Category Archives: Academe

Blogues de Sciences Francophones ?

Allez, je me lance… je vais rompre avec la règle d’or que connaît tout chercheur vivant dans le monde académique : ne jamais parler de ses échecs. Il est en effet de bon ton de dire “j’ai un financement du NSERC” mais pas de dire “sur mes cinq demandes de financement, toutes ont été rejetées. Sauf Une.” On peut raconter une anecdote sur les papiers rejetés, autour d’un café, mais mieux vaut éviter de dire qu’on a eu plus de lettres de rejet que de lettres d’acceptation dans sa boîte de messagerie. Et surtout, ne jamais l’écrire à l’encre indélébile. Oups.

A deux reprises la semaine passée, je discutais avec des blogueurs, chercheurs comme moi pendant leur temps libre (ou le contraire, je finis par me perdre), et les deux m’ont dit “tiens, on ne t’a pas vu dans la compilation des blogues de sciences francophones“. Eh oui, je crois que je ne suis pas dedans, effectivement. Cela dit, comme tout bon chercheur, j’ai bien entendu une explication ! Voire plusieurs !

☐ “mon travail est trop avant-gardiste pour être comparé aux autres
☐ “c’est un complot, les gens derrières ce classement ne m’aiment pas
☐ “ce que je fais, c’est plus que de la science, c’est de l’art, tu sais
☑ “c’est nul de mettre les gens dans des cases, et je ne suis pas exclusivement francophone

On l’occurrence, j’aime effectivement prendre comme (piètre) excuse la langue. Car je suis militant – voire activiste – en faveur des blogs de sciences. Ce qui rend vexant de ne pas être retenu comme blogueur de sciences. En revanche, la langue m’indiffère! Comme mon blog est professionnel, j’ai tendance à bloguer en anglais, mais quand il faut écrire de manière un peu plus subtile, pour éviter les malentendus, je recours à ma langue maternelle. Si je blogue à l’occasion en anglais, c’est que c’est plus simple: tout ce que je lis ou presque est en anglais.

Maintenant, comme tous les chercheurs, j’ai aussi un amour propre (et un égo) démesuré, et comme toujours les échecs, ça touche un peu. Car, ami lecteur, derrière ce blog que tu consultes régulièrement (si ce n’est pas encore le cas, il va falloir changer tes habitudes !) il y a du travail (mine de rien). Et sentir son travail un peu valorisé, ça fait toujours plaisir. Il y a quelques semaines, j’avais invité Pascal Lapointe (a.k.a. @paslap, qui a justement dirigé la publication du livre compilant les blogs) pour un café, car je voulais discuter de vulgarisation et de blogs de sciences justement. Et il m’expliquait qu’il ne comprenait pas le sens academic blogging, que j’avais pris l’habitude d’utiliser (par exemple en mettant en avant le blog de Paul Krugman : sous prétexte qu’il est académique, peut-on dire que son blog est un blog académique ? et je pense qu’il a raison, ce qui m’a fait reprendre le terme utilisé par hypotheses.org, carnet de sciences ouvert). Mais je persiste sur l’importance de donner un nom à cet activité que nous exerçons, pour savoir comment la positionner. Puis-je parler de mon blog dans mes demandes de subventions (mon blog peut donner une forte exposition à mes travaux) ? Puis-je financer avec mes fonds de recherche des livres que j’achète pour faire un billet sur mon blog, et pas un article de recherche (pour l’instant je finance avec mes sous personnels, ce sont des cadeaux en moins pour mes enfants à Noël) ? Puis-je héberger des travaux de mes élèves sur mon blog, comme billets invités ? On avait lancé le débat dans les commentaires d’un vieux billet, et je pense que j’essayerais de le poursuivre car je pense qu’il est important.

Maintenant, pour revenir à cette compilation, la petite histoire est que l’an passé, plusieurs personnes m’avaient sollicité. Des gens qui lançaient la compilation, mais aussi les éditeurs de mon blog. Pour le premier, la logique est simple : un recensement n’a de sens que si l’éventail est large; pour les second, être présent dans ces compilations donne une grande visibilité. Les démarches étaient simples (de mémoire) : il fallait envoyer deux posts qui pourraient être les ambassadeurs du blog. J’avoue ne plus trop savoir ce que j’ai retenu, et ne pas avoir compris non plus ce à quoi je participais… Si je l’ai fait, c’est parce que j’avais cru comprendre qu’il s’agirait d’une espèce de recensement, avec une liste aussi complète que possible (plusieurs personnes le font, et c’est probablement très intéressant, je pense au particulier à l’initiative visant à recenser des blogs de sciences féminins). Mais ex-post, j’ai l’impression qu’il s’agissait d’une espèce de concours (car il semble qu’il y ait un jury qui a fait une sélection). Dans ce cas, autant mettre les choses au clair : je veux bien que mon blog se retrouve cité dans des listes diverses et variées, mais je ne vais pas l’inscrire à des concours de beauté ! La raison est simple : je passe mon temps à me faire évaluer, et à évaluer les autres1 . J’ai toujours revendiqué mon blog comme un espace de liberté au sein du monde académique. L’humiliation, je garde ça pour mon travail d’enseignant et de chercheur (ça fait partie de la vie de touts les jours) par contre, je ne garde que les bons côtés du monde académique pour mon blog. J’écris sur les sujets que je veux, je me fais plaisir en essayant de répondre à des questions que je me pose, ou dans le meilleur des cas, qu’on me pose… Mais ne me demandez plus, s’il vous plait, de l’inscrire de nouveau à un concours de beauté !

Voilà, c’est dit.

1 rédaction de dossier pour des demandes de financement (où je dois faire croire que je suis le meilleur et que ma recherche va sauver l’humanité), lecture des évaluations des cours par mes élèves (qui adorent les profs sympas qui font des blagues et qui mettent des bonnes notes), réception de rapports de relecture par des pairs (qui n’ont pas aimé mon papier et qui me demande au moins de citer 3 papiers écrits par la même personne sans grand rapport avec mes travaux), évaluation de rapports de collègues (qui veulent des financements que je me suis fait refuser l’an passé), élaboration d’un projet de demande de financement pour un étudiant de maîtrise, etc.

2 les images sont tirées de l’excellent Little Miss Sunshine.

Actuariat, le rêve américain

Ce billet (sous une forme proche) devrait proposé sous forme d’article dans les semaines à venir pour publication dans Variances, le journal des anciens ENSAE. En attendant, les commentaires sont ouverts, et je serais ravi d’accueillir des points de vue !

  • L’actuariat et les actuaires

Dans un ‘conte Persan‘ inventé par Claude Bébéar, l’actuariat était défini comme suit :

Il était une fois un assureur sur la vie fort intelligent, éminent et respecté. Il était considéré par tous comme un grand technicien, voire un savant, qui n’avait pas son pareil pour estimer la prime à demander aux assurés et la valeur des engagements pris par l’assureur. Mais parfois, un doute le taraudait : sa science était-elle vraiment estimée ? Le vulgaire ne risquait-il pas de s’en saisir, montrer qu’il n’y avait là rien d’admirable et détruire une réputation bâtie à force de patience ? Vite, il fallait se protéger. Et c’est ainsi que notre assureur éminent, respecté et fort intelligent, inventa un langage ésotérique qu’il appela “actuariat”. Et grâce à lui, des générations d’actuaires heureux vécurent et vivent encore à l’abri des critiques, adulés de tous. Chaque année, aidés par des comptables pleins de respect, ils mettent au point un rapport annuel fort savant qu’assurés, actionnaires et contrôleurs en tous genres contemplent sans trop comprendre et sans oser poser de questions, de peur de passer pour des sots. Le système était parfait.”

Comme le montrent les divers classements des métiers qui placent le métier d’actuaire régulièrement en tête depuis une dizaine d’années, en Amérique du Nord, l’actuariat fait rêver. Mais personne ne sait trop ce qu’est l’actuariat….

  • L’actuariat: entre pratique et théorie

Avant de commencer à comparer l’actuariat vu des deux côtés de l’Atlantique, rappelons que le terme “actuariat” n’existe pas dans la langue anglaise. Il existe une “science actuarielle” – enseignée dans quelques universités – et une “pratique actuarielledésignant le travail fait par les actuaires, au quotidien. Cette première subtilité linguistique est importante pour comprendre ce qu’est l’actuariat, au sens français, de ce côté-ci de l’Atlantique. Une connaissance (relative) du premier permet de prétendre au statut d’associé d’une organisation professionnelle, alors que l’exercice du second est essentiel pour prétendre au titre de Fellow. Mais revenons un instant en arrière, sur le système d’éducation en Amérique du nord (on exclura pour l’instant le Québec, qui est un peu particulier). A l’âge où les étudiants français passent leur bac, les étudiants américains terminent leur High School, pour ensuite rejoindre un College ou une université pour une formation de quatre ans, leur permettant de préparer un Bachelor Degree. S’ils le souhaitent, ils peuvent ensuite poursuivre par un Master Degree, qu’ils prépareront sur deux ans.

Les programmes d’actuariat dans les universités nord américaines sont essentiellement des programmes de type Bachelor, qui proposent de former à la science actuarielle, sur un programme de quatre ans (et pas cinq, comme en France). Si en théorie, la mission d’une université est d’enseigner la science actuarielle, bien souvent, les Bachelor programs en science actuarielle proposent de préparer la première série d’examens professionnels, appelés examens préliminaires.

  • Le système des examens professionnels

Tous ceux qui ont travaillé en tant qu’actuaires en dehors de l’Europe le savent : l’actuariat n’existe pas en dehors de la SOA. Cette corporation de plus de 20,000 membres est omniprésente, pas seulement aux Etats-Unis (où se trouve son siège) mais aussi en Asie. Même si l’Association Actuarielle Internationale tente de faire reconnaître les divers instituts, le titre de FSA (Fellow of the Society of Actuaries) est, dans les faits, le seul qui jouisse d’un réel prestige international.

Pour devenir actuaire, en Amérique du Nord, il faut passer au travers des examens professionnels. Ces examens, organisés par les organisations professionnelles (SOA, Society of Actuaries, CAS, Causality Actuarial Society ou CIA, Canadian Institute of Actuaries) sont de trois types :

  • les examens à choix multiples en probabilités (P), mathématiques financières (FM), mathématiques actuarielles (MLC), économie financière (MFE), évaluation de modèles actuarielles (C)
  • les VEE : cours approuvés, en économie, finance et statistique
  • les modules : des ateliers de pratique actuarielle

Par exemple, pour valider l’examen P de probabilité, il faut ainsi réussir au moins 20 questions sur 30 (environ, le pourcentage dépend de la difficulté des questions, il faut un taux d’admission de l’ordre de 35%) en 3 heures. Il est inutile de comprendre la subtilité de la construction de l’espérance conditionnelle, l’objectif est davantage de maîtriser le calcul des probabilités. Certains exercices sont loin d’être triviaux, mais il ne s’agit pas de trouver le truc qui permet d’établir la preuve, davantage de comprendre comment formaliser un problème concret en termes probabilistes. Ce qui est – a priori – parfait pour pratiquer par la suite le métier d’actuaire. Laissons les plus sceptiques tenter de résoudre les exercices posés dans les sample exams sur le site de la SOA. La critique fondamentale que l’on pourrait faire est que le calcul des probabilités n’est pas vraiment une fin en soi : pour comprendre la notion de “martingale,” centrale en valorisation financière, ou celle de “prévision” (en predictive modeling) il convient de comprendre non pas comment calculer une espérance conditionnelle, mais de savoir ce qu’est cet objet mathématique.

Une fois Associé, il est possible de devenir Fellow, en passant de nouveaux examens

  • les examens avancés (écrit, à développement, par opposition aux choix multiples)
  • les modules (suivant le domaine de pratique)
  • les séminaires

Ces examens dont plus exigeants en terme de préparation, avec environ 400 h de préparation étalés sur les trois mois précédant l’examen (à concilier avec une vie professionnelle, et une vie de famille). Dans les entreprises d’assurance en Amérique du Nord, le titre de Fellow est largement valorisé, d’où une  forte incitation en interne à passer (et réussir) ces examens.

  • Les relations entre la communauté actuarielle et le monde académique

En France, l’Institut des Actuaires a eu pour stratégie d’accréditer certaines formations, dans des écoles ou dans des universités. Dans tous les cas, il s’agit d’une formation avancée, de type Master. Les stages permettent de garder un lien entre le monde académique, et la communauté actuarielle. Et c’est la grande force du système français. Outre Atlantique, les étudiants effectuaient une formation poussée en mathématique et en gestion des risques, et les examens professionnels sanctionnaient les étudiants qui les passaient. Mais les examens sont aujourd’hui une fin en soi, la plupart des formations en actuariat devenant de véritables prépas à examens professionnels.

Comme le disait Charles Goodhart, “lorsqu’une mesure devient un objectif, elle cesse d’être une mesure“. Les étudiants en actuariat n’apprennent plus les concepts de valorisation par réplication, ou des raisonnements bayésiens pour mettre à jour des primes, mais uniquement des recettes de cuisine permettant de réussir des examens.

Cela dit, le vent semble tourner, au moins au Canada. En effet, l’Institut Canadien des Actuaires a signé plusieurs programmes d’agréments universitaires, donnant des dispenses d’examen pour les étudiants qui réussissent certains cours (reconnus par l’agrément). Cette idée d’une reconnaissance de la qualité de certaines formations universitaires est loin de faire l’unanimité outre Atlantique, même si la SOA a également fait un pas vers le monde académique voilà quelques années, avec les labels de “Center of Excellence” (mais qui n’apporte pas grand chose aux étudiants, malheureusement).

  • La culture actuarielle en France, et à l’extérieur

Si l’Institut des Actuaires Français est très ancien (on peut remonter en 1890 pour voir le premier institut), il comptait très peu de membres avant les années 1980. L’organisation des systèmes de retraites en France (reposant peu sur les fonds de pension) explique probablement cette différence culturelle importante. Cela dit, de nombreux ouvrages insistent sur l’importance de la science actuarielle sur l’histoire des probabilités par exemple (on repensera au chapitre dédié à Arthur Bailey dans The Theory That Would Not Die de Sharon McGrayne, ou les nombreuses références à la construction des tables de mortalité aux Pays-Bas ou en Angleterre dans The Emergence of Probability de Ian Hacking), et les travaux sur les premium principles sont aujourd’hui reconnus comme précurseurs des travaux récents en mathématique financières sur l’axiomatique des mesures de risque.

Il est d’ailleurs surprenant que les actuaires, en France, aient été aussi peu consultés lors des réflexions sur les constructions des tables de mortalité (contrairement à ce qui peut se passer en Amérique du Nord). Combien d’actuaires y-a-t-il parmi les membres du Conseil d’Orientation des Retraites ? Peut-être parce que les organisations actuarielles ont ici un réel pouvoir, il serait inimaginable de voir un débat sur les retraites se tenir sans la présence de plusieurs actuaires reconnus.

Une autre forte différence culturelle existe quand on regarde les thèmes des séminaires et autres conférences en France. Ces dernières années, les actuaires ont énormément travaillé sur la mise en place de Solvabilité II, et sur la réflexion autour des normes comptables relatives à la solvabilité des compagnies d’assurance. La solvabilité est devenue le cœur de la réflexion actuarielle, en Europe. Mais les Etats-Unis et les Canada n’ont pas adopté les normes comptables préconisées en Europe. Et le mot “solvency” ne figure toujours pas au syllabus des examens préliminaires : un actuaire nord américain peut ne jamais avoir entendu prononcer ce mot (s’il n’a pas traversé l’océan Atlantique)

  • La reconnaissance des actuaires formés en France

Le jeu n’est pas symétrique, loin de là: l’Institut des Actuaires (en France) reconnaît le statut de FSA. Mais la réciproque est fausse: les actuaires formés en France, qui souhaitent exercer la profession d’actuaire doivent passer les examens professionnels de la SOA.

Faudrait-il alors que les étudiants français passent des examens professionnels pendant leur formation pour développer leur attractivité internationale ? Faut-il signer des partenariats avec des universités en Amérique du Nord (comme le font certaines formations) ? Les expériences tentées récemment montrent qu’il est délicat de faire valider des cours de première année d’université (préparant à des examens professionnels) comme des cours de niveau fin de Master. Compte tenu de cette profonde différence, les partenariats seront difficiles à monter. Néanmoins, la formation d’actuariat en France donne les bases parfaites pour préparer la majorité des examens préliminaires, la seule difficulté est de s’entraîner un minimum pour ne pas être déstabilisé par la forme de l’examen à choix multiple.

