Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 30th, 2013

Oxford biased against state students? Can hard evidence change behavior of an old Elite institution?

Do top universities favour privately educated students or state school applicants?

Each piece of information (set of data on a department) should be analysed individually and not lumped with other datasets.

Otherwise, statistics might be biased and impression of biased admission policies will wrongly surface.

Easier to get in when not applying for courses that are more competitive

It’s autumn, and a new batch of students are starting university. Some are walking through the ancient gates of an Oxbridge college.

Others are joining a redbrick university like Manchester or Bristol. A few may even be arriving in Warwick as I did (only to realize the University of Warwick is actually in Coventry).

Adam Kucharski posted in the Conversation this October 9, 2013,

Hard Evidence: is Oxford biased against state students

At this time of the year there is an oft-quoted debate, and Oxford and Cambridge Universities tend to be at the heart of it.

Do top universities favour privately educated students or state school applicants?

Beautiful, but is it biased?

Nobody disputes that private school pupils are more likely to apply to Oxford or Cambridge than state school pupils.

Many private schools are also prepped to face the Oxbridge admission process. This is a problem, but recently the Guardian suggested an even more worrying trend.

Looking at data on Oxford University admissions from 2010 to 2012, they compared the fates of independent and state school applicants who went on to achieve the highest possible school marks: 3 or more A* grades at A Level. Their results were as follows:

Independent school applicants with at least three A*s: 2,175 applied; 1,098 accepted.

State school applicants with at least three A*s: 3,196 applied; 1,474 accepted.

Over 50% of independent school applicants got in, but only 46% of state school hopefuls did.

The difference may not seem large at first glance, but it is actually substantial.

If we put both groups of applicants’ names in a hat and randomly picked out candidates until the 2,572 places were filled, there is a less than 0.1% chance we’d pick so many independent school students.

If we didn’t like Oxford or private schools, we might just finish our analysis there.

After all, there seems to be convincing evidence of a bias, and numbers can’t be wrong. Or can they?

The disappearing bias

During the autumn of 1973, the University of Berkeley gave postgraduate places to 44% of male applicants but only 35% of female ones. (And the remaining 20%?  Of what genders were they?)

It was a huge discrepancy, and the university was soon taken to court for discriminating against women.

Berkeley gathered a committee to examine the data. The team included Peter Bickel, a statistician at the university. Along with two colleagues, Bickel started by tallying up admissions for each department separately. Perhaps only a few faculties were to blame for the gap?

Once the team had excluded departments with fairly even acceptance rates, or ones that no women applied to, the six biggest departments (labelled A to F) remained:

The results were startling. Comparing male/female acceptance rates for each individual department, the committee couldn’t find any substantial bias in favour of men. If anything, there was a slight bias towards women. So what was going on?

It was clear from the data that some departments (such as A) were easier to get into than others (such as F). When the committee looked at which of these courses men and women tended to apply to, there was a big difference in preferences:

Most men had applied for the less competitive subjects, whereas a lot of the female applicants had to fight it out for places on the popular courses.

This explained why more men had got into Berkeley: they’d applied for courses that it was easier to get a place on. Although no individual subject favoured men over women, when all the subjects were bundled together it therefore looked like there was a bias towards male applicants.

The contradiction is known as “Simpson’s paradox”, after statistician Edward Simpson who first outlined the problem in 1951.

It can happen whenever we combine sets of data – like departmental admission rates – into a single statistic, when each piece of information should really be analysed individually.

Paradoxes and private schools

Could the recently alleged private school advantage in Oxford admissions be a case of Simpson’s paradox?

To investigate, The Conversation obtained department-level admissions data from Oxford University through a Freedom of Information request. The criteria was the same as in The Guardian article: the 2010-12 success rates of private and state school applicants who had achieved three or more A* grades at A Level.

First, let’s look at the overall acceptance rates:

Independent school applicants with at least three A*s: 2579 applied; 1208 accepted.

State school applicants with at least three A*s: 3247 applied; 1460 accepted.

