Fionn Murtagh’s Blog

Themes: information economy, intellectual property, research

“Comely Maidens Dancing at the Crossroads”, now sometimes I am with four per week.

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This expression here was considered to be in a St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March, radio address by Éamonn de Valera, Taoiseach, i.e. elected Premier, of Ireland, on 17 March 1943. Many web descriptions of this indicate that this was incorrectly attributed to a speech by him, and even termed a misquotation. However, as follows, I very much like this expression in modern language.

A very funny metaphor for airports is “dancing at the crossroads”. Some airports have very nice seeing of comely maidens who are landing. When going to and from Canada last year, from Europe, it was nice to note the following: I was on three Comely Boeing Maidens and on just one Comely Airbus Maiden. One other time, in a single week, I was on five Comely Maidens.

When not far from an airport, I can watch lovely Comely Maidens above, perhaps about 300 or 400 meters above and seeing them slowly coming lower. Also seeing what are certainly Comely Maidens at about 1000 meters above me, I could then use the app which works online and on iOS and Android mobile phones, to get all details of where those Comely Maidens are coming from and where they are going to. For that, see FlightRadar24, Live AirTraffic, at this website,

All is very nice to be seeing and continuing to look at all these Comely Maidens and then also, when travelling, to be on a nice Comely Maiden. The metaphor for the airport is funny, to be dancing at the crossroads.

When on my flights or arriving to, or departing from airports, and seeing Comely Maidens landing or taking off, and seeing many of them in the sky above me, all of this is lovely to be observing or benefiting from such Comely Maidens.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2020/03/14 at 18:22

Innovation in Research Publishing and in Funding Proposals, both Quality and Quantifying

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How is this to be assessed: both the quantification of, and the quality of, innovation in research publications, and in research proposals requesting research funding.  This important paper, by me, and Michael Orlov and Boris Mirkin (Michael and Boris in the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow): “Qualitative judgement of research impact: domain taxonomy as a fundamental framework for judgement of the quality of research”. 
This is published in Journal of Classification, vol. 35, pp. 5-28, 2018.   (Published article; preprint of this.)

In this article, Murtagh et al. (2018), we present the case for (i) stratification rather than ranking, (ii) qualitative analytics based on taxonomies of the domain. This work aims to be both monitoring and revealing, in regard to research work, towards decision-making, on the part of publication editors and research funders.

A very important issue raised: Horizon 2020 FET-Open (Future Emerging Technologies) recorded less than 1.4% successful research proposals. Ethically and in all respects, there should be analytics carried out in regard to the more than 98% rejected research funding proposals. This should lead to studying what has been proposed and then rejected, to know all that was proposed in regard to continuing importance to be carried out, and also what entire sets of objectives that had been at issue, and whether such objectives can be pursued in some other way.

When a Director of the main research funding agency in Ireland, this methodology was initially discussed in my Sixth Boole Lecture, April 2008, Boole Lecture Theatre, University College Cork, and published:
F. Murtagh, “The Correspondence Analysis platform for uncovering deep structure in data and information”, Sixth Boole Lecture, Computer Journal, 53 (3), 304-315, 2010.

This continues to be at issue in my most recent book, F. Murtagh, Data Science Foundations: Geometry and Topology of Complex Hierarchic Systems and Big Data Analytics, Chapman and Hall/CRC, 2017. (Publisher’s website.)

I will take this assessment of innovation in research publishing and relate that also to the relevance and the role of rejected journal submissions. That will be so important for the countries that now produce the vast majority of journal submissions. Motivation for this comes also from an outstanding research publication of mine, published in an innovative journal, and the previous submission to a journal where I had published previous work, that had a reviewer report with this statement: “This is not state of the art, it is all new work, therefore it must be rejected.”

Following that, for journal submissions, it may be useful to take such study to the research funding agencies in many countries, that I support in reviewing and recommending or not recommending research funding.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2018/06/03 at 23:04

The University in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility

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The University in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility

To consider our epoch now of the university in the age of its technical reproducibility, this is an insightful article by Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technical Reproducibility” treats ultimately all of art, when reproduction and hence commodification has become the order of the day. These books have versions of this article: Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940 (pages 251-283), Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 3, 1935-1938 (pages 101-133), published by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, in 2002.

