Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 9th, 2008

Part 2: Noura’s period (1381-1386)

Chapter 8:  Preliminary reforms

            The first year was very hectic and a learning period for Antoun to behave as Lord of the Metn.  A restless person by nature he avoided staying for any length of time in his castle and kept on the road canvassing his County and listening to the demands and needs of his residents.  Gergis was given an annex to the castle where he visited Antoun for four days a month.  Since Gergis was very secretive about his origin and a coastal native it was inappropriate for Antoun to offer him publicly an official responsibility; but Gergis was indeed his legal counselor and would study the legal cases and submit his recommendations, especially those cases with a heavy political overtone.  Consequently, Antoun would preside for two days a month at the justice council for the serious and highly public cases and on Saturday afternoons, when in town, he would be judge for the common claimants.

            Hanna Al Najjar was named his administrator of the previously outlawed areas and Mariam was recalled to stay at the Capital for non divulged responsibilities.  Mustafa was named general manager for Antoun’s prosperous business in Beirut and channeled the necessary military hardware and professional military trainers to Metn.

            Meanwhile, Latifa had established herself in charge of the administration of the castle and the residents referred to her as Sit Al Qasr (the Lady of the Castle).  Thus, Antoun felt secure about the good running of the castle and the well being of his frail and yet inefficient wife as per the political life.

Antoun was inundated by the land claims of the multitude of landlords and was urged to perform a few necessary agrarian reforms as a priority.   This agrarian reform was contemplated in phases in order not to anger the powerful landlords. The first task was to create a cadastre for the land.  Expert surveyors called “geometers” were hired and attracted from as far as Egypt to measure accurately the kingdom’s land properties not yet owned by the citizens and to assist in property litigations.

Agrarian and tax reforms

The next phase was to redistributed cultivable lands from the most powerful landlords to those who worked the lands by subdividing large parcels that belonged to Emirs and princes, especially those lands that were practically stolen to the less fortunate peasants.  Legal framework for recuperating properties was enacted; for example, the sizes of parcels of land were proportionate to the size of a family and the duration the family worked the land; females were allotted the same rights as men in land inheritance provided that they resided on and worked the property and widowed families received larger sizes of lands in order to gradually diminish the prevalent taboos in favor of brighter opportunities.  

Tax reforms were made more equitable and less burdensome.  Feudal tradition taxed only those who owned lands with the exception of feudal lords.  The merchants, clergymen and the class of nobility did not share in financing war efforts or entertaining the institutions and the royalty.

This fundamental theological tax logic that only small land owners should supplement to the expenses of the ruling class was seriously questioned. Revenues were thus revised to be taxed regardless of the business of production and expanded to merchants and skilled artisans.  Lands that were not cultivated were also taxed in order for the proprietors to sell or rent these unproductive lands. The lands distributed to peasants were taxed higher that those legitimately acquired but for an exceptional duration not to exceed 7 years.

Properties were taxed not only according to size but also to the number of hired manpower who kept the property running and who offered an image of high status to the landlords: the rational for this edict was to encourage landlords to diminish the level of luxury of their old life style and understand the necessity of equality in form and eventually to save for the hard times to come and participate in the investment of small industrial projects.

The tandem of Yasmine and Noura

Noura was the best friend of Yasmine, not on her own volition but because Yasmine insisted that this is fact and wished it so.  The combination of Yasmine and Noura was too present and insidious in Antoun’s ears so that many resolutions previously taken without input from the female subjects were modified and amended to secure the rights and benefits of women. One important tax, although negligible to the total fund collected but that would relieve the pressures off Antoun’s chest, was levied on the dowries of married couples within rich families.  This duo reminded Antoun of the old feudal system which forbade him to marry Zena, the girl that he thought he was in love with in his youth.  This dowry tax encouraged families to marry from lesser endowed families and contributed gradually to the elimination of the concept of dowry as a prerequisite to marriages. In fact, many couples from outside the region took advantage of this climate of tolerance to marry in the Metn Emirate. 

The clergy were adamantly warned not to interfere with the decision of the couples to get married: No specific guidelines were yet promulgated on the range of interferences but, since everyone knew about Antoun’s sensitivity about marriage obstacles, the clergy opted to err on the side of tolerance than face his wrath. The duty of the marrying clergy was to submit the marriage certificate to the mayor of the town who was to send a monthly list of the marriage certificates to the central ministry of the interior.

Article #28, December7, 2005

“How do you perceive the inspection job to mean?”

Inspection in engineering has a narrow meaning that connotes quality control of physical products.

It might be viewed as a statistical process in production to keep physical errors in the manufactured products within acceptable ranges with subsequent determination of an inspector or production manager of whether the production mechanism satisfies certain quality control specifications.

It might be understood as a method for inspecting individual items whether the task is paced as in conveyor belts or the pacing is under control of the inspector and his own rate of work.