SOA (Society of Actuaries), fondée en 1949 de la fusion de l’ASA (Actuarial Society of America, 1889) et de l’AIA (American Institute of Actuaires, 1909), située dans la banlieue de Chicago, Illinois. Environ 800 fellows de plus, par an, 22,500 membres en 2014.http://soa.org/
CAS (Casualy Actuarial Society), fondée en 1914 (sous le nom Casualty Actuarial and Statistical Society of America), située en Virginie. 5,500 membres en 2014.http://www.casact.org/
ICA (Institut Canadien des Actuaires, CIA en anglais), fondée en 1965, localisée à Ottawa, Ontario, 4,300 membres en 2014.https://www.cia-ica.ca/
IA (Institut des Actuaires), fondé en 1890, comptant environ 3,000 membres en 2012. A ne pas confondre avec IA (Institute of Actuaries), fondé à Londres en 1848, revendiquant plus de 15,700 membres. Le terme FIA désigne les Fellows of the Institute of Actuaries.http://institutdesactuaires.com/

Étant régulièrement contacté par des français, souhaitant s’installer en Amérique du Nord, ou simplement “devenir Fellow“, j’ai longtemps eu envie de revenir sur l’actuariat, vu d’ici, histoire de clarifier certains points. Pour préciser mon point de vue (à la fois sur l’actuariat en Amérique du Nord, et en France) je pourrais rappeler que j’ai travaillé à Hong Kong – en tant qu’actuaire – en 1999 et 2000, et que c’est en Asie que j’ai pris conscience de l’importance de la SOA dans le monde des assurances. En France, j’avais été en charge de la formation d’actuariat de l’ENSAE, ait fait partie du jury de l’institut des actuaires (à l’ISUP et à Dauphine), ait été secrétaire de la Commission Scientifique (à une lointaine époque, où on donnait des équivalences à des membres d’organisations actuarielles étrangères, et où on tentait de réfléchir au syllabus des formations), suis membre du jury du prix SCOR depuis plusieurs années, ai écrit des livres (en français) et édite dans les semaines à venir un livre d’actuariat (computational actuarial science), qui se veut au delà des particularités culturelles (comme j’ai pu en prendre conscience lors de la rédaction, le gouffre entre académiques et professionnels, ou entre Européens et Américains n’est pas simple à combler). Et j’enseigne depuis 3 ans dans un center of excellence de la SOA, qui bénéficie d’un programme d’agrément universitaire de l’ICA (j’ai ainsi enseigné le cours préparatoire à l’examen P, ainsi que le VEE de statistique et prévision). J’ai d’ailleurs participé à la Task Force de la SOA qui avait pour mission de monter un syllabus pour l’examen de modélisation du nouveau General Insurance Track.

Pour aller plus loin, je suggèrerais la lecture de Sibley, A. (2006). Nos collègues français, The Actuary, November 2006, p. 34-35 (pour une vision plus britannique cette fois).

Great Stats on Elsevier’s Website

A lot of researchers have been recently extremely unfair, criticizing Elsevier one major editor of academic journals. Yes, it is a big publisher. So what? When you publish a paper in any journal that belongs to that group, you now have access to amazing statistics, via scopus.

Not only you know how many time the pdf file has been downloaded (you can also get that information on arxiv or ssrn), but you can get much more!

You can even know how many time the pdf has been opened, and you can even visualize on which paragraph readers spent more time, while reading it! This EyeTrackPDF tool is just amazing!

(you need to pay to get details per IP address, the standard graph is an average of eyetracker information, from what I understood). You can see where are the most interesting parts of the paper, which is quite informative actually

Of course, on all the papers, what we observe is that people spend most of the time on the references, checking for their own names, making sure that their work was mentioned! You can even get an understanding score, which is an estimation of the number of readers that might have understood the paper 

Awesome, isn’t it? 

Academic Blogging, a Personal Experience

I wanted to get back on two posts (one on Academic Blogging, and one on Twitter for Academics), and to update them based on the discussion that followed the panel (on Thanksgiving), as well as some more recent discussions. All comments are welcome ! [the post is quite long, a pdf version is available from papers.ssrn.com/2398377]

  • Introduction

To talk in public, to think in solitude, to read and to hear, to inquire and answer inquiries, is the business of a scholar” (from Johnson (1759)). 250 years after, anyone might think that the business has not changed: academics remain in their ivory tower, but from time to time, they have to leave it, to communicate. Recently, Graham (2004) characterized three channels for scholar communications: publication in peer-reviewed journals, conferences and seminars, and a more informal one, that might be called the “new invisible college“, as in  Halavais (2006), that might be related to a “faculty lounge“, using the expression of  Priem, Piwowar, & Hemminger (2012). This third channel is precisely the one that might be related to blogs.

With Internet (emails, blogs, forums, etc), academics now have new mediums to communicate, either within their own community (and launch participative projects), or outside their community. Academic blogs are one medium, among many others.  As explained in Gregg (2006), “blogs have made scholarly work accessible and accountable to a readership outside the academy“. From an insider’s perspective, blogs seem to be extremely popular, because bloggers are active, sharing links, comments, discussions, etc. In 2007, George Siemens was already enthusiastic: “it’s great to see research-focused academics entering the blog space” (see Siemens (2007)). By that time, it was  clearly not as popular as it could be seven years after.

Social medias can be categorized in eight categories, according to Gu & Widén-Wulff (2010) and  Nicolas & Rowlands (2011): blogs, microblogs, RSS, wikis, tagging, social networks, media sharing, and online documents.  For instance, there is also an emerging form of participatory media, with question and answer services, with Quora, and Stackoverflow. But it won’t be mentioned here (some researchers are extremely active there, but it is very difficult to quantify). In this article, we will get back on more than five years of experience, on a scholar blog.  In the first section, we will get back on definitions, on the context, and the origins of the frekonometrics blog, while it started as one of the few official blogs of researchers at Université de Rennes 1, in France. Then, in the second section, we will study the interplay between a blog and other activities within academia. Then, in a third section, there will be a short discussion about microblogging, and the use of Twitter for academics. And finally, the last section will try to explain why, even after almost six years of experience, an academic blogger might still be enthusiastic.

  • The Origins and the Context of the Blog

From a technical point of view, blog is a contracted form of weblog, which is a website made up of ongoing entries, that we will call posts (but might also be called articles). Those posts are published in reverse chronological order: the new material is added to the top of the page, the older materials being automatically archived. So it makes it difficult to follows for infrequent readers. There might be tags and categories, which can be used to distinguish posts related to conference, publications, and teaching, or using dedicated keywords.

  • Hosting Platforms and Identity of the Blog

The first blog was launched because the Université de Rennes 1 (I was just recruited there as a professor, not yet tenured) decided in 2007 to have its own blog platform for its researchers. It was officially Arthur Charpentier’s blog. On this platform, blogs were not anonymous, they were based on the credibility of the researcher, and the name of the university was on the front page, almost as large as the name of the researcher.

Being hosted by the university is a dangerous practice, since it is not clear what is allowed, and what is not. For instance, during the first year, there were a lot of discussions about the status of researchers, in France. Being not tenured put me in a delicate situation. Even if the blog became well referenced on search engines very fast, it was not very popular, by that time. Except perhaps among students (mine, but also students in other programs). Students understood the interest of the blog, as a place to discuss and to interact. The blog became and extension of the class. After the formal lecture, in the room, the blog became a place to share additional documents, datasets, computer codes, etc. After two or three years, the blog started to be popular, within my own community (in economics, econometrics and applied mathematics), not only among students. I started to be recognized in conferences, and I wanted to stop having an eponymous blog (coincidence, or not, it was also by the time I moved to Montréal). Having an eponymous academic blog is a common practice, which makes sense since most bloggers tend to identify their blogs, as both personal and professional. All the more within academia, where boundaries between professional, academic and personal life may be difficult to establish, mainly because all those aspects intertwined constantly in the life of scholars.

Again, having a blog hosted by the university might yield delicate situations. Those institutions would like to use blogs as communication tools, and might not appreciate when the blog is use to publish satire of one’s own department. After a few years, I wanted to transfer the blog somewhere else. Using the term introduced by Charlotte Frost, used in  Mewburn & Thomson (2013), I wanted my blog to be – still – some sort of academic blog, but an “outstitutional” blog, more than an institutional one. I decided to host the blog on my personal internet provider’s platform. After almost three years at Université de Rennes1, the freakonometrics adventure started officially.

With a personal blog, it became necessary to claim that the blog was some sort of academic blog. Marsh (2013) mention that “many people arrive and depart my blog without knowing I’m an academic. I don’t hide the fact. It’s there“.  The name of the researcher appears in the “About page“, or in the resume, which is available on the front page. There is the blogger, freakonometrics and the scholar, Arthur Charpentier. Those two identities overlap, considerably, without being entierely congruent. When one reaches an academic webpage, there is usually no surprise: we expect to find information about the academic background, a list of publications, some information about trained students, lectures notes. But all academic bloggers have their own identities, which is a reflect of its author. Some bloggers like to post pictures taken from places they visit. Others talk about their family, or articles they recently read. Because blogs might have diversified contents, they tend to attract very different audiences (we will get back on that point in the next section). I do not hide myself behind a pseudo (even if I use one) and I still mention my academic background in order to give my blog more credibility. Noel (2013) claims that “a blog does not indicate expertise“.  Traditionally, it is true that a stack of peer-reviewed work automatically indicates some expertise. But it might be time to assess that a well-read blog, with valuable contributions in some field can also indicate some expertise, too.

Several platforms were hosting blogs by that time. Some interesting blogs were hosted by scientific journals (such as The American Scientist or Nature) or societies (in Economics, or Statistics).  But those blogs are somehow institutional. Even if my area of expertise if on the border of social sciences, I decided to migrate to the hypotheses.org platform, a “platform for academic blogs in the humanities and social sciences“. This platform has its own scientific committees, and provides a technical support (not to mention the legal one).

  • Influences and the Blogging Community

Freakonometrics became a blog dedicated to econometrics, economics and applied mathematics. As explained in Quiggin (2011a), “with the arguable exception of law, economics is the academic discipline where blogging has been embraced most enthusiastically“. This might explain why there is such an active – and enthusiastic – community (see also Quiggin, (2011b) for a discussion). On the other hand, Halford (2012) said that “the situation within academic blogging seems to be that we are currently a bunch of islands that are vaguely connected but not really arranged into continents and groups. We are all spread out across the digital world with a fragmented network between us.

So, what can we find in this community? Some researchers like to use their name, like Greg Mankiw’s blog for instance (with subtitle “random observations for students of economics“). But most of them prefer to hide themselves behind a short title, like “Confessions of a Supply-Side Liberal” (by Miles Kimball), “The Conscience of a Liberal” (by Paul Krugman), or longer one, like “Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science” (by Andrew Gelman). But hide is probably too strong since the editor is never hidden: we usually find a short bio, including a picture (most of the time), as well as a link to a webpage hosted by some university. Other examples might be “I’m a bandit“, with subtitle “random topics on optimization, probability and statistics. by Sébastien Bubeck“, or “what’s new“,  with subtitle “updates on my research and expository papers, discussion of open problems, and other maths-related topics. by Terence Tao“. Some blogs use puns (it is a feature that one can find on almost any blog: most of them use humour, just to explain that this is just a blog) like “Hyndsight“, “a blog by Rob Hyndman“.

Most of those popular blogs are blogs of well-know academics. Greg Mankin is not only a popular blogger, he is also the author of a standard undergraduate textbook in macroeconomics, and so is John Cochrane, editor of the “Grumpy Economist” blog, also author of a standard graduate textbook in financial economics. There are many other well-known academics, willing to reach new audiences. But John Quiggin claims that his own blog is much more popular than his research (on Australian policy issues), as well as Tyler Cowen (one of the contributor of the “Marginal Revolution” blog).

Another category might be blogs with several contributors, such as the “Monkey Cage” blog, dedicated to political science research. This blog contains contributions from several researchers, such as John Sides, Erik Voeten, Andrew Gelman, Joshua Tucker and Henry Farrell. But all those researchers have their own blogs besides.

To get back on my personal experience, the name freakonometrics was chosen for two reasons. The first one is that is was a common word among the community of researchers in the Economics department at Ecole Polytechnique. Freakonometrics meant using Econometrics techniques to answer real life questions. That might be opposed to Mathematical Econometrics, as it was taught to students. Since it was exactly the aim of the blog (write posts about simple questions, with a quantitative approach) I liked the idea of using it at a blog’s name. The second reason is related to a major influence for most bloggers in Economics. In 2005, University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner published a collection of “economic” articles, claiming that economics is, at root, the study of incentives. This is how freakonomics.com/blog/ started (the first post was published in September 2005). My blog was more about Econometrics than Economics. So I decided to use the freakonometrics name. But this was not a very good idea. If all bloggers know freakonomics, there is no doubt that the two blogs are unrelated. But unfortunately, outside this community, there is confusion (as I noticed many time while discussing with journalists for instance).

  • The Structure of the Blog, and the Contents

A blog is usually seen as chaotic, and unstructured. On the opposite, academia, and Science, are places where everything is supposed to be well ordered. Most undergraduate students can not understand where a professor answer “I have no idea what might happen if we relax that assumption“. An open question is a great source of inspiration for a blogger. It might be a start for a bibliographic survey, or on quick simulations. Thus, the blog “offers a unique space to simultaneously achieve efforts related to research, teaching, and service” as mentioned in Grollman (2014). Technically, as recalled in the introduction, a blog is just a series of entries called “posts“, even if, with several thousand words, some posts might also be called “articles“, as suggested in Cohen (2006).

Those posts might be to start a discussion after an open question in the class, to mention in interesting paper recently discovered, to point out an interesting conference, to provide some codes to generate a graph, to upload datasets used in an article about to be published, to criticize an article read in a newspaper, or just to share an experience. Therefore, “academic blog” is a generic term that includes several different genres, from blogs about academic life to pure research blogs (see Walker (2006) for a discussion), even if most of them are hybrid genres. As analyzed in Luzón (2006), making available personal research is a simple way not only to get feedback, but also to increase visibility, to develop “respect and reputation” (as discussed in Gregg (2009)). As claimed by the committee of hypotheses.org, blogs should be seen a lab books, not a substitute to academic journals (a post is not an article, as we will see in the next section) but more a catalogue of personal thoughts (and possibly some findings).

  • Academic Life and Blogging Activities

Traditionnaly, according to Merton (1942), academia was governed by some norms of universalism, communism, disinteresredness, and organized scepticism. More recently,  Ziman (1996) claims, on the contrary, that academia was characterized by inverse norms, of  proprietary, local, local, authoritarian, commissioned and expert norms. Blogging is probbly an answer to this shift. In this section, we will get back on interactions of blogging activity with more conventional academic duties.

  • Academic Hierarchy and Rules

Walker (2006) explains that  “blogging allowed us to circumvent the power structure of academica“. Blogs are somewhere between the conversational style of the conference, and the writen style of articles. But blogs are clearly outside those communities, blogs are much more accessible: you do not have to attend a conference, you don’t even have to sign up, and you are usually allowed to participate in the discussion, without belonging to the community (you should if you want to publish a response to a published article). Furthermore, the bureaucratisation of the universities has had “profound effects on the writing of academics” (as discussed in Brett (1991)). More specifically, it is nearly impossible for academics to provided a “public intellectual function” nowadays because it goes “against the grain of the job“. Blogs can be seen as an answer of academic, to regain some freedom of speech. As mentioned in Gordon (1998), tenure positions were initially created precisely to prevent academics from pressures, to grant them a strong freedom of speech. But in the 2010’s, tenure positions exist to pressure those who have only temporary contracts.

  • Blog Posts and Academic Articles

A blog entry is usually published without any pressure, with no one too impress, just the idea of working through some ideas and concepts, together, the writer and the reader. Academic articles are going through the peer review process. But it is only a peer-to-peer discussion. All those discussions are usually skipped in the final version, and there is no real place for a discussion, except for some controversial papers, where a discussion can be published. As mentioned in Chatterjee & Biswas (2011), some journals now have forums, but there is no place, otherwise to converse about a publish paper. Blogs can be seen as tools for “post-publication review of papers“. This is actually what happened in 2010, when Science published a paper (Sebastiani & al. (2010)), which was then criticized by several science blogs – about methodological fallacies, before being retracted (see Carmichael (2010) and MacArthur (2011) for a full discussion).

Blog posts offer a space not only to summarize a research paper (written in a codified and strict format), but also to discuss the process and the context of the study. As Gregg (2009) suggests, blogs provide a space “distinct from the parent culture of institutions“. A paper might start with a discussion with a colleague, then additional contributors might join to provide additional expertise. The paper is then written in a codified format, and to please potential reviewers. Those reviewers might ask for substantial changes, done because some co-authors really need a publication to apply for a position. Finally, the paper published might have to connexion at all with the initial discussion. Even if bloggers do not want to share with complete strangers the hidden side of a paper, it might be interesting to emphasize dead-ends, attempts that failed, and how the paper started.

  • An Academic Blogger is not a (Science) Journalist

Blogging can revamp the relationship between science and society, simply by making research more comprehensible to others, just like journalists do. There have always been connexions between the two communities: academics, who can understand what exactly is claimed in a research study, and science journalists, who can summarize and explain with less jargon. “Historically, academics have been put in a reactive position, responding to questions from reporters. Blogging places academics in a more proactive position, intervening more effectively in popular debates around the topics they research” as claimed by Jenkins (2008).

Actually, some academics do publish posts in blogs hosted by newspapers, such as “The Conscience of a Liberal” (by Paul Krugman). Somehow, those journals (here the New York Times) host academics the same way newspapers hosted some opinion pages, were academics where invited to give their point of view, a few years back. But, as Quiggin (2011) explains “newspapers are generally reluctant to repost on academic working papers and similar publications unless the conclusions are obviously newsworthly“. Economics in newspapers has to be related to macroeconomics, and science has to be related to medicine or technology (the science page is now a nice advertising page for the most recent smartphone applications). And, as mentioned by Cottrell (2013), a couple of decades ago, experts (not to say scholar) “have functioned as sources for newspaper journalists. Their opinions would emerge often mangled and simplified, always truncated, in articles over which they had no final control.” Now, with blogs, it is possible to read them directly, in a style that is easier to understand, compared with academic (standard) publications. “The general reader has access to expertise that was easily available, a decade ago, only to the insider or the specialist“. Writing a post in an academic blog is neither pretending being a journalist, nor writing an academic article. In the traditional process of research, we discuss with colleagues, possibly in conferences, but only the final publication remains. False starts and heuristics are skipped, because they might appear as un-necessary to get an understanding of the article. And this is exactly where blogging becomes interesting. In newspapers, contributors are required to avoid mathematical equations, and scientific jargon. Blogs are exactly the missing link between a technical research article, “jargonistic and turgid” (as Mewburn & Thomson (2013) wrote), and an article in a newspaper, usually overselling minor contributions.

