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June 11, 2021

Data Visualization Course

Posted by John Baez

Are you a student interested in data analysis and sustainability? Or maybe you know some students interested in these things?

Then check this out: my former student Nina Otter, who now teaches at UCLA and Leipzig, is offering a short course on how to analyze and present data using modern methods like topological data analysis — with sustainable fishing as an example!

Students who apply before June 15 have a chance to learn a lot of cool stuff and get paid for it!

In fact Nina has started a new institute, the DeMoS Institute. Here is the basic idea:

The institute carries out research on topics related to anti-democratic tendencies in our society, as well as on meta-scientific questions on how to make the scientific system more democratic. We believe that research must be done in the presence of those who bear their consequences. Therefore, we perform our research while at the same time implementing directly practices that promote inclusivity, interdisciplinarity, and in active engagement with society at large.

But here’s more about the course….

Call for Applications

We are advertising the following bootcamp, which will take place remotely on 22-25 June 2021.

If you are interested in participating, please apply here:

FishEthoBase data visualisation bootcamp: this is a 4-day bootcamp, organised by the DeMoS Institute, whose aim is to study ways to visualise scores and criteria from a fish ethology database. The database ( is an initiative led by the non-profits fair-fish international and FishEthoGroup. The database is publicly accessible, it stores all currently available ethological knowledge on fish, with a specific focus on species farmed in aquacultures, with the goal of improving the welfare of fish.

The bootcamp will take place virtually on 22-25 June 2021, and will involve a maximum of eight students selected through an open call during the first half of June. The students will be guided by researchers in statistics and topological data analysis. During the first day of the bootcamp there will be talks given by researchers from FishEthoBase, as well as from the mentors. The next three days will be devoted to focused work in groups, with each day starting and ending with short presentations given by students about the progress of their work; after the presentations there will also be time for feedback and discussions from FishEthoBase researchers, and the mentors. Towards the end of August there will be a 2-hour follow-up meeting to discuss the implementation of the results from the bootcamp.

Target audience: we encourage applications from advanced undergraduate, master, and PhD students from a variety of backgrounds, including, but not limited to, computer science, mathematics, statistics, data analysis, computational biology, maritime sciences, and zoology.

Inclusivity: we encourage especially students from underrepresented groups to apply to this bootcamp.

Remuneration: The students who will be selected to participate in the bootcamp will be remunerated with a salary of 1400 euros.

When: 22-25 June 2021, approximately 11-18 CET each day

Where: remotely, on Zoom

Posted at June 11, 2021 12:34 AM UTC

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“anti-democratic tendencies”

Does this include woke technocrats using network theory to break up populist movements?

Posted by: Mitchell Porter on June 11, 2021 7:32 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Data Visualization Course

Re the

“short course on how to analyze and present data using modern methods like topological data analysis”

I do have a question.

Background: A hot topic at the Café, and on the cat theory mailing list, is the situation at the U.K. University of Leicester: See also this LMS announcement: ,
which contains the following:

“The London Mathematical Society has been informed that the University of Leicester is consulting over a proposal to reduce the size of its Pure Mathematics Group to be teaching only, in order to “meet the rising market demand of artificial intelligence, computational modelling, digitalisation and data science”.”

There is a bright side, in my view, in their situation: Leicester is looking to expand its research and teaching in some areas of interest. See in particular this announcement from Leicester (courtesy of Roy Crole):
and the areas in which they are interested, which include research in certain areas.

So, I have two questions, one specific and one general:

1, specific: Does (or how closely does :-) the work of Nina Otter relate to what Leicester is interested in?

2, general: Can some of the various topics Leicester wants to study, e.g. data analysis, be effectively analyzed using the concepts and methods of category theory? If so, how? Is there a survey paper, or reasonably elementary book, on this subject?

Thank you.

Posted by: Keith Harbaugh on June 12, 2021 11:08 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Data Visualization Course

  1. I don’t know what “Leicester is interested in”. There are a lot of people doing a lot of things at Leicester, and I only know a couple of them. Making it even harder to interpret this question, the management at Leicester is clearly uninterested in some topics the faculty there have been working on.

  2. There is work on category theory and data analysis. I’d say all this work is just getting started… but on the other hand, there’s a lot I don’t know about. So, unless someone shows up here and say more, I recommend Evan Patterson’s thesis for a recent overview; then dig into his bibliography and go from there.