The essence of art can survive but its nature is quite different from what art was before it became part and parcel of our industrial environment. The context is: “It has always been one of the primary tasks of art to create a demand whose hour of satisfaction has not yet come.” And he quotes André Breton with this: “The artwork has value only insofar as it is alive to reverberations of the future.” This too is very insightful: “The technological reproducibility of the artwork changes the relation of the masses to art.” (The point made then is the shift of interest and engagement, for instance from a Picasso painting to, instead, a Chaplin film.)

Here are copies of this article, among others, that are online. Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit ( dieser Artikel).
Ceci est un article par Yannick Maignien intitulé L’oeuvre d’art à l’époque de sa reproduction numérisée (l’article).
An saothar ealaíne i ré a athchruthaithe ar bhonn meicniúil .
Agus anseo anois, Taighde Eolaíochta agus Léann i Ré a n-Athchruthaithe ar Bhonn Meicniúil.
Jetzt, “Wissenschaftliche Forschung und Formation im Zeitalter seinen technischen Reproduzierbarkeit”
Maintenant, La recherche scientifique et l’enseignement à l’époque de leur reproduction mécanisée .
Now, Research and Teaching and Learning in the Age of Their Technical Reproducibility.

Here is a photo of Walter Banjamin’s grave in Portbou, Catalonia, Spain. The grave, to the fore in this photo, has the Mediterranean just visible down in the centre of the photo.


The following are notes relating to how the university as an institution has now become commoditized, such that a university or similar institute can be reproduced at will, of course assuming the resources are made available.

It is not just alone that teaching and learning have become commoditized, nor research.

Teaching and Learning

Employability has become the key issue in teaching and learning, having replaced the concept of career, which now belongs to the distant past. The right hand side advertising of jobs appears in vast numbers, in London and elsewhere. It is pleasant to note that the left hand side advertisement, indicating 130,000 jobs, that dates from early 2016. Now, however, there are 150,000 advertised.  In 2019, there are now 195,00 advertised.








In an article by Chris Havergal in the Times Higher Education, Death of the university greatly exaggerated, says Michael Crow – At THE World Academic Summit, academics and entrepreneurs debate impact of technology on teaching, Entrepreneurs who predict the death of the university have “no idea what they are talking about” – Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University.




The past decade or more has seen the fantastic growth of research output by India, China, and other nations including Iran, Korea and others. China spent more than GBP 100 billion in R&D funding in 2012 alone.

However, the following is all too clear for all of us.

Thomas Estermann, director for governance, funding and public policy development at European University Association, spoke to Times Higher Education about its findings. “Low success rates are a huge issue for Europe,” he says. Not only are they inefficient, as the time spent developing proposals is wasted, but they can demotivate academics and top research ideas and potential groundbreaking discoveries may be rejected, he adds.

From: H. Else, “Billions lost in bids to secure EU research funding. Study highlights the true cost of low success rates in Horizon 2020”, in Times Higher Education, 6 Oct. 2016.

The following is one useful thing to do, and perhaps even ethical: to analyse all that is rejected. A framework that can also include this is at issue in a paper that is in press in Journal of Classification. Authors: Fionn Murtagh, Michael Orlov, Boris Mirkin, and title: “Qualitative Judgement of Research Impact: Domain Taxonomy as a Fundamental Framework for Judgement of the Quality of Research”, and here is a preprint.

Athbheochan nuálaíochta amach romhainn, in Éirinn agus fud fad an domhain – leis an innealtóireacht i gcroí-lár ár dtodhchaí uile

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Alt é seo as: Engineers Journal, iris ag Cumann na nInnealtóirí.   Article from Engineers Journal, 1 Nov. 2016.

Na sleamhnáin den chur i láthair ag Fionnbarra Ó Brolcháin, tá siad le fáil anseo.

Agus an léacht ar YouTube – the lecture and the discussion that followed on YouTube.

