Tuesday, January 20, 2009

book reviews

we read books that pertain to our academic interests. oftentimes, books are superior to journal articles since they give accessible overviews of a literature or general area of study whereas articles focus on the minutiae of one particular experiment or inquiry.

writing book reviews is a good way to bulk up your CV since they're relatively low cost, especially if you're going to read the book anyway. all you need is 600-1200 words and one or two insightful comments. ideally, others can read your quick review and judge whether the book is going to be useful to them.

why, then, are there so few journals that accept reviews? i've been searching for over an hour for an appropriate venue for a review, with absolutely no luck. i think the propensity to focus on impact factors makes it a necessity to use valuable page space on items that will be cited. since book reviews are not (cited) then there's no benefit (from an editor's standpoint) of including book reviews.

i would argue that since books are valuable tools for the advancement of knowledge, and since it takes a long time to read one, having concise, well-written reviews can only help the practice (of any discipline). we should therefore have more journal space devoted to book reviews.

Friday, January 16, 2009

back from TRB

just arrived back (a few days ago now) from the transportation research board's annual meeting in DC. it was an overall positive experience, i think, although more since i now have a sort of sense of what a conference entails as opposed to any research ideas i picked up or any results i really was made aware of.

i think i'm writing here to just lay some of these things down?

the whole purpose of the conference as laid out in the new attendee's guide is to "network, network, network." this obviously presents challenges for someone who doesn't really jive well with typical engineering types. oh, also as a young engineer/pseudo-academic i've just met far fewer people in the field so it's not like i'm constantly running into others. anyway, the whole stress of knowing that i should be schmoozing like crazy made me have a shitty time for much of the time that i was there.

there's also the added layer of stress that results from knowing that if you could just say something really insightful at one of the sessions then you'd start to build up your conference credibility and thus your peer network. this, of course, results in a complete and utter paralysis when it comes to asking questions. this is compounded by the fact that the highest returns on your questions would appear to come from asking those questions of folks that are well-established in your field, but which then leads to further paralysis (since asking a fellow grad student would somehow be less good.

as a result i literally asked no questions during sessions. thankfully poster sessions were somewhat nicer. these seemed to me to be a lot more rewarding than the talk sessions that just degenerated into self-important men asking longwinded questions, or else nervous graduate students stumbling through poorly composed questions (but at least, i guess, they were asking questions). in the poster session you can actually interact with the presenter over a sustained period of time in a comparatively low-stress environment. (i'm reminded of david foster wallace's interview with charlie rose where he comments that the Q&A that inevitably follows his readings is completely absurd, since the time allotted to answer each question does not nearly approach the actual amount of time required to satisfactorily answer the question.)

additionally, my own research is in a strange place. i just completed an MS on a topic that i am not at all interested in. (except for certain aspects of it--environmental justice, for example.) so i'm not really interested in plugging in with a group of researchers in this area. (except for those looking at EJ issues. i had a talk in an EJ session and the sort of interaction that i expected to emerge from that session did not in fact, emerge.) the direction i want to head for my dissertation (travel demand modeling/climate change/history of models?) i'm not nearly well-versed enough in to be able to plug in with anyone doing work in that area. i went to some modeling talks, and was kind of reassured that the things i want to do are still relevant. bottom line is that i need to get into some of the modeling literature/methods and figure out what i want to do, exactly.

funnily enough, it was kind of hard to find sessions i thought were interesting. i searched the schedule on some terms like social science, humanities, history, philosophy, feminism, technology, etc. but really nothing came up. i also ended up blowing off a whole day to practice my talk (it paid off, i think) and the evening sessions from 7:30-9:00 were not really appealing to me.

my talk went well, fwiw. i had practiced a lot, so it was very smooth. the only questions i got were from a rail nut who thought that the problems could be solved if freight moved to rail and a woman who asked about health effects. a panelist sitting next to me kept dropping me comments during the Q&A but they mostly went over my head.

anyway, TRB #1 done. maybe i'll be ready for #2 next year.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

apparently the $700B stimulus package contains some good news for cyclists.

$20/month from employers to folks that commute to work by bicycle.
that's legit.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

nature tackles economics

I stopped reading any ToCs while my thesis was being written. Now that that's done, I still haven't returned. Too bad, because i opened up nature yesterday to find a really great correspondence from a prof. at the University of Montreal. Dig this: "However, [the prosperity of Western nations] is mainly based on the use of non-renewable resources and therefore is probably spurious."

So I did some digging. The essay that sparked the debate was entitled "Economics needs a scientific revolution." Sounds like an opportunity to get some really radical ideas across. The guy kind of effed up though--his key idea was that economists and economics rely too heavily on theories that have no empirical grounding: rational agents, profit maximization as motivator, and efficient markets, etc. and that economics is therefore unscientific. He then mentions that the economic models used are bad--they can't account for large price jumps. Fine. Conclusion states that other economic ideas (he mentions behavioral economists and people called "econophysicists") are not taken seriously by the mainstream. he doesn't mention some of the more radical economic subgenres, namely ecological economics and feminist economics. The text is generally weird and feels very old school. Still, it was nice to see dissenting views in this magazine.

Anyway, first letter responded and basically said that, look, modern economics has given us the prosperity of Western nations. Also, there are people challenging the assumptions of economics all the time that do pretty well (Paul Krugmann is given as an example).

So at this point, the original essay looks completely ridiculous. Enter the Montreal prof. He comes in and calls out the one remaining unchallenged assumption: growth. The essay didn't mention this, and the response did not mention this. Ecological economics challenges this assumption readily. Making economics prettier with better models and methods will not change the unsustainable course we're on. Shaking up economics at its core, challenging its assumption that economies must grow, is pretty much what needs to happen to put us on the right path.

youtubing around for good talks

emulate good speakers.

video of dan sperling on cap and trade for cities
accountable and empowered cities. kind of similar to the county-caps previously proposed. he claims he put it forward for the scoping plan...but it's not in there.

paul ehrlich is a frigging incredible speaker. witness:
the toxification of planet earth
(really good insights: reversal of standard dose-response relationships)
i'm pretty sure it's not possible to emulate him. he has really sick flow, but this is clearly a byproduct of his immense knowledge. he uses no notes.

angela davis's enunciation and gesticulations are very effective.
sounds kind of like a preacher, interestingly enough. repetition to emphasize points. no powerpoint.

marty sereno on the origin of the human mind.
he's not really using notes. his slides are very good, very little text. this is a slick talk. he's basically just showing images, talking over them, and using arrows to highlight specific parts of the images.