"Show me your papers": The statistical version

Several commentators have claimed the Arizona's new immigration law to be unconstitutional. Rightly so. The most controversial provisions are vague in specifying when "reasonable suspicion" exists. It is clear that the only way for a police officer to suspect somebody is their race, which would violate the Equal Protection clause (14th amendment). The law also violates the fourth amendment right against unlawful seizure.

However, I do think there is a way to ask someone to show their paper without violating the constitution. State law enforcement should choose people on the streets at "random" and ask them for paper. I am not using the word random to mean arbitrary. I am instead using random to mean the mathematical definition of random. The government decides to ask say thousand folks for their papers every day and the candidates for the check are decided by some random number generator --- something that says check the Nth person who drives through the intersection of X and Y cross street. The candidates, or say victims, would be uniformly distributed across the state, thereby not violating the 14th amendment.

The tricky issue is the 4th amendment. How can random searches pass the "reasonable suspicion" test? Well, we can rely on probability and the definition of reasonable. Everyone knows that there are undocumented immigrants in Arizona. They constitute around 5% of Arizona's population. The probability that any randomly chosen person is an undocumented immigrant is therefore 5%. While 5% might be a low number, think about it. If it were 30%, would it satisfy the "reasonable suspicion" requirement? Who gets to decide at what point pure random checks become constitutional? Lawmakers or a judge?

Pity the tamil guy trying to get married

I recently came across this blog post talking about how your race affects the response you get in the dating site okcupid.com. The folks in the worst situation were Indian men, who were replied to only 20.8% of the time (though there are others in the low 20s as well); and Black women, who are replied to 34.3% of the time, which is still way more than what the poor Indian male can manage.

I was curious to know how these dynamics play in an Indian match-making context. I don't run a dating site and I have no way of getting such data. However, I could easily get aggregate counts of women and men of each age by simply searching for it. The chart below plots the number of Tamil women and men by age on tamilmatrimony.com. The peak for women is at age 25, with 6499 women, while the peak for men is at age 28, with 21265 men. Holy moly, that is 3.27 men competing for each woman. The aggregates are similar: 181,267 men competing for 54,662 women (ratio 3.31).

It is hard to explain such a disparity. This is my hypothesis. Men are more economically advanced than women, and are more likely to be in a position to use computers and access the internet. And for this to be the case, lots of families should consist exclusively of male or female children (otherwise the tech-savvy brother could create an match-making profile for their sister). With smaller families being strongly encouraged twenty to thirty years ago, this is a strong possibility. This also means that for identically placed families, the economic advancement of their only child depends on the child's gender. I find it hard to wrap my head around this. If you are family with ten children, five male and five female, I can understand disproportionately favoring the male children, because of existing social norms at that time. But, if it is a family with only one child, why would a parent not want their only child to do well in life, irrespective of gender.

Gender-based economic disparity is likely to be lower in groups that are more socially and economically advanced. The conventional wisdom is that Tambrams are economically better placed in society. The graph below shows the numbers for Tambrams. The ratio of the peaks is 1.82 men for each woman (1313 women aged 25, and 2389 men aged 28). The ratio of the aggregates is 2.07 (8741 women and 18104 men).

Whatever you conclude about the reasons why such a disparity exists, one thing is certain: the average male on tamilmatrimony.com is getting royally ripped-off.

Do you have an explanation for this data?

Why does IIT Madras want to know my religion?

IIT Madras is hiring new faculty. I heard ahead of time that an advertisement was coming out on the 20th and I was eagerly looking forward to see it. What struck me most was how unwelcoming it was.

The advertisement started of inviting "applications from Indian Nationals with an established record ..." (emphasis mine). I understand IITs are a government institution, but why restrict faculty positions to citizens. State-run universities in the US allow non-US citizens to work, and the USCIS exempts non-immigrants employed in institutions of higher education from their normal H-1B cap.

The experience asked of Assistant Professor applicants includes "Candidates preferably should be below 35 years of age." Ageism is institutionalized in India, but shouldn't institutes of higher learning lead the way in being non-discriminatory? Even IISc's unofficial recruitment page is explicit in its discrimination. The UT-Austin faculty recruitment website has a simple line that says "The University of Texas at Austin is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer." Sometime ago, I came across the following statement on D. E. Shaw's recruitment page (emphasis mine). I would be so happy to work in such a place.