Fionn Murtagh looks at the role of engineering in Ireland’s sustainable innovation future in a globalised economy. Murtagh focuses on Finbarr Bradley’s latest book, Gombeens at the Gate, and the lecture delivered by Bradley in Clyde Road, as Gaeilge, on engineering’s impact on educational and economic issues.


Essential role of engineering in Ireland’s sustainable innovation future in a globalised economy

An ethos of broad economic and social innovation requires the central role of engineering. This article is about both the book, Gombeens at the Gate, by Fionnbarra Ó Brolcháin (Finbarr Bradley) and his An Roth lecture, as Gaeilge, in 22 Clyde Road, on Wednesday, October 12, 2016.  See this on YouTube.

Bradley holds that it is not knowledge itself but rather a culture of learning that is the essential ingredient needed in today’s economy and society. Innovation is driven not by the discovery of new knowledge itself but rather by identifying connections between all sources of knowledge to create value. There is a widespread misunderstanding that innovation and competitiveness depend exclusively on the amount of research and development funding. However, research centres on thinking and reflection, while innovation is about doing and valuing. The real need is to develop a learning economy founded on wisdom, understanding and meaning rather than accumulation of knowledge.

By becoming one of the most globalised economies in the world, Ireland has created a placeless view of itself, characterised by standardisation and uniformity, lack of emotional attachment and increasing mobility. To become  both rooted and global requires a renewed emphasis on the development of character and a deep sense of place. This in turn will lead to the development of high-calibre and internationally successful indigenous enterprises.

gombeens-at-the-gateFar from being ancient artefacts and non-economic, Ireland’s traditions, whether in storytelling, poetry, metaphor, folklore or mythology, if integrated properly with policies on science and technology, offer this country enormous advantage on the global scale.

Bradley draws from a clear and most interesting parallel perspective related to Éirí Amach na Cásca [Easter Rising], 1916. He contends that its revival and renaissance  was driven by profound innovation.  Bradley illustrates how Ireland’s economic and social future depends on being both globally engaged, and locally rooted. He also draws inspiration from the life and work of Earnán de Siúnta, also named Ernest Edwin Joynt. He was president of Engineers Ireland back in the 1920s, and was very much involved in the Celtic revival, and in education as a leading faculty member of what is now Dublin Institute of Technology.

Réamhrá anois

Ní féidir le nuálaíocht a chothú sa gheilleagar agus san tsochaí go ginearálta gan ról lárnach don innealtóireacht. Chun an obair atá ag gabháil le gach aon ghné den teicneolaíoch nó den eolaíocht a chur i gcrích, caithfidh an innealtóireacht a bheith i lár báire. Ciallaíonn sé sin go bhfuil géar-ghá ann chun go mbéadh meon na hinnealtóireachta go tiubh, go smior, go domhain, agus go lárnach i ngach uile gné den gheilleagar agus den tsochaí. Bíodh, mar sin, an innealtóireacht i lár an aonaigh againn agus i gcroí-lár na dtodhchaí agus na sochaí ar aon.

An innealtóireacht i gceart-lár nuálaíóchta agus dul chun cinn na hÉireann

Anuraidh, 2015, bhain an aiste seo leanas bua amach i gcomórtas liteartha an Oireachtais, sé sin Oireachtas na Gaeilge. Bhi bua ag an aiste seo sa chomórtas ar théama atá ag gabháil leis an innealtóireacht. Tá an aiste (10 leathanaigh) le feiceáil ar shuíomh An Roth. Údar na h-aiste seo, “Earnán de Siúnta, Innealtóir”, í Rosanna Lyons. Ainm eile ar Earnán de Siúnta ná Ernest Edwin Joynt. Bhí sé mar Uachtarán ar Chumann na nInnealtóírí sna fichidí den chéad seo caite, agus bhí baint aige le Ceardscoil Shráid Bolton, anois Institiúid Teicneolaíochta Bhaile Átha Cliath.

San aiste, tá sé seo le léamh inti: “Níor leor eolas lom teicniúil a thabhairt don innealtóir óg, mar theastaigh tuiscint leathan dhomhain ar an obair agus a feidhm. Ba mhó d’eolaíocht ná d’ealaín anois í.”