  • The narrative style of a blog post

There is a stark contrast between the story used in a peer-reviewed paper, and the true, untold, research process. The messy side of a research project, and all the dead-ends might be mentioned, maybe as a quick anecdote, in a conference talk. But for junior researchers, it is not the place to discuss the true story (maybe only the shinny side of it). As mentioned in  Conole (2007), “the blogosphere is offering an alternative style of academic discourse“. A blog post is a place for snippets of the work, more informal, with a completely different style. As climed by Pierre Mounier and Marin Davis (from hypotheses.org) the blog is between the oral and the writen form.

Nevertheless, the tone, or the style of writing, is different from one blog to another one. Post can be writen as a reportage, with a journalistic style (where various sources of information are brought together and synthetised into a story), as a formal or more informal essay (where a story is writen, with opinions), it can be more pedagogical (with a lot of questions) or satirical (see  Mewburn & Thomson (2013) for a detailed comparison, with further examples).

But the time when Karl Sagan was criticized (see e.g. Emanuel (1986)) for mentioning a study in Parade (the  American nationwide Sunday newspaper magazine) before publishing it in Science is now far away. As written in Oreskes & Conway (2011), this has been considered as a”violation of scientific norms“. Similarly, because of its style, some researchers cannot consider a blog post as a serious contribution.

  • Blogging and Microblogging (Twitter)

Blogs are not the only place where academics are now visible. Academics are also extremely active on microblog platforms, such as Twitter. Twitter is different from blogs. Not only because of the lengths of the “posts“, but also because it is extremely codified (while blogs are clearly not). If academics can use blogs to educate, they can use Twitter to inform, to make interesting material available to the public.

  • From Official Rules to Unofficial Uses

Microblogging, on Twitter, is simple. One has to create an account, on twitter.com, and 160 characters can be used for a short bio, with the possible use of an avatar. It is possible to be active, by tweeting (posting online messages with less than 140 characters), or to passive (and then simply follow some discussions). One can use the search window, and then all the tweets containing that word (or that sentence) will appear. It is also possible to follow some hastags (following the # symbol) such as #overlyhonestmethods, or some people (following the @ symbol) such as @freakonometrics. When following that account, all the tweets (posted under the name @freakonometrics) will appear in the so-called TL (or timeline). I will then have a follower (and of course, I might follow back). On can tweet not only text, but also a picture and html links (that will be automatically shortern). Those are the official rules in Twitter.

There are also codes and uses. With a Twitter account, it is possible to write our own tweets, but also to retweet a tweet, which means forwarding another user’s tweet to all of our followers. One can use the retweet button, or use the old fashion RT (for re-tweet) or MT (for modified tweet) if it was necessary to shorten a tweet.  As in Academia, it is important to mention the source of the information when sharing it with some followers (it is called a mention, and it is like using a reference in a research paper). Another way of acknowledging the account that originally shared the content being tweeted is to HT the account (hat tip). It is also possible to discuss with other people. One can reply to a tweet using the reply button (when replying to one of my tweets, the tweet will start with @freakonometrics and only followers also following me will see it in their tweet list). It is also possible to poke another account to make sure that someone reads your tweet. It is possible to favorite a tweet, by clicking the yellow star next to the message. If a lot of the people I follow favorite a tweet, it will be more likeliy to appear in the discover window, even if I do not follow that account. Because of the 140 characters constraint, a lot of strange words can be used on Twitter, such as “OH” which most often means “overheard“. Twitter has also its own habits, such as the #FF follow Friday tradition. On Friday, it is common to share usernames of our favorite twitterers, the accounts you find interesting

  • Are Academics on Twitter ?

Only “one in forty scholars are active on Twitter” as estimated in Priem & al. (2012). And academics are mainly skeptical about Twitter. For most of them, Twitter is either for their kids, or perhaps for graduate students (if they have some ideas about what Twitter is). But not researchers. To get back on my personal experience, I follow (and am followed) by a lot of graduate students, PhD’s or postdocs, and a few more senior researchers. Most of those senior, prominent scientists, share extremely interesting information! But Twitter is time consumming (as blogs), and not everyone is willing to have an account on Twitter (and to be active, by sharing links, or by interacting, more generally).

If not everyone is on Twitter, important people are; at least in Economics. In January, was organized the annual conference of the American Economic Association, in Philadelphia. This is where the job market for PhD students in Economics takes place. It was extremely active on Twitter (updates where obtained by following frequently the #ASSA2014 hashtag). From my perspective (maybe also the people I follow), it looked like everyone there was on Twitter during that (major) event.

  • Twitter as a Bookmark

Like most of my colleagues, I do spend a lot of time online, reading articles, for work, for fun, and sometimes, it can be interesting to keep tracks of those articles, posts on blogs, and articles on arxiv.org or papers.ssrn.com. The first reason I use Twitter is that I need bookmarks. With Twitter, those bookmarks are public. It does not mean that I endorse what I read, it should be understood as I found that interesting, and I want to bookmark it, to find it, someday. As most academics, I do read a lot. And one of our duties is to share information. This was mentioned in Priem & Costello (2010) “the professional impact of Twitter may be particularly prononced for scholars given that sharing information is a central component of their work” (see also Letierce & al. (2010)). They estimated that 30% tweets sent by academics contain a hyperlink to a peer-reviewed ressource (usually a pdf file of a research paper). And it is not necessarily a paper published online 24 hours ago : it can also be a paper rediscovered accidently, or a technical report writen a few decades ago that has just been scanned.

Traditionally, academic visibility is measured using citations, meaning that some work has been accepted by (so called) peers, in the scientific community. Academics need to write to have an impact. But a lot of time is spent on reading. This reading activity is missed by standard citation counts (unless you publish a review, for instance).  On Twitter, you can comment, even (briefly) discuss a publication, some tricks on computer codes, share graphical visualization, etc. It is not like posting an anomynous comment on some scientific blog (actually, several blogs do not have open comments any more). On Twitter, there is some kind of credibility, and not only from the academic resume: people know you and follow you. According to Wagers (2012) “good content is propagated rapidly, bad content is not“. Of course, it is not that simple.

  • Live-Tweet in Conferences

Another popular use among academics is to use Twitter for live-tweets. But as mentioned on a lot of blogs, one should be careful about live-tweeting. Live tweeting is supposed to be fun, but stay polite, and respectful, and to use quotation marks as much as possible. Getting back on the so-called Twittergate (see McMillan Cottom (2012) for a complete summary), Aaron Bady, used that interesting image, about Twitter within the academic community “I conjured up the image of an appropriate cantankerous old professor yelling at a bunch of punk tweeters to get off his lawn, like Clint Eastwood in Gran Twittarino”.

Again, to get back on my personal experience, I usually do not live-tweet, I do not feel comfortable with it (I prefer to take notes in my book, even if I might also write a post on my blog later on, and I always ask the speaker if I can quote what he or she said). “Some worried that having someone tweet their insights before they publish might increase the likelihood that they will be scooped by a colleague — although others regarded that notion as slightly paranoid” as mentioned in Kolowich (2012). “The debate over live tweeting at conferences is, in many ways, about control and access: who controls conference space, presentation content, or access to knowledge?” wrote Risam (2012). Beyond those ethical considerations, there is also a more practical reason: in mathematics, it is quite difficult to live-tweet. It is difficult to write equations in Twitter, and to mention a graph without the formal model is useless (or misleading). There might some interest when there are computational issues, to share a nice visualization for instance.

  •  Twitter as an Online Faculty Lounge

 

It is also possible to start discussions on Twitter, but it has to remain a short discussion (to ask for precisions and references). An important issue in Twitter is to speed up connections between scientists. But there is nothing new here. Traditionally, scientists have always interacted with other scientists, in sort of one-to-one interactions, attending seminars, conferences, and discussion with colleagues. Using the words of Priem & al. (2013), “informal conversations have moved out of the faculty lounge to online social media platforms”, such as Twitter. One of the interests is to join somehow a larger “virtual department” with colleagues that are not next door, but who might be far away and in other areas of research. One can even discuss with real people, outside academia. Since I have interests in risk modeling, finance, climate, computer science, mathematics, I can also discuss with people working on stock markets, in insurance companies, in data visualization startups, even journalists. A important point is that it becomes possible to interact with open minded researchers. As mentioned in Fox (2012) – slightly changing the title – “blogging [and micro blogging] changed how economics share ideas”.

The first step in the scientific process is to find ideas, new ideas or concepts to investigate, datasets to describe. Following interesting people on Twitter can be the first step. The final step is to communicate findings and to disseminate. The time when researchers were studying the table of contents of journals to find interesting articles is behind us. When disseminating on a blog, we can share codes, graphs, datasets, links to additional material. On Twitter, we have to deal with the 140 characters constraint, which makes it hard. One idea can be to use a nice visualization, a graph, or a map.

  • Institutional Accounts and Outstitutional Ones

On Twitter, I mainly follow researchers, only a few institutional accounts. For instance, following @HarvardBiz is interesting to get updates about their blog, and recent articles (like using RSS feeds). But most of them are based on non-explicit rules, and controversial posts and articles are not mentioned. Even if there might be interesting experiences. Recently, academics behind the Nature Chemistry Twitter account went back on 4 years of experience (in Nature Chemistry (2013)). Among lessons learnt, collectively, it was mentioned that with the 140 characters constraint, “clarity is a virtue”, which is indeed one of the things you learn with Twitter. Furthermore, they mention that following important researchers in your scientific community on Twitter is interesting. Not only you can discover interesting information: when following personal accounts, one can also learn more personal information.

  • The Impact of Twitter in Standard Process of Academic Dissemination

Another possible motivation for researchers to be active on Twitter might be for dissemination. Using Twitter can help to reach other researchers, outside the (small) circle of one’s community, as well as journalists, or people working in the industry and for governmental organization, even politics. In a large study, Shuai & al. (2012) proved (following 4,600 papers) that papers mentioned on Twitter are more downloaded, and more cited (see also Eysenbach (2011) for a similar conclusion).

  • Blogging After Almost Six Years

After more than five years as an active blogger, I have the same diagnosis as Kotsko (2006), which mentions that blogging is “especially great for academics who would otherwise be quite isolated from other academics with similar interests“.

  • A Peaceful Island within Academia

To get back on one of the main personal reason why I am still blogging after almost six years, with enthusiasm, is because it is still a lot of fun. And it is a place that I appreciate all the more that academia is currently a very competitive place. I interact with the blogging community because I want to, while (most of the time) I interact with students and colleagues because I have to.  Blogs are probably the last place where we have a complete freedom. Even not to blog, if we do not want to.

There are currently two important issues in academia, when talking about money: tuition fees rise, and the decrease of public funding for research. Those past years, (undergraduate) students became consumers. And as a professor, I am now the seller in the store. Most of our students are no longer interested by the story behind a model; they want some recipes for their future job. They want to know what to use, and when. And since universities evaluate their professors, they ask students to fill evaluation forms. So professors do everything to get good evaluations. That is a simple and extremely rational game. But the pleasure of teaching is lost, sometimes. And similarly, the less money there is to do some research, the more competition. If there are one or two grants in my field of research, in Québec, I have no more colleagues and friends, I have only competitors. We now have to work on different tasks to add lines on our resume. As mentioned previously, it is difficult to find time just to discover something new, and spend some time investigating (without the insurance of getting a publication out of it).

Compared with those conventional academic activities (teaching, doing so research, writing a referee report, filling a form for a grant, etc) blogging is fun. Within the blogosphere, there is no competition, just motivation and stimulation. One can interact with other bloggers, learn from them, and so far, it is still a pleasure to blog. Some bloggers claim that it is a shame that blogging is not recognized (formally) within academia, but actually, it might be seen as a great opportunity. We do blog because we want to: it is not another required task. So it can still be fun…

  • Readers of the Blog

As claimed in Walker (2006), “blogs (…) are inherently social. Whether you have five readers or five hundreds doesn’t really matter, it’s the knowledge that you will be read that is important“. So, I have to confess that I blog mainly for myself, in the sense that I do not want to have a readership waiting for me to post something everyday! Also in the sense that my blog gives me a complete freedom to talk about things I find fun, with a whole person style (and actually I do use my blog to develop my own “writing voice“, as called in Walker (2006)), discussing about personal issues. I remember when I started blogging. At first, I thought that no one will read my blog, and then, friends and colleagues told me that they were. It is actually thrilling (not to say scary) to have 5,000 or 10,000 readers for a blog post, when one think about the number of readers of academic articles. As claimed by O’Connor (2007), “blogs are a more effective medium for intellectual influence than journal articles“. Somehow, it looks like academic journals try to avoid exposure: publishing an article in the Journal of Narrowly Focused Hyper Specialized Field Studies is a great place to hide one’s research.

The process of research is, indeed, a social activity, where we need to keep – and create – interactions with various researchers, read papers, keep our mind open. On the other hand, blogging is definitively a personal activity: I use my blog as a notebook, to keep traces of ideas, or codes, even graphs and interesting readings. From this perspective, blogging is extremely personal. But it is opened, and anyone can access it. So I use my blog to promote my work, and my scholarship. As Greg (2009), I see academic “blogging as conversational scholarship“. Blog are great to encourage conversation, they are coffee houses, in the sense of the XVIIth Century in England. In blog posts, we connect to other blogs, using comments, reactions, and hyperlinks. But actually, Derek de Solla Price (see Price (1986), cited in Horne (2011)) explained that “the prototype of the modern scientific paper is a social device rather than a technique for accumulating quanta of information“. In that sense, having informal discussions is probably the best way to work, as an academic. This is also the idea of Crane (1989), “the growth of scientific knowledge is a kind of diffusion process in which ideas are transmitted from person to person“. Using blogs, we can develop and connect a network of various people, from PhD students to practitioners in the industry, as well as more experienced academics who might share common interests. The blog is read by students, former students, colleagues, probably the dean, and even sometimes the department secretary.

  • A Cost-Benefit Analysis

With a simple cost-benefit utilitarist analysis, one will probably blog if benefits are more important than costs. One component is related to time issue: is blogging costing, or saving time? Academics receive frequently emails, asking for explanations on a technical question (from students, former students, or anyone actually) that will need a detailed email answer. It is possible to consider a “reply to public“, with a blog post. Similarly, while teaching, frequently the same question is asked every a year. From my own experience, the first year, I can write an answer in a blog post, and then, I can integrate it to my notes (blog posts can even be more interesting than lectures notes). I cannot believe that blogging is a waste of time, since I see my blog as a long-term memory. It is also possible to integrate material that cannot be used in notes, such as animations, or videos.

A lot of academics claim that “do not have time to waste blogging” but some of them can write extremely long, detailed (and most of the time, nicely structured) replies. If I write a detailed reply to a specific question (because I found the question interesting), why not share it? Either the answer is wrong (or imprecise), but then someone might post a comment, add a reference, a link, etc, or the answer is correct, and then, why not share it? With blogs, dissemination is immediate, as well as comments and feedback.

A lot of researchers within academia still reject blogs because they’re not serious, and not peer reviewed. Not being serious in the style does not mean that the study is not serious and it can still follow a scientific procedure (this is what we can learn from the Ig Nobels). Furthermore, blogs will be peer reviewed as soon as peers will blog. In blog, comments can even be more constructive than comments one gets from referees in a peer reviewed journal. Blog posts are published on the (open) web, not in some journal so expensive that no one can actually read it. Yes, commenting is not a formal or rigorous as a peer review publication, and having opened comments may contribute to establish quality and credibility of a blog. Having comments from the community is a great benefit.

  • Conclusion

With recent changes in academia, blogs are a perfect place to interact outside institutions (universities, societies and journals). Academics can find there not only a place for free speech, but also a place to interact with scholars outside the circle of hyper-specialized colleagues. Anne-Marie Slaughter recently said that “all the disciplines have become more and more specialized and more and more quantitative, making them less and less accessible to the general public” (quoted in Kristof (2014)). Blogs are the missing link from the jargon-based papers to the oversimplifying journalistic articles, between the conventional academic article, the lab notes, and the talk in a seminar. But one should keep in mind that “academic blogging can be an important medium, when it avoids the meta-narcissistic onanism of blogging about how important academic blogging is”, as claimed by Parr (2012).