The members of the D. E. Shaw group do not discriminate in employment matters on the basis of sex, race, colour, caste, creed, religion, pregnancy, national origin, age, military service eligibility, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, or any other protected class. Note that for us, this is more than just legal boilerplate. We are genuinely committed to these principles, which form an important part of our corporate culture.

Question on publications And, when it comes to the application form itself, I fail to understand the point of filling out an application form with details that are already in one's CV. What is the point of asking one to fill in the "number" of papers? What does differentiating between "Journal" and "Conference" publications serve? Journals and conferences are valued differently in different areas. Moreover the tier of each conference/journal itself has to be considered. A quote from an article about journals versus conferences in Computer Science.

Some lesser-ranked universities evaluate faculty on the basis of journal publications, because the Dean of Engineering is unable or unwilling to understand computer science. In most scientific fields, journals have higher standards than conferences; computer science is a rare exception. A top-ranked CS department can convince the dean to use the proper evaluation metric. A lower-ranked CS department cannot (the dean may think the department is trying to fool him or her). If you are at one of these universities, you will need to publish in journals, probably by submitting slightly revised versions of your conference papers to journals. The rush for people at lower-ranked universities (some of whom are excellent researchers, and some of whom are not) to submit even marginal results to journals is another regrettable factor that tends to lower the overall quality of journals.

And I don't know what the difference is between an international and a national venue. After all, the famed AAAI Conference, till a couple of years ago was a national conference. Do national conferences and journals allow papers only from "Indian Nationals" just like IIT Madras itself does?

Question on religion What offended me the most, and prompted this post is the application asking a person's religion. How is this even remotely connected to making a decision on a candidate's application? The only connection I can see is discrimination. I have not seen private sector companies or other educational institutions ask this information, so, I don't think IIT Madras is mandated to collect this information, even for the purpose of collecting statistics.

This application form would have been prepared at the direction of some IIT-M faculty members. After all, they are the people who make decisions and know what information they need to make such a decision. I am surprised they asked for this field to be there, or it was not caught by any one.

My holiday giving

I usually stay silent and anonymous (if possible) about my donations. I wanted to change that to encourage others to donate as well. It is not that these organizations need my endorsement. I am a nobody and some of these organizations are super-huge. I am hoping there is a chance that you might be encouraged to give as well. The organizations I gave to:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). I am a big fan of the ACLU and I am inspired by their commitment to civil liberties guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Safeguarding your rights doesn't come easy and thanks to the ACLU for fighting for our rights. ACLU lost its single largest funding source, David Gelbaum. Mr. Gelbaum has given the ACLU $ 94 million in the past five years ($ 300 million to other organizations). He has run into some personal financial issues and the ACLU is looking for support everywhere they can to bridge this funding gap. The ACLU needs your help. Please help them out, if you can. Cool fact: Because of my donation, I became a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

Vibha Every year, a large part of my small charitable giving goes to Vibha. Vibha's vision is to "ensure that every underprivileged child attains his or her right to education, health and opportunity." I am a volunteer with this organization. We'd really appreciate your help. Vibha supports some fantastic grass roots level projects. I will mention one here. Sikshana is an organization that has the potential to revive the quality of the primary school system in Karnataka. They reach over 25,000 children from 216 primary schools (there are close to 50000 public primary schools in Karnataka). Sikshana's methodology is scalable and at some point the government will hopefully adopt their approach. Please donate generously to Vibha to support projects like Sikshana.

People's Union for Civil Liberties. The PUCL is India's equivalent of the ACLU. They are not as organized as the ACLU. They do fight for the same cause, which is especially harder in India, where civil liberties are not well-protected by the Constitution or the courts.

National Federation of the Blind (NFB) The NFB supports education, research and technology programs offered to the blind.

Wikipedia. If you are reading this, you have an internet connection, and you likely know of Wikipedia. It is a non-profit and relies on donations to keep it running. I am sure you don't want to see it go away.

Shailesh Gandhi kisses your privacy goodbye

Recently, I blogged about an important dispute related to the Right to Information Act. The dispute dealt with two issues 1) that of hard copy verus soft copy data 2) protecting the privacy of students.

Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi ruled on this issue. The good news: IITs have to provide a soft copy of the data. The bad, rather ugly news: can kiss your privacy goodbye.

