Quantitative History, Statistics, and Cryptography: 43 ERC Grants Managed at Bocconi

Quantitative History, Statistics, and Cryptography: 43 ERC Grants Managed at Bocconi


Two research projects in quantitative history and statistics proposed respectively by Mara Squicciarini and Botond Szabo have earned Bocconi two ERC Starting Grants, the funding awarded on a competitive basis by the European Research Council to researchers in the early stage of their careers (between 2 and 7 years after the completion of a PhD). The total amount of the two grants is close to €3mln.
The European Research Council today announced the awarding of 397 Starting Grants totaling €619mln, with an average of about €1.5mln each. The funding will be used to launch new projects and form new research teams. The ERC estimates that about 2,000 jobs will be created for researchers and staff. Italian research institutions were awarded 28 grants, while Italian researchers (including those working abroad) received 58. The ERC received 4,066 applications, with a 9.8% success rate.
With EDIPO - Education, Diversity, Innovation, and Politics, Mara Squicciarini, Assistant Professor at the Department of Economics, aims to shed light on the process of education expansion and universalization, focusing on the French case, from the 1789 French Revolution to the early 1900s. Her methodology involves the construction of quantitative databases, to which she applies econometric methodologies in order to evaluate the effects of exemplary historical episodes such as the Dreyfus Affair (in its influence on the choices of integration and education of the discriminated Jewish minority) and the forced closure of Jesuit schools between 1880 and 1885 (as an example of what can happen when governments dismantle schools that train high-quality but dissident elites). She will also apply automated text analysis methodologies to the 1789 Cahiers des Doléances to assess the intensity and origin of the demand for mass schooling.
BigBayesUQ - The missing mathematical story of Bayesian uncertainty quantification for big data, Botond Szabo's project, revolves around the increasing computational infeasibility of a class of statistical models (the Bayesian models) in the world of big data. “In practice,” says Szabo, “more complex models are designed to better describe new types of data sets.” Since, in complex models with many parameters to be estimated, computation time becomes unsustainably long, several shortcuts have been experimented with in recent years, in the form of algorithms capable of speeding up the process. The evidence seems, however, to suggest that the results of these algorithms are not always reliable – an undesirable feature when they are used in applications that have to do, for example, with medicine. Szabo proposes to develop techniques capable of assessing the uncertainty inherent in the estimates derived from these algorithms and, consequently, their reliability.
In addition, Alon Rosen, Professor of Cryptography, started his ERC Advanced Grant (funding reserved for researchers in the most advanced stage of their careers) at Bocconi on January 1, bringing the number of ERC Grants managed at Bocconi to 43 since the start of the European program.
Professor Rosen's project, FGC - Fine-Grained Cryptography, seeks to develop a new approach, capable of diversifying the foundations of contemporary cryptography. In particular, cryptography systems are based on computational hardness. For example, multiplying two prime numbers (what the cryptographer must do in some systems) is an easy task, but finding the two prime numbers starting from their product (what someone who wants to violate the code must do) can be much harder, especially when the numbers are large. A crypto system is more secure the more difficult the second operation is compared to the first. Rosen proposes a new definition of computational hardness, less restrictive than the one currently used, that would allow new cryptographic systems to be developed.
“Digital transformation is the common theme in the three projects and what binds them to the evolution of our University,” says Bocconi Rector, Gianmario Verona. “The choices of the European Research Council confirm the relevance of big data and computer science, which will be the topics of a new Department of Computing Sciences, to be launched at Bocconi this spring. Moreover, by awarding a project of quantitative history, the ERC reaffirms that quantitative skills are cross skills, capable of innovating all social sciences.”

by Fabio Todesco
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