The concept of inspection might also be studied from a Human Factors organizational perspective of the personal qualities of inspectors and the work pressures from individual workers or groups trying to influence his decision for refusing batches of products.

In this perspective, inspection is implicitly of people; inspection decisions about a man’s work directly reflected upon him and thus the resentment associated with the age, skills, gender and professional behavior of the inspector.

Inspectors are expected not to be impaired in their eyesight, auditory and tactual judgments and be highly trained and knowledgeable about quality standards.

An inspector must have opinions about the working conditions, how workers are paid when defects are found, method of payment of the inspector and number of break time, general environment in quality of lighting, noise and temperature, organizational factors of isolation, interruptions, monotony and decision pressures from foremen and supervisors, calibration at interval of inspectors’ norms or their expectations in rate of defects, pre-conceived ideas of accuracy resulting from deterioration in physical or mental abilities and lack of agreement on quality.

Is inspection the task of a single person for a phase in the production process or should it be an organization within the administration having responsibility for the total control of quality starting from the design concept for the foreseeable errors, risks and safety, usage of the product not intended for, raw materials, subcontracted parts, manufacturing, packaging, recall, marketing deficiencies and customers’ complaints because quality is finally in the customer eyes and mind?

Should an inspector be part of the team in the production process or independent associated with a specific inspection organization?

Some companies do not take inspection seriously and most of the times assign this task to employees about to retire who in turn perceive their new assignment as a downgrading in their responsibilities.

Some companies are ready to sacrifice quality in order to maintain a steady flow in the conveyer belt; for example it is well known that cars produced on Mondays and Fridays are fraught with systematic defects because on these days novices replace the high rate of absentee trained employees.  The fact is since weekly checks are paid on Thursdays it encourage trained workers to extend their vacation from Friday to Tuesday.  Failing to show up on Friday and Monday the work force is altered which condition the administration learn to cope with as best it can.   In this case, companies allocate expense funds to repairing returned products through warranties.

Inspection is one of the most arduous jobs that requires communication, organizational and professional skills and must be valued as essential in the control of total quality image of a firm.

Article #30, December 27, 2005

 “How objective and scientific are experiments?”

If we narrow this article to the statistical analysis of experiments and without going into details suffice us to mention a few controversies.  First, let us do a chronology of the various paradigms in statistics and statistical algorithms.  From a European perspective Pascal is believed to begin the probability theory in1654.

LaPlace and Legendre contributed to the Least-Squares algorithm for how to fit a model to data (1750-1810)

Gauss developed the geometry and algebra of the multivariate normal distribution (1800’s)

Galton studied regression between two variables (1885) and Pearson the correlation coefficient in 1895.

Fisher, Snedecor and Sheffe concurrently worked on experimental design and analysis of variance algorithm (ANOVA) to statistically test the population distribution under the assumptions of normality in the 1920’s.

The data analyses of non distribution base samples to fit models to data showing structural features were developed by Thurstone in Factor analysis, by Young and Householder (1935) in Multidimensional scaling and Cluster analysis algorithms.

Joreskog, K. G developed in 1973 the algorithm of a general method for estimating a linear structural relational equation labeled LISREL that analyses the relationships among latent variables linked to operationalized indicators. This general method considers as special cases path analysis recursive or non recursive as well as Factors analysis.

John Tukey and Mosteller concentrated on studying exploratory data analysis to fit mathematical and geometric models to data showing both structural and residual, and thus complementing confirmatory or inferential analyses.

There are divergent paradigms in the following concepts:  first, the suitability of data measurements according to measurement theory versus the distribution properties of the variable of interest (S. S. Stevens versus I. R. Savage in the 60’s); second, the need to investigate real world data prior to applying any statistical package (data snooping) so that if you perform serious detective work on the data and torture it long enough it will confess and open many ways to understand its underlying behavior (John Tukey); thus increased emphasis on graphs of individual data points and plotting to investigate the preliminary screening so as to ensure that the summary statistics selected are truly relevant to the data at hand. 

Third, the application of the Bayesian approach from the consumer or decision maker viewpoint which provide the final probability against evidence instead of the investigator standard acceptance of a p-value to rejecting a hypothesis (read the “Illusion of Objectivity” by James Berger and Donald Berry, 1988).

Fourth, the selection of an investigator for a statistical package that he is familiar with instead of the appropriate statistics for the research in question;  The acceptance of untenable assumptions on population distributions and computing unrealistic parameters simply because the investigator is not trained to understanding or interpreting alternative statistical methods of nonparametric or distribution freer population methods.

Fifth, there are examples of investigators adopting explanatory statistical packages to torture data into divulging confusing causative variables while, in fact, the science is already well established in the domain to specifically determine exhaustively the causative factors simply because the investigator is not versed in mathematics or physics (“Tom Swift and his electric factor analysis machine by J. Scott Armstrong, 1967).

