Tuesday, January 30, 2007

$10,000 to keep young grads in MA; Strong Inference Method

Just when you think this idea would be staying in just one state, now another is considering a similar version.

As Massachusetts leaders struggle to find ways to stem an exodus of young people from the state, one legislator thinks he has hit upon a solution -- give them money to stay.


The stipend would go to anyone who graduated from a state-accredited post secondary school, vocational-technical program, or apprentice program in the last 10 years. The catch: The recipient would have to agree to stay in Massachusetts for at least five years, or repay the money with interest. Also, the graduate's yearly salary could not exceed 135 percent of the community's median income.


My advisor had the whole group peruse a landmark article by John Platt on "Strong Inference (1964)".

There were certain parts I found to be quite relevant for me to think about on a regular basis.

We speak piously of taking measurements and making small studies that will “add another brick to the temple of science.” Most such bricks just lie around the brickyard (20). Tables of constraints have their place and value, but the study of one spectrum after another, if not frequently re-evaluated, may become a substitute for thinking, a sad waste of intelligence in a research laboratory, and a mistraining whose crippling effects may last a lifetime.

To paraphrase an old saying. Beware of the man of one method or one instrument, either experimental or theoretical. He tends to become method-oriented rather than problem-oriented. The method-oriented man is shackled; the problem-oriented man is at least reaching freely toward that is most important. Strong inference redirects a man to problem-orientation, but it requires him to be willing repeatedly to put aside his last methods and teach himself new ones.

Too often I find graduate students (and smart ones at that), myself included, subconsciously lapsing into the former mode. We try to fit the "problem" to our "methods", and "equipment, calculations, lectures become ends in themselves".

If you are interested to read more, Davis gives a good review of Platt's piece.

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