César A. Hidalgo Profile picture
Feb 17 18 tweets 4 min read
Want to read an insane tenure denial story? I was denied tenure at MIT in 2018. I was the only Hispanic faculty at my department, had 13k+ citations, 2 books, & papers in Nature, Science, & PNAS. I was never given a reason & the only letter I got told me to check the website./1🧵 Image
After the denial I asked to meet my department head. He did not provide any reason other than “the decision came from above” & that there was nothing him or the department could do. So a few months later I asked to meet with him again & requested a meeting with the president.
He backpedaled & told me that it was not “really above,” but a decision from the school. He then dissuaded me to meet the president, although I did manage to meet him later. But since the school theory didn’t make sense either, I asked for another meeting a few months later.
I was trying to understand. To get a reason other than check the website. Eventually the president would tell me a real reason, but what I could put together up until that time was that the department was divided about me & presented a weak case so the school could shoot it down.
I understood I was not going to get a straight answer from my department head, so I wrote an appeal case and asked for a meeting with the president. If I was going to appeal, I wanted to do it in good terms.

Eventually, the president gave me an answer that changed me forever.
I remember entering his office & seeing the view of the Charles river. The president knew who I was (because of my research) and asked me why I was there. He told me he had never heard about my tenure case since it had never reached him.
We had our conversation in Spanish, and I think that afforded some candor that would not have been there otherwise. I presented him my appeal papers & asked him about appealing, because I wanted it to do it amicably.
He told me he didn’t want to touch the case unless it was an official submission, but that he could provide me with some advice. So I asked him if he had any advice about my situation. He said:
“Look Cesar, the truth is that, if you are a mediocre researcher, but your department wants to keep you, they’ll find a way to keep you. And if you are a strong researcher, and your department wants to get rid of you, they’ll find a way to get rid of you.”
I finally got “an answer.” The president of MIT told me that tenure was not about research, productivity, or merit. It was about office politics & being liked by your department. He didn’t mean it in a bad way. I think he was being kind & honest. So I ask him if I should appeal.
His next answer was more strategic. He told me that of course he could not advice me not to appeal, but that I should consider the following:
Other universities might be considering me, and would probably call my department head asking for a recommendation. The only thing my dept. head had to do to kill my chances was to reply that he was to busy to provide a recommendation. So I should be careful to not upset him.
I did not appeal.
That year changed me. Before then I believed in an imperfect meritocracy. After all, scientific work is reproducible and verifiable. Its adoption is also expressed imperfectly in citations.
It was time to grow up & accept the cynicism.
In hindsight it was obvious. But one of the reasons why I choose academia is because I believed in the power of ideas & hardwork.
I remember the day of my tenure denial. I had to host a professor who was near retirement. I was scheduled to meet him at 3pm but was informed about my denial at noon. So I had to suck it up and welcome him in my office. But I couldn’t act like nothing happened, so I told him:
“I am sorry, I am not going to be able to simply talk about research. I just learned that my tenure case was denied.”
He looked at me & said instantly:
“But if your case had been approved, who in the senior faculty would have won?”

He understood the game.
My mistake was thinking I was a player when I was a pawn.
*I have more to tell. I could probably fill a book with the psychological damage I experienced at “the institute.” But as you may understand these are difficult things to talk about. They are the storm that lives within me & wakes me up at night. It took me years to share this.

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More from @cesifoti

Jun 14
The “sentient AI” discussion not only shows a poor understanding of AI, but a poor understanding of basic philosophy, as it attributes sentience (ability to experience) to a behavior that is more related to agency (ability to do).

Let me explain.
/1 🧵
Since Aristotle, scholars have known of a basic model to understand minds. The model has 2 dimensions:

-Agency (ability to do) &
-Experience (ability to feel).

Babies 👶 are high experience (sentient) but low in agency (cannot do much or be responsible for their actions).
Adult humans 👨 👩 have both high agency (they are responsible for their actions) and high experience. Since humans can feel, they cannot be used as a mean towards a goal. That is, humans have a high moral status because they are sentient.
Read 9 tweets
May 10
The Policy Implications of Economic Complexity.

Economic complexity methods are used frequently in international development. But the implications can be unclear. In this WP, I organize these policy implications into 4Ws: What, When, Where, & Who
arxiv.org/pdf/2205.02164…

1/12🧵
"What" methods are the most common implementation of economic complexity ideas. They focus on identifying target activities (products, industries, technologies), that a region can diversify into.
"What" methods are intuitive because relatedness predicts the probability of entering an activity & complexity can be used to assess its potential value. But "what" methods are often used as prescriptive when they are in essence descriptive. They provide a map, not a strategy.
Read 12 tweets
Mar 24
2020 Economic Complexity Index (ECI) numbers are out today!

How has economic complexity evolved during this decade?

In this thread, I discuss some key trends. /1

rankings: oec.world/en/rankings/ec…
summary: oec.world/en/blog/post/2…
#trade #development #economy #EconTwitter
The Economic Complexity Index has become a popular indicator of economic capacity because of its ability to explain variations in economic growth, income inequality, & emissions (for a recent academic review see nature.com/articles/s4225…).

But the world is changing. /2
1. The rise of East Asia
Back in the year 2000, the only East Asian economy in the top 20 of the ECI rankings was Japan. Today, 4 out of the top 6 economies are East Asian, including Japan (#1), Chinese Taipei (#3), South Korea (#5), and Singapore (#6).
Read 22 tweets
Jan 24
For 10+ years I’ve been leading teams in academia & the private sector. When I started I was clueless, but I slowly picked up a few lessons that today I use to think about team leadership & management. Here is a list of three lessons I wish I had when I started🧵 /1
1. Manage around goals, not tasks.

This is a tough one for people making the transition. You probably earned the responsibility to manage a team because you were a good performer. But the ability to manage tasks that helped you perform well can backfire when you are a manager.
As a “player” you kept track of many tasks. It was overwhelming, but you understood the importance of tracking your tasks to “get shit done.” You now want to help your team & will naturally try to scale your approach. It was a key to your success.
Read 19 tweets
Jan 21
You published a paper and want to share the news with others. Should you:

A. Humble brag in a post saying something like: I am honored our paper is now out in Journal X.
Or
B. Write a thread communicating your results.

I am strongly in favor of B. Let me explain. 🧵/
In science, but also in the wider society, you can find cultures that discourage bragging. Unfortunately many scientists confuse communicating with self-promotion, and hence, censor by sharing their findings in ways that don’t communicate. /2
Posting that a paper got published doesn’t communicate (you can say that of any paper). Also, it misses the point. After all, we don’t work to get published, we work to generate knowledge. Publications, talks, & even posts, are all part of a larger communication ecosystem. /3
Read 11 tweets
Nov 21, 2021
A question I am asked frequently after presenting "How Humans Judge Machines" is whether I think people will become more or less accepting of machines in the coming decades.

My answer often surprises some people in the audience... /1
My take is that people will not become more or less accepting of machines in the future, but instead, will become more polarized about it. /2
If there is something we have learned in the last few years, it is that average opinions do not seem to matter as much as their variance.

On average, the center of a rope in an even tug-o-war is the same as that of a still rope./3 Image
Read 4 tweets

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