Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dr. Larry Summers, the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Dr. Gilpin Drew Faust

Time Magazine reports on Dr. Larry Summers, the former President of Harvard University, who is now head of the National Economic Council in the Obama administration. I remember meeting Dr. Summers, when he was President of Harvard, and the Fellows of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study were invited over his Presidential house in Cambridge, MA for dinner. I was a Science Fellow at Radcliffe that 2005-2006 year. That year, the comments made by Dr. Summers regarding women and math and science abilities, and the controversy that followed, had reached a head. Needless to say, at his house, a group of the Science Fellows, which included two female mathematicians and an engineer, stuck together, eagerly awaiting Dr. Summers' entrance. I will never forget how his entrance was made from the kitchen and as he shook our hands, a Fellow from Bordeaux, France, asked him whether it was "OK that we were mathematicians?" He smiled back.

That same year, Dr. Summers resigned as President of Harvard, and the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute, Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, made history and became the first female President of Harvard. Some reflections on that incredible year at Radcliffe, can be found in my essay.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stmulus Package, Infrastructure, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Research

I was very pleasantly surprised that in today's New York Times, David Leonhardt, in his article, "A Stimulus with Merit, and Misses," writes that "in the current system, the federal government sends money to states without any real effort to evaluate whether it will pay for worthy projects." In regards to the new stimulus project to restart the US economy, he states: "They don't consider whether those new roads will lead to faster traffic or simply more traffic." "In the world of infrastructure, cost-benefit analysis is still a science of the future."

Leonhardt gets how important it is to do system-wide analyses of transportation "improvements" and "investments" a priori in order to ascertain where the funds can be best spent. I would also add to the discussion how can we improve transportation infrastructure so that the environment is at the same time not negatively affected but rather, over time, improved.

We have the results of our major scientific studies, now available, which address the above two issues. Our paper, "A Relative Total Cost Index for the Evaluation of Transportation Network Robustness in the Presence of Degradable Links and Alternative Travel Behavior," published in the first issue of 2009 in the International Transactions in Operational Research, vol. 16, pp. 49-67, provides rigorous, computer-based tools to assess the impact of tranport link degradation on system performance. The paper, "Environmental Impact Assessment of Transportation Networks with Degradable Links in an Era of Climate Change," in press in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation goes further and captures the impact on the environment of the degradation of roads.

Good to see that more and more journalists such as David Leonhardt of the New York Times and Linda Baker (February 2009 Scientific American) get that "building more" does not equate with "building better!"

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

To Merge or Not to Merge

The big news today is the merger of Pfizer and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, to the tune of $68 billion. Clearly, some of the potential benefits will involve the integration of these global firms' supply chain networks.

Hot off the press regarding the topic of horizontal mergers and acquisitions through supply chain integration, is the leading paper in the journal Transportation Research E: Logistics and Transportation Review, which I wrote way back in 2007, and which now appears in volume 45 (2009), pp. 1-15.

As I have mentioned before in this blog, one of my primary areas of research is operations research / management science, which involves the science of better decision-making. Our professional society is called INFORMS (The Institute of Operations Research and the Management Sciences) and there are now associated with it a growing number of bloggers. INFORMS has, as its members, academics, researchers, practitioners, as well as students, and the topics tackled by its members are some of the most pressing ones today.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Learning Experiences, Face-to-Face, Service in an Orphanage in the Dominican Republic

Coincidentally, yesterday's New York Times (Sunday, January 25, 2009) had an article on trips to the Caribbean, just as my daughter was heading out at 5:15AM with her 9th grade class from The Bement School, with a few teachers and coaches, to the Dominican Republic. The caravan of Bement School busses left Old Deerfield in sub-zero weather to JFK airport and JetBlue flew them all down to Santo Domingo. The service adventure has begun. The students have been preparing for this trip for weeks and had assembled suitcases filled with clothes, games, and toys for the children at the orphanage where they are now staying for the week to help out.

Planned activities at the orphanage include educational activities such as math exercises, assisting with building projects, and, most of all, sharing with those who have no families in face-to-face time, basketball and baseball games, and just showing that others care.

These kinds of experiences cannot be obtained through "virtual connectedness." The group of 9th grade "Bementers" includes children from Massachusetts and Vermont, plus boaders from China, South Korea, and Singapore. They will speak in the language of friendship, kindness, and play, and, hopefully, will engender memories that will last a lifetime.

Updated -- January 27, 2009: Today, The Recorder, a newspaper based in Greenfield, Massachusetts, ran an article on this service trip.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Transportation and Network Economics

The new semester begins at UMass Amherst this week and students are coming back to our snowy but gorgeous campus! With infrastructure such a major topic in the news lately, and with discussions about transportation improvements (and how to pay for them) taking place from Massachusetts to China, I thought that it would be relevant to share course lectures.

