Friday, July 29, 2011


Giridhar Madras on his blog commented on this report. To be perfectly honest, I did not read the entire original report, for two reasons: (i) I don't like artificial boxes, and (ii) I don't like artificial boxes whose labels and contents are not consistent. As soon as I realized this "study" suffered from both these afflictions, I figured I had better things to do.

Let me take reason (ii) first. Teaching load alone is a terrible metric to measure anything other than teaching load, and even there it is an uneven measure. It is harder to teach engineering design to a small class than an introductory class to a large freshman class. In the same way, research dollars are a pathetically inadequate way to sniff out true "pioneers".

Not everything that can be measured is of value, and not everything of value can be measured.

I seriously shudder at the prospect of such studies being taken seriously.

I have never been a big fan of such simple-minded measures. I gather this fascination has something to do with out inability to grope with multidimensional complexity. We try to project a complex high-dimensional space onto a simple scalar. We like scalars because we can intuitively compare two scalars. We can order them, plot them on graphs, and run statistics on them with ease.

Unfortunately, the rules of projection are often arbitrary (like this study), and the resulting scalar is of marginal value. The trouble is that they get taken seriously.

This disease is everywhere.

Using academic rankings to choose a university, using IQ to measure intelligence, using impact factor to measure journals etc.

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