  •  References

Adams, R. (2013). Blogging in context: Reviewing the academic library blogosphere. (D. 10.1108/EL-05-2012-0054, Éd.) Electronic Library , 31, 664-667.
Ashlin, A., & Ladle, R. (2006). Science communication: Environmental science adrift in the blogosphere. (D. 10.1126/science.1124197, Éd.) Science , 312.
Batts, S., Anthis, N., & Smith, T. (2008). Advancing science through conversations: Bridging the gap between blogs and the academy. (DOI:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060240, Éd.) PLoS Biology .
Bell, S. (2007, 11 1). To Blog Or Not To Blog – That Is An Academic’s Question. 02 01, 2014, http://acrlog.org/2007/11/01/to-blog-or-not-to-blog-that-is-an-academics-question/
Bik, H., & Goldstein, M. (2013). An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists . (D. 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001535, Éd.) PLoS Biol , 11.
Boyd, D., & Ellison, N. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history and scholarship. (D. 10.1104/pp.64.6.1070, Éd.) J Comput Mediat Commun , 13.
Brett, J. (1991). The Bureaucratization of Writing: Why so Few Academics are Public Intellectuals. Meanjin , 50, pp. 513-522.
Carmichael, M. (2010, 07 07). The Little Flaw in the Longevity-Gene Study That Could Be a Big Problem. http://www.newsweek.com/little-flaw-longevity-gene-study-could-be-big-problem-74703
Charpentier, A., Coulmont, B., & Gombin, J. (2014, 02 11). Un homme, deux voix : le vote par procuration. 02 11, 2014, La Vie des idées: http://www.laviedesidees.fr/Un-homme-deux-voix-le-vote-par.html
Chatterjee, P., & Biswas, T. (2011). Blogs and Twitter in medical publications – too unreliable to quote, or a change waiting to happen? (D. 10.7196/samj.5213., Éd.) South African Medical Journal , 101, 712-714.
Chemistry, N. (2013). All you can tweet. Nature Chemistry , 5.
Cohen, D. (2006, 08 21). Professors, Start Your Blogs. http://www.dancohen.org/2006/08/21/professors-start-your-blogs/ .
Conole, G. (2007, 10 20). The nature of academic discourse. 02 01, 2014,  http://e4innovation.com/?p=45
Conole, G. (2007, 10 29). The paper vs. blog argument…. 02 01, 2014,  http://e4innovation.com/?p=56
Cottrell, R. (2013, 02 15). Net wisdom.  02 01, 2014, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/009050e4-75ea-11e2-9891-00144feabdc0.html
Crane, D. (1989, 02 20). How Scientists Communicate. 02 01, 2014, http://garfield.library.upenn.edu/classics1989/A1989AU43700001.pdf
Emanuel, K. (1986). Nuclear winter: Towards a scientific exercise. Nature , 319.
Esarey, J. (2013, 08 11). Blogs and Academic Tenure. 02 01, 2014,  http://politicalmethodology.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/blogs-and-academic-tenure/
Ewins, R. (2005). Who are you? Weblogs and academic identity. . (D. 10.2304/elea.2005.2.4.368, Éd.) E-Learning , 368–377.
Eysenbach, G. (2011). Can Tweets Predict Citations? Metrics of Social Impact Based on Twitter and Correlation with Traditional Metrics of Scientific Impact. J Med Internet Res , 13.
Fister, B. (2012, 07 12). Serial Scholarship: Blogging as Traditional Academic Practice. 02 01, 2014, http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library-babel-fish/serial-scholarship-blogging-traditional-academic-practice
Fitzpatrick, K. (2010). Planned Obsolescence. Information Standards Quarterly , 22, pp. 14-19.
Fox, J. (2012). Can blogging change how ecologists share ideas? In economics, it already has. (D. 10.4033/iee.2012.5b.15.f, Éd.) Ideas in Ecology and Evolution , 5.
Gordon, L. (1998, 09). Tenure on Trial. 02 01, 2014, http://news.stanford.edu/stanfordtoday/ed/9809/9809fea201.shtml
Graham, T. (2004). Scholarly Communication . Serials: The Journal for the Serials Community , 13, 3-11.
Gregg, M. (2009). Blogging from the Ivory Tower Hot-Desk. (D. 10.1177/1354856509342345, Éd.) Convergence , 15, 470-483.
Gregg, M. (2006). Feeling Ordinary: Blogging as conversational scholarship. (DOI: 10.1080/10304310600641604) http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv.php?pid=UQ:7740&dsID=FeelingOrdinary.htm
Grollman, E. (2014, 02 04). Blogging for (a) change. 02 06, 2014, http://conditionallyaccepted.com/2014/02/04/blogging-for-a-change/.
Gu, F., & Widén-Wulff, G. (2010). Scholarly Communication and Possible Changes in the Context of Social Media: a Finnish Case Study. . The Electronic Library , 29, pp. 762-776.
Halavais, A. (2006). Scholarly blogging: Moving towards the visible college. In A. &. J.Jacobs, Uses of Blogs (pp. 117–126). New York: Peter Lang.
Halford, J. (2012, 07 19). No Academic is an Island. http://earlymoderndialogues.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/no-academic-is-an-island/
Halliday, L. (2001). Scholarly communication, scholarly publication and the status of emerging formats. Information Research. , 6.
Herndon, T. (2013, 05 22). The Grad Student Who Took Down Reinhart And Rogoff Explains Why They’re Fundamentally Wrong. 02 01, 2014, Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/herndon-responds-to-reinhart-rogoff-2013-4
Honeycutt, C., & Herring, S. (2009). Beyond Microblogging: Conversation and Collaboration via Twitter. Proceedings of the Forty-Second Hawai’i International Conference on System Sciences .
Horne, D. (2011). Research as a Social Process: Considerations for Academic Libraries. Faculty of Information Quarterly , 3.
Jenkins, H. (2008, 04 08). Why Academics Should Blog….  02 01, 2014,  http://henryjenkins.org/2008/04/why_academics_should_blog.html
Jenkins, R. (2013, 08 08). What’s a Blog Post Worth?  02 01, 2014,  http://chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/whats-a-blog-post-worth/40591
Johnson, S. (1759). The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia.
Jones, K. (2013, 11 20). Should You Blog Anonymously? 02 01, 2014,  http://www.blogherald.com/2013/11/20/blog-anonymously/
Jurgenson, N. (2012, 01 23). How Academics Can Become Relevant. 02 01, 2014,  http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2012/01/23/how-academics-can-become-relevant/
Kaufman, S. (2007, 11 1). An Enthusiast’s View of Academic Blogs. 02 01, 2014,  http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2007/11/01/kaufman
Kirkup, G. (2010). Academic blogging: Academic practice and academic identity. (D. 10.1080/14748460903557803, Éd.) London Review of Education , 8.
Kolowich, S. (2012, 10 02). The Academic Twitterazzi. 02 01, 2014,  http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/10/02/scholars-debate-etiquette-live-tweeting-academic-conferences
Kotsko, A. (2007, 11 1). A Skeptic’s Take on Academic Blogs . 02 01, 2014,  http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2007/11/01/kotsko
Kotsko, A. (2006, 05 23). On Academic Blogging: A Diagnosis. 02 01, 2014,  http://kotsko.blogspot.ca/2006/05/on-academic-blogging-diagnosis.html
Kristof, T. (2014, 02 16). Professors, We Need You!  02 16, 2014,  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-professors-we-need-you.html
Laden, G. (2008, 12 1). Anonymity & Credibility.  02 01, 2014,  http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/12/01/anonymity-credibility/
Lariv, M. (2013, 01 29). How Blogging Helped Me Write My Dissertation. 02 01, 2014,  http://chronicle.com/article/How-Blogging-Helped-Me-Write/136893/
Leo, C. (2008). Why the academic world needs blogs. 0 2 01, 2014,  http://christopherleo.com/about/why-the-academic-world-needs-blogs/
Letierce, J., Passant, A., Decker, S., & Breslin, J. (2010). Understanding how twitter is used to spread scientific messages. Web Science Conference,. Raleigh, NC.
Lupton, D. (2012, 05 22). Where are all the sociology blogs? 02 01, 2014,  http://simplysociology.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/where-are-all-the-sociology-blogs
Luzón, M. (2006). Research group blogs: sites for self-presentation and collaboration. 5th AELFE Conference. http://www.unizar.es/aelfe2006/ALEFE06/5.newtechnologies/87.pdf.
Luzón, M. (2009). Scholarly Hyperwriting:The Function of Links in Academic Weblogs. (D. 10.1002/asi.20937, Éd.) Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology , 60.
MacArthur, D. (2011, 07 21). Longevity genetics study retracted from Science. 02 01, 2014,  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/07/longevity-genetics-study-retracted-from-science/
Maitzen, R. (2012). Scholarship 2.0: Blogging and/as academic practice. (D. 10.1080/13555502.2012.689502, Éd.) Journal of Victorian Culture , 17.
Maron, N., & Smith, K. (2006, 11 06). Scholarly Communication.  02 01, 2014,  http://www.arl.org/sc/models/model-pubs/pubstudy/index.shtml
Marsh, A. (2013, 01 28). The boundaries of academic blogging. 02 01, 2014,  http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2013/01/28/the-boundaries-of-academic-blogging/
McMillan Cottom, T. (2012, 09 30). An Idea is a Dangerous Thing to Quarantine #twittergate. 02 01, 2014, http://tressiemc.com/2012/09/30/an-idea-is-a-dangerous-thing-to-quarantine-twittergate/
Merton, R. (1942). A Note on Science and Democracy. Journal of Legal and Political Sociology , 1, 115-126.
Mewburn, I., & Thomson, P. (2013). Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes and challenges. (D. 10.1080/03075079.2013.835624, Éd.) Studies in Higher Education , 38, 1105-1119 .
Mortensen, T., & Walker, J. (2002). Blogging Thoughts: Personal Publication as an Online Research Tool. In A. Morrison http://possibleworlds.blogs.com/blogsperiment/files/Researching_ICTs_in_context-Ch11-Mortensen-Walker.pdf (Éd.), Research ICTs in Context. University of Olso Press.
Nicolas, D., & Rowlands, I. (2011). Social Media Use in the Research Workflow. Information Sevices and Use , 31, pp. 61-83.
Noel, H. (2013, 08 09). What is tenure for? . 02 01, 2014, http://mischiefsoffaction.blogspot.ca/2013/08/what-is-tenure-for.html
O’Connor, B. (2007, 03 27). Seth Roberts and academic blogging. 02 01, 2014, http://brenocon.com/blog/2007/03/seth-roberts-and-academic-blogging/
Oreskes, N., & Conway, E. (2011). Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Bloomsbury Press.
Park, H., & Thelwall, M. (2006). Web-science communication in the age of globalization. (D. 10.1177/1461444806065660, Éd.) New Media & Society , 629-650.
Parr, C. (2012, 11 1). Blog-standard turn-offs for social media neophytes. 02 1, 2014, http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/421669.article
Porst, S. (2003, 04 16). Why weblogs are rarely used to document research (2). 02 01, 2014, mathemagenic: http://blog.mathemagenic.com/2003/04/16.html
Price, D. (1986). Little Science, Big Science… and Beyond. Columbia University Press.
Priem, J., & Costello, K. (2010, 10 22). How and why scholars cite on Twitter.02 01, 2014, http://jasonpriem.org/self-archived/Priem_Costello_Twitter.pdf
Priem, J., Piwowar, H., & Hemminger, B. (2012, March 20). Altmetrics in the wild: Using social media to explore scholarly impact. arXiv:1203.4745.http://arxiv.org/abs/1203.4745.
Quiggin, J. (2011a). Economic Blogs. (D. 10.1111/j.1759-3441.2011.00148.x, Éd.) Economic Papers , 30, 437-440.
Quiggin, J. (2011b.) Economic Blogs and Blog Economics. In A. B. Jacobs, Uses of Blogs.
Reid, A. (2011). On the value of academic blogging . http://alex-reid.net/2011/03/on-the-value-of-academic-blogging.html .
Riesch, H., & Mendel, J. (2014). Science Blogging: Networks, Boundaries and à Limitations. (DOI:10.1080/09505431.2013.801420, Éd.) Science as Culture , 23 (5), pp. 51–72.
Risam, R. (2012, 09 30). Conference Live Tweets: Twitter Good or #Twittergate? 02 01, 2014, http://roopikarisam.com/2012/09/30/conference-live-tweets-twitter-good-or-twittergate/
Sebastiani, P., & al., e. (2010, 07 01). Genetic signatures of exceptional longevity in humans. Science .
Shema, H., Bar-Ilan, J., & Thelwall. (2012, 05 11). Research Blogs and the Discussion of Scholarly Information . (D. 10.1371/journal.pone.0035869, Éd.) PLOS One .
Shuai, X., Pepe, A., & Bollen, J. (2012). How the Scientific Community Reacts to Newly Submitted Preprints: Article Downloads, Twitter Mentions, and Citations. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047523.
Siemens, G. (2007, 10 06). Academic bloggers. 02 01, 2014, on http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2007/10/06/academic-bloggers/
Silva, L. (2013, 05 12). So You Want to Blog (Academic Edition) . From http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/university-venus/so-you-want-blog-academic-edition
Snow, C. (1963). The Two Cultures: a second look. . (C. U. Press., Éd.)
Tenopir, C., Volentine, R., & King, D. (2013). Social media and scholarly reading. (D. 10.1108/OIR-04-2012-0062, Éd.) Online Information Review , 193-216.
Veletsianos, G. (2012). Higher education scholars’ participation and practices on Twitter. (D. 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00449.x, Éd.) Journal of Computer Assisted Learning , 28, 336-349 .
Wagers, S. (2012, 12 07). Don’t Have Time to Tweet-bollocks! Twitter can even save you time as a scientist. 02 01, 2014, http://mendelspod.com/blog/dont-have-time-to-tweet-bollocks
Walker, J. (2006). Blogging from inside the ivory tower. In A. B. Jacobs, Uses of blogs.
Walker, J. (2009). Weblog. Dans M. K.-L. David Herman, & T. &. Francis (Éd.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory.
Weller, K., & Puschmann, C. (2011). Twitter for scientific communication: How can citations/references be identified and measured? http://journal.webscience.org/500/1/153_​paper.pdf. (Éd.), Web Science Conference, 2011. Germany.
Wilcox, C. (2012). It’s time to e-volve: Taking responsibility for science communication in a digital age. (http://www.biolbull.org/content/222/2/85.full, Éd.) Biological Bulletin , 222, 85-87.
Wilkins, J. (2008). The roles, reasons and restrictions of science blogs. (D. 10.1016/j.tree.2008.05.004, Éd.) Trends Ecol Evol , 23.
Wilkinson, D., Harries, G., Thelwall, M., & Price, E. (2003). Motivations for academic web site interlinking: evidence for the Web as a novel source of information on informal scholarly communication . (D. 10.1177/016555150302900105, Éd.) Journal of Information Science , 29.
Ylijoki, O.-H. (2013). Boundary work between work and life in the high-speed university. (D. 10.1080/03075079.2011.577524, Éd.) Studies in Higher Education , 38, 242-255.
Ziman, J. (1996). Post-Academic Science: Constructing Knowledge With Netwroks and Norms. Science Studies , 9, 67-80.

Personal Analytics with RSS Feeds

I am currently working on a paper on Academic Blogging, from my own experience. And I wanted to do something similar to Stephen Wolfram’s personal analytics of my life. More specifically, I wanted to understand when I do post my blog entries. If I post more entries during office hours, then it should mean that, indeed, I consider my blog as a part of my job (which is something I believe, actually). On the other hand, if I post more in the evening, or in the middle the night, then it could mean that my blog is clearly only for fun, and somehow outside the official academic time schedule.

With the help of @3wen, we have here a function that can read rss feeds, and extract the publication date (and other pieces of information actually),

> library(XML)
> library(dplyr)
> baseRSS <- function(adresse){
+   doc <- try(xmlTreeParse(adresse))
+   if(length(doc)>1){
+   lesArticles <- xpathApply(r <- xmlRoot(doc), "//item") 
+   infosUneEntree <- function(x){
+   title <- sapply(xpathApply(x, "//title"), xmlValue)
+   links <- sapply(xpathApply(x, "//link"), xmlValue)
+   pubDate <- sapply(xpathApply(x, "//pubDate"), xmlValue)
+ return(cbind(title = title, links = links, pubDate = pubDate))
+ }
+ df <- lapply(lesArticles, infosUneEntree)
+ df <- data.frame(do.call("rbind", df))
+ return(df)
+ }
+ else{return(NA)}
+ }

The trick is that the page containing the rss feeds is truncated: you get only 30 post (the latest ones). With WordPress, you can easily go further (thanks @3wen) using

> df.freak2 <- baseRSS("http://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/feed?paged=2")
Namespace prefix dc on creator is not defined
Namespace prefix content on encoded is not defined
Namespace prefix wfw on commentRss is not defined
Namespace prefix slash on comments is not defined
> head(df.freak2)
                                         title
1       S\303\251ries chronologiques, syllabus
2 Copules et valeurs extr\303\252mes, syllabus
3         Jimmy, Mile End, et le Qu\303\251bec
4                Multivariate Archimax copulas
5                     Somewhere else, part 107
6     Informatique (sans ordinateur), partie 1
                                        links                         pubDate
1 http://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/11593 Mon, 06 Jan 2014 00:31:52 +0000
2 http://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/11595 Mon, 06 Jan 2014 00:31:21 +0000
3 http://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/11362 Sun, 05 Jan 2014 03:33:31 +0000
4  http://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/7673 Sat, 04 Jan 2014 11:01:05 +0000
5 http://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/11584 Fri, 03 Jan 2014 15:34:29 +0000
6 http://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/11138 Fri, 03 Jan 2014 07:15:03 +0000

and if we try to get a page that does not exist, we got the following error

> df.freakFaux <- baseRSS("http://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/feed?paged=2000")
failed to load HTTP resource
Error : 1: failed to load HTTP resource

(unfortunately, I could not do it with https://feeds.feedburner.com/ for instance). With the following code, we can extract information about all the posts online on my blog

> df.freak <- NULL
> for(i in 1:2000){
+   df.tmp <- baseRSS(paste("http://freakonometrics.hypotheses.org/feed?paged=", i, sep = ""))
+   if(length(df.tmp)>1){
+     df.freak <- rbind(df.freak, df.tmp)
+   }else{ break }
+ }

All that is just fine. Now, let us write a small function to convert the date into some format I can use (here, I want to study the hour, as well as the week day).