Here is a quote from this truly horrible ruling (the PDF is here. It is only 3 pages. You can read it yourself)

the Commission rules that merely giving the name of the person and the pin code with the marks obtained cannot be considered as an invasion of the privacy of an individual

If revealing an individual's test scores publicly does not violate privacy, I don't know what does.

I hope somebody appeals this ruling to a High Court or the Supreme Court. After all, India's courts have consistently ruled that the right to privacy is a fundamental right. The courts have also ruled that the right to information is a fundamental right. The RTI act talks about the conflict between the right to privacy and the right to information.

information which relates to personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information

As someone who cherishes both the right to privacy and the right to information, I am sure there will be complicated situations that courts will consider in the future, in deciding when public interest justifies disclosure and when it does not. This case, in my opinion, doesn't even come close to causing a conflict. No public interest is served by revealing a student and their test score to the public. Mr. Shailesh Gandhi did not even bother to articulate when that would be true in his ruling. Violating an individual's fundamental right to privacy at the very least deserves a few more drops of ink.

PS: Thanks to Prof. Gautam Barua for his comment :)

Important RTI dispute involving the IITs

Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi is going to hear an important dispute relating to the Right To Information act. Prof. Rajeev Sharma, a computer sciences professor at IIT Kharagpur has filed an RTI application seeking test scores of all applicants who appeared in the IIT Joint Entrance Examination in 2006. The JEE exam board is stalling the process.

It has been very hard to get complete information on this dispute. Reporting, like it is usually the norm, has been pathetic. Here is what I understand of where this dispute currently stands.

Some irregularities in the JEE exam

The plaintiff Prof. Kumar has been doggedly seeking information about the IIT JEE 2006 examination. He alleges irregularities in calculating which students made the cut. In fact, the Calcutta High Court is currently hearing a case on this very issue. The court asked the IITs to submit the formulae used to calculate applicants who are offered admits. The IITs have submitted several different formulae on different occasions. Moreover, they destroyed all answer sheets before they were supposed to.

Soft-copy versus hard-copy

Now, let's come back to the RTI application that that IITs have not yet responded to. Times of India has reported that this is an issue of soft-copy of data versus hard-copy. The paper reports that the IITs have offered to provide printouts of the data (running to tens of thousands of pages) at cost to the plaintiff. This clearly would be ridiculous.

However, I am not sure if this is the case. Prof. Gautam Barua, Director of IIT Guwahati, who is also responsible for the entrance examinations, responded to me that the dispute was not one of hard or soft copy, but one of privacy. I could not reach the reporter and got no response from Prof. Kumar. So, I have to give the IITs the benefit of doubt.

Privacy issue

Prof. Barua claimed to me that the IITs offered to provide the data after removing personally identifying information. In fact, a news report seems to corroborate this claim.

IIT Guwahati Director Gautam Barua has said that he had offered the appellant data for scrutiny with the names made anonymous. IIT Guwahati [...] had refused to provide marks and personal details of candidates on a CD as requested by Prof Rajeev Kumar of IIT Kharagpur.

Releasing personal information of applicants would be ridiculous. However Prof. Barua did not clarify where he stood on the soft-copy issue.

Where it stands now

To me this is such an open and shut case. There is no question that privacy should not violated. There is also no question that information should be provided in the most accessible form, in this case a soft-copy. I don't know why this has been dragging for so long.

Prof. Barua agrees that they have not provided the application any information yet, and are waiting for the CIC's hearing. This puzzles me. They could have provided a soft copy of data without private information on their own accord.


Shailesh Gandhi is going to hear this soon. I hope he clarifies one important piece of this issue. The RTI act clearly specifies that information includes electronic data and that citizens have a right to this data in an electronic form or in the form of printouts. The act does not specify that a soft-copy, where available, should be preferred. I hope he does that.

"information" means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force;

["right to information"] includes the right to obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device;

On climate change, 'Glenn Beck types' descend on Indian TV

Sagarika Ghose is currently a senior editor on CNN-IBN. I am not particularly a fan of her. To be fair to her, I might be misrepresenting her by taking issue with a couple of occasions where she has been, let's say, less than stellar. As with all of Indian news channels in English, she is an active champion of the shouting match culture. Don't take my comments to be condemnation of her, but merely two incidents where I did not like what she did.