These figures don’t quite match the ones given in The Guardian article. (The Guardian responded that it may be because of different dataset requests.)

But assuming the figures Oxford gave The Conversation are correct, 45.0% of state school applicants who went on to get 3 A*s were given places, and 46.8% of private school pupils. Unlike the large gap reported by the Guardian, this difference – a mere 1.8% – is not particularly unusual. It is plausible that such a result could have occurred just by chance.

Alternatively, it could have been down to the courses that students opted for. A closer look at the data shows a disproportionate number of private school pupils applied for less popular courses like Classics, and relatively more state school pupils went for competitive subjects like mathematics and medicine.

Across all subjects and both school types, 45.8% of applicants who got at least three A*s were accepted between 2010-12.

If we look at the least competitive courses (i.e. subjects that took more applicants than the average), we find that 46% of the independent school applicants went for these subjects whereas 42% of state school pupils did:

The pattern is reversed when we look at the most competitive group of courses (which took fewer applicants than average): more state school pupils apply for such subjects. This suggests Simpson’s Paradox is at play, and would explain why slightly more independent school applicants gained places overall.

Most of us agree that more needs to be done to make top-level education accessible to pupils from all backgrounds. However, there are wildly differing opinions about who is to blame and what needs to be done to fix the problem – opinions that often depend on people’s political and social views.

While it is important to debate how to improve the situation, and to support these arguments with relevant data, we must also watch out for quirks like Simpson’s paradox. If we don’t, there is a risk we will spend time and effort counteracting biases that don’t actually exist.

Hard Evidence is a series of articles in which academics use research evidence to tackle the trickiest public policy questions.

Malaise over Syria, again?

Sahar Mandour, columnist for Lebanon daily As-Safir and novelist, wrote this September 16, 2013:

Up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, we took a clear position against [imperialist preemptive] war and against all kinds of dictatorships: “No to war (la li-al-harb), No to dictators  (la li-al-dictatoriyat)”.

Today, no such simple slogan is possible. That slogan is old. We need new positions, new slogans. We need to find our way out of the confusion of today.

 Vijay Prashad posted this Sept. 21, 2013 on Jadaliyya
Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker
[A Syrian child sits, in a neighbouring village to Kafr Nabuda, in the Idlib province countryside, Syria, 19 September 2013. Image via Associated Press]
A Syrian child sits, in a neighboring village to Kafr Nabuda, in the Idlib province countryside, Syria, 19 September 2013. (Image via Associated Press)

Death and displacement has begun to define Syria.

The numbers are suffocating. One cannot keep up with them. For the displaced, now near 7 million, relief cannot come fast enough–and in fact does not seem to come at all for many.

Of the dead, little can be said. The UN team now confirms the use of sarin gas in the rocket attacks on Ghouta, east of Damascus. It was not in the team’s mandate to say who fired the rockets. Whether it was the Assad regime itself or rogue elements, or (an unlikely scenario) the rebels, it is devastating. The number of dead in that attack is around one thousand, a sizable fraction of the hundred thousand dead so far in this seemingly unending war.

The rebellion, which began in Dar‘a as a peaceful demonstration against an autocratic regime, morphed largely due to the intransigence and the violence of the Assad system into a fissiparous brutality encaging the democratic core that remains and shrinks.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) crosses swords with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as much as it does against the regime.

Al-Nusra and ISIS fight each other, as both are fired upon by the Kurdish popular protection committees (the YPG).

Pockets of northern and eastern Syria are in the hands of al-Nusra and ISIS to the consternation of their local populations and of the less Islamist parts of the rebellion. In Eastern Ghouta, over the summer, on the other hand, sections of the Free Syrian Army united with a variety of groups including al-Farouq Omar Battalion, the Lions of Allah, the Islam Battalion, al-Bara‘ Battalion, Islam’s Monotheism Battalion–but most starkly Jabhat al-Nusra. Unity in some places, seemingly under the hegemony of the Islamists, but disunity elsewhere.

In other parts of Syria, the Free Syrian Army seems in charge, and yet in other parts matters remain in the hands of what Yasser Munif calls the “peaceful activists.”

