Somewhere else, part 98

Some writings worth reading, discovered here and there,

My posts would typically examine a case study of one of the women I research, or explore a particular kind of crime that women were involved in. To my delight, in the year and a half of me posting, my blog did well, sharing my research with far more people than I could have ever hoped to reach in person, and allowing me to discuss and debate my ideas with people around the world. In June this year I was sent a link to an article on a tabloid newspaper website titled Edwardian Rogues Gallery, by a friend and former lecturer, suggesting I might find it of interest. When I opened the article, I was surprised and horrified, to find a post I had published on my blog just weeks earlier staring back at me, with somebody else’s name placed at the top. Worse still, I found the same post reproduced on other sites, under the name of more authors. At first, my overriding emotion was that of disbelief. Although I knew that some news organisations were far from scrupulous in their reporting, I had always assumed this would stop short of reproducing others work without permission or acknowledgement. But after taking to Twitter to get some more opinions, I was saddened to hear that, yes, this can happen, and yes, it happens all the time. Indignant, I resolved to contact those responsible. I emailed both the news agency that originally circulated the post and the two national newspapers, one regional title and global website that took it. I also tried several times to contact the individuals who had put their names above my work. These attempts were, of course, all in vain. Wherever I turned, I was met with a frustrating wall of silence. I soon realised the overwhelming likelihood that I would never get a response from anyone involved or be given any acknowledgement for my work. That is when I took the decision to partially shut down my blog.” [to be continued…]

Ecologists traditionally share ideas primarily via peer-reviewed publications. Not that other ways of sharing ideas – conversations, conference presentations, invited seminars, etc. – matter less. But traditionally in ecology, they often matter only insofar as they lead, directly or indirectly, to peer-reviewed papers. Peer-reviewed papers are of undoubted value, but they have limitations as a means of sharing ideas. In particular, they’re slow – it typically takes months to write a paper, and then further months for it to go through the review process (often more than once) and get published. And, technical advances such as online manuscript handling systems and automated typesetting software probably can’t speed the publication process much further. Most of the time a typical paper spends in peer review is spent being evaluated, or waiting to be evaluated, by an editor or reviewers. Peer-reviewed papers also aren’t an ideal format for discussion or debate. Debates between authors and reviewers are not public. And whilst ideas occasionally are debated in peer-reviewed papers, participation in these debates is limited to the authors of the papers involved; the time-lag through these channels significantly reduces impact and dialogue. Here I suggest that blogs can become an important complement to peer-reviewed papers as a means of exchanging ideas in ecology.” [to be continued…]

When I moved to Boston in 2011, I took public transportation to work. A couple years later, a friend lent me his car while he was out of town, and for the first time in my life I became a guy who drove to the office. Parking in the employee lot came naturally enough; so did listening to “Morning Edition” and balancing my coffee in the cup-holder. Actually navigating the streets of Cambridge and Boston, however — that part was less intuitive. So I did what any rational, 21st-century person would do in my situation: punched my work address into my smartphone and listened as a GPS-powered, step-by-step guide told me exactly what to do. Turn left in 300 feet, take the second exit out of the rotary, and so on. This I could handle. Before I knew it, my destination was on my right. After a few days, I grew confident, and one morning decided to find my own way. But as I tried frantically to remember the GPS’s instructions, I realized that despite multiple trips to and from work, I had learned exactly nothing about the city’s geography. As I sat at a red light, I didn’t have the foggiest notion of where I was relative to where I’d come from — or, more importantly, where I was trying to go.” [to be continued…]

Computers are now involved in many economic transactions and can capture data associated with these transactions, which can then be manipulated and analyzed using a variety of techniques. Conventional statistical and econometric techniques such as regression often work well but there are some problems unique to big data sets that require different tools. There are several reasons for this. First, the sheer size of the data involved may require more sophisticated data manipulation tools. Second, we may have more potential predictors than appropriate for estimation, so we need to do some kind of variable selection. Third, large data sets may allow for more exible relationships than simple linear models. Machine learning techniques such as decision trees, support vector machines, neural nets, deep learning and so on may allow for more effective ways to model complex relationships.In this essay I will describe a few of these tools for manipulating and analyzing big data. I believe that these methods have a lot to offer and should be more widely known and used by economists. In fact, my standard advice to graduate students these days is go to the computer science department and take a class in machine learning.” There have been very fruitful collaborations between computer scientists and statisticians in the last decade or so, and I expect collaborations between computer scientists and econometricians will also be productive in the future.” [to be continued…]

et un peu de lecture en français,

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