Nov 142017
 

Two recent articles add to the list of materials that students in my lab should ponder.

The first deals with limitations of statistics in science, or at least, limitations in our understanding and application of statistics. This is an on-going topic for our data scientists to track.

A NYT article on NSA Shadow Brokers is especially worthy of your consideration, since so many of our present projects involve analysis and prediction of security-related properties.

To see how the above two readings are modestly related to one another, think about what data are used to predict opportunities to penetrate a site, what data predict potential intrusions over time, and what data are used to track uses of exfiltrated materials. Then … think about whether the science behind each is equally-well developed or applied. What limits someone performing those activities and how would scientists offer that person stronger tools? There are some great research activities lurking in the answer to that question.

 Posted by at 7:54 am on November 14, 2017
Nov 142017
 

A Cambridge University physical sciences professor had his moment of fame after being caught advocating hard work. And at expense of a social life, no less!

How dare he!

Fortunately (judging from the article) his campus leadership rallied around students and reassured them that “balance”, booze and convivial behavior are still encouraged. Meanwhile, College Park shows its mettle in promoting such temperaments, so now that we’re a Big Ten school and offer booze at big events, we may soon offer napping pods in the library. Take that, Cambridge!

 Posted by at 7:34 am on November 14, 2017
Nov 062017
 

I often talk with my students about bias when we are conducting a research project. Usually this discussion launches with me getting on a soap box to throw around words like old school methods and sound experimental design (also met with small eye rolls they think I don’t notice.) My extended rant will cover a lot about how to conduct risk reduction exercises, which after a fashion resemble agile development methods except in hacking our insights instead of code. Overall we’re pretty interested in knowing how to make good engineering decisions on use of our time; we want the greatest illumination for least cost on each step along the way as we converge to results.

With that in mind, a nice read about bias is The Trouble With Scientists. This reminds us that while there are the things we want to know, we need discipline to ensure we’re not just cherry picking data to support a conclusion we already want to reach; we need discipline to force ourselves to look coldly at what we don’t know. These go hand in hand.

 Posted by at 3:47 pm on November 6, 2017
Nov 062017
 

Keeping up with the many projects on campus at the moment is still taxing, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t trying to keep an eye out for others’ content worthy of our study. And some exceptionally thoughtful writing about campus speech is found over at Vox in a pair of articles.

Robert Post offers There is no 1st Amendment right to speak on a college campus while Erwin Chemerinsky asserts Hate speech is protected free speech, even on college campuses – obviously messages in opposition to one another, and very timely for what’s happening on many campuses.

An aggressive piece over at Spectator looks past discussion about the basis for speech on campus to the (flawed) practices: Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee, by commentator Mark Pulliam.

 Posted by at 3:23 pm on November 6, 2017
Sep 282017
 

This campus recently adopted a Web Accessibility Policy, which earlier today Provost Mary Ann Rankin reminded us of by means of a memo to campus administrators. Soon “all university Web pages used for academic and business purposes must be compliant with applicable state and federal regulations, specifically, Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.”

The essence of her memo was to alert campus stakeholders to this and offer guidance on how to move forward, for which one of the helpful links given is to a campus Web Accessibility page whose sole apparent purpose is to then offer the reader a chance to click through to another campus Web Accessibility page.

Awkwardly, and as of the point I blog this morning, neither of the pages to which Provost Rankin refers us for 504, 508 and ADA compliance is actually 504, 508 or ADA compliant, at least according to freely available web tools which one can use for checking. (There are also broken links – that’s business as usual for the Provost site – and W3C compliance problems.)

We always appreciate how leadership offers us teaching examples for our students.

 Posted by at 10:01 am on September 28, 2017
Sep 182017
 

More catch up as I transfer choice material from my tablet at home …

More people all the time look nervously at the effect Google has in their markets, wondering what might happen if the behemoth turns to the dark side. A journalist talks of how his profession has been transformed by Google, for example. The company enabled entirely new business processes for these writers … and now almost exclusively controls what writers can draw from it. Others go further, pointing out how the company has bullied others in order to have its way.

[You need not look very far these days to find many more examples emerging. The informal motto for Google was “don’t be evil.” We knew from the start that the moment a company feels compelled to assure you it is not evil, the more of the underworld has been on its minds.]

And finally we offer a very nice article about the specifics by which technology companies gain control. It is through leveraging intellectual property that (according to the author, with whom we concur) we are experiencing a modern sort of feudalism, in which don’t necessarily own much property, rather, we must ask for permission and hope the corporate owners has a benign eye upon our requests.

 Posted by at 5:58 pm on September 18, 2017
Sep 182017
 

A roll up of some recent articles we hope you have already found to your morning browsing sessions …

The Assault on Free Speech (sorry about the pay wall at WSJ) points out the irony that public pressure caused China to walk back its censure of many academic materials which might have proven embarrassing to the state, yet at the same time US academics are championing censorship by purging campuses of opportunity for open and scholarly speech on hard topics. (On my campus there are generally no hard feelings in speech because leadership is careful who they invite to speak in the first place.)

