Graph Conductance and Gossip Spreading

Flavio Chierichetti, Silvio Lattanzi and Alessandro Panconesi, of the Sapienza University of Rome, have showed tight connections between the time it takes for a rumor to spread in a social network and the conductance of a network, in two recent papers in the past SODA and the next STOC. (The SODA paper is also notable for its “no thanks” section at the end.)

Flavio and Alessandro were recently invited on Italian national television to talk about gossip spreading in social networks, and the video (in Italian, no subtitles) is notable for Flavio writing, around 2:30, the formula for graph conductance on the “blackboard” provided by the producers.

19 thoughts on “Graph Conductance and Gossip Spreading

  1. Thanks for sharing. I am glad to see that Alessandro made it to prime time TV :-)

    The “unacknowledgements” section of the SODA paper is priceless, and the “blackboards” reminded me of the nature of much of Italian television. Hearing the host say “I have suggested to the minister of education that she adopts this kind of blackboards to keep student attention high” made me wonder how many nations have TV shows like ours.

    On a related note, you might be interested in reading this book on the state of research in our country. I am eagerly awaiting my copy.

  2. When I was in Italy in January the authors of the book you recommend were doing the rounds of tv programs to talk about their book, and they were making a lot of sense.

    For example Augias asked one of them why he had moved to Boston at one point in his career. This could have been the cue for the usual `brain drain’ lament. Instead he said that it is normal in physics to move between different countries and that research teams are international. So it’s not a sign of a problem that Italian researchers move abroad, the symptom that there is a problem is that almost no foreign researcher moves to Italy.

    “AMEN, brother” I would have shouted, if I were the kind of person who talks back to the tv.

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  4. I have heard bad things about Italian TV, but this level of female objectification (in a discussion of algorithms!) is beyond my comprehension.

    It is disappointing that Chierichetti and Panconesi played along with it (or so it seems, without understanding Italian).

  5. Just a few words of clarifications for Hagit. I am sorry, and so is Flavio, if the episode was offensive to some people, especially to women, but we fell in a trap. What we had agreed with the producers of the program was in fact quite different. Under the (informal) agreement:

    1. the host would have asked us about our research
    2. then, he would have asked us to explain why our research was relevant
    3. he would have commented himself positively about the importance of the research asking to what extent it was financed, so that we would have had the opportuity to denounce the total lack of funding for research in Italy

    As for the blackboards, our understanding was that they would have been carried by two women, not that the women themselves would act as boards!

    In short, it looked like an invitation to speak on national TV about the importance of reasearch, the excellence of our universities and its lack of funding.

    Unfortunately, the host turned out not to be interested in science, he did not follow the agreed plan, and focussed only on the trashy aspect, of which we were not fully aware. Unlike the host, who is a professional, we have no TV experience and so it was like a match against an expert in martial arts.. (the program was live)

    And, yes, this kind of stuff is absolutely normal on Italian TV, so perhaps we have lost our sensibility to some extent.

  6. PS. Concerning Flavio and myself “playing along with it” this is not so. If you understand Italian you can hear the host trying repeatedly to crack really stupid and sexist jokes, but we do not play along and try to ignore him or, as gracefully as we can, highlight his stupidity. At some point Flavio even defends one of the two girls who was at the receiving end of the host’s subtle humour.

  7. Even though I don’t understand any italian, I could tell that the host wanted a reaction from Alessandro and Flavio, but A & F just continued to talk about the research and acted as if they didn’t even notice that the blackboards were weirdly shaped, thus not “playing along” or giving the host his desired reaction. So they appear to have acted as respectfully as possible under the circumstances.

  8. Again, I don’t understand Italian, but it does seem that you were caught “off guard”.
    It’s hard to react well to such a situation in real-time (and with the lights and cameras and all that).

    I apologize for the phrase “playing along”, but in retrospect (it’s always easier from the outside), subtlety and gracefulness are lost in such situations, and it’s better to be direct.

  9. @asterix: thanks, yes, your perception is absolutely correct.

    @hagit: consider also that there is a week-long interaction with the production of the show. you’re told that you will be given the opportunity to talk about what is so important to you on national tv, and when you get to the studio you’re pampered and treated very nicely for a couple of hours on your way to the scaffold. in short, up until the last moment our host seemed to be our best friend! you need a certain degree of agressiveness to react sharply, but that was not our disposition

  10. I think the whole problem is to accept to go and talk about an algorithm in a TV show by Barbareschi, who is a kind of actor and who is in the Italian parliament with the party of Berlusconi. It is enough to look at a short advertisement of his show to understand what is about and what the situation is. That’s another signal that the situation in Italy is really critical and even high cultured people do not understand it.

  11. I really appreciate the comments of Hagit and Francesco.
    I was nauseous when I saw that Alessandro and Flavio partecipated to that show and I tried to make Alessandro understand that it was an error to accept an invitation in such kind of shows. Now, I don’t think he really understand this, because he says they “fell in a trap” and that they have lost their sensibility towards trashy TV!!!

    A question for Luca: how did you know about the “show”?

  12. I agree with Francesco, and I add that the vision of a “Berlusconi fellow” (like Barbareschi) sitting quietly while Panconesi denounces «the total lack of funding for research in Italy» in the heat of a dramatic electoral campaign is at least naïve… Nevertheless, I appreciate Panconesi’s apologies and his attempt to explain what has really happened. I just have one more thing to ask him. In these days the subject has been discussed on the blog of an italian feminist journalist, Lorella Zanardo, the author of the now worldwide broadcasted documentary “Il corpo delle donne”, http://www.ilcorpodelledonne.net/ (You can find the topic “Informatici e donne lavagna in tv” at this link http://www.ilcorpodelledonne.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=1100). Many women – starting with me – have expressed their strong disappointment: some of them were furious, some others were simply hurt. I didn’t cut and paste Panconesi’s apologies from this page because I think it would be nicer if he wrote himself a brief reply on the forum. After all, the target of TV divulgation are not eminent colleagues, but common people, and they’re the most vulnerable. I think that female colleagues and students would appreciate too.

  13. Annalisa speaks my mind. There was no trap other tnan Panconesi’s own. Reasonable people chose the media (i.e. the means of transmission) for their
    messages. It is a question of both style and efficiency. If, however, you want to shout your message no matter what, no matter where, then you will end up in
    the wrong places and in bad company. You will loose credibility in the end, and what is worse, your message will get discredited.

    I don’t blame Chierichetti, though. He was lured into this by his advisor.

  14. So did Panconesi actually think that someone from the same political faction which the “Unacknowledgements” explicitly railed against, let him have his way? Panconesi went to a trashy, Berlusconi-approved show and hoped to have an amiable scientific exchange of ideas?

    Was the show live? So much the better: Panconesi could have said anything without risk of being censured. In particular, he could have taken a strong stand against the blackboard-women, rather than actually using them.

    I believe that Barbareschi, on behalf of his boss, intended to humiliate both Panconesi and scientific research (in addition to women, but he does so daily), and he succeeded perfectly.

  15. A(nother) dangerous side-effect of this incident, in my view, is the damage to the perception of our discipline.
    To stay within Italian borders, Levi-Montalcini or Veronesi often talk about the progresses of modern Medicine, material scientists describe their achievements on sustainable/eco-materials, Rubbia fascinates people about Black Holes, and the origin of the Universe, Odifreddi enthuses his audience to Philosophy and Mathematics … and how about the Computer Scientists? Well, there they are talking about gossip in a stupid talk-show. Not good.

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  17. t is disappointing that Chierichetti and Panconesi played along with it (or so it seems, without understanding Italian).

  18. The researchers Chierichetti and Panconesi DID NOT play along with the TV host. I believe they were caught by surprise. It is easy to see that. They did not collaborate in any extent with the tv host. They only acted as nothing unusual was happenning. In that situation, I would do the same.

    As a researcher on computer science I would think:”I am going to present a high-quality research paper on television. What can go wrong?”

    Unfortunately, the TV program was “very creative”. I my opinion the infamous TV host did not succeed in his intent, because the researchers only talked about their paper. If anybody can be considered an IDIOT, this person is the infamous TV host called Barbareschi.

    Publishing in STOC, FOCS, and SODA is VERY DIFICULT.

    PANCONESI HIGHLY SUCCEDED, his team was able to publish in all these hard conferences.

    I wish I had an advisor like Panconesi or worked in a team like his.

    I KNOW HOW IT IS TO WORK WITHOUT SUPPORT. I am a computer scientist in other country. I am working in my graduate studies without any guidance. My advisor does not really care. Example: he took 8 months to review a paper I was wrinting to submit to a journal. And after these 8 months, he only said “It’s OK. And did not contribute with anything.” Several times I had to use my own money to attend conferences or pay publishing taxes. So, “my advisor” and the university I study also deserve an un-acknowledgment session.

    So, I would be very proud to have an advisor like Panconesi. He seems committed to his work.

    BRAVO, guys, STOC, FOCS and SODA are very hard.

    PS: For obvious reasons, I used a pseudonym.

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