Agus seo ráiteas faoi saol Éanna: “Bhí tuiscint dhomhain fhealsúnach aige ar nádúr na hinnealtóireachta féin, agus chreid sé go bhféadfadh sí a bheith páirteach san iarracht Éire a athbheochan mar thír rathúil Ghaelach. Fear aislinge a bhí ann, a rinne a dhícheall innealtóirí na hÉireann a spreagadh chun a gcuid oibre a chur chun cinn mar ghné bheo láidir de shaol na hÉireann. Is fiú d’innealtóirí na hÉireann aird a thabhairt air agus iad ag dul i ngleic le dúshláin an lae inniu.”

Is breá an tuiscint sin a bheith le fáil inniú.  Chomh maith san aiste, tá cur síos ar shaothar de chiud Earnán de Siúnta i leith cúrsaí oideachais a linne.

Nuálaíocht in Éirinn agus fud fad an domhain

Beidh i bhfad níos mó faoi seo uile á phlé ag Fionnbarra Ó Brolcháin ag léacht An Roth aige, ar Dé Céadaoin an 12ú Deireadh Fómhair, ag tosnú ar 18:30. Nó mar a deirtear, beidh i bhfad Éireann níos mó ann! Beidh go leor leor ann sa léacht and sa phlé ina dhiaidh ar nuálaíocht, in Éirinn sa lá inniu, agus na laethanta amach romhainn. Dála an scéil, beidh an léacht seo craolta beo ar an idirlíon, chomh maith.

Sa cur síos ar an léacht seo, tá sé seo leanas ann. Cé go raibh na gluaiseachtaí a mhúnlaigh an Athbheochan cultúrtha agus ó thaobh gach a bhaineann leis an bpolaitíocht (deirimíd ón bhliain 1890 go dtí 1920), agus a spreag Éirí Amach na Cásca 1916 agus bunú an tSaorstáit, neamhspléach óna chéile, bhí siad idirghaolmhar agus bhí saintréithe áirithe lárnach i ngach ceann. San Athbheochan, chonaic siad siúd a bhí páirteach ann acmhainní cultúrtha agus nádúrtha mar ghnéithe rí-thábhachtacha in eitic nuálaíochta de bharr naisc idir féin-tuiscint, féin-mheas, féiniúlacht agus éiteas cruthaitheachta.

Sa lá atá inniú ann, nó go háirithe inniú, is iad na hacmhainní is luachmhaire agus is inbhuanaithí chun nuálaíocht a spreagadh ná iad atá neamhinste, an tsamhlaíocht agus an inspioráid, ach go háirithe. Ní déantán marbh frith-nua-aimseartha agus frith-gheilleagrach é an traidisiún agus cuimhne ach foinse dhinimiciúl agus uathúil, cineál gorlann cruthaitheachta agus fiontraíochta. Dá mbaintear níos mó feidhme as saintréithe mar iad, thiománfadh san núalaíocht inbhuanaithe agus todhchaí sochaí na tíre.

Luíonn gach atá anseo le nuálaíocht agus le hoideachas innealtóirí fud fad na cruinne, agus buntáistí faoi leith a bhaineann linnne in Éirinn nó as Éirinn.

Sin mar a bheidh le plé ag Fionnbarra Ó Brolcháin. Faoi seo uile, tá go leor leor ar fad ag gabháil le cúrsaí oideachais. San aimsir s’againne, nuair atá an-bhéim go deo ar a bheith ag iarraidh rang árd a ghabháil do gach ollscoil, is léir an méid seo leanas: gur chuí agus gur chóir aghaidh a thabhairt ar shaol na sochaí romhainn, agus go bhfuil sé riachtanach meon na hinnealtóieachta a bheith i lár báire mar gheall air sin.

Feicimíd ar cé chomh breá is atá cur síos ag Fionnbarra ina leabhar seo, Gombeens at the Gate, faoi nuálaíocht gur chóir a bheith ann, amach romhainn in Éirinn, agus i saol an domhain mhóir.