The Atlantic weighs in with debate about the role of universities in fostering a commitment to the open exchange of ideas, and a NY Times article similarly advocates for some genuine diversity of views on behalf of our students.

Sometimes the problems on a campus are not just ones of leadership cherry picking who gets to speak but also of indulging in bad science in order to reach conclusions they sought based on prejudice. (“We’ll see it when we know it” science is not science.)

An article with subtitle the roots of the current campus madness talks of the costs of quashing discussion and our failure to teach scholarly debate. It closes with a quote that by itself makes following the link worth your while: “If you teach students to be warriors against all power asymmetries, don’t be surprised when they turn on their professors and administrators. This is what happens when you separate facts from values, empiricism from morality, science from the humanities.” Indeed.

 Posted by at 5:34 pm on September 18, 2017
Sep 072017
 

As alerted to us at Slashdot, Harvard’s Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris went to the popular CS50 programming course to beg students please don’t cheat. This comes hard on the heels of a course change in order to suggest that students should consider attending class. A year at Harvard now costs north of $70,000.

Taken together, these offer a new definition of the word pathetic.

 Posted by at 8:48 pm on September 7, 2017
Aug 232017
 

That’s the new slogan promoted by the Washington Post, reprising a truism that has been around for years. It also describes what some state officials are apparently okay with.

Jumping on the virtue-signaling bandwagon, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (leading the trust which is in charge of statehouse facilities) recently enabled removal of a statue of Roger Taney from a place of honor in our capitol. What makes Taney worthy of being wiped clean from history? As Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court he authored the Dred Scott decision in 1857.

Removing statuary of people who would be panned on social media today is of course the ‘in’ thing. Social Justice Warriors thus knew that Taney had to go. And perhaps so, notwithstanding the missed opportunities for education, deference to a symbol of the good will of people who came before us – including, yes, liberals – or respect for a lifetime of public service.

But how we do things is just as important as what we do. And how this was done is just wrong. It was done in darkness, both figuratively (decisions made in virtual secret) and literally (the statue was removed in the middle of the night.)

That was the point made by Senate President Mike Miller who is not only part of the trust that made this decision but also an avid historian with special expertise in affairs of the mid-19th century. President Miller penned a letter that paints a more complex picture of Taney and calls out Hogan for conducting such business in darkness. (His letter was published by several news sources and we mirror it here. It is worth your full consideration.)

What is missed by people who are inclined to burn books instead of read them is that Taney was an anti-slavery activist who gave a lifetime of service to our state and country. His sin was reaching a decision based on law instead of the outcomes sought by political opportunists who came 160 years later. It sure looks like the man recognized slavery was wrong but also that how the country got to that conclusion was important. It needed legislators to be involved, for example. You know … the people who create laws in the first place.

Process is important, which brings us back to Hogan and the Taney statuary. As Miller laments, this affair was conducted out of the public eye. If proponents of the move were proud of what they did, then they should have been eager for a public forum to explain their position and persuade as to its merits. That they did not do so speaks volumes. Our state community is diminished accordingly.

 Posted by at 9:03 pm on August 23, 2017
Aug 232017
 

The Sun tells what everyone already pretty much knows: fewer than half of the students in Maryland public schools are on track for college readiness, according to latest PARCC scores, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. This is grim news given that the instrument is itself only the most basic indicator of college preparation.

Preparation is worst where the state spent most. Quoting the linked article:

In Baltimore, math scores held steady while English scores inched up. Still, fewer city students passed the exams than in neighboring districts. Only about three of every 20 city students in grades three through eight passed both math and English. Almost 12 percent passed math, about the same as last year. Fifteen percent passed English, an increase of 1.4 percentage points from last year.

Maryland implements spending plans, not education plans. For those keeping score, the state dramatically ramped up funding for public schools over the last twenty five years, measuring its success by how much it spends, not what students can do as a result of their often not-so-close encounters with schools. As a result, the present news will be viewed by officials as a success … after all, the checks cleared, which was the whole point. Too bad for parents who thought their taxes were supposed to have been buying more than teacher union fealty.

Anyone who thinks this doesn’t impact us at College Park is kidding himself. This is a campus that lists skin color and orientation (among other characteristics) among ways an applicant can be deemed prepared for the flagship, so dismal PARCC scores which don’t factor in those characteristics won’t significantly affect our admission practices. We will maintain business as usual at the front door. But the professoriate in charge of generating scholarship will increasingly struggle in the face of a student base that similarly struggles with preparation. Time spent back-filling substandard education coming in to the flagship is time not spent pushing back the frontiers of knowledge in our respective disciplines.

All this is a recipe for implosion. The entrepreneurial mindset of public school officials does not stop at our front door; overall we continue to increase tuition beyond sensible limits, basically just raking in cash because it is on the table. Thoughtful people watch this knowing it is not sustainable. We have previously pointed out here how the bubble is already bursting around us, and we thus say it again: the market will reach a tipping point, after which consumers will demand to know why they pay so much for such poor outcomes, often in restrictive environments that negate the entire argument for campus as a place of free expression and thought in the first place.

We’re doing it wrong.

 Posted by at 12:31 pm on August 23, 2017