Sixth, there is a need to the “mathematization of behavioral sciences” (Skelum, 1969) which involves the development of mathematically stated theories leading to quantitative predictions of behavior and to derivation from the axioms of the theory of a multitude of empirically testable predictions. Thus, instead of testing verbal model as to the null hypothesis, an adequate mathematical model account for both variability and regularity in behavior and the appropriate statistical model is implied by the axioms of the model itself.  Another advantage is that attention is turned to measuring goodness of fit, range of phenomena handled by the model and ability to generating counterintuitive predictions.

This discussion is an attempt to emphasize the concept of experimentation as a structured theory and that the current easy and cheap computational potentials should be subservient to the theory so that data are transformed to answer definite and clear questions.  The Human Factors practitioner, whom should be multidisciplinary in order to master the human and physical sciences, is hard hit by the need of performing complex scientific experiments involving human subjects and yet required to yield practical recommendations for the applied engineering fields.

No wonder Human Factors professional are confused in their purposes and ill appreciated by the other discipline unless a hybrid kind of scientists are generated from a structural combination of engineering discipline and modern experimental methods and statistical algorithms.  However, Human Factors engineers who have an undergraduate engineering discipline and a higher degree in experimental research and statistical analyses training can be better positioned to handle research involving mathematical modeling of theories in sciences.

The fixed mindedness in adolescents reminds us of the mind fix of old people with the assumption that the mind has the potential flexibility to grow while young.

You may look young masking and old mind or look older and exhibiting a younger mind; it is your choice how much time and energy you are willing to invest for acquiring knowledge.

Article #29, December 1st, 2005

“How objective and scientific are research?”

Would you please give me a minute to set the foundations first? Friend, allow me just a side explanation on experimentation.  Psychologists, sociologists and marketing graduates are trained to apply various experimentation methods and not just cause and effects designs.  There are many statistical packages oriented to providing dimensions and models to the set of data dumped into the experiment so that a preliminary understanding of the system behavior is comprehended qualitatively.

Every applied science has gone through many qualitative models or schemas, using various qualitative methods, before attempting to quantify their models. However, many chairmen of engineering departments, especially those who have no understanding of the disciple of Human Factors or were never exposed to designing experiments, have a conception that this field is mostly qualitative in nature and would ask me to concentrate in my courses on the quantitative aspects such as the environmental factors of lighting, noise, heat and any topic that requires computation or has well defined physics equations.

We have three concepts in the title: objectivity, scientific and research that are related in people’s mind as connoting the same concept.  However, the opposite meanings for these concepts are hard to come by without philosophical divergences or assumptions.  If we define science as a set of historical paradigms, a set of concepts, truths, facts and methods that most of them keep changing as new technologies and new methodologies enlarge the boundaries of knowledge then you might be more inclined to discuss notions with a freer mind.

Could subjectivity be accepted as the opposite of objectivity without agreeing on a number of axioms and assumptions that are not tenable in many cases?  Any agreement in the meanings of objectivity in scientific research procedures and results are basically consensual among the professionals in a discipline, for a period, until the advent of a new paradigm that changes the meaning or orientation of the previous consensus among the professionals.

Could opinions, personal experiences, recalled facts or events not be accepted in the domain of research even if they could be found in written documents but not thoroughly investigated by a researcher?  So what if you refer to an accredited research article and then it turned out that the article was fraught with errors, misleading facts with borderline results and untenable interpretations?  Would the research be thrown in the dust bin as unscientific or non objective and thus not worth further investigations?

Research in Physics, Chemistry and engineering deal with objects and are related to studying the behavior of the physical nature; these kind of research can arrive to well establish mathematical models because the factors are countable, could be well controlled in experimental settings and the variability in errors are connected to the technology of the measuring instruments once the procedure is well defined and established according to experimental standards.  It is when research has to deal with the variability in the human nature such as in psychology, psychometric, sociology, marketing, business management and econometrics that the notions of objectivity, research and science become complex and confusing.

The main problem is to boldly discriminate among research and admit that not every research is necessarily scientific or objective and that a research has an intrinsic value if the investigator is candid about the purpose and nature of his research.  We need to admit that every research is subjective in nature because it is the responsibility of the investigator to select his topic, his intentions, his structured theory, references, fund providers, the hypotheses, the design, the methodology, the sample size, the populations, the data collection techniques, the statistical package, emphasis on either error type I or error type II, the interpretation of results and so on. 

By admitting prior subjective environment to a research endeavor then we can proffer the qualitative term of objectivity to the research only and only when the investigators provide full rationales to every subjective choices in the research process.

Every step in the research process is a variation on an accepted paradigm at one point in the history of science and the mixing of paradigms with no conscious realization of the mixing process should set a warning alarm on the validity of the research and the many pitfalls it is running through. 

Acknowledging the role of subjectivity in the methodology, the data and its interpretation could open the way for more accurate and flexible judgments as to the extent of objectivity and scientific tendencies of the research.




October 2008

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