Meon na hinnealtóireachta mar bhunús na nuálaíochta romhainn, agus mar a luíonn sé sin go tréan le dea-thionchar uile de chultúr na hÉireann

Le fada an lá, agus ar gach aon slí, tá domhandú an gheilleagair agus na sochaí glactha go huile is go hiomlán ag tír na hÉireann. Le haghaidh an tsaoil amach romhainn anois, ba cheart agus ba chóir an saol domhandaithe a chur le chéile leis an saol fréamhaithe. Is cabhair é sin, cinnte, le haghaidh tionscnaimh nua a chur ar bun agus a chur chun cinn.

Luíonn traidisiúin na hÉireann go mór mór leis seo. Is deiseanna den scoth iad don cur chun cinn anseo. I measc na dtraidisiúin seo, tá scéalaíocht agus filíocht ann, meafair agus miotaseolaíocht, seanchas agus béaloideas. Is cabhair agus cúiteamh atá thar na bearta iad na traidisiúin againn go léir má ligtear dóibh a bheith imeasctha, lánpháirtithe, agus comhtháite le pholasaithe a ghabhann le heolaíocht agus le teicneolaíocht.

I láthair na huaire ní fheictear ach “geilleagar an eolais”, nó an geilleagar ag baint le cur amach. Agus ceaptar gur leor maoiniú le haghaidh taighde. Ach ní leor ábhair mhachnaimh amháin.  Ní foláir gníomhaíocht a bheith i gceist, le nuálaíocht, agus mar aon leis sin, luachanna na nuálaíochta a bheith go soiléir agus go deimhin. Leis sin, séard atá tábhachtach ná “geilleagar na foghlama”. Sé sin, gach a bhaineann le foghlaim san oideachas agus ar feadh an tsaoil go léir, a fheiceáil I gcroí-lár an gheilleagair. Is bunúsach é seo: go bhfoghlamaítear trí ghíomhaíocht. Trí níthe a bheith á dhéanamh, agus tionscnaimh agus mar sin de a bheith curtha i gcrích, sin an tslí chun foghlaim a bheith á dhéanamh. Nuair atáthar gníomhach, ag baint tairbhe as na deiseanna a bhíonn ann, agus spriocanna a bhaint amach, go minic agus fiú go ginearálta, bíonn luachanna ag gabháil le gach gné de sin. Ní hé a bheith ag bailiú nó ag carnú eolais. Ní foláir bheith gníomhach agus lena chois sin,  bheith ag foghlaim fud fad an tsaoil, sa bhaile agus i gcéin.

Is íontach breá an dearcadh faoi leith atá ag Fionnbarra, atá céim aige san innealtóireacht, cé gur sa ghort eacnamaíochta agus oideachais a chaith sé formhór dá shaol gairmiúil. Cúpla bliain ó shin, scríobh sé leabhar dár teideal, Meon Gaelach, Aigne Nuálaíoch.

Sin é é, bunús do hathbheochan nuálaíochta na hÉireann. Nó séard a bheidh romhainn, amach anseo, san athbheochan romhainn, ní hé amháin nuálaíocht ar aon dul le chultúr íontach, agus le chultúr faoi leith, cultúr uathúil na hÉireann, ach lámh le sin, smaointeoireacht agus ábhair mhachnaimh go léir, fréamhaithe i gcultúr an Ghaelachais, le cois a bheith domhandaithe. Agus le cúnamh Dé, nuálaíocht a bheidh mar athbheochan fud fad na cruinne s’againne.

Cé gur cinnte é go bhfuil dúshláin mhóra ann dúinn, ag an am céanna is deas é seo a thabhairt faoi deara: go bhfuil deiseanna atá go breá againn chomh maith. Sa léacht ar an 12ú Deireadh Fómhair, agus tá fáilte roimh chách chun a bheith i láthair, le craoladh beo, agus taifead de chomh maith, mar is gnáth, is breá go mór é go bhfuilimíd ag déanamh gach iarracht chun díriú ar na deiseanna seo.

Tá an t-alt seo le Fionn Ó Muircheartaigh, innealtóir agus matamaiticeoir, Ollamh le hEolaíocht Sonraí, Data Science, agus atá ina Chathaoirleach ar An Roth i gCumann na nInnealtóirí.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2016/11/06 at 20:29