Lessons Learned in Data Science

Daniela's blog

I have recently moved to Seattle to the newly founded DIRAC Institute, which means that my three years at NYU’s Center for Data Science (CDS)  are coming to an end. I thought I’d take this opportunity for a little actually quite long (sorry) retrospective and summarize those three years in this post.
Coming to CDS was an experiment. Indeed, the CDS itself is an experiment, and its scientific mission currently funded by a joint grant provided by the Moore and Sloan foundations, along with two other institutes at UC Berkeley and UW Seattle. I came to CDS with the goal of learning as much as I can about how other fields deal with data. I did that, too, occasionally, but the learning experiences I value most have nothing at all to do with that. They’re in no particular order of importance, and credit for some of this…

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Internal innovation report says the New York Times needs to up its digital game or else


The New York Times is seen by many as the acme of traditional media success, which isn’t surprising — after all, it has hundreds of thousands of digital subscribers who are paying the paper $150 million or so a year, and it has launched some interesting new apps and services like The Upshot and NYT Premier. But to her credit, editor Jill Abramson is not satisfied, so she commissioned an “innovation report” led by Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, scion of the paper’s controlling shareholder, the Sulzberger family, to tell her what it needs to do differently.

As a piece in Capital New York describes it, the original ambit of the Sulzberger team, launched last July, was to be a kind of skunk-works that would come up with digital projects. But partway through the process, Sulzberger suggested the thesis needed to be broadened, and that it should look at what the paper…

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Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

The way we want to make sense of the world around us has often to do with causality. The question we ask is what caused “it” to happen? The mainstream approach is that an arrow, or arrows, can be drawn. There is a variable, the “it”, that happened, that is now to be explained. In scientific study this variable is regarded as dependent. An independent variable, or variables, that cause it are then sought. Causality means that X causes Y. If there is more X there will also be more Y. This is the if-then model of management. In organizations, a familiar explanation for success is that a particular manager or a particular culture caused it.

But there is something significant happening today. Scholars are increasingly pointing out to the fact that this view of the relationship between cause and effect is much too simplistic and leads to a very…

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Supreme Court Justices Are Not Good With Computers

sarahjeong dot net

I hate this article (“The Supreme Court Justices, Ranked by Their Tech Savvy in the Aereo Case”).

It’s not just a vapid listicle, the analysis is actually just majorly wrong.

To be clear, that entire bench is just not very tech savvy. And neither are the attorneys who come and speak to them. This was evident during oral arguments for CLS v. Alice, when counsel for the petitioners told Kennedy that nearly all software was written in a weekend in a coffee shop and then no one contradicted him.

And in today’s arguments, everyone referred repeatedly to “cloud computing” when they really just mean “the cloud” or “cloud music lockers.” And when I say “everyone” I mean all nine justices plus counsel for the petitioners plus counsel for the respondents plus the deputy solicitor general for the United States government.

When it comes down to it, everyone who’s…

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Incensed secularists pile on David Cameron for saying that Britain is a Christian nation

Why Evolution Is True

Four days ago I described a Torygraph piece recounting Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent spate of pro-religious remarks, including these:

The prime minister’s religious messages began last week with an Easter reception at Downing Street, at which he said religion had brought him his greatest moments of peace and claimed “Jesus invented the big society 2,000 years ago”.

He also released a videoed Easter message for the country, in which he talked about the “countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ”.

In a separate article for the Church Times, he argued that some atheists and agnostics did not understand that faith could be a “guide or a helpful prod in the right direction” towards morality.

While acknowledging many non-believers have a moral code and some Christians do not, he added: “People who advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the…

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The Good Doctor is no Good

Manmohan Singh
Manmohan Singh

Fundamentally, the job of the Prime Minister is not to micromanage the minutiae of policy across the wide spectrum of roles that the Govt. of India plays. Indeed, it’s basically humanly impossible to give proper attention to everyone and everything that requires or clamors for the PM’s attention and intervention — just the numbers of ministries that are traditionally with the PM are umpteen.

  1. But, the fact that the Dept. of Space or the Dept. of Atomic Energy is led by the PM doesn’t mean that the PM has to be a space or a nuclear expert. It’s for professionals who have spent their lives in these fields to take care of the details and enlighten the political leadership as required. The job of the executive leadership is to provide the broad contours of policy or the framework within which the details will operate.

  2. In the wake of the attacks in Mumbai, President Zardari has been more visible than PM Singh. Patrick French reminded us in a recent article in the New York Times about the conveniently forgotten history of Zardari by saying that he is “not fit to hold high office, or even low office.” And yet, he’s out there thundering away in press conference after press conference including one alongside the British PM Gordon Brown a few days ago. Where is the Prime Minister of India meanwhile?
  3. Should not the PM be out there performing various actions in a very public and visible way that will have some impact? We live in the age of television and that’s a reality that can’t be wished away. But moving away from the immediate issues of Mumbai and even terrorism in general, what is the nature of leadership? Is it about academic brilliance?
  4. As President Elect Obama makes his cabinet selections, the phrase “the best and the brightest” is much in vogue. But definitely the discussion is not about whether the President himself or herself has to be a near genius. What Barack Obama (and President Kennedy and President Reagan before him) has done is bring certain sections of society together and make them believe in certain ideas.

It will be a challenge for the next American President to convince Americans why it’s a good idea to keep the fuel prices artificially high with a gasoline tax (an idea proposed by Tom Friedman of the New York Times). It will be up to him to make a convincing case to the people why it’s important to work like crazy to develop hybrid vehicles and battery-operated ones even though the price of gasoline has come down drastically in recent months. In short, it’s the job of a leader to make people see things that are not obvious, things that are over the horizon.

Why should not it be the role of the Prime Minister of India to play a similar role in Indian society? The issues of climate change and carbon emissions are not confined to America. Who will make Indians realize the dangerous consequences from rising sea levels or catastrophic climate changes? How dearly one wishes that there was someone like Jawaharlal Nehru in our own time who would understand India’s ancient history deeply and yet be acutely conscious of the power of science as the only tool that will assure a bright future for India and Indians. And who will be out there making a case why Indians need to let go of meaningless rituals and phantom fears and start focusing on real ones. Someone who would have been overjoyed with India’s recent success with the Chandrayan Mission and whose enthusiasm would have been hopefully contagious and spread to the rest of India.

APJ Abdul Kalam is one such name that comes to mind. But I am sure he deserves to devote time now to private pursuits after more than a half century of extraordinarily dedicated service to the nation. Is there anyone else out there, hopefully a little bit younger who can carry the baton from PM Nehru and President APJ Abdul Kalam? 1,160,000,000 — that’s roughly the number of people there are in India as far as I can tell.