CUTTING ROOM: Playing the numbers game in India, the Paul Johnson of the moment, a prize antidote to Nobel - and enough about Microsoft already ... Evan Davis at large

CUTTING ROOM: Playing the numbers game in India, the Paul Johnson of the moment, a prize antidote to Nobel - and enough about Microsoft already ... Evan Davis at large - I've just come back from a nine-day trip to India. My first. Obviously, one can't hel

by EVAN DAVIS, the economics editor of BBC2's Newsnight
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I've just come back from a nine-day trip to India. My first. Obviously, one can't help being impressed with just how big and populous it is. But perhaps the most annoying thing is the endless mental arithmetic required there. The time zone that India has carved for itself is not four hours ahead of us, nor five hours ahead of us, but four and a half hours. It's curiously hard to work out the time back home with that gap.

Another difficulty is that in India there is no use of the concept of a million or a billion. Instead, they talk of the lakh (a hundred thousand) and the crore (10 million). Again, one finds oneself having to work out whether 1.5 lakh people fills a city the size of Bombay, or of Southampton.

Indeed, the hugely popular Indian equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? on Star TV is actually called Who Wants to be a Crorepati?

But the trip didn't consist just of arithmetic challenges. We managed to secure an interview with the hugely impressive Ratan Tata, group chairman of Tata Sons, India's largest and best-known conglomerate, which now includes Tetley Tea. He was full of interesting views about the reforms that are proceeding in India, and he takes a broadly positive view of them all.

But while I was in India there was a story in the papers about a chap who had so many children he couldn't remember all their names. I asked Mr Tata whether he knew all his companies. He charmingly conceded that the corporate centre had recently felt it necessary to audit what all the bits of the group did, and they had uncovered various activities they didn't know they were doing. How many British managers would be so honest?

This month, the Department for Education and Employment gets a new chief economist, Paul Johnson, who is moving from the Financial Services Agency.

Paul's meteoric rise should be seen as testament to the success of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, his (and my) erstwhile employer. The IFS has developed a track record in taking fresh-faced graduates and turning them into economists of real use to society. You'll find former Fiscalites in the Treasury, the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, not to mention the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development - veritably the new economics establishment.

Incidentally, he is not to be confused with Paul Johnson of the London School of Economics, an eminent economic historian, even though both are experts on pensions policy. I'm afraid that on at least one occasion a Paul Johnson was asked to appear on Newsnight and, as a result of a communications muddle, we didn't book the one we had intended. Fortunately, it didn't matter much as both are very articulate and have plenty to say.

Neither Paul Johnson should be confused with the Daily Mail columnist and historian of the same name (and father of this month's Davidson interviewee, Luke).

I've had an invitation to subscribe to a new journal entitled Antritrust Law: the Microsoft Antitrust Case. I can't tell from the blurb whether the journal is purely electronic or whether you can buy it in hard copy.

Either way, doesn't it seem as though it's become a bit too easy to publish journals on topics of rather narrow interest? Or even worse, maybe it demonstrates that the Microsoft case is absorbing so many lawyers for so much time that a journal of this kind is actually necessary for them all to keep up with what's going on. I think I'll give it a miss.

This is the month of the Nobel prize awards. Perhaps more interesting to watch these days are the so-called Ig Nobel prizes (ignoble, geddit!), coming out just before the real ones.

These are awarded for achievements 'that cannot or should not be reproduced'.

Last year, for example, the Literature Ig Nobel went to the British Standards Institution for its six-page specification (BS-6008) of the proper way to make a cup of tea. The sociology prize went to the author of a PhD thesis on the sociology of Canadian doughnut shops. Two academics shared a 1998 Statistics Ig Nobel for their pioneering study 'The Relationship Among Height, Penile Length and Foot Size'. And a previous chemistry prize went to the inventor of DNA cologne, which comes in a triple-helix glass bottle with the caveat 'This product does not contain deoxyribonucleic acid'.

Chairman of the Ig Nobel prize committee is Marc Abrahams, editor of The Annals of Improbable Research in Boston. He wouldn't give much away about this year's awards, but he did concede that the UK is set to do very well in them. Try the site for other past winners.

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