During a 2-month trip to northern Syria, Munif went to Manbij, near Aleppo. What he saw there is that the people, under the leadership of the peaceful activists, fought off the attempt by the ISIS to take charge of the city. As he describes it:

Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra (which became the Islamic State later) entered the city and tried to control it. They tried to do so several times since then, but they failed. They try to intimidate the population by patrolling the city. They tried to take over the mills 3 times but failed. They were very much against the revolutionary court but were not able to close it.

The Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nusra also tried to close several newspapers but were not successful. They tried to take over mosques but the religious establishment in the city prevented them. Most recently, the revolutionary council sent a threatening message to the ISIS because they assassinated the imam of the grand mosque who did not want the ISIS to take over his mosque. The message was clear: either they (ISIS) leave the city or they will be expelled by force. They are almost not present in the city anymore.

Such reports are heartening, but not too common.

In Raqqa, Munif notes, the ISIS has established an emirate, although even here there are regular demonstrations against their rule. “Even in Jarablous where the entire revolutionary council was arrested and put in the ISIS prison,” Munif said, “a week ago there was an uprising in the city and people are becoming very critical of the practices of the the ISIS. They want them to leave the city.”

If what Munif reports were general across Syria, then the anxiety that one senses amongst friends would not be so grave.

The rebels are in disarray. The most recent thrust by the ISIS in northern Syria, given the name of “Expunging Filth,” has either expelled or absorbed the FSA units in Raqqa, with on-going fierce fighting in Tabqa.

The border town of A‘zaz is in ISIS hands, and the Turks have closed the border. The embers of the 2011 revolution seem to be smothered by the ISIS in large sections of northern Syria.

On the ground, Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab money and personnel have redefined the nature of the rebellion.

In the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) matters are not good.

Over 3 years, the SNC has been unable to draft a clear and patriotic program for Syria. Its absence is not a sign of lack of imagination, but of the subordination of the SNC to the petty fights amongst their Gulf Arab benefactors.

The SNC stumbled when it essentially allowed a palace coup to remove Mo‘az al-Khatib from his post. After much infighting, the SNC finally appointed Ahmad Saleh Touma as its prime minister. Ghassan Hitto resigned because he was seen to be too close to the tarnished star of Qatar. The marks of Gulf Arab infighting are all over the Coalition, much to its discredit.

The rebels are in disarray, and despite Gilbert Achcar’s effusions that they must alone overthrow Assad, do not seem capable of it. The rebels are not a homogeneous force, and amongst them are sections of those whose ideology terrifies others amongst them.

This disunity, as Munif notes, is real, and it has no objective basis for reversal. If it is the case that sections of the ISIS are from outside Syria, then there is not even the cord of Syrian nationalism to unite them against Assad.

One section wants a more democratic Syria, while the other wants an emirate of Syria: the lines that divide them, if we are to be honest with the facts, are deeper than any subjective hatred of Asad can bridge.

It is from a realization of this impasse that perhaps we see this conclusion: if the rebels are stuck, then the tonic that might work is a US military strike.

No one person amongst us likes this, but if we assume that it is the only thing that can break the stalemate, then it seems to be a terrible necessity.

Either the US strikes to help oxygenate the rebellion or the rebellion will linger on in a wounded state, with the ISIS taking the upper hand as its own sense of its inevitable victory overshadows the despondency of the “peaceful activists.” That is the framework that seems to lead many friends and comrades into a hopeless support for a US military intervention.

But the West has no intention of intervention in a fashion great enough to topple or wound Asad. Obama said he would strike the Asad regime with Tomahawk missiles, which the US military said would have “limited tactical effect.”

On 10 September 2013, Obama said, “I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force.

What the United States would provide is a face-saving moral strike, even after the conclusive UN report from 16 September that establishes that sarin was used in Ghouta. This will not assist the rebels. The West is not going to act in the way imagined.