Climate change is in the news because India's Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh recently suggested that India should look to curb its CO2 emissions. CNN-IBN had a shouting match to discuss "India selling out to the West on Climate Change?". Sagarika Ghose then went on to tweet these enlightening words

  • 1. Interesting point raised last night: our problem is poverty, not climate. lets first get rich, then we can go green.
  • 2. The richest countries in the world are the greenest. the fact is we need hell-for-leather development, nothing will happen to our skies!
  • 3. Is even the science of climate change dodgy? is there any evidence that CO2 is bad for us? who says the climate's changing for the worse?
  • 4. for those interested--read The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjorn Lamborg. huge amounts spent on "green" tech is a waste of money
  • 5. @scanman lamborg says drought deluges were regular 100 years ago when no greenhouse gases.Difference: today you see them on TV!!.

It is reasonable to say that India should ignore climate change since poverty is a larger issue (assuming that development conflicts with the climate), but to totally misrepresent facts and science is atrocious.

She mentioned Bjorn Lamborg. I recommend that you watch his awesome TED talk on what global priorities we should set. Among other things, this talk argues that we should not fight global warming now. Addressing the problem and accepting a scientific fact are two separate issues. I have not read his book, and do not know if he outright denies global warming. Even if he does, she should have put it in perspective in light of the overwhelming scientific consensus being in the other camp.

About the Indian media, I was happy that we did not have clowns like Glenn Beck who grossly misrepresented facts in topics they were not experts on. I have to to change that view now.

Statues make for better judges in India's Supreme Court

India's founders could have installed statues in the Supreme Court to function as judges and these statues would have done a better job than India's current crop of judges in the Supreme Court. For one, these statues wouldn't be able to hear any stupid cases. Like the one about Mayawati and her statues.

I am absolutely annoyed over India's Supreme Court hearing this case. I am no student of law, and would appreciate if any one could point out what I am missing here.

Just to recap, this is the story. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati seems to be megalomaniac. She wants to unveil several statues of herself throughout the state, costing taxpayers about Rs. 5.5 billion ($ 120 million). Unsurprisingly, this has riled up several people. Activists are seeking all avenues to stop this nonsense. A common strategy in such situations is to approach the judiciary. So far so good.

They file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in India's Supreme Court. For any case there needs to be a litigant, the affected party. Presumably, a few taxpayers file a case against the government claiming that their tax rupees are wasted. For them to have a case shouldn't the administration have done something unconstitutional, or have broken the law? How can any democratic system allow any case where litigants argue about an administration and legislature's spending priorities? Some folks might want to spend money on education, some might favor welfare measures, while others might like statues. Aren't elections meant to settle these issues?

What legal basis do courts have to hear such cases? And what basis are they going to use to make any judgement? Are they going to prevent the government from installing Mayawati's statues? What if the statues were those of Gandhi? What if the plan was to install one statue of Gandhi? When does a rightful expenditure become wrongful and what authority does the court have? Forget the authority, what capability do they have? How did judges suddenly assume they were smart enough to decide how to allocate a state's budget?

What next? Are they going to direct the Central Government to invade China?

I usually use the word moron to describe such actors. In this instance, doing so would be insulting to morons.

One interesting outcome of the case is that, the Supreme Court threatened to get the Central Government dismiss the UP State Government if they would not follow the court's orders. Now, I do agree that any government should faithfully follow any court's orders. Disobedience should be an impossible solution. Otherwise, our system of Rule of Law would break down. What happens if the Central government refuses to listen to a court's orders? The court stages a coup?

In this situation, statues serving as judges would have done a better job. They would not have heard this case at all.

India's police state in Manipur

I very briefly mentioned about Indian Government atrocities in Manipur, while talking about the abject state of civil liberties in India.

On July 23rd this year calm unarmed Chongkam Sanjit, a 27-year old was murdered by Manipur police. Here are a series of pictures that document Sanjit's murder. Shoma Chaudhury's excellent story from a month ago goes over the history of violent state overreach in Manipur. CNN-IBN has an educative news story on the same issue.

Manipur's story seems to like that of Blackwater in Iraq. Only that it is by India's own government on its own people.

PS: I have written several posts where I have complained about India's media and CNN-IBN. I have to give them their due for this story and others by Arjit Sen. Good reporting.