Mint on Sunday: The Mad-Eye Think of Academic Work

Today is the start of a week which follows the last week of publication of Mint on Sunday, as an online edition of one of India’s largest business newspapers (Hindustan Times Mint). Although it remains unclear if we will see some form of the publication in the future, it is safe to say that the coming Sunday will be a little less interesting. A key reason for this is also down to the fact that it’s exemplary editor, Sidin Vadukut, will not feature his weekly “A letter from…” column. What’s perhaps even more disheartening is that talented writers and thinkers across India (including regular contributors) will have to find an alternative outlet for their (often) insightful work and quirks.

Rather than dwell on the how’s and why’s (and to some extent the how come’s), we at Monk Prayogshala choose to focus on the experiences we have had with MoS and Sidin since our first article was published in December, 2015. That is just our way of saying thank you for finding a well-read home for our thoughts and random outbursts of brilliance (which we sometimes called research). This is not only because researchers at Prayogshala have, over the past two-and-a-half years, benefited immensely from a platform for publishing their work, but also because many articles published weekly indeed sparked some future ideas.

Firstly, Sidin was easily one of the most prompt and courteous editors that we have ever corresponded with. Often, his responses and suggestions to our articles would not only enhance the article in terms of clarity or exposition, but also in terms of the questions and implications it raised. As a commissioning editor, there was rarely a time when he would outright refuse an article (unless it was entirely out of scope of the kind of work published at MoS, something that we learnt quite quickly).

With the ceasing of the MoS publication online, one is left with a trove of articles that were meant to brighten up one’s weekend, without insulting the reader’s intelligence. If anything, articles (particularly ones submitted by Prayogshala researchers) were meant to get people off the armchair and think about the world around them, explore some new terrains, and come out (sometimes thoroughly bewildered) better informed. Given that there were (and are) very few publications that did this, it is safe to say that the Sunday late morning gap is likely to be replaced by a vacuum (more sleep perhaps?)

Now on to our association with MoS, and by proxy, Sidin. In his initial response to our article on using game theory in Bigg Boss (a paper that continues to be a work in progress) elicited excitement and exuberance (on all sides). My particular enthusiasm for a wildly popular augmented-reality game collided with my enthusiasm for a wildly popular subfield in economics (although the latter is debatable), following which MoS published an article on how Pokemon Go uses behavioural science. To mark the one year anniversary of the release of the game, Sidin also accepted my article on why people still play the game (a question that is still asked by many). Clearly, the idea was that we would send our most “entertaining” work to Sidin, and he would usually respond (within about 1/5th of a second) about whether or not he would be commissioning it. Colleagues at the Department of Psychology found that their work was also more suited to the broad contours of readership at MoS, and published an article on “missing” forensic psychologists in India, and the Impostor phenomenon (both original research carried out by the authors). The intention to pitch the latter to MoS came about when I saw Sidin’s tweet about the same (clearly his academic side was showing). We also came up with a soul-burning repartee to a Buzzfeed-inspired theory of urban poverty, by invoking evolutionary psychology and economics. Among others, that was a very well titled article, too.

Our most recent articles dealt with the theory of heroism and how it applies to the Star Wars universe (something that has been the subject of many academic works, but little is communicated to Star Wars fans). This stemmed from ongoing work on the theory of heroism and heroism science at the Department of Psychology. After much overdue, our last article to feature in MoS was a result of copious efforts by colleagues to put together a dataset of women on banknotes. We found some significant correlations between other economic (and non-economic) factors with the fact that a country decided to put women on its banknotes. This article in particular received a wide and varied response, including interest from the United States-based movement to put a woman on the $20 bill. Clearly, without Sidin’s largesse and keen eye for our work, such work would have largely gone unnoticed – one of the most common problems for scientific research around the world today.

It will be an odd Sunday this week, and perhaps for many weeks to come. Not only as regular contributors, but also as shared collaborators of sorts, who benefited from the others’ work. Sidin has also left big shoes to fill (to use a hackneyed cliché), but one hopes that he will never cease to find an outlet for his work. This blog post is just a short way of saying goodbye, and thanks for all the fish.

Anirudh Tagat