no matter what you do, that seed will grow to be a peach tree. You may wish for an apple or an orange, but you will get a peach. 
The Shifu in the decision-making bodies think that quantity and quality of publications will magically improve because they are in control. But the truth is: you can't get apple from a peach tree. The good publications aren't going to come because the new rules demand publications.

Predators, please eat us

Publication count became important. The babus wanted an accounting entry. So, naturally, people started asking ways to mark the check box in this new laundry list. So, people started asking: how do we publish research papers.

It so happens that to publish a research paper, you need to have data. And, making authentic data takes time. But, unfortunately, in the mad rush to complete the course, meet family commitments, check answer scripts, do office politics to get the next increment, and umpteen other issues, the only thing that a typical researcher doesn't have is time.

Obviously, can't these teachers call some students and get some experimental work done by the students.

No. The students that we have in our classes are practically good for nothing. We never teach them creative thinking or problem evaluation in our written exam focused education system. Unless, you are going to spend time monitoring them, they can't think themselves to do the research work. And, time is what the researcher doesn't have.

The people who genuinely wanted to do research and get publications suddenly encountered a practical difficulty. Necessity is the mother of inventions. Indians invented International Journals. Not exactly invented, but they figured out that the system can be gamed.

"Babus, you want numbers. We will give you numbers," screamed the forced researcher. The enterprising among them spread the word that they know a journal in which publication is easy. No one will reject their paper because of grammar, or of technical rigor.    

More than predatory journals coming to India, the Indian forced researcher tried to get "International" journal started to cater to their needs. The cash-strapped private universities were not far behind. They suddenly found a new income source. Of course, if the Cambridges and MITs can have their own press, why not a poor Indian university.

Straw and the Camel's back

The job of a teaching faculty is to teach student. On top of that, they do the administrative work that the organization will naturally expect from them. And, there is going to be the hundreds of audits that they have to answer to. Probably, they have to spend more time doing paper work than interacting with students. And they have to spend more time monitoring the paper work than they would have spend making those papers in the first place. And, of course, they have to come up with quality publication; nothing less than a SCI-indexed journal.

All this has to be done with no time, no money and absolutely no motivation other than the sharp animal instinct of survival.

The problem with quality research is that it takes a lot of money. To do an experiment, you need quality equipment. If someone tells that there are free tools available, all i can retort is: just because they don't charge fees, would you send your own child to a government school. On top of the resources, we need an environment conducive of research. And, then there is the requirement of free time and a quality support team.

Without these, no amount of rules is going to change anything.

If the higher powers think that they would accept only publications meeting certain metrics, our compelled researchers are smart enough to get a journal meeting those metrics but with relaxed entry criteria.

All that has happened so far is adding one straw at a time atop the camel.

Is there a cure?   

I am among those who strongly believe that no one has the right to complain unless they can also suggest one plausible solution.

Let me first start with the toughest one. We need desperate reforms in our school education. There is already a shift towards outcome based education. Now, we need to change our school system to allow students to learn one skill at a time and move one. Ideally, we should have a set of exams where individual skills are tested, like can student add any two numbers, can a student interpret a graph, can a student identify the correct spelling of words, does the student have a vocabulary of N number of words, etc. The new test system must have provisions to check creativity, problem solving skills, ethics. Most importantly, respect the bell curve. India is a large country. Not all students are going to be good in all the subjects/skills. Some are going to be way above average, some shall be below average. 100% pass is as good as 100% failure. If a student got 100/100 marks, the test is broken.

Stop gobble up and vomit type questions in examinations. None of us are going to know everything when we go to work. There are many things we learn as we work, there are many things that even a person with 30-35 years experience doesn't know. Not all students can memorize tonnes of literature, and most of them are doing well when the have grown up. Once we stop this type of question, we can evaluate students based on their ability to respond to situations.

Start having separate research and teaching posts. Those in research posts can concentrate on guiding project students, students doing MS by Research(we desperately need this degree in every university department). Let those in teaching post be only judged by their teaching, and not by their research.

Change the funding method. The acceptance ratios in good conferences and journals is pretty low. Researchers must be motivated to take risks if they have to perform high quality research work. I am seriously for cheap loans for research and publication-based funding. Basically, let the researcher submit a proposal. If it sounds good(only to eliminate the obviously fake research proposals), give them an  interest concession coupon they can show to a bank. Let the people take loan and do research. Depending on where the work is published, the whole or a part of the loan can be paid by GoI. More than a large grant, most real researchers want working capital, and an assurance that they will at least get back the money they spend. Even those working with government funding roll most of the project money. Money for first project usually comes only when second project is about to get over. The fear of some bill that might get rejected will most likely be ruining their sleep. Even a separate Non banking finance company for the sole purpose of granting research loans is going to be great. Alternatively, GoI could mandate all companies to put some money from their Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) for underwriting such research. Trust me, many such loans will be defaulted. Researchers don't talk about the hundreds of times they failed. All they can write in their resume is the few times they succeeded.

Predation of researchers and their research potential

To conclude, let's not talk about the quantity or quality of research in India. The average researcher lacks basic resources, adequate funding and time, due to the way we have chosen to measure research. The predatory journals exist because our government policy had created a large market(an estimated Rs. 600 crore market according to some). The skewed policy has resulted in good research never happening. The large number of such papers getting published by mediocre researchers leads to a huge pressure on good researchers to publish in mediocre journals, which in turn promotes more people to publish in mediocre journals. "Publish or perish" is the norm in the world of research. Actually, not only are good researchers expected to publish but their work is also expected to get lots of citations. On top of such an international pressure, the normal researcher doesn't want the pressure of tonnes of junk publications by people forced to do research due to the GoI policy compulsions. Then there is the problem of huge skill deficit. We do not teach students to think because our question papers are meant to improve pass percentage, not testing creativity or problem solving skills. We publish less because our students are not taught to evaluate or create solutions. If we don't create the right kind of environment for research, predatory publications become the last resort to make ends meet. In War and Peace, it's said that the best general just allows the good captains to make the right decisions while making them believe that it was on order passed from above. The publish-or-perish culture is enough of a motivation for those on the top. For those who are not that good in research, it's better to use peer pressure to make them publish than to compel them to publish.


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The author is currently working as an Associate Professor in a reputed college. All opinions expressed are personal and in relation to the article published by Sambit Dash. None of the content expressed reflects the opinions of the author's current or previous employers.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ajay relived that dark night again.


Ajay relived that dark night again.



The night was cold. The turbulent winds behind the shack that called itself as a tea stall was even worse.

Fingers ran through the pack of cigarettes, plucked out one and transported it to the quivering lips. The other hand unconsciously traveled to the left side pant pocket, retrieved a match box. The fingers damp with perspiration still managed to take out a match stick, strike and light the cigarette in a single sweeping motion.

Cough! Cough!

Fingers could still travel like it used to do three decades ago, but the lungs doesn't take it like the past. The next puff filled the first urge that had filled his mind.

"Sir, aap ka chai!", the shop-keeper yelled.

Alternating between sips of hot tea and the cigarette that had re-entered his hands, he lived through the events again.
If only, he had just stuck with his plan to just have that one peg of whiskey. But, no! He had to go for that whole bottle. He had to talk about Neha. He had to brag.

The cigarrete burned his finger and he dropped it. Reality hit again. He quickly paid and rushed back to his car.

All he had to do was to say, "Sorry yaar, didn't know she was your wife."

No.

At least, he could have stopped when he shouted, "Ajay! don't kill me!"

The spot in the railway track was still there. Ajay had to do it once more.


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The title is the six word story.
This story limited to 250 words.

Usual disclaimers apply. No, this story has nothing to do with any murder or smoking.
If you are not mature enough to know that smoking is injurious to health, watch this