Science blogging from the top…

Some time back I wrote on how science bloggers in India tend to be non-anonymous. Importantly, the senior guys do it too, even in a semi-official capacity.

Example 1: Ram Ramaswamy, has what he calls an “Unofficial Blog of the VC, University of Hyderabad”. It may be unofficial but he puts his name and designation on what he says, and that’s important.

Example 2: K VijayRaghavan, till recently director of NCBS Bangalore and now Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, has initiated an official DBT blog. The posts don’t carry authorship but Vijay regularly replies to comments with his real name (as he does on other blogs, including this one).

These are not just promotional fluff either (like the “official blogs” of various Very Big Corporations of America), but discuss real issues like gender issues, streamlining of administration, and other ways to improve these institutions. And they also remind others that they too have a stake in these organisations and can speak up. Ideally, it should be like a coffee table where everyone is invited.

Update: From comments below, here are other examples — Dheeraj Sanghi, former director of LNMIIT, Jaipur, and currently Dean — Academic Affairs at IIT Kanpur (I read his blog regularly but didn’t know the positions he holds/has held); Pankaj Jalote, director of IIT Delhi; and others network via Facebook or other social media (Sudhir Jain of IIT Gandhinagar is mentioned). As a medium to discuss, I personally prefer Google+ to Facebook, and blogs to G+, but as a way to reach out to the maximum number of young people, Facebook is by far the best these days.

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When an ambassador lies to the highest court, does he lose immunity?

In the festering case of the Italian marines who went home after assurances from Italy’s ambassador to India that they would return, and have not, India’s Supreme Court has said that they have “no trust” in Italy’s ambassador and, moreover, suggested that he does not have immunity.

It is unprecedented for a Supreme Court of a country to say that the ambassador of another country does not have diplomatic immunity. It is also unprecedented for an ambassador to give an undertaking to the highest court that is then reneged on. It will be interesting to see how it resolves.

As far as I can understand it from the media, the argument is based on article 32 of the Vienna convention, which says “The initiation of proceedings by a diplomatic agent or by a person enjoying immunity from jurisdiction under article 37 shall preclude him from invoking immunity from jurisdiction in respect of any counterclaim directly connected with the principal claim”. (Section 37 explains who else has immunity.) In fact, one report claims that Ambassador Mancini explicitly invoked Article 32 in filing his affidavit for the marines. So if he, by his affidavit, can be said to have “initiated proceedings”, then arguably he does not have immunity from counterclaims like perjury or contempt.

But whatever happens, the lesson is: don’t trust an Italian diplomat’s word. Is that really the message the Italian government wants to give the world?

Today Google Reader, tomorrow Google Scholar?

The rather strange decision by Google to shut down Google Reader has caused some alarming speculation. What if they next shut down Google Scholar? Here’s Farhad Manjoo, and here’s Joshua Gans. (via the Dish)

Google Scholar has truly revolutionised research by:

  • Making it easy, and fast, to search for relevant literature
  • Making it easy to export references (including in bibtex)
  • Showing up multiple copies of the same paper, including pdfs archived on personal webpages — especially useful if the official one is paywalled (I’m sure people like Elsevier aren’t happy about that)
  • And, of course, giving citation statistics for free.

Would Google really close Scholar? Hard to imagine, but it was hard to imagine they’d kill Google Reader (and keep Orkut alive!) The nearest free alternative I can think of is PubMed but that’s mainly bio-med and, even there, falls far short of what Scholar offers (but also offers things Scholar doesn’t, like full text for many papers).

Besides, Google’s day won’t last forever. Right now they are obscenely rich and powerful, and can afford to subsidise these unprofitable things with the idea of attracting mindshare among academic types. But what if Google’s other businesses decline significantly?

Manjoo says Google isn’t a public utility. Very true. He also observes that this is a risk of the “cloud” — if the software doesn’t live on your hard disk, it can be pulled anytime. He therefore advocates paying for any online service we find useful. In general I agree, but only when they ask for money, and I didn’t notice Google asking Reader users for any. But it is imperative to build a public version of Google Scholar. PubMed is good for its field, but too narrow. It needs to be replicated on a larger scale, by many countries.