> LD=c("Mon","Tue","Wed","Thu","Fri","Sat","Sun")
> datahour=function(txt){
+ wd=substr(as.character(txt),1,3)
+ wdy=which(LD==wd)
+ y=substr(as.character(txt),13,16)
+ h=substr(as.character(txt),18,19)
+ mn=substr(as.character(txt),21,22)
+ T=as.numeric(h)+as.numeric(mn)/60
+ return(data.frame(weekday=wdy,time=T,year=as.numeric(y)))}

> datarss=function(df){
+ L=unlist(lapply(as.character(df$pubDate),datahour))
+ db=data.frame(
+ D=L[names(L)=="weekday"],
+ T=L[names(L)=="time"],
+ Y=L[names(L)=="year"])
+ return(db)}

Here, I extract the week day, the time in the day (continuous, from 0 till 24, excluded). With the following function we can see the proportion of posts per week day,

> hc=rev(heat.colors(100))
> weekday=function(db,yearinf=FALSE){
+ y=unique(db$Y)
+ if(yearinf==TRUE) y=y[-which.max(y)]
+ if(yearinf==FALSE) y=y[-c(which.max(y),which.min(y))]
+ L=NULL
+ for(i in y){
+ sB=subset(db,db$Y==i)
+ L=rbind(L,table(sB$D)/nrow(sB)*100)}
+ barplot(t(L[nrow(L):1,]),names=rev(y),col=hc[c(rep(15,5),rep(70,2))])
+ }

(from the bottom to the top, Monday till Friday in light yellow, and Saturday and Sunday in light red). Here, on my own blog, it would be

> weekday(datarss(df.freak))

For the hour, it was slightly more technical (I could not find a decent and simple way to plot the graph I was looking for graph, so I did it by myself)

> hour=function(db,yearinf=FALSE){
+ y=unique(db$Y)
+ if(yearinf==TRUE) y=y[-which.max(y)]
+ if(yearinf==FALSE) y=y[-c(which.max(y),which.min(y))]
+ L=NULL
+ for(i in y){
+ sB=subset(db,db$Y==i)
+ if(i==2013) t=table(floor((sB$T+6)%%24))/nrow(sB)*100
+ if(i<2013)  t=table(floor(sB$T))/nrow(sB)*100
+ t=t[as.character(0:23)]
+ names(t)=as.character(0:23)
+ t[is.na(t)]=0
+ L=rbind(L,t)}
+ plot(y,rep(24,length(y)),ylim=c(-3,24),axes=FALSE,
+ xlim=c(min(y)-.5,max(y)+.5),xlab="",ylab="",col="white")
+ axis(2)
+ for(i in y){
+ text(i,-2,i)
+ for(j in 0:23){
+ polygon(c(i-.4,i-.4,i+.4,i+.4),
+ c(j,j+1,j+1,j),border=NA,col=hc[L[max(y)-i+1,j+1]/max(L)*98+1])
+ }}}

Just a short comment here. If you look at the code, there is a difference between 2013, and before. The reason is simple: in December 2012, I officially decided to migrate from my old blog to this new one. All the post prior December 2012 were initially published on the old blog. Which was at Montréal (East Coast) time. And I have the feeling that my new blog has a European time. So I did translate, of 6 hours. But the problem might be more complicated actually

> hour(datarss(df.freak))

Now, if we try to comment. On the week days, I find it a bit scary, to see that I spend so much time during the weekends on my (supposed to be) professional blog. And on the hour, I can explain the 2013 easily. I usually spend most of my evenings working (on the blog, or on my courses, or on my research). But usually, I try to avoid posting an entry at 2 a.m. So usually, I keep it until the morning, then when I arrive at the office, I finalize the post, and I make it available.

To understand the difference with previous years, I should probably add a technical comment : the previous blog was on a dotclear platform. On dotclear the Publication time is not exactly the time the post was officially posted online, but the default value is more the time the post was saved for the first time. So there might be some slight differences. I believe that previously, I started to work on a post in the afternoon, then I might spend some time in the evening, even the day after, but when I publish it, if I do not change the default settings, then the publication time would be the afternoon, when I did save the post.

Let us try on another blog… The problem is that is it is quite difficult to get old entries from the rss feeds. Except with WordPress… So I tried to run the previous code on http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/. The extraction is simple here.

 501 Tue, 14 May 2013 04:01:

But here again, I do have trouble with 2013. To be more specific, when I look at the feeds I get

while I have on my side

 501 Tue, 14 May 2013 04:01:29 +0000
 502 Mon, 13 May 2013 19:51:06 +0000
 503 Mon, 13 May 2013 04:01:46 +0000
 504 Fri, 10 May 2013 21:11:58 +0000
 505 Fri, 10 May 2013 18:45:48 +0000
 506 Fri, 10 May 2013 17:33:55 +0000
 507 Fri, 10 May 2013 13:00:41 +0000
 508 Fri, 10 May 2013 04:01:53 +0000

I have here a 4 hours difference I cannot explain. But it looks fine before 2013. If I use the previous code, with (in the loop)

+   df.tmp <- baseRSS(paste("http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/feed/?paged=", i, sep = ""))

we can get, for instance the following  graph,

 

We do observe an interesting dynamics here : I guess that previously people were working during the day, and then posting at the end of the day. It looks like, now, people work in the day, sometimes late in the evening, but wait till the next morning to post the entry. Just as I did, in order to read one last time, with a fesh mind… Anyway, I still have to understand what did happened in 2013, just to make sure that the data I extract can be used…

Journalisme Scientifique

Il y a quelques jours, Passeur de Sciences a annoncé que le site du Monde.fr allait abriter plusieurs nouveaux blogs de science. Mon voisin @tomroud a parfaitement résumé la situation en 140 caractères, “plus de blogs sur les sciences sur le monde.fr http://passeurdesciences.blog.lemonde.fr/…. Mais toujours pas (vraiment) de blogs de scientifiques” (il ajoutait quelques minutes plus tard “il semble donc que l’avenir du blog sur les sciences soit le journalisme scientifique. Pas sûr que ce soit un progrès…“), et @marc_rr a poursuivi la discussion sur son blog – tout se passe comme si – avec un long débat passionnant. N’ayant pas l’habitude de poster des commentaires, je vais plutôt mettre un billet sur mon blog, car je plussoie à la vision de @tomroud !

Je suis en train de finaliser depuis quelques jours un article sur les blogs académiques, et à plusieurs reprises, je me suis interrogé sur la distinction entre l’activité de bloggeur académique, et l’activité de journaliste scientifique. Et le débat des derniers jours (je devrais dire des derniers heures) m’a beaucoup éclairé. Je pourrais faire beaucoup de reproches à @passeursciences (et je l’avais déjà fait une fois, dans Martingale et Journalisme Scientifique, suite à la publication d’un article qui, en quelques lignes, avait balayé le travail de centaines de scientifiques, dont deux chercheurs qui auraient un prix Nobel quelques mois plus tard pour ces travaux, justement). Et beaucoup de compliments (j’adore la chronique “Improbablologie“, même si j’ai pris l’habitude de la lire en la version originale sur http://www.improbable.com/, car j’adore l’humour de @marcabrahams). Et dans un commentaire sur le blog de @marc_rr, j’ai eu l’impression que le débat se simplifiait, et que la distinction entre scientifiques et journaliste devenait plus claire,

“Les chercheurs-blogueurs : vous allez sans doute me trouver sévère mais si je dis que j’ai du mal à trouver des chercheurs qui bloguent a/ très régulièrement (au moins une ou deux fois par semaine) b/ en français et sans fautes c/ avec un excellent niveau de vulgarisation (donc sans s’adresser en jargon aux happy few) et d/ sur l’actualité, c’est parce que cela correspond à la réalité. Mais c’est aussi sans doute parce que mes critères sont trop élevés ou trop journalistiques” (a continuer…)

Le problème du jargon scientifique est un vieux problème, qui semble atrocement gêner les journalistes, car ils semblent ne pas le maîtriser. Mais je me suis toujours énervé contre cette tentative de nivellement par le bas (ce qui fait que je prend le clavier aujourd’hui). Cette distanciation forcée enlève beaucoup, et fait rapidement perdre toute crédibilité. Dans son Histoire de la Lecture, Alberto Manguel citait un poète gaulois, Ausone, qui écrivait

Tu as acheté des livres et rempli des rayons, ô amoureux des Muses.
Cela signifie-t-il que tu es désormais savant ?
Si tu achètes aujourd’hui des instruments à cordes, plectre et lyre :
Crois-tu que demain le royaume de la musique t’appartiendra ?

Effectivement, je pense qu’un passionné d’astronomie ne se contente pas de lire Ciel et Espace, il va s’acheter un télescope, et essayer de voir les étoiles par lui même. Et celui qui s’intéresse aux mathématiques ira lire Choux Romanesco etc, avec tout le jargon qui va avec, et voudra aller plus loin. Lorsqu’on a vu les figures d’Esscher, avec les enfants, on a essayé de comprendre pourquoi ça marche ! Alors on a pris nos crayons, nos compas, et on s’est lancé. La science, ça se vit. Je pense que c’est la grande distinction entre les journalistes scientifiques et les bloggers académiques. Dans un vieux billet, sur l’importance du do-it-yourself, j’avais justement expliqué qu’il était important que les gens mettent les mains à la pâte. Je peux citer, par exemple, un autre billet (né d’une discussion avec @imparibus) à l’époque des élections présidentielles. J’avais mis en ligne des graphiques et des codes informatiques pour faire un peu de prévision. Au lieu d’attendre que quelqu’un d’autre le fasse. Dans quelques jours, je dois participer a une discussion (dite grand public) sur le big data. Et un de mes points est qu’il est important de comprendre ce qui se passe, comment fonctionnent les algorithmes qui, soit disant, nous gouvernent. L’affiche de la conférence (j’en reparlerais bientôt sur le blog) associe big data et big brother, et je pense que cette association est (partiellement) fausse : on pense à Big Brother si on se sent dépossédé, et je ne pense pas que ce soit le cas. A condition de comprendre ce qui peut se faire avec du big data, et ce qui reste de l’utopie… Il faut se lancer, et s’approprier le jargon, au contraire ! Je trouve cette démission face à la difficulté incroyable !

Quant à parler de happy-few, c’est tellement méprisant ! Au risque de choquer, il y a du monde qui veut des choses techniques, avec du jargon dedans ! Dans l’article mentionné au début, @passeursciences se félicitait d’avoir 20 millions de pages vues en un peu plus de décembre 2011 (et pas lues comme le dit l’article, malheureusement, on ne saura jamais trop ce que les gens font quand ils arrivent sur nos pages). Je l’en félicite. Personnellement, je suis loin derrière, car depuis décembre 2012 (j’ai fait ma migration assez tardivement) j’en totalise à peine 2 millions. Étant statisticien, je serais le premier à éviter de donner trop de poids à ces chiffres (surtout que je publie, à l’occasion, en anglais, ce qui peut faire augmenter le nombre de lecteurs, et beaucoup de mes articles sont resyndiqués sur des blogs comme , r-bloggers, architects.dzone ou statsblogs – parmi ceux que je connais – ce qui fait baisser le nombre de lecteurs), mais quand on regarde rapidement, ça veut dire que j’ai juste 5 fois moins de pages vues qu’un blog hébergé par le plus grand quotidien français !? En mettant des maths et des formules de codes dans presque tous mes billets ?! J’ai du mal a comprendre l’idée de happy-few, je suis désolé… Cela dit, j’espère que ceux qui viennent sont effectivement happy

PS: sur le français sans faute, je suis malheureusement tout seul sur mon blog, et j’ai beaucoup de mal à me relire moi-même. Mais promis, un jour je me payerais le luxe d’avoir quelqu’un pour relire mes articles avant que je ne les mette en ligne ! Ah ah ah, on peut toujours rêver…

Wasting Time (and Givin’ Up)

There was an interesting post, published a few days ago, entitled This Blog is a Waste of My Time. The funny thing is that I had exactly the same experience at the same time. Since 2013 ended, I wanted to update my resume. And I observed that I got zero publications in the past two years years. ZeroNada. Nothing published in 2012 and nothing published in 2013. Of course, it is mainly a timing issue, since several papers are still in the loop, and I might end up with a few papers published in 2014 (at least one was accepted the first week of 2014). But still… When I decided to turn off my laptop yesterday evening at 2 a.m. (this morning actually) I started wondering also if blogging wasn’t a waste of time. Or if it was something else.

  • My Research is a Waste of My Time (and not only mine)

This will sound like a cliché, but academic do waste a lot of time when doing (or pretending doing) some research,

  1. wasting time applying for grants: do I have to be more specific here? By wasting time I mean working during a month (almost) to fill forms, and there then get a “your proposal is extremely interesting, you got positive feedback from the reviewers, unfortunately, there’s no funding from the government…“. We all had this experience. We’re wasting our time here… and the reviewers time, too.
  2. wasting time in committees: as mentioned above, I have to spend time in research committees, reading applications for grants, but also in faculty committed, discussing office allocation for instance. We got more postdocs, visitors, interns than available seats… and for some reasons, I am on the bargaining comity, trying to argue with my colleague that my postdoc staying for 6 weeks should be before his visitor staying for 2 weeks on the priority list. I do have to do this, but you have to admit that, somehow, you waste the time of four tenured professor (plus me, I am not tenured) on some bullshit here… I am also on the PhD comity, where we receive applications. In December, we did spend a lot of time on the application of one candidate, potentially interesting (like many hours, discussing and arguing), and we’re not even sure that if we agree to enroll him in the PhD program, the candidate will join. If he’s not coming, that will be a waste of time
  3. wasting time in the review process: it looks like I spent more time reading and writing reports on others papers than writing my own ! Ok, that might be an actual quote I got from one of my referees in a recent paper… I keep saying that I should start saying “no, I am too busy” when an editor ask me for a review. But I also keep saying that a lot of bullshit managed to get published. So I cannot stand aside and wait. I mean, I could: I’m French and we’re usually good for this kind of things. But I’d rather be involved in the process, advise the editor if the paper is not worth it, and help to improve the paper if it might be interesting. But again, I spend a lot of time in this process. I know what others are doing, but I keep delaying my own. You cannot find my name if you look for articles published in 2012 or 2013, but I am somewhere, as one of those anonymous referees thanked at the end of the article (who sometimes spent more time on the paper than the PhD supervisor who barely knows what the paper is about, but still has his – or her – name on it). There was an interesting post by Rob Hyndman entitled How to get your paper rejected quickly a few weeks ago. I still don’t know if I agree with everything, but I agree that “review­ers spend a great deal of time pro­vid­ing com­ments, and it is dis­re­spect­ful to ignore them” (I would say “might spend“, but I do not want to argue on that point today). A lot of time is wasted in the publication process.
  4. wasting time trying to get data: before Julie started her internship in September, I tried to get datasets to work on demographic problems. I started discussing (and filling) forms to get French datasets, and managed to get a smaller in Québec. The agenda was simple: we work on the small dataset, write the code, and then, once we’ll get the big dataset, we’ll just use the code that we tested on the small one. After 6 months, I still wonder if my form has been accepted, and if, someday, I will be able to get access to this dataset. I know that the dataset exists. I mean, I know that two datasets exist, and I just ask for a merge… but it looks like there might be ethical considerations, so it takes time.

I do waste a lot of time in the process of making research, and I do not mention here procrastination. Actually, I believe that procrastination is extremely important, and is not a waste of time… But I will get back, someday, on that point in another post.

  • My Teaching Related Duties are a Waste of My Time

I will not claim that teaching is a waste of time. I am still extremely pretentious, and I believe that by the end of my courses, my students could actually learn something… But the problem is more on associated duties. One might think of writing the exams (and sketches of solutions) or grading (since I do not have T.A.s to help). It takes time. A lot of time actually. But I won’t consider it as wasted. Two shorts stories to explain what I mean (that occurred in the Autumn session)

  1. in September, I gave a course, and there were 4 tests scheduled. A few hours before the first one, I got an email from a student, asking me to reschedule it because he could not be there. He asked me to postpone his examen a few days after. I said no, essentially because we signed an agreement on the first day, and the student knew by that time that he will not be able to be there for the exam. And never told me before. I decided to stand on this principle. The thing is the student invoked religious matters, and I understood it will start to be stinky soon. But I had principles. I got some moral support from my colleagues, and from my Dean, but everyone was telling me that I was in charge in this battle (“we support you, but you’re on your own“) since we have our academic independence. I did ask for legal backup from the Professors Union (three times) and no feedback. Then, I heard that a letter had been sent to the rector by a lawyer, and within 10 minutes, I gave the student everything he asked. If he asked me to take the test on a Sunday, I would have said yes… Just because lawyers basic rule is to waste others time, or money. So I gave up. I did not want to waste my time on that battle, on my own. The funny (?) side of this story is that so did the student: I agreed to postpone the test at the end of the session, he came for the second test (but never show up in my class) and got a little bit more than 30%. I did not get further news from him, and he did not take the other tests. But I did waste quite some time, and some bad nights and insomnia, too.
  2. in December, I was grading some homework I gave to my students (practical, on databases) and I saw on two forums that a pair of students was asking for help. Actually, it was not help but could you please do this for me ? They did mention the number of their database (each group had a different database, and the person who posted the question in those forums was located in Montréal). This was fraud, or at least fraud attempt. So I gave them 0% – on that specific homework. Students confessed that they did ask for help on the forum (but never asked me anything)… and I gave up. I mean, I decided to grade their work, and I did fill a form for fraud, sent to the faculty, so that it will be someone else’s problem. I did not want to spend time arguing that those students clearly should not get the exam (one of them had only 20% at the final written exam – the other one 36%) : if they want to learn something, taking the course in the Winter session was clearly an opportunity to learn something… But they din’t get it, and I gave up.