Posted by: John Baez on June 13, 2021 8:30 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Data Visualization Course

Thanks for your reply, thoughtful, helpful and useful as always :-)

My question #1 was meant to refer (sorry I was not adequately specific or clear on this) to
a specific part of the linked Leicester web page,
where we find the following (quoted between the lines below):


Research Areas and Supervision
We [Leicester] welcome applications from those looking to undertake doctoral research in any aspect of informatics or computer science compatible with the research interests of our academic staff including:

Algorithms: Complexity and Engineering (ACE)
Foundations of Computing (FoCo)
Interaction Design and Evaluation of Socio-technical Systems (IDEAS)
Knowledge Discovery and Machine Learning (KDML)
Software Modelling and Evolution (SOME)
Validation and Verification (VALVE)

Strategic directions that are of particular interest are Artificial Intelligence, Computational Modelling, Data Science, and Digitalisation.


In Leicester’s original document each topic listed above is linked to an explanation.

Jumping to a more general topic,
I know, understand, and appreciate how seemingly pure topics in math can ultimately be of the highest use and value to society.
In particular, I love, admire, and appreciate the work that you and, say, Simona Paoli, have done on the development and applications of category theory.
(I just bought her book and it looks wonderful. Thank you, Simona!
Her work is not yet applied, AFAIK, but it surely will ultimately be of the utmost value.
And of course your work, with various students and colleagues, on networks, cospans and so on, is already extraordinarily helpful.)

But (pardon me :-) I just wonder if mathematicians might be able to apply
all the wonderful, beautiful, powerful (and I am NOT being sarcastic) ideas, concepts, and methods that they have developed
to the practical, down-to-earth topics listed in the Leicester announcement quoted above.
(Of course many are, but I am thinking of what led to the Leicester conflict here.)
Just as our 18C ancestors applied their development of calculus to real-world problems.
Indeed, perhaps pointedly, it was largely motivated by those problems.

What I am trying to do is suggest a mutually acceptable compromise between the goals of the Leicester administration and those of its math faculty.
Bridging an apparent gap between pure mathematics and informatics, computer science and Data Science.

One may argue that I should have brought this up in your January 2021 post cited above,
Nishan Canagarajah Screws Up,
and they would probably be right.
That post, and the related discussion on the cat list, really motivated these remarks.
But the relation of Otter’s project and Leicester’s desiderata prompted me to raise the issue here.

Posted by: Keith Harbaugh on June 13, 2021 10:31 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Data Visualization Course

Keith wrote:

What I am trying to do is suggest a mutually acceptable compromise between the goals of the Leicester administration and those of its math faculty.

So is the idea that the pure math faculty would say “if you don’t lay us off, we’ll work on something more like what you want?”

I think it would be hard for a faculty member to make a convincing case that they will change their research topic. I think the administration thinks it’s easier to just lay off faculty now to save money — and then perhaps later, when they’re not so broke, hire new faculty who are working on subjects the administration likes.

They administration has announced their intention to lay off about 145 faculty. They have given some faculty the chance to apply for new jobs that only involve teaching, not research.

By the way, I’d rather be talking about this on the post about Leicester. This post here was the announcement of a data visualization boot camp run by DeMoS.

Posted by: John Baez on June 14, 2021 10:56 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Data Visualization Course

Thanks for your suggestion of a more appropriate place for these issues to be discussed. I totally concur with that idea. I think the issues do merit discussion, but have no preference for where that takes place.

And BTW, thanks for sharpening the issue as you did. That helpfully clarifies the issues.

Posted by: Keith Harbaugh on June 15, 2021 12:11 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Data Visualization Course

I appreciate that “research must be done in the presence of those who bear their consequences” isn’t always to be interpreted literally, but I wondered whether it is intended to have some specific significance beyond the broad injunction to keep in mind the interests of those likely to be affected (especially adversely).

Posted by: Richard Pinch on June 13, 2021 8:01 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Data Visualization Course

I imagine it’s meant to be taken seriously, but it’s probably best to wait for DeMoS to grow and see what they actually do.

Posted by: John Baez on June 13, 2021 8:32 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Data Visualization Course

I too assumed it was intended to be taken seriously, hence my question.

Posted by: Richard Pinch on June 13, 2021 8:43 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Data Visualization Course

The DeMoS institute is just getting started. This “boot camp” is their first project, so it’s the main way so far to see what they’ll do. The idea of paying students is smart, since it may encourage some candidates to apply who otherwise would be too busy working at low-wage summer jobs — as students often do, except the lucky ones.

They will run a workshop in October, which I will be involved in, so after that I’ll know more.

Posted by: John Baez on June 13, 2021 8:51 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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