Monday, November 26, 2012

BIRS news

I'm delighted to report that my BIRS workshop proposal, entitled "Biological and Bio-Inspired Information Theory" (co-organized with Peter Thomas and Toby Berger), was accepted. The workshop will take place in October 2014.

BIRS is a gem of Canadian scientific research. My thanks to all the BIRS volunteers who make such a wonderful facility possible, especially the amazing Nassif Ghoussoub.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

This Charming Man

As a fan of The Smiths from way back, I always thought Johnny Marr was the more talented member. After bouncing around several bands after The Smiths broke up, he'll be releasing his debut solo album early next year.

Monday, November 12, 2012

IEEE Dumps Bad Conferences from IEEE Xplore

This is interesting: the IEEE has a "Technical Program Integrity Committee" which has reviewed recent IEEE-sponsored conferences, looking for "inconsistencies in some conferences with regard to the quality of the peer review and technical program development." Some 160 conferences from 2010 and 2011 did not make the cut, and will now be barred from IEEE Xplore, the IEEE's digital library. This looks like the first action of the committee, which apparently started work in 2009.

First off, 160 bad conferences is a surprisingly large number. They say this is "less than 5%" of conferences from 2010 and 2011. I guess we can assume it's close to 5%, which still seems kind of high. In other words, out of every 20 conferences that the IEEE sponsors, one is bad.

Second, if you read their FAQ, it seems like they are concerned not only with quality, but with scope. For example:

Q - IEEE has notified us that the proceedings from this conference will not be included in IEEE Xplore® because they are out of scope. What is the scope of IEEE Xplore?
A - Content in IEEE Xplore must contain a significant electrical (and related) engineering component.

Q - How many out of scope papers can the conference proceedings have?
A - The conference proceedings should not have any out of scope papers.
Emphasis is added. So how is the committee judging this? There are several rejected conference titles with a life-science focus (an area in which I do some research), so were these rejected for scope or for quality? Where can we read this "scope"? What exactly are the rules surrounding interdisciplinary research in the IEEE?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Nate Silver's odd wager

Let's say you figured out a way to predict a coin toss. It's not a sure thing, but you think you can call the toss with 82% accuracy. Naturally you're excited about this, so you tell everybody.

The neighborhood bully gets wind of this, and confronts you. "That's stupid," he says. "Nobody can call a coin toss. It's fifty-fifty for everybody."

So you offer the bully a bet: you'll try to call one coin toss. If you call it right, you get $1000, if you're wrong, the money goes to him.

Wait, what? How does that decide anything?

Nate Silver is a brilliant statistician, and I think his call of the election is on the money. But his bet with Joe Scarborough solves nothing and confuses his point. Silver can be wrong and still win the bet with 50% probability, which Scarborough would be sure to point out. Worse, Silver can be completely right and still lose the bet with 18% probability. That's around one in six -- or the odds of rolling a one on a fair die. Not something I'd bet my reputation on.

If Silver wants to bet, surely he can craft a bet that he is sure to win if he is right, and sure to lose if he is not. This should be a case study in decision theory.