Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ties in Science

First to market.

First to the finish line.

First to know.

First to file.

First to climb Mount Everest.

First country to land someone on the moon.

Human achievement is defined by one group out-competing another.  When the release of multiple research papers is coordinated, it may look like a tie but in reality one of two things has happened: Journal editors synchronized the release of papers to create a bigger impact, or two research groups shared enough information to synchronize their submissions.

If it's driven by editors, one of the groups is still first to submit.  In comparison, if it's driven by the groups, they've acted as one larger collective that's first to publish over all their competitors.

A long time ago, Andrew Carnegie quipped that "The first man gets the oyster, the second man gets the shell". 

There are no ties.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hey TTC, we need Tax Credits, not Low-Income Transit Fares

Tess Kalinowski, at The Toronto Star, writes that the Toronto Transit Commission is considering implementing special fares for low-income riders:
The issue of income-based fares has been raised at the TTC and other city departments individually. Now, however,a report before Toronto’s executive committee July 2 recommends that staff from social development, the TTC, public health, planning and others develop joint guidelines for affordable fares. The policy would come back to council in early 2015.
The article later points out that six dollars per day on transit fares is a lot of money for lower income people, like the unemployed, but should include students as well.

Instead of rolling out a special Low-Income Metropass (I'm not holding my breath for the rollout of Presto just yet) and creating yet another class of fares, the TTC should work with the Ontario government to provide refundable tax credits on a single class of transit passes.

That's right, get rid of Post-Secondary and Senior Metropasses.  One class of TTC Metropass would probably simplify the TTC's operations to a small extent.

The best feature of this scheme is that since most post-secondary students are low income, and arguably some seniors are also low income, everyone the existing policies are intended to cover is still covered.  It would basically work like the Federal Transit Credit, except that if you earn less than $20k per year, you get 50% of your transit costs refunded, as an example.

As an aside, note that I said 'some seniors' as it's not really fair for me to be subsidizing people with pensions that exceed my income.  The same with the rare students getting by on dividends from inherited stock market investments.  Hey, it's not just me saying so: “It’s not necessarily fair to ask other customers to pay more [to subsidize low income fares],” says TTC chief customer officer Chris Upfold.

Running this scheme through the income tax system keeps everyone's income information more or less private.  It's hard enough for people to live on a low-income, and giving them a special card to identify them as such isn't really the hand up that they need.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Learning to Start Businesses, in the Ivory Tower?

Over at Entrepreneur, Isaiah Hankel wrote what's, overall, just another article criticizing academic culture, but if you read it with an open mind you'll find a paragraph that's probably the most optimistic description I've ever read of what a research community can pull off, especially since Hankel's describing the academic community:
The ivory tower shouldn’t be perceived as a safe haven or a place for professionals to bide their time when the economy goes south. Rather it should be considered the best place to learn how to start and run a business [emphasis mine]. Academia’s sole purpose should be developing people not to just be professors, doctors and lawyers but ones who innovate and invent products and services.
Agreed, 100%.