I clearly waste time on a lot of things. But when I look back at the past four or five years, I might feel ashamed not to have more prestigious (somehow) publications, lectures notes without typos everywhere, but at least, the blog is something I am still proud of, sort of. And when I end up working, tired, around 2 a.m., I have the feeling that something is wrong, and that a lot of time has been wasted. And I have to confess that I think I should give up on something… But I don’t think it will be on my blogging activity.

Erdos, Facebook, et les réseaux (ou pourquoi il faut aimer ses profs)

Ambitieux programme, je sais. Et autant le dire tout de suite, ça risque fort de partir dans tous les sens…

Dans un précédant billet je parlais du nombre d’Erdős, qui est l’équivalent de la théorie des 6 poignées de main (qui semble être de 4.74 pour les personnes sur Facebook, ou peut-être encore moins sur Linkedin où j’ai constamment l’impression que j’ai des connaissances communes avec tout le monde !) pour des mathématiciens. Dans un cas, on nous dit que toute personne sur terre peut être reliée à n’importe quelle autre, au travers d’une chaîne de relations individuelles comprenant au plus cinq autres maillons. Dans le second cas, on nous dit que les chercheurs en maths peuvent se relier entre eux, via leurs coauteurs (en passant par Paul Erdős au pire). On peut d’ailleurs faire un calcul explicite, en ligne (je me suis rendu compte que j’étais plus proche de plusieurs médailles Fields que je ne le pensais…). Cela dit, coauteur de papiers, et amis sur Facebook, ce n’est pas la même chose (si j’en crois la manière dont certains collègues peuvent parler de leurs (anciens le plus souvent) coauteurs). Tout ça pour dire que le réseau d’un chercheur va bien au delà coauteurs. J’en parle d’autant plus volontiers qu’il y a beaucoup de collègues avec qui je m’entends très bien, avec qui j’ai pu passer des semaines de vacances quand on était au doctorat par exemple ou que l’on continue à croiser, avec ou sans enfants, qui passent faire un BBQ a la maison quand ils sont de passage à Montréal (quand ils ne squattent pas une semaine à la maison), etc. Bref, comme le disait une personne de mon jury de thèse, ‘le monde académique est petit‘ (‘tout petit‘ aurait dit David Lodge).

Pourquoi je raconte tout ça ? Ce matin, Luziadell me faisait découvrir (via Twitter) une ‘étude’ qui disait que “recruiters spend only 6 seconds reviewing an individual resume“. Ce qui m’a fait pensé à plusieurs discussions suite a mon billet du milieu de la semaine, où je disais (dans un commentaire) que je n’avais plus le temps de lire les CV que je recevais, comme beaucoup de collègues (faute de temps, mais aussi parce qu’on n’y comprends vite plus rien). Pour être plus précis (et plus honnête), si je ne lis plus les candidatures spontanées pour les stages, en revanche, je lis en détails les CV pour l’admission à la maîtrise et au doctorat (et pareil pour le recrutement, où on a moins de dossiers qu’en maths pures). Mais comme je le disais, souvent, je lis un CV et je ne sais pas trop quoi en penser… Et le secret, c’est le réseau ! C’est à dire qu’au lieu de me fier au CV, je vais essayer de voir si je connais un prof dans une formation qui aurait pu connaître l’étudiant, et j’essaye de le contacter. Je peux raconter une expérience qui commence à dater (il y a maintenant prescription) : lorsque j’étais enseignant à l’ENSAE, j’ai été sur un comité qui gérait les admissions sur titre (hors concours). Le but était, à partir de 50 dossiers, faire un classement. Classer les gens, à partir d’information différentes est difficile, et je me suis rendu compte que les notes comptaient, mais ce n’est pas ce qui était regardé en premier. Je me souviens que les personnes les plus seniors regardaient beaucoup les lettres de recommandation. J’ai été choqué sur le moment, trouvant que ce n’était pas juste. Mais avec le recul, je me rends compte que c’est au contraire le meilleur système (en combinant cette information avec les autres, cela va de soi). En contrepartie, il faut, bien entendu, ne recommander que si les étudiants le méritent (sinon notre recommandation perd tout crédit). Depuis, je recommande, toujours avec parcimonie, pour que mes étudiants trouvent des stages, ou soient admis sur dossier dans des formations. Et je pense que ça marche1… Maintenant je suis aussi lucide sur le fait que ma recommandation ne fait pas tout, loin de la. Mais il y a une forte corrélation entre les deux… heureusement.

Quand j’étais encore jeune, mon père m’avait expliqué que ce n’est pas le nom de la formation qui fait sa valeur, ce sont ses élèves. Avec l’expérience, je dirais que ce sont aussi ses enseignants2. Par exemple, là où j’enseigne, tous les cours sont données deux voire trois fois par an. Et pas par le même prof. Je suis exigeant. Très exigent. Et je sais qu’un étudiant qui a eu 80 avec moi aurait pu avoir 90 avec un autre. C’est injuste si l’on se dit que les employeurs ne se fient qu’aux relevés de notes. Mais je ne changerais pas mes standards pour autant3. Les profs assurent le prestige de la formation auprès des autres formations (compte tenu des échanges qui existent entre les institutions), mais aussi des employeurs. Ceux qui ne sont pas convaincu pourront relire l’article dans l’agefi.fr sur Nicole el Karoui, à “qui les les marchés lui disent merci !” pour avoir su “créer une formation unique en analyse quantitative, très prisée des salles de marché“. Et je pourrais en trouver d’autres ! Dans ce jeu triangulaire employeurs-enseignants-élèves, les enseignants jouent un rôle non négligeable !

L’an passé, il y avait eu des (grosses) manifestations au Québec contre la hausse des frais d’inscriptions (au moins au départ), et je n’ai jamais caché mon point de vue. Je n’aime pas l’idée de voir les étudiants venir des consommateurs à l’épicerie des diplômes, car j’ai l’impression que beaucoup (trop) d’étudiants cherchent un diplôme plus qu’une formation. Je suis toujours navré quand après plusieurs cours, les seules questions qui me sont posées sont “ça sera à l’examen ?”. Il faut arrêter de croire que le diplôme a un sens. Comme je le disais, on ne lit plus les CV, on ne regarde plus quel cours vous avez fait, on ne sait même plus comment juger les notes ! Par contre, si vous êtes soutenu par un enseignant, j’ai l’impression que cela ouvre des portes, que ce soit pour poursuivre des études ailleurs, ou pour trouver un travail intéressant… Moralité ? Aimez-vos profs ! (ou à défaut, respectez les un minimum)4.

1.Cela dit, un danger avec ce système est que parfois, les personnes qui ne lisent pas les CV ne prennent pas le temps de lire les recommandations. J’ai eu cette mésaventure une fois, car je dois avouer que j’ai du mal à dire non. Bref, un étudiant voulait absolument que je le recommande. J’ai accepté (en précisant – comme toujours – que j’enverrais directement la recommandation à l’employeur, afin de donner plus de cachet). Ma ‘recommandation‘ était de ne pas embaucher l’étudiant (la lettre était longue et argumentée).. et l’étudiant a été embauché..

2. Si j’osais un parallèle, je mentionnerais une phrase mentionnée dans how Google sold its engineers to managenent, qui disait “people don’t quit companies—they quit managers“, que je traduirait en disant que ce n’est pas la marque de la compagnie pour laquelle on travaille qui fait l’emploi, ce sont les collègues, et avant tout le manager. Transcrit en termes d’études, je disais que ce n’est pas le nom de la formation qui fait sa qualité, ce sont ces enseignants (qui en sont- quelque part – les managers).

3. Ce n’est pas rationnel car dans ce jeu, les professeurs sont évalués par les étudiants, et les évaluations fournies sont utiles pour la promotion des professeurs. Mais j’ai arrêté de lire les évaluations. Je veux dire que juger si un prof est dynamique, s’il est souvent en retard, etc, c’est une information intéressante, mais si on traîne un peu sur des sites comme http://ratemyprofessors.com/, par exemple, on voit que ça va beaucoup plus loin ! Je suis assez mal a l’aise quand un jeune de 22 ans dit que son professeur de probabilité ne connaît pas la matière alors que c’est une star sur le domaine, et que ses livres font références. Oui oui, c’est un exemple réel que j’ai pu voir… C’est amusant de traîner un peu sur ce site, on comprend mieux ce que cherchent les étudiants qui prennent le temps de remplir des évaluations (un prof sympa a l’examen qui place des jokes régulièrement). Par contre, pour revenir au point de mon paragraphe, être ‘juste’ sur les notes est important dans la mesure où je pars du fait que quand je mets une note, je donne une forme de recommandation…

4. et non, ce billet n’était pas (uniquement) destiné à l’étudiant qui m’a envoyé un courriel laconique hier “salut, c’est possible d’avoir les données pour le devoir ?

Maudits Français…

S’il y a une tâche que je déteste par dessus tout dans ma vie d’enseignant-chercheur, à Montréal, c’est celle de traducteur de CV de Français. Assez (pour ne pas dire trop) régulièrement, on me demande de donner un coup de main pour décoder le CV d’un étudiant Français, à la recherche d’un “stage“. Sous prétexte que les Québécois parlent le français, beaucoup d’étudiants nous envoient des CV en français, malheureusement dans une langue qui ne parle qu’aux français (de France). On y entend parler de “CPGE” (souvent sans expliquer ce que cela signifie), de “Master” ou pire, de “Stage de Master 2”. Je me souviens de dialogues savoureux avec des collègues,

ça veut dire quoi ça M2 ?
– ça correspond à la deuxième année de maîtrise, en gros… [ndlr oui, LMD c’est un système qui n’existe pas en dehors de l’Europe, le reste du monde raisonne davantage en undergraduate et graduate studies je pense]
donc ils écrivent leur mémoire ?
euh, non, ils ont encore plein de cours, tu vois ça sur le relevé de notes…
ils suivent tant de cours que ça ?
en fait, un cours, je ne sais pas trop combien ça fait d’heures, mais c’est souvent une vingtaine… il n’y a pas marqué le nombre d’heures dans le relevé de notes ? [ndlr à Montréal, un cours c’est 45 heures, et quand on suit des études graduées, c’est rare d’en suivre beaucoup]
non… d’ailleurs, pourquoi il a suivi autant de cours de physiques ? il veut être ingénieur ou faire de la finance ? s’il veut faire de la finance, pourquoi il n’a pas fait une formation en finance, avec quelques cours d’économie plutôt ?
euh… c’est compliqué  c’est le principe des école d’ingénieurs en France… souvent les élèves regardent le “classement” des écoles et pas ce qui y est enseigné… donc tu peux rentrer dans une école d’électronique avant de te rendre compte que tu aimes la finance computationnelle [ndlr suit souvent une longue discussion sur les écoles, ou la variétés d’écoles, ce qui embrouille tout le monde, car toutes les écoles ont des noms proches, et qui fait que personne n’y comprend rien]
ah ? [ndlr je vais simplifier le message d’incompréhension qui suit mon long monologue]  et 14.23 c’est bien comme moyenne ?
ça dépend,  ne veut pas dire grand chose… tiens, regarde le classement
il n’y a pas de classement…
pfffff qu’est-ce que j’en sais moi….
s’il est bon, pourquoi il ne reste pas faire son mémoire en France ? si j’ai un bon étudiant en maîtrise, je le garde au moins jusqu’à la fin de son mémoire [ndlr oui, quand tout se passe bien, à Montréal, quand un étudiant est inscrit en maîtrise, il suit son directeur pendant les deux ans, ce dernier en contrepartie le finance]
– non, c’est pas un mémoire qu’il cherche, il veut un “stage”, c’est obligatoire… normalement tu le fais en entreprise, mais tu peux aussi le faire dans un labo universitaire
en entreprise? mais il a fini ses cours?
– ben oui, je pense
– pourquoi il travaille pas alors? il pourrait chercher un emploi, ça serait mieux payé
– en fait je crois qu’un stage, c’est une période d’essai pas cher, avant une embauche…. c’est un peu une arnaque, mais ça marche comme ça en France.
– c’est louche ton histoire. S’il veut travailler en entreprise ensuite, autant qu’il cherche un stage en entreprise, et s’il veut le faire dans un labo, c’est qu’il veut faire un doctorat par la suite ?
euh… effectivement, je sais pas trop….
bon, tu nous embrouilles avec tes français, on comprend rien, on va relire les CV reçus d’étudiants de Téhéran, au moins ils sont plus clairs !

Je pense que tous mes collègues qui sont passé par le système français, et qui sont maintenant à l’étranger (disons en dehors de l’Europe) ont tous vécu des histoires similaires. Les étudiants français sont souvent bons, mais ils sont incroyablement mauvais pour se vendre ! Je ne peux que conseiller aux étudiants de tenter de postuler pour faire des césures, des stages, des semestres à l’étranger ! Mais il fait comprendre que personne ne comprend rien à vos CV ! On reçoit des applications de toutes les régions du monde, et les CV de Français sont les plus durs à comprendre, car aucun effort n’est fait pour qu’un étranger le comprenne. Je ne dis pas que c’est simple. Sur http://fr.wikipedia.org/, il y a un schéma censé comparer le système d’éducation supérieur au Québec et en France (ou disons une version simplifiée de la France), qui éclaire un peu, mais il faudrait aller un peu plus loin. Peut-être faudrait-il traîner un peu en ligne pour voir des CV d’étudiants de maîtrise, voir des formats que l’on a l’habitude de recevoir. Les commentaires sont ouverts si quelqu’un a des suggestions… mais personnellement, j’en ai marre de faire le boulot et de ré-expliquer le fonctionnement d’un système que j’ai de plus en plus de mal à comprendre…

[ndlr to be continued….]

 

[mardi 26 novembre] Grâce à Emmanuel Davidenkoff, il est possible d’entendre ce billet ! on n’arrête pas le progrès ! (merci à Mathieu et @FrenchRedFrog qui me l’ont appris ce matin)

Research, and honesty

Some great thoughts about research… via Twitter

Wait… that one was actually a true story

Panel on academic blogging

This Monday, I joint a panel discussion in Montréal on “Minor forms of academic communication: revamping the relationship between science and society?“, at the World Social Science Forum. The Forum was organized by the ISSC, i.e. the UNESCO. Yes, Monday was Thanksgiving in Canada. I have to admit that I was not used to celebrate Thanksgiving, in Europe, but since I have in North America, I try to enjoy it. As you can learn on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgiving, at Thanksgiving, you’re supposed to be “Spending Time with Family“. I find it odd that the UNESCO organizes a three day conference on that week-end (the conference started on Sunday actually). It looks like you’re not supposed to have a family life when you’re an academic….

Anyway, that was interesting to join that panel, since I had the opportunity to have interesting discussions with the other members of the panel. I was glad to meet Loïc Le Pape, the editor of a great blog on religion and politics, http://politicsofreligion.hypotheses.org/. It was interesting to see that, even if we do blog on very different topics, with very different styles, we both – as academic bloggers – share the same feelings, the same joy and the same fear about blogging. I also enjoyed meeting – finally – the legendary André Gunthert (see http://andre.gunthert.fr/). You probably know André from his blog http://culturevisuelle.org/icones/. The text of his talk on now online there, and I did really appreciate it (anyone interested by academic blogging should probably read it). I was also glad to discuss about Boulet‘s incredible post on his blog entitled “notre Toyota était fantastique“ (we both love Boulet’s work, and more generally graphical novels, what we call bande dessinée in French, the nineth art actually). Boulet is a comic book writer, publishing on a blog for years, and I have to admit that I prefer reading the published books than the blog (his Notes are the paper version of the blog). But last week, I saw something on his blog that I will never be able to read in a book

It is still a cartoon, probably more an autobiographical graphic novel, but those animations are great. For the first time, I really see the interest of blogging in graphical novels. Please, have a look at “notre Toyota était fantastique“, it is really something you should experience… And I was glad to share André’s point of view, since this is exactly his expertise (as a researcher). I hope that we’ll find some time to discuss more about data visualization, since I believe I have a lot to learn from him.

It was also great to finally meet Marin Dacos, one of the founder of http://hypotheses.org/, which is the platform hosting now my blog. Hearing some macro-vision about academic blogging was interesting, and complementary compared with blogger’s experiences I’ve been reading those past days to prepare my talk. I was also glad to discuss legal aspects related to blogging, since one of the interest of being hosted by an academic platform is to have some kind of backup and support. One of the issue I should still work on is about adding mentions when I use a picture on my blog. I am aware that it is not fair to avoid citations related to pictures, when I upload them on my blog. A few months back, I decided to add mentions, explaining where each pictures were borrowed from. Then, since the owner of the rights of some pictures was checking on the internet using robots (or simply Google), within a week, I got an email asking me to remove those pictures, since it was illegal. The email was not friendly at all. So I did remove the pictures, and all the citations and mentions. So, if some authors of pictures want me to remove a picture from my blog, or want me to add a mention below, I’d be glad to do so ! Please, just send me an email.

