Bloggfćrslur mánađarins, janúar 2008

A Couple of Thoughts on the Results of the Rannis Applications

As you probably all know already, the results of the latest round of grant applications are out.  The Rannis news item on the web states the following figures:

Á fundi stjórnar Rannsóknasjóđs miđvikudaginn 16. janúar 2008 var úthlutađ tćplega 300 milljónum króna til nýrra rannsóknaverkefna á árinu 2008. Ţrjár tegundir styrkja voru í bođi: Öndvegisstyrkir, Rannsóknastöđustyrkir og Verkefnastyrkir. Alls bárust 17 umsóknir um Öndvegisstyrki og voru 4 ţeirra styrktar; 20 umsóknir bárust um Rannsóknastöđustyrki og voru 7 ţeirra styrktar; 204 umsóknir bárust um Verkefnastyrki og voru 60 ţeirra styrktar. Alls barst ţví 241 umsókn og var 71 styrkt, eđa rétt innan viđ ţriđjungur.

In the scientific area to which my research belongs (Engineering, Science and Technology), Rannis selected 12 new projects for funding and awarded 48421K ISK to those projects. In 2007, 11 projects were funded in that subject area for a total of 34120K ISK. So there has been a welcome increase in the available funding. I do not think that I am stating anything particularly controversial, however, by going on record as saying that the amount of financing is still way below par. When I told one my most prolific Dutch co-workers how much money I got in this round, his reaction was "Can you support one PhD student with that amount of money?" He did not know that the money was supposed to support one PhD student and one MSc student, and that no travel money was involved Frown

To put things into perspective, let me point out that  about 48000K ISK is less than BRICS, a single centre of excellence of the Danish National Research Foundation, received each year from 1994 till about 2006. By way of comparison, you may also see what the Academy of Finland (one of the funding sources in that country) awards each year: 

The Academy annually makes funding decisions worth around 260 million euros. Each year Academy-funded projects account for a total of some 3,000 person years.

So, I am very happy to see an increase in the available funding (kudos to whoever made this possible!), but I think that these are initial baby-steps, and much more remains to be done. If you can lobby on behalf of the scientific community, please do! (And don't forget the other worthy causes you should lobby for that have already been mentioned on this blog Smile)

I believe that we also need to differentiate the types of funding (not just project-based funding) as it is done elsewhere, but this will be the topic for another post. For the moment, let me close by congratulating the contributors to this blog for having received a few grants from Rannis in 2008. Well done, guys!


A Plagiarism Scandal

Via Not Even Wrong, I learned about a plagiarism scandal involving "more than 60 arXiv preprints, more than thirty of which were refereed and published in at least 18 different physics journals". Some of journals involved are supposedly prestigious ones. The blog post and the comments make for unresting reading, and may be of interest to the readers of this blog.

I guess that most of us have had to deal with cases of plagiarism in our teaching; I myself had to deal with one just last term. However, as a journal editor or referee, I have not yet met any case of major plagiarism. (Cases of multiple submissions of essentially the same results, yes, but outright plagiarism, no.) What about you?

A Free Journal-Ranking Tool

The latest issue of Nature features a news item reporting on a freely-available tool that can be used to generate citation statistics for papers, journals and countries. The SCImago Journal & Country Rank is a portal that includes the journals and country scientific indicators developed from the information contained in the Scopus® database. This platform takes its name from the SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) indicator, developed by SCImago, a Spanish data-mining and visualization group. This indicator is based on Google PageRank. This tool is a competitor to Thomson's Web of Science, and covers more journals (15,000 in lieu of 9,000) and 20-45% more records than the Web of Science.

The availability of this tool, as well as of Google Scholar of course, puts Thomson under some pressure. I think that this is welcome pressure. To see why, you might wish to read this editorial. Basically, the "impact factor" is one of the Gods of modern-day academia, together with "leadership" and a few other criteria not necessarily related to scholarship. It has "a strong influence on the scientific community, affecting decisions on where to publish, whom to promote or hire, the success of grant applications, and salary bonuses. " However, as claimed in the editorial, "members of the community seem to have little understanding of how impact factors are determined, and, to our knowledge, no one has independently audited the underlying data to validate their reliability." This is obviously undesirable.

I think that, for good or for worse, impact-factor-based evaluation of our research output is here to stay. However, when making decisions based on impact factor, citations and what not, I hope that deans, employers, funding agencies and rectors will consult several different sources and compare the results that they get. Moreover, I do hope that good, old-fashioned evaluation of the quality of one's work will not disappear altogether to be replaced by purely quantitative indicators.

For the moment, let's play with our new toy. In case you are interested here are the rankings of countries in computer science: all subjects, computational theory and mathematics, TCS (but as a subcategory of mathematics), discrete mathematics and combinatorics, logic (as a subcategory of mathematics) and mathematics as a whole.
How is Iceland faring according to this ranking tool? Have a look, draw your own conclusions, and share them with the readers of this blog.

Icelandic Contribution to #1 Breakthrough of the Year According to Science Magazine

Thanks Luca for pointing out the Icelandic connection with the breakthrough of the year 2007 as presented in Science Magazine. Yngvi contributed to the solution of Checkers, a story that deservedly caught a lot of attention this year. We also have another reason to celebrate.

Icelandic scientists also contributed to the #1 breakthrough of the year, on the impact of Human genetic variation. This announcement should not come as a surprise as technological advances have led to identification of multiple genes and mutations that affect a range of phenotypes and/or diseases (Note that this result was predicted from the first principles of evolution and population genetics, but the details have remained elusive). The icelandic connection is that scientists at Decode genetics, and their collaborators here and abroad, have been part of this tidal wave of results (of which the web summary provided by Science magazine, provides just a glimpse). This announcement follows the 2005 Science magazine breakthrough of the year, which highlighted evolution in action, across the tree of life (from bacteria to humans).

In sum, we have scientists of high international caliber working here, and should be proud of them. Also, we must recognize the fact that great science does not emerge out of the blue.


Icelandic Contribution to #10 Breakthrough of the Year According to Science Magazine

Anders Claesson just alerted me to the fact that Solving Checkers has been listed by Science magazine in tenth position in the list of breakthroughs of the year 2007. See here.

My colleague Yngvi Björnsson from the School of Computer Science at Reykjavík University was a member of the team behind this breakthrough. Congratulations to Yngvi and his colleagues at Alberta.


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