If you want to learn more about multimodal traffic networks, how to set tolls, and how to predict traffic flows on congested urban transportation networks, read more.

Teaching and researching networks can take you to some fantastic places. The Fulbright experience, in particular, is incomparable. Here you can also find lectures that I gave in magical Innsbruck, Austria, while on a 4 month Fulbright as well as talks on Complex Networks given last March in Catania, Italy (the location of the volcano Mt. Etna).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Traffic, Jack Smith, and the Supernetworks Center

As an academic, one of the highlights of a semester is being able to host speakers and to see how students, faculty, and guests in the audience react. As the Faculty Advisor to the UMass Amherst INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences) Student Chapter, I oversee its Speaker Series. Last term, we had a wonderful lineup, including the best-selling author of the book, "Traffic," Mr. Tom Vanderbilt, whose blog, How We Drive, is a terrific read. His visit was written up recently in the Winter 2009 edition of "The Commonwealth." The student chapter has posted photos of Vanderbilt's visit and of the visits of other invited speakers.
Also, last Fall, we helped to host "the" Jack Smith, the former CEO and Chairman of the Board of GM and Delta. Jack Smith is a UMass Amherst alum, class of '60. Read about his visit and Q&A.
Hosting speakers of the caliber of Jack Smith and Tom Vanderbilt is always a joy but as an academic doing research and running the Virtual Center for Supernetworks brings its own special challenges and rewards. Read up on our center, compliments of Mr. Lou Wigdor, and for all the exciting activities in the Isenberg School, see the full edition of the 2009 Winter Commonwealth.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Scientific American, the Braess Paradox, and the Price of Anarchy

I was interviewed by the journalist, Linda Baker, for her article, "Detours by Design," which appears in the February 2009 issue of the Scientific American. The article talks about the Braess paradox, which dates to 1968, and demonstrates that the addition of a new road may make all travelers worse off in terms of travel time/cost. The Scientific American article highlights a recent example from Seoul, Korea, in which the inverse/converse occurred, that is, the removal of a road made users better off. The Braess paradox is classical and those of us in transportation and operations research have used it regularly in our classes and lectures. What continues to fascinate is how this paradox keeps on getting discovered and, sometimes, rediscovered in other network settings -- from the Internet to electric power distribution and generation networks. There is a clear, deep lesson here as we begin to invest in infrastructure -- one has to capture users of the network systems and their behavior (do they cooperate or act independently/selfishly) in identifying which network components (roads, cables, lines, etc.) to add and/or improve. At the same time, we are seeing a convergence of interest in networks by researchers and practitioners in different disciplines -- from operations researchers / management scientists to computer scientists, physicists, and engineers, behavioral scientitsts, economists, and even political scientists. This is very exciting but proper effort must be taken to give proper citation to the scientific literature.

Our group at the Isenberg School of Management had the privilege of hosting the visit of Professor Dietrich Braess of the Braess paradox fame. His visit took place in 2006 and we have both the original article of his (which was in German), and the translation of it, which was done by Braess, Nagurney, and Wakolbinger, along with photos and additional material, posted at:

The Braess paradox is explicated at:

For an excellent book on the price of anarchy, which is the ratio of the total cost to society evaluated at the user-optimized flow, to the total cost to society evaluated at the minimal system cost, see the book by the same name by Tim Roughgarden, published by MIT Press in 2005.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Women in Science and the New Administration

In today's, January 20, 2009, New York Times, Natalie Angier writes on "In 'Geek Chic' and Obama, New Hope for Lifing Women in Science," which is on target. As someone who has degrees in Applied Mathematics, with a concentration in Operations Research, a subject which focuses on the "science of decision-making," it is clear that math and analytics underly all science. What has been missing from the discussion, however, is that problem-solving is something that women have been engaged with since time began. Science and math involve problem-solving and there is nothing like the "aha" moment when the theory works and the solution can be implemented. Our new President, Barack Obama, will be engaged in problem-solving on a continuing basis and will be elucidating his solutions to the masses. The more perspectives that he (and we) have to solve our problems, from the scientific to the simply intuitive ones, the better will we all be in creating an inclusive society with infrastructure that works, education that thrills and illuminates, and healthcare that operates as it should.

Monday, January 19, 2009

New Year -- New Administration -- New Blog

This week we begin a new era with renewed hope, ideas, and vision. This blog will cover research, education, and networks in the dynamic world that we live in. It will also serve as a voice of a female academic who teaches in a business school and conducts research on networks.

Today, I will share with you my Letter to the Editor, which was published in today's New York Times. It, in abbreviated form, captures the joy of teaching undergrads, even in the early morning, a subject that I am passionate about -- that of transportation & logistics.