And finally, another interesting experience related to this panel was that, for the first time, I discovered what live tweeting was. So far, it was only a legend, that I could read from here and there (see e.g. http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/…). I had already experience the one tweet to mention a talk, like

but here, I guess for the first time, I experienced live teet,

I found that awesome ! I mean, at first, I find that odd to see me mentioned so many time on consecutive posts on twitter. But it is great to see what people in the room got from my talk (I have to admit that it was not live for me since I do not have a smartphone – not even a phone actually – I did discovered that later, in the evening, when I got back home, after some beers with André and Loïc). I did really enjoy what Ewen did on his blog a few month ago, with a detailed summary of the R conference he went to (see http://editerna.free.fr/wp/?p=56). Here, it is the tweet version. And I found it great… I don’t know why it is the first time I see this (I don’t know if it is something you see more in social science than in mathematics, or just due to the fact that I did not attend much conference since I have three kids), but I loved that… Thanks again Ravi.

The role of blogging in academia

In a few days, I will participate to a panel discussion in Montréal, chaired by Marin Dacos, entitled  “Minor forms of academic communication: revamping the relationship between science and society?“, at the World Social Science Forum. I do not have much expertise  (compared with colleagues involved in the panel) even if I frequently observe the community of academic bloggers, and I regularly interact with some of them. For this panel discussion, Marin asked me to share my experience, as an academic blogger. So, let’s try to describe the Freakonometrics adventure…

  1. The origins: why and how the blog started?
  2. The practice: how do I blog?
  3. The future: why is it still worth blogging, in academia?

I will try to organize my post according to these three items (note that you can get directly to each of them if you want to skip some parts). But to be honest, my post will probably get soon very messy…

  • How blogging started – from experience at Univerisité de Rennes to ‘Freakonometrics’

The first version of the blog started at Université de Rennes 1, following a request from the IT department. In 2007 (as far as I remember), someone came up with the idea that all researchers should have a web page, or at least a page explaining their area of expertise, with links to papers, and lecture notes. But a lot of researchers were reluctant, and that IT person thought that blogs might be an interesting alternative. I was (extremely) skeptical, but since I just arrived in Rennes by that time, I thought it could be fun. I did have web pages for my courses (see a relic of the past, http://193.51.89.161/st/ for a course on time series I gave 10 years ago, in Paris), and I did have a webpage with weekly updates, that could be called a blog. So I did have some kind of experience. But still.

From a technical point of view, blog is a contracted form of weblog, which is a website made up of ongoing entries, that we will call posts. And those posts are published in reverse chronological order. So it makes it difficult to follows for students, unless they go on the blog frequently. There might be tags and categories, that can be used to distinguish posts related to conference, publications, and teaching. This first blog was a great experience. Teaching was fun, students did like the idea of the blog, and comments became a place to discuss. The blog was some kind of (open) forum, there were a lot of comments. I became blog addicted by that time.

Then I started to be recognized in conferences, and I wanted to stop having an eponymous blog (coincidence, or not, it was also by the time I moved to Montréal). Actually, several academic blogs are eponymous, it is rather common (we’ll get back on that later on). And that makes sense since most bloggers tend to identify their blogs, as both personal and professional. Consider for instance Ann Althouse, professor at University of Wisconsin Law School (since 1984) who met her husband through blogging (see http://nytimes.com/…). I guess you can find all here life (personal and professional) online. Boundaries between professional, academic and personal life may be difficult to establish, mainly because all those aspects intertwined constantly in the lives of scholars. After a almost three years, the Freakonometrics adventure started officially.

This blog is clearly an academic blog. Because of the editor, because of the contents, and because it is now hosted by hypotheses.org , a “platform for academic blogs in the humanities and social sciences“. It is one academic blog among many others1 . John Quiggin explained in 2006, “with the arguable exception of law, economics is the academic discipline where blogging has been embraced most enthusiastically“. This might explain why there is such an active – and enthusiastic – community (see more recently another discussion, by John Quiggin). About the academic blogosphere, Jacob Halford said that “the situation within academic blogging seems to be that we are currently a bunch of islands that are vaguely connected but not really arranged into continents and groups. We are all spread out across the digital world with a fragmented network between us.” What can we find in this community? Some economists like to use their name, like Greg Mankiw’s blog for instance (with subtitle “random observations for students of economics“). But most of them prefer to hide themselves behind a short title, like Confessions of a Supply-Side Liberal (by Miles Kimball), The Conscience of a Liberal (by Paul Krugman), or longer one, like Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science (by Andrew Gelman). The editor is never hidden, and we usually find a short bio, including a picture (most of the time), as well as a link to a webpage hosted by some university. Other examples might be I’m a bandit, with subtitle “random topics on optimization, probability and statistics. by Sébastien Bubeck“, or what’s new,  with subtitle “updates on my research and expository papers, discussion of open problems, and other maths-related topics. by Terence Tao“. Some blogs use puns (it is a feature that you can find on almost any blog: most of them use humor, just to explain that this is just a blog) like Hyndsight, “a blog by Rob Hyndman“. But the reference I like more is perhaps more one of those blogs where the (true) name appears, but only slightly…. In those blogs, the name of the editor appears only as the author of posts, like Marginal Revolution, where the contributors are  and , or Normal Deviate (with subtitle “Thoughts on Statistics and Machine Learning“) by Larry Wasserman (you simply have to click on the About hyperlink, but it is the only place you’ll find the name of the editor of the blog). Now, to explain the name of my blog, in a few lines, I should probably spend some time discussing a major influence.

  • How blogging started – Influences

In 2005, University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner published a collection of ‘economic’ articles, claiming that economics is, at root, the study of incentives. This is how http://freakonomics.com/blog/ started (the first post was published in September 2005). My blog is more about econometrics than economics, and I did borrow (not to say steal) the name freakonometrics to a colleague of mine at the Ecole Polytechnique. According to Francis Kramartz, there were two different approaches in econometric courses: see econometrics as an application of mathematical statistics, where the linear model is projection of the variable(s) of interest on the subset of linear combination of possible explanatory variables, and you derive properties, and then you discuss possible applications. Or you start with applications, with data, and then you try to find a (possibly) predictive model. Francis called this second approach freakonometrics. I find nice the maths behind econometrics (especially when you can mention geometry and projections), but I also love playing with datasets! I love the feeling you can have when you try to extract information, and think about visualization issues. I thought freakonometrics was a proper description of what will be in the blog.

Another important point when I started blogging was related to a so-called open community. I started blogging a few years after discovering R (a free software programming language, and a software environment, for statistical computing and graphics). The community of R users is based on the idea that we should share notes, codes, and tips. Since blogging is sharing some knowledge, it became natural to blog, including codes. And I have to confess that it has always been thrilling to see people willing to re-use what I’ve done in a blog post (as long as they don’t make money of it). Of course, there are alternative to blogging, such as being an active member on a forum (like stackoverflow), or answering to mailing list (see the paper by Timothy Stephen and Teresa Harrison on the Comserve experience). I truly admire contributors on forums or mailing lists. And somehow, we do the same kind of things. Except that on my blog, I am in charge.

  •  What the blog looks like ?

This might be a stupid question: since you read this post, you obviously can look around, and see how the blog looks like. On the left, I try to give a short description of my blog. I pretend that it is an “unpretentious academic blog“. It is an academic blog from its contents, not only because it is written by someone within academia. And it is unpretentious because I want my blog to be casual (but we’ll get back on this point later on). About me, I pretend to be “a surreptitious economist and born-again mathematician“. This is from my background. I did study Mathematics in France, then I discovered Economics. I got a master degree in Economics and Mathematics, and a PhD in Mathematics. Then I chose to join an Economics department, in France, for my first position, and finally got a position in a Mathematics department, in Montréal. Currently, I rediscover Mathematics, but I still love Economics. Econometrics in neither Mathematics, nor Economics. It happens to be somewhere in between. A macroeconomist will analyse and compare transportation prices. A microeconomist will try to understand why people decide to take their bike, or a car to go to work. They will try to explain why return tickets are usually cheaper than one-way tickets. An econometrician will try to get datasets with ticket price, for different dates, different destinations, etc, and then, try to quantify the price difference. Not necessarily explain it. This is what I do in my blog. I explain how to model, and I skip usually the interpretation part.

I claim that I am “a blog activist, and an actuary, too“. About the second part, in Europe, no one knows what actuarial science is, so usually, I do not mention it. In North America, it is much more popular. And yes, I am an actuary. I did publish books on mathematics of insurance, and I am about to edit a book on computational aspects of actuarial science. I am not proud of being an actuary, but the truth is, I find insurance problems puzzling and challenging, for mathematicians and economists. For the first part, yes, I keep writing on my blog that academics should blog. They do have legitimacy to comment and explain, so they should us it. I can even go on a conference on a holiday to talk about blogging !

On the right part of my blog, I try to get legitimacy. They are three different information,

I mention my academic publications since I believe they give me legitimacy, when I talk about econometric models, or probability. This is how academics judge other academics within academia.

I believe that those websites give me some credibility, not as an researcher, but as a blogger. I do also mention top site mentions, such as “100 Savvy Sites on Statistics and Quantitative Analysis“. I should probably mention that it might look like my academic profile gives me credibility as a blogger. But somehow, I have the feeling that the causality effect has changed: I now have credibility in my research because of my blog. Some editors asked me to refer some articles submitted because they read some posts on my blog (as they told me explicitly in their email). Some colleagues invited me because they know me2 from my blog, not from my research papers.

  • How do I blog, and what do I blog about ? 

My research and teaching activities are related to economics, mathematics, actuarial science, etc. I do blog about those subjects, using a less formal medium than academic journals, even if I write to an audience that I am usually talking to (students or researchers). And I cannot pretend that I write for non-economists, or non-mathematicians. Even if I want to, jargon comes naturally (even if I pretend to be casual). Different sorts of posts can be published on the blog. If we try to distinguish, there are

  • post to mention events and news
    • about forthcoming conferences, thesis prices, etc. This was done on the blog when I started, but this information is now shared with microblogging (through Twitter, via @freakonometrics). Nevertheless, there might be some recent examples on the blog, such as a PhD defense or a PhD price, or to mention the panel of the WSSF.
    • I should probably mention that I use micro-blogging to share readings I found interesting. Interesting tweets are now posted in a dedicated category, twice a week
  • posts to mention amusing situations to explain (possibly) difficult subjects
    • about game theory: when should I (otimaly) shoot at my son when playing with waterguns ? We have empty guns, we rush to fill them: the sooner I stop, the more likely he will get wet before I do (which is good, from my point of view), the longer I wait, the more water I will get, and lower the probabiliy to miss him. See also a discussion about optimal strategies to get married
    • about Markov Chains: what is the transition probability of a Markov Chain ? can I derive it in a simple case ? like Snake and Ladder game ? Here, I explained how to model that game, and how to simple Markov chains to see where you might be after rolling a dice ten or twenty time.

see also some post on genetic algorithm,

    • about demography issues: what is the age of the oldest person you know (from a TV commercial) ? How old are the popes,  or the Members of Parlements (twice actually)? Based on some open dataset, I compare the distribution of the age of MPs, and the distribution of the age of people who might be able to vote.

    • about probabililty: if I go the play the roulette, and I wish to maximize the probability of doubling my initial wealth, should I play small or should I play big ? or probability to win when playing cards : the more players there are, the longer the game? Some of the posts were published before I went to Las Vegas (for holidays).
    • about number theory, and complexity of strategies: on a Sunday evening game with kids (I pick a number, and you should find it), or a story about McGyver in an Afghan jail. In this post, I use a nice theoretical result in group theory in a McGyver story, trying to explain that yes, group theory can be fun, too.
    • about geometry: what could be the distance between points, and what are the connections with pigeonholes, is it simple to get your own Essher type graph, on breaking pieces of wood (part 1,  part 2 and part 3) or other technique to share a pizza fairly? Most of those posts are based on discussions with my kids, and I try to go further, and to illustrate difficult geometric concepts, or results, using simple discussions I had with my (young) kids
    • about magic tricks: how to sort matrix, per row. This post is based on the mathematical explanation of some magic trick.
    • about classification, and playing pétanguefollowing some discussions with students of mine, a few years back, where I suggested a dual version of a popular French sport,
    • about econometrics: based on Playmates’s measurements I try to explain the importance of working with individual observations (versus time related ones). Based on those measurements, I try to see if there is some correlation between chest and hip measurement, for young women. It turned out that there were no correlation at all, over 60 years, because we cannot treat those observations as individual independent observations, since there was a strong temporal evolution. Actually, chest and hip measurement had opposite trends with time, which tends to hide the true correlation

    • about stochastic processes, random walks (and option pricing): on the arcsine law, and drunkward’s walk. In those posts, I try to answer drunkward’s important question, and relate them to standard questions in mathematical finance
  • posts to react to articles, discovered online, somewhere else
    • about breaking records: how comes every year is the most expensive one, in terms of natural catastrophes, or about financial records. In this post, I try to see if over almost 20 years  it is an outstanding even to have 11 consecutive days were the index went down (and to compute that probability)

    • about the 100% chance of a nuclear incident called statitical certainty, about an article published in a French newspaper. In that article, two engineers explain that there is a 100% chance to have a nuclear accident, in France, over 30 years. Just by making a simple mistake in probability computation,

    • about e-cigarettes, and confusion in some French newspapper about a scientific study, where it was claimed that there was a difference, but (statistically) not significant.
     
    • about some probability of having an 11 hour match in tennis game, about the probability of having twice the same numbers in a lottery, or in UEFA series. In 2010, there was the longest tennis game, ever. And using some extreme value theory results, I try to estimate the odds of having such a game

    • about the traveling salesman (more a book review): inspired by William Cook’s “In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman“, some codes were proposed to solve a (difficult) mathematical problem (in the context of collecting candies at Halloween)
    • about surveys, and pools: what does it mean if 75% of the people interviewed in a survey claim that they do not ‘believe’ in surveys, and opinion pools; and some code to predict the winner of some elections (based on several pools)
    • about insurance and bargaining: why is it – sometimes – rational for insurance company to bargain, with their insured, based on some old research paper, published in the 70’s.
    • about financial issues: what does that mean the a financial stock is hold, on average, 8 sec. ? what would a bunker full of gold be like, how large can it actually be. It started a discussion about the (difficult) estimation of what should be a (simple) average time
  • posts to discuss a question asked by a student, or a colleague, that puzzled me (it is then more a discussion, without answers)
    • about the interpretation of a parameter in a model: can weights in weighted least squares be understood as a frequency ?
    • about subadditivity and risk measures: why statements in discussion papers regarding Insurance company solvency might be incorrect, and yield to counterintuitive situations.
  • a presentation (and if possible an explanation) about a paradox,
    • about the Monty Hall paradox (see also a discussion about a similar topic on computing probability with respect to some information or more funny)
    • about Simpson’s paradox, and pies choice,
    • about bias selection: why we should not listen to students and policemen (see ) or why are there always more buses on the opposite side of the road.
    • about probabilities, like nuns and Hell’s angels in an airplane, some nice puzzles, here and there, and probabilities to have brothers and sisters: do boys have more brothers, or more sisters?
    • about events that will occur at some infinite time, with a strictly positive probability
  • posts to share some experiences with students (or by myself) to investigate a model, a dataset, or a computer function
    • about airline tickets: when it is optimal to buy – online – an airline ticket. I did use a dataset mentioned in a study on a similar topic, and I try to explain that this question is related to some risk aversion measure: are we looking for the date where, on average, the price is the lowest, or a date were, with 90% chance, the price is the lowest?
    • about graphs: with Ewen Gallic, what are the connections among twitter accounts of Members of Parliament (in France). The idea was to learn how to play with Twitter API, and to get a nice visualization,

There was also a post on hours of tweets (where I tried to see how long I can survive away from Twitter).

    • about graphical functions: finding Waldo in a picture, using the red and white stripped shirt , or enclaves in maps. Discovering image treatment functions
    • about circular density estimation: how to make sure (for hourly data) that 23:50 is close to 00:10 ? that (for spatial data) that -170 degrees (west) is close to 170 degrees (east) ? with application on earthquake location, or calls to 911. Actually, for 911 calls, the first post was entitled “minuit, l’heure du crime“, where I did try to figure if there were more crimes at midnight (which is precisely the time of discontinuity),
http://freakonometrics.blog.free.fr/public/perso3/911-mois.gif
    • about textmining, and letter appearance in language (and books): including La Disparition, a book written in French with no E (how different is letter appearance probability, compared with the conditional one, when E is removed?). Discovering textmining functions.

see also text extraction from tweets,

    • about first names, in France, per year. Using counts of birth per first name, region, and year, I try to get visualizations of spatial and temporal patterns associated to some common first names,
    • about car speed, or car accident (based on some dataset I got). I try to study the links between the speed of two consecutive cars (following a discussion I had with my wife while I was driving, where I try to explain that if I drive too fast, it might be because the driver in from of me is driving too fast),
    • about sharing datasets: we did generate a dataset linking zip codes and spatial coordinates or with counts of births in France, per day.
  • posts with a more historical perspective on a theory I discuss in a course
    • about the history of extreme value theory:what is the story behind the Fisher-Tippett theorem, and the law of three types, with Gumbel, Weibull and Fréchet distribution ? Did those people (really) work on extreme values ? Who got which result ? See also the history of the return period concept.
    • about the Student t test: who is this Student, and what are the connections with Guiness ?
    • about the chi-square distribution: what did Peason discovered first, the chi or the chi-square distribution ?
    • about discounting: Leonardo Fibonacci and discounting
    • about the law of small number: why is the Poisson distribution so important ?
    • about financial market efficiency (in French): who said that assets prices could be modeled as random walks (and therefore are then ‘purely’ random) ? What is a martingale ? See also an application to temperature time series in Montréal.
    • about optimization: did Newton and Raphson (from the so called Newton-Raphson algorithm) really invented the gradient descent ?
  • codes, references and slides related to some courses, conferences or research papers

    • about demography: codes and tables generated for the Appendices of a book on Bodily Injury, Insurance and Legal issues,
    • about climate change: codes and graphs related to a talk given a Lyon on extremal events, and climate change.