To say that the rebels are in disarray, with little capability to overthrow the Asad regime alone, to say that the United States is not interested (for reasons that have to do with Tel Aviv as well) in overthrowing Asad–to say all that is not to end up with nothing. It is not to end up with the status quo, giving the Asad regime free reign to crush the rebels and to end the hopes of a new Syria. This is not the way forward.

Other paths are open, if we allow ourselves to push for them. Other social forces need to be brought to bear on the Syrian catatonia.

During 2012, an unlikely group of regional players—Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey—formed the Syria Contact Group in order to provide muscle for a defanged UN Envoy Kofi Annan.

Before they could get going, the United States and Russia decided to side-line them, and moved the discussion to Spain for bilateral talks on Syria. The message was that only the United States and Russia has the authority to set the agenda for Syria. Not even the Syrians.

The Syria Contact Group folded not long after, suffocated by this Cold War attitude and by the internecine problems amongst the members. But new regional potential are available:

1. Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Jordan are weighted down by the refugee crisis.

The creation of a  Regional Syrian Refugee Crisis Team would allow these countries to create a common platform to deal with the humanitarian relief problems that bedevil them all. Recognizing the need for coordination, the United Nations has appointed Nigel Fisher as the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator.

Now Fisher and the 4 regional countries need to create a modus vivendi to deal with the severe crisis for each of these countries. But Fisher’s ambit is largely going to be on relief.

A four-country conference would allow these countries to move from coordination around relief to a consideration of the political root of the refugee crisis.

2. Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt, and Iraq voted against the Gulf Arab proposal at the Arab League meeting to give backing to the US strike. These countries need to now push for a regional solution based on their refusal to allow an armed strike. Pressure needs to come on them to involve themselves as a bloc to push the Asad regime and the rebels to recognize that there is no path for either toward total victory.

Negotiation is the only way.

3. Iran has a new leadership, which has reached out to its immediate neighbors seeking a new foundation for relations. The new head of government Hasan Rouhani has said that Iran would welcome any elected Syrian leader. This can, of course, mean anything. After all Bashar al-Asad is technically an elected leader. But it indicates that there is a sense in Iran that the legitimacy of Asad is deeply compromised and that if there were another election he might not want to put himself forward for the sake of Syria.

This is a productive gesture, and it could mean an Iranian feint to save Syria from destruction. In the Obama-Rouhani letters, there is apparently a sentiment that Iran might be brought to the table to build confidence for Geneva 2. Iran might want to insist that that table include Saudi Arabia, and the immediate neighbors of Syria. Only such a table would be able to exert genuine pressure on all sides in this dispute.

Progressives in the region need to try and strengthen these social forces to enter the Syrian dialogue.

The road to salvation in Syria does not only go through the Pentagon. It might have to wind its way through Beirut, Baghdad, Ankara, Amman, Algiers, Cairo, and Tehran–a circuit that has concrete stakes in the germination of a political process in Syria. The West could live with perpetual war.

It would weaken Hizbollah (the same boring wished for mantra of the west and Saudi Arabia), Israel’s main threat and it would bring disorder to what the West fears, the illusion of Iranianism.

Syria cannot survive perpetual war. It needs the strength of the region to recover from the dark night of the Ba‘th and the dark dawn of ISIS and al-Nusra.

Diplomacy has not been exhausted. No regional approach has been permitted to get off the ground.

This has to be the focus of energy.

No need to believe your eyes: Just enjoy

 posted this Oct. 1, 2013:

Matthew Albanese is an artist fascinated with special effects and magic.

Matthew own a stunning artwork collection of photographs that will blow your mind with their realistic presence. On the left side in  gallery you can see the final image and on the right you will be able to see how image was created using his special effects.

Born in northern New Jersey in 1983, Albanese spent a peripatetic childhood moving between New Jersey and upstate New York. An only child, Albanese enjoyed imaginative, solitary play.

Scroll down and enjoy in today’s gallery with 15 beautiful artworks. 


