Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Influence

Consider Richard Reid. By any measure he is a failure as a human being. Yet every time I'm forced to remove my shoes at an airport, I can't help but notice that he has had far more influence on the ways of the world than I am ever likely to have.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

This Week in Peer Review: The Academic Ad-Hominem

I wrote up two reviews this week.

One was for Trans. Comm. (yes, that one): it was co-authored by one of the more prominent professors in the field, and I found it to be a solid and interesting idea, though the writeup could use some polishing. I recommended acceptance, subject to revisions.

The other was for a different IEEE Transactions. The co-author was a professor whose papers I have seen before, and which have yet to impress me. This paper was like the others: a tired and unoriginal idea, with no particularly deep or interesting contribution. I recommended rejection.

But what has been bugging me this week is the idea that I may have let the names of the authors influence my reviews. I'm not saying that reversing the names would have reversed the decisions as a matter of course. But would I have been as easy on the rough writing in the first paper, or as harsh about the idea in the second paper? I'm not sure.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Dear university administrators,

You remember that big snowstorm yesterday? I sure do. Immediately after waking up, I checked your "weather status page", where I read: "The university is monitoring the situation. No decision to close the university has been taken." I also read the part where you said "A decision to cancel classes will be taken by 5:30 AM on the day in question." It was about 7 AM when I read this.

So like a good trooper, I trudged out into the snow and endured a slow ride on public transit to do the only thing I absolutely had to do at the university on Friday, which was to teach my 10:30 class. The class was about half full, which is frankly more than I was expecting given how much snow was coming down.

So I teach, and go back to my office at 11:30, where I open my email to find a panicky message reading: "WEATHER EMERGENCY -- University closed". To this I have two responses. First, what happened to 5:30 AM? And second, most people who were going to be at the university (such as myself) when you took this decision, in mid-storm, were already here. By not closing the university in advance of the storm you put everyone at risk unnecessarily, and your emergency closure improved the safety of basically nobody. Who is making these decisions?