  • a more general discussion, about science and dissemination (not to say teaching)
    • about teaching computer codes to kids: on hacker generation, and why kids should learn how to code
    • about research mythology: how journalist discuss research issues (based on two experiences)
    • about humanities versus sciences: visiting the Gugenheim museum in NYC versus MoMaths (Museum of Mathematics), with kids

 

  • How do I blog, and what do I not blog about ? 

Now, I should admit that I will not blog on all topics. For instance, I was involved in some discussions, where a student of mine asked interesting questions, about religion and education. I wanted to share things I’ve heard (actually, read), but a lawyer told me that I should avoid to do so. And I know there are things that I should not post on my blog if I do not want to ruin my career. So for legal issues, there are things that I will not write on my blog. And similarly, I try to avoid libel actions, so when I write that someone published something stupid in a post, or in an article, to try to say that as nicely as I can. Again, I claim that my blog is “unpretentious“, so I am not here to fight, nor to be preachy, just to have fun! As we’ll discuss in a couple of paragraphs, I do fight every morning on my bike, I do fight when I arrive at work. My blog is still a peacefull place, and I want to keep it like that…

Another reason why I will not blog about everything is that I do not have legitimacy to blog on everything. I mean, I know a bit of mathematics, but when I post something about a property in geometry, I feel like an impostor. Similarly when I write something about some history of some statistical concept, about regulation in insurance, about simple game theory result, etc. I try to publish on topics that are either related to my research, or to my teaching activities. Even tonight, when writing this post, it looks like a big fraud to me, and I find it extremely hard to write some exegesis about my blogging activity.

Finally, I should confess that I do not blog about everything because I try keep some ideas for my research, that will (hopefully) end up with a publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Blogging does not get much credit in an academic career, let’s be pragmatic… Blogging is not a substitute for other academic writings! But they can clearly coexist (see a discussion on insidehighered blog). If we compare a blog post and a (standard) academic article, it takes more time to write a paper, mainly because full referencing is necessary, because it is necessary to convince the editors, as well as referee(s) that you wrote something original, that is probably a major contribution. It is much faster to publish a post! And probably most important, while blogging, you can explore a question, you do not need to answer it.

  • How do I blog? Somewhere between an academic paper and a journalist article?

As mentioned previously, some academics do publish posts in blogs hosted by newspapers, such as The Conscience of a Liberal (by Paul Krugman). Somehow, those journals (here the New York Times) host academics the same way newspapers hosted some opinion pages, were academics where invited to give their point of view, a few years back. But, as John Quiggin explained in 2006, “newspapers are generally reluctant to repost on academic working papers and similar publications unless the conclusions are obviously newsworthly“. Economics in newspapers has to be related to macroeconomics, and science has to be related…. to medicine or technology (the science page is now a nice advertising page for the most recent smartphone applications, or the electronic cigarette, as mentioned previously). And, as mentioned by Robert Cottrell, a couple of decades ago, experts (not to say scholar) “have functioned as sources for newspaper journalists. Their opinions would emerge often mangled and simplified, always truncated, in articles over which they had no final control.” Now, with blogs, it is possible to read them directly, in a style that is easier to understand, compared with academic (standard) publications. “The general reader has access to expertise that was easily available, a decade ago, only to the insider or the specialist“. Writing a post is an academic blog is neither pretending being a journalist, nor writing an academic article. In the traditional process of research, we discuss with colleagues, possibly in conferences, but only the final publication remains. False starts and heuristics are skipped, because they might appear as un-necessary to get an understanding of the article. And I truly believe that this is exactly where blogging become interesting.

Why am I still blogging? and why I will probably do it for a long time…

  • Why am I still blogging ? a peaceful island within academia ?

One of the main reason why I am still blogging after 6 years, with enthusiasm, is because it is still a lot of fun. And it is a place that I appreciate all the more that academia is currently a nightmare. I might sound incredibly cynical (and I have to confess that I think I am becoming cynical), but I interact with the blogging community because I want to. I interact with students and colleagues because I have to. There are two important issues in academia, when talking about money: tuition fees rise, and the decrease of public funding for research. I have the feeling that (undergraduate) students, are consumers. And consumers are the real bosses, you know that, right? And as a professor, I am like the seller in the store. I can try to give some advice, but I am useless. Most of my students are no longer interested by the story behind a model, they want some recipes for their future job. They want to know what to use, and when. And since universities evaluate their professors, they ask students to fill evaluation forms. And professors do everything to get good evaluations. That is a simple and extremely rational game. And about the colleagues, I can tell you so many stories, that I have experienced, or heard about. Everyone is now suspicious. And again, it is rational. The less money there is to do some research, the more competition. It there are one or two grants in my field of research, in Québec, I have no more colleagues and friends, I have only competitors. This is not (only) a feeling I have, it is truly something that I observed. Many time, I have been with colleagues, and we’ve been working with doors closed, not because we did not want to get disturbed, but to avoid that someone still our idea. We’ve even been to work in some coffee, outside the university. With students, it is a commercial world, while with colleagues, it is a world of paranoia (most of the time for good reasons). I always find odd, when I fill a form for a grant, the section about my ‘main contributions‘. When I arrived in Canada, some colleagues were paternalistic (one more time for good reasons) and they told me that I had to mention the impact of my research. Like my research could save the world, or help to cure from some awful diseases… No, what I do is theoretical, probably useless, and I cannot expect too much. Unfortunately, I am not Alvin Roth (who proved that mathematics can save lives, literally). And yes, when I have three consecutive hours to do some research, it is probably because either I missed a course, or because I forgot about a meeting…

Compared with those (standard) academic activities, blogging is fun. Within the blogosphere, I do not see competition, just motivation and stimulation. You can interact with other bloggers, learn from them, and so far, it is still a pleasure to blog. Some bloggers claim that it is a shame that blogging is not recognized (formally) within academia, but I think it is actually a great opportunity. We do blog because we want to, it is not another required task. So it can still be fun… And when talking about the impact of my activities, I believe that my blog has much more impact than my teaching (in a class room) or my research.

  • Why am I still blogging ? who I am blogging for ?

I have to confess that I blog mainly for myself, in the sense that I do not want to have a readership waiting for me to post something everyday! Also in the sense that my blog gives me a complete freedom to talk about things I find fun, with a whole person style (and actually I do use my bog to develop my own “writing voice“, to use Jill Walker’s words), discussing about personal issues. I remember when I started blogging. At first, I thought that no one was reading my blog, and then friends, colleagues told me that they were. It is actually thrilling (not to say scary) to have 5,000 readers for a blog post, when you think about the number of readers of academic articles. As claimed by Brendan O’Connor, “blogs are a more effective medium for intellectual influence than journal articles“. Somehow, it looks like academic journals try to avoid exposure. I mean, publishing an article in the Journal of Narrowly Focused Hyper Specialized Field Studies is a great place to hide your research.

If I wanted to be provocative, I would say that research is a social activity, where we need to keep, and to create, interactions with various researchers, reading papers, keeping our mind open. On the other hand, blogging is definitively a personal activity. And since I am an old bear, usually reluctant about standard social activities, blogging is perfect for me.

As mentioned in some previous posts, I use my blog as a note book, to keep traces of ideas, codes. So yes, blogging is personal. But it is opened, and anyone can access it. So I use my blog to promote my work, and my scholarship. Using Melissa Gregg‘s quote, I see academic “blogging as conversational scholarship“. Blog are great to encourage conversation! Blogs are coffee house (in the sense of XVIIth Century, in England). In blogs, we connect to other blogs, using comments, reactions, and hyperlinks. But actually, Derek de Solla Price explained in 1963 (see e.g. Doug Horne’s paper) “the prototype of the modern scientific paper is a social device rather than a technique for accumulating quanta of information“. So having informal discussion is probably the best way to work, as an academic. This is also the idea of Diana Crane, “the growth of scientific knowledge is a kind of diffusion process in which ideas are transmitted from person to person“. Using blogs, we can develop and connect a network of various people, from PhD students to practitioners in the industry, as well as more experienced academics who might share common interests. The blog is read by students, former students, colleagues, probably the dean, and even the department secretary. My kids too, someday…

  • Why am I still blogging ? cost-benefit analysis

With a simple cost-benefit analysis, I will probably blog if benefits are more important than costs. One component is related to time issue: is blogging costing, or saving time? I receive frequently emails, asking for explanations on a technical question (from students, former students, or anyone actually) that will need a  detailed email answer. I still believe that a “reply to public” is possible, with a blog post. Similarly, while teaching, the same question is asked twice a year. The first year, I can write an answer in a blog post, and then, I can integrete it to my notes (blog posts can even be more interesting than lectures notes). I cannot believe that blogging is a waste of time, since I see my blog as a long-term memory (I do have an extremely short-term memory, unfortunately). And just to be naughty, I do see a lot of academics that “do not have time to waste blogging” who can write extremely long, detailed (and most of the time, nicely structured) replies. If I write a detailed reply to a specific question (because I found the question interesting) I find it stupid not to share it. All the more because other people might also be interested in interacting… With blogs, dissemination is immediate, as well as comments and feedback.

A lot of researchers within academia still reject blogs because they’re not serious, and not peer reviewed. Not serious, I can live with it. I am a big fan of the Ig Nobels prices: yes, we can do serious research without being too serious. But rejecting blogs because they are not peer reviewed… you’ve got to be kidding me! Comments are open, and unless you want to sell Louis Vitton bags or Viagra, I publish all of them. In blog, comments can be more constructive than comments you get from referees in a so-called peer reviewed journal. Blog posts are published on the (open) web, not in some journal so expensive that no one can actually read it. Yes, commenting is not a formal or rigorous as a peer review publication, but having opened comments may contribute to establish quality and credibility of a blog. Having comments from the community is a great benefit. Further, blogging is interesting since I believe it did improve my teaching. In the sense that writing posts helped me (many times) to clarify my ideas. And I believe that my lectures are then better. So I guess I will keep blogging for a long long time…

I guess I will stop here, even if I might have tons of other things I would like to add. Based on this post, I now have think of something interesting to share in the panel, next week. But I also have to keep in mind “academic blogging can be an important medium, when it avoids the meta-narcissistic onanism of blogging about how important academic blogging is”, as claimed by Chris Parr.

1. To mention only some of them, see Edwin Chen’s http://blog.echen.me/, Michael Giberson and Lynne Kiesling’s http://knowledgeproblem.com/, Christopher Long’s http://angrystatistician.blogspot.ca/, Josh Hendrickson’s http://everydayecon.wordpress.com/, Rob Hyndman’s http://robjhyndman.com/hyndsight/, Andrew Gelman’s http://andrewgelman.com/, Christian Robert’s http://xianblog.wordpress.com/, David Stern’s http://stochastictrend.blogspot.ca/, John Cook’s http://www.johndcook.com/blog, Greg Mankiw’s http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/, Mark Thoma’s http://economistsview.typepad.com/, Tony Cookson’s http://blog.thisyoungeconomist.com/, John Mount and Nina Zumel’s http://www.win-vector.com/blog/, John Myles White’s http://www.johnmyleswhite.com/, Bill McBrid’s http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/, Alex Singleton’s http://www.alex-singleton.com/, Liyun Chen’s http://blog.cloudlychen.net/, Eeshan Malhotra’s http://www.hotdamndata.com/, Percy Beach’s http://scepticalacademic.blogspot.ca/, Miles Kimball’s http://blog.supplysideliberal.com/, Brad DeLong’s http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/, Honglang Wang’s http://honglangwang.wordpress.com/, Matt Asher’s http://www.statisticsblog.com/, Cosma Rohilla Shalizi’s http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/, Denis Haine’s http://denishaine.wordpress.com/blog-2/, Dimiter Toshkov’s http://rulesofreason.wordpress.com/, Christopher Gandrud’s http://christophergandrud.blogspot.ca/, Jodi Beggs’s http://www.economistsdoitwithmodels.com/, Eric Nguyen’s http://blog.datapunks.com/, Matt Bogard’s http://econometricsense.blogspot.ca/, Andrew Ziem’s http://heuristically.wordpress.com/, Dave Giles’s http://davegiles.blogspot.ca/, Jeff Ely and Sandeep Baliga’s http://cheaptalk.org/, Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok’s http://marginalrevolution.com/, Kevin Bryan’s http://afinetheorem.wordpress.com/, Eran Raviv’s http://eranraviv.com/category/blog/, Gianluca Baio’s http://gianlubaio.blogspot.ca/, Ulrich Matter’s http://giventhedata.blogspot.ca/, Gregor Gorjanc’s http://ggorjan.blogspot.ca/, Nate Silver’s http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/, Jesse Anttila-Hughes and Solomon Hsiang’s http://fight-entropy.com/, Francis Smart’s http://econometricsbysimulation.com/, Corey Chivers’s http://bayesianbiologist.com/, Steve Walker’s http://stevencarlislewalker.wordpress.com/,  Sebastien Bubeck’s https://blogs.princeton.edu/imabandit/, James Hamilton and Menzie Chinn’s http://www.econbrowser.com/

2. I won’t have time to discuss this point today, but I have been discussing with a lot of persons who truly believe that they know me because they read frequently my blog. And, to be honest, that might be true, and it is a strange felling. I mean, I remember some diners where people told me that they’ve been on my blog, and they remember what I did post, and I am like “great, but I don’t know you at all… I have never read any of your research papers, I don’t know what you might be working about…” This asymmetry put me in some awkward situations.

De la significativité (statistique)

On va encore dire que je fais mon numéro d’anti-journaliste primaire, mais je voulais revenir sur une histoire, relayée par certains journaux (français) qui me laisse songeur sur les liens entre les journalistes et le milieu scientifique. Je ne reviendrais pas sur l’information que j’avais relayée alors (que @Tournyol a reprise sur Twitter ce week-end, et qui a beaucoup circulé ces dernières heures sur Twitter) où plusieurs journalistes traduisaient “augmenté de 50%” par “doublé” (j’étais revenu sur ces raccourcis en juillet dernier). Je voulais revenir sur cette information, évoquée en une du Parisien il y a 15 jours, en bas à gauche

 

où on apprend

Je n’invente rien: le titre est “la cigarette électronique aide mieux que le patch à arrêter de fumer“. Bon, les plus fidèles lecteurs de mon blog me feront remarquer que je pourrais citer d’autres sources quand j’essaye de relayer une étude scientifique. Soit. Le même jour, Le Monde en parle, sur son site

Ici, on parle de “réduire le tabac” (ça doit être la consommation), mais l’idée est la même: la cigarette électronique est plus efficace que le patch. Mais cette fois, si on prend le temps de lire le détail de l’article (ce qui peut m’arriver à l’occasion, par excès de zèle), on trouve ce paragraphe surprenant,

Sur un test, mené sur plusieurs personnes, il y a une plus grande efficacité, mais statistiquement non significative ! Ben, comment dire… c’est qu’il n’y a pas d’efficacité alors. Avant de m’énerver, on peut alors voir ce que dit l’article en question ?

On retrouve clairement écrit qu’il n’y a pas d’effet statistiquement significatif, et si on regarde un peu l’analyse, on voit qu’effectivement, il y a un léger mieux avec la cigarette électronique – en témoigne la distribution du temps avant la rechute –

mais comme le répètent à plusieurs reprises les chercheurs, l’effet n’est pas statistiquement significatif. On peut aussi aller voir un peu plus loin dans la revue, car après l’article, il y a un commentaire.

Le commentaire est très éclairant, mais je retiendrais un paragraphe,

Je me souviens avoir évoqué il y a quelques mois des études qui disaient que les études qui concluaient qu’il n’y avaient pas de différence significatives entre deux produits avaient plus de mal à être publiées. Et je trouve bien que ce genre d’étude paraissent. Mais je trouve inquiétant la lecture qui en est faite ensuite par les quotidiens. J’ai beaucoup de mal à comprendre ce qui s’est passé ici. Par exemple, pour l’article du Monde, il n’y a pas d’auteur à l’article. Je trouve cela gênant. Car je me demande s’il s’agit d’un article écrit par quelqu’un qui n’a pas compris ce qu’il a lu ? ou est-ce un publi-reportage d’un fabriquant de ces cigarettes électroniques ? J’ai beaucoup de mal à comprendre comment on est passé de cet article scientifique en anglais, à ces phrases en français dans des journaux non-spécialisés.

Cela dit, si on peut commencer à faire des articles d’une page dans un quotidien sur des effets non-significatifs, je peux en suggérer des pistes d’articles ! Dans mes modèles de régressions, j’ai toujours plein de variables non significatives. Si je pouvais les garder pour raconter des histoires, on pourrait rigoler.