Matthew Albanese 16 Dont Believe Your Eyes

Diorama for Box of Lightning… Backlit etching in plexiglass painted black.


lfXZ5uKh Dont Believe Your Eyes

Diorama made out of walnuts, poured and cast candle wax, wire, glitter, peanut shells, flock, plaster, wire, dyed starfish, compressed moss, jellybeans(anemones), sponges, wax coated seashells, toothpaste,
clay, figs, feathers, Q-tips, nonpareils.


fdPyPIyh Dont Believe Your Eyes

Diorama made using painted parchment paper, thread, hand dyed ostrich feathers, carved chocolate, wire, raffia, masking tape, coffee, synthetic potting moss and cotton.


raMJ9iRh Dont Believe Your Eyes

 Diorama made out of tile grout, cotton, phosphorous ink. This model volcano was illuminated from within and underneath by six 60 watt light bulbs. 


C49D04Ch Dont Believe Your Eyes

Making clouds out of drug store cotton balls. Diorama madre from cotton, salt, cooked sugar, tin foil, feathers & canvas.


lxaLKH0h Dont Believe Your Eyes

This model is simply made out of faux fur(fields), cotton (clouds) and sifted tile grout(mountains). The perspective is forced as in all of my images, and the lighting effect was created by simply shifting the white balance.


TRU5yXph Dont Believe Your Eyes

It took two months to store up enough fireplace ash to create this lunar landscape. The darker rocks are made of mixed tile grout, flag crumpled paper & wire. The Earth is a video still projected onto the wall.


y26IDm3h Dont Believe Your Eyes

Diorama made out of glass, plexiglass, tile grout, moss, twigs, salt, painted canvas & dry ice. The waterfall was created from a time exposure of falling table salt.


UnVOTBlh Dont Believe Your Eyes

Made out of 20 pounds of sugar, jello and corn syrup. The crystals were grown in my studio over the course of two months.


zWpkHslh Dont Believe Your Eyes

 Diorama made from wood, moss, yellow glitter, clear garbage bags, cooked sugar, scotch-brite pot scrubbers, bottle brushes, clipping from a bush in bloom (white flowers) clear thread, sand, tile grout (coloring), wire, paper and alternating yellow, red and orange party bulbs. 


tO17e9yh Dont Believe Your Eyes

25 pounds of sugar cooked at varying temperatures (hard crack & pulled sugar recipes) It’s basically made out of candy. salt, egg whites, corn syrup, cream of tartar, powdered sugar, blue food coloring, india ink & flour. Three days of cooking, and two weeks of building.


TyHI1hlh Dont Believe Your Eyes

Diorama made of steel wool, cotton, ground parsley and moss


iOMBXXFh Dont Believe Your Eyes

This one is a mixture of many different materials, tile grout, moss, bottle brushes (pine trees) Actual clippings from ground cover and was built on top of  standard outdoor patio table (water glass).  The sky is canvas painted blue. Coloring was again achieved by shifting white balance.


dTorsxHh Dont Believe Your Eyes

This one was made by photographing a beam of colored light against a black curtain to achieve the edge effect. The trees were composited from life ( so far the only real life element in any of these images) The stars are simply strobe light through holes in cork board.


PuyEOkVh Dont Believe Your Eyes

Paprika Mars. Made out of 12 pounds paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder and charcoal

Matthew Albanese’s fascination with film, special effects and movie magic—and the mechanics behind these illusions—began early.

He loved miniatures and created scenarios intricately set with household objects and his extensive collection of action figures. After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography at the State University of New York, Purchase, Albanese worked as a fashion photographer, training his lens on bags, designer shoes and accessories—this small-object specialization is known in the retail trade as “table top photography.”

Albanese’s creative eye soon turned to tabletop sets of a more wildly eclectic nature.

In 2008, a spilled canister of paprika inspired him to create his first mini Mars landscape. More minute dioramas—made of spices, food and found objects—followed. In 2011, Albanese was invited to show at the Museum of Art and Design of New York.

His work has also been exhibited at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Winkleman Gallery, and Muba, Tourcoing France.

Matthew is represented  at Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York





Blog Stats

  • 1,521,868 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by

Join 769 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: