Daniel Lemire's blog

, 8 min read

Predicting your future performance

8 thoughts on “Predicting your future performance”

  1. David says:

    Isn’t it interesting that we need to quantify something as subjective as “success” in the first place? Isn’t it interesting that we human beings are somehow hard wired to measure ourselves against each other, and do so by coming up with a myriad of metrics to attempt to quantify subjectivity?

    For some (literally God-known) reason we are hard wired to be on the top … of something — to be the best… at something. I suppose it’s because, as you stated, it’s easier to be on top when you’re on top. However, on the other side, it’s easier to be on the bottom — when you are on the bottom.

    Nature tends toward a normal distribution. It’s hard to get to the very, very top — and it’s hard to get to the very, very bottom. Our universe tends to pull us between the top and the bottom — and we’re always moving somewhere in the middle.

    What’s really interesting to me is that our very definition of success is dynamic and fleeting based on the environment and our needs. And, since, the unit of measure itself is changing, trying to live up to one single measure is a fools errand.

    The very best measure of success is whether you, personally, are hitting your goals (whether specified by you or someone else), which should be based on the need to achieve something. Therefore you are successful on a personal basis.

    You set a goal to land on Mars. When you’ve done that, you are successful. You set a goal to program the interface to fly the new Dragon2 spacecraft — when a person flies the new Dragon2 spacecraft using your interface — then you are successful.

    — my two cents.

  2. @David

    The number of citations is not really a sensible measure of success in practice… but for the purpose of my post, I needed to define “success” in an ambiguous, objective way.

    Also, success is not about belonging to the 1%. You do not have to beat others to be successful.

    This being said… while I agree that the pursuit of any one measure as defining success is wrong, I do not agree that success is strictly personal. Human beings are social animals.

  3. David says:

    @Daniel, Hah… I’m sorry. I didn’t express myself correctly. We ultimately agree.

    Yes, success is not strictly personal in the sense that the only person that can define my success is me. I am defined by my company’s measure everyday — their goals for me must be my measure of success (at work) if I am to continued to be paid by them. I’m gauged as successful by my life-partner based on goals we’ve set for each other. These are goals set for me — therefore the success of them is “personal”.

    However, as you’re suggesting in your post, my success can not possibly be defined by society as a whole, since, in order for me to be successful against society, the measure needs to be so specific as to match my talents perfectly — or at least enough to exceed a given threshold of “success”.

  4. Michele says:

    Since I don’t know the existence of any satisfactory, universal and measurable definition of ‘successful scientist’ I don’t see any rank, any top 1% or bottom 1%. There’s no linear scale there.

    Our job is already so hardly stressed by estimators, cuts, factors, indexes and ultimately marketing. We should just ignore this marketing stuff for a moment and do science.

  5. @Michele

    I agree but, for the purpose of my blog post, I needed to refer to a ranking of the researchers.

    When people talk about income inequalities (think: Occupy), they like to refer to the top 1%… so they rank human beings… from “richest” to “poorest”. I hear that there is a book by Piketty that makes a big deal of such things. Of course, such rankings are constructions that may have little relevance in the real world.

  6. Peter Turney says:

    But, if you are going to use a single measure to predict the future success of a scientist, you should go with the annual citations at the time of prediction. This is analogous to predicting the weather. If you don’t have advanced technology (e.g., meteorological satellites), one of the best heuristics is to say that tomorrow’s weather will be like today’s. What is analogous to meteorological satellites in a scientist’s career? Perhaps some instrument that measures passion and dedication?

  7. @Peter

    Though weather forecasts are handy, they are also short term (a few days). And they often provide probabilities instead of genuine predictions.

    Long term predictions, in the real world, are very hard.

  8. John says:

    Late to this conversation, but here’s the Matthew effect in action: