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TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

After millions of years of gloriously successful life on Earth, a dangerous new organism arose and spread rapidly across the planet. Mankind? No. Two billion years ago the delinquent organisms were cyanobacteria, the first photosynthetic life forms to give off pure oxygen gas, a chemical deadly to all extant organisms. There may be surprising parallels between the, eventually positive, cyanobacteria impact 2 billion years ago and human impact today. Human beings too are a self-inflicted biosphere disaster in progress, but, in the extremely long-term, we could be just what the planet needs. We have much to learn before we become guardians rather than despoilers of Earth. If our destiny is to safeguard life’s future, it’s time our apprenticeship began.

MIT: Algorithm Ranks Notable Authors

MIT: Algorithm Ranks Notable Authors

While the works of thousands of authors enter the public domain each year, only a small percentage of these end up being widely available. So how to choose the ones to focus on? Today, Allen Riddell at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, says he has the answer. Riddell has developed an algorithm that automatically generates an independent ranking of notable authors for a given year. It is then a simple task to pick the works to focus on or to spot notable omissions from the past.

NYT: Elite Campus Arts Race

NYT: Elite Campus Arts Race

Elite campuses across the country have emerged from the recession riding a multibillion-dollar wave of architecturally ambitious arts facilities, even as community arts programs struggle against public indifference. The current tide of building developed over years, as universities reassert the essential value of the arts to a well-rounded education, aided by deep-pocket alumni willing to underwrite elaborate new facilities.

HP: Scientists Create Telepathy

HP: Scientists Create Telepathy

Telepathy is the stuff of science fiction. But what if the dystopian futurists were on to something? What if our brains could directly interact with each other, bypassing the need for language? The idea isn’t quite so far fetched, according to a recent University of Washington study in which researchers successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain communication between two people.

RE: US Military Good But Not That Good

RE: US Military Good But Not That Good

We live within a myth of efficiency. That the world actually operates with a cool precision — the way it does in the movies. Seen through this prism, you could say that voter frustration is not so much the result of reputed Oval Office incompetence as of our having been spoiled by the movies and television. Americans cannot accept the fact that our abilities are seldom as good as movies make them out to be.

FA: Operation Sigmund Freud

FA: Operation Sigmund Freud

The cessation of major combat operations is often followed by a long period of asymmetric war, in which success can not be achieved through traditional combat. In this new phase of warfare, psychology’s core competencies of understanding individual and group behavior—of both the enemy and one’s own forces—then become the key to success.

NYT: Driving Students Into Default

NYT: Driving Students Into Default

Federal regulators and members of Congress have been pressing private lenders to adopt flexible payment plans like those available through the federal loan system to no avail, according to an alarming report released last month by the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Congress may have to step in and require them to do so.

TD: Do Nothing, Repeat

TD: Do Nothing, Repeat

The crisis in our political system is less about party than about horizon. Somehow, we seem to have lost the capacity for long-range planning and execution—at a time when, arguably, foresight and patience are more essential than ever before. Iit is hard to imagine how our system can possibly implement policies that would be effective in the long run—or how, if we managed to take the right course, we could possibly stick to it.

BI: Watch Elections Like a Pro

BI: Watch Elections Like a Pro

Many races are called as soon as the polls close, but the ones that matter most—that spell the difference between majority and minority status for a political party—usually aren’t. Commentators typically focus on large, well-known counties, overlooking smaller counties that may be more reliable bell-weathers. To test conventional wisdom and to develop a guide for people who don’t analyze politics for a living, we looked at all the contested Senate races this year.

NYT: Starkest Warning Yet

NYT: Starkest Warning Yet

The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report. In the starkest language the IPCC has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.

BI: Essays on Character and Opportunity

BI: Essays on Character and Opportunity

Richard Reeves provides an introduction to the Center on Children and Families’ Essay Series on Character and Opportunity: I defy you to find a richer set of writings on the philosophical, empirical and practical issues raised by a focus on character, and in particular its relationship to questions of opportunity. There are enthusiasts for the public endeavor of character cultivation as well as thoughtful skeptics. There are calls, from differing political perspectives, to give at least equal weight to the moral dimensions of character, as well as strong demands to honor individual free will and individual development. Two scholars draw attention to the gendered nature of character formation; others stress the importance of culture, social norms, and the impact of chronic stress in the early years. Construction of a policy agenda for the cultivation of character poses a stark challenge to the partisan culture of contemporary politics, but may also alleviate it, by reinvigorating community life.

NYT: Defying An All-Seeing Eye

NYT: Defying An All-Seeing Eye

“Citizenfour” stands alone in evoking the modern state as an unseen, ubiquitous presence, an abstraction with enormous coercive resources at its disposal. It is everywhere and nowhere, the leviathan whose belly is our native atmosphere. What do we know about what is known about us? Who knows it? Can we trust them? These questions are terrifying, and so is “Citizenfour.”

TG: The Truth About Evil

TG: The Truth About Evil

Liberal meliorists like to think that human life contains many things that are bad, some of which may never be entirely eliminated; but there is nothing that is intrinsically destructive or malevolent in human beings themselves – nothing, in other words, that corresponds to a traditional idea of evil. But another view is possible, and one that need make no call on theology. What has been described as evil in the past can be understood as a natural tendency to animosity and destruction, co-existing in human beings alongside tendencies to sympathy and cooperation.

TG: Why I Won’t Vote This Year – Or Any Year

TG: Why I Won’t Vote This Year – Or Any Year

Participation in the body politic is widely considered to be both a privilege and an imperative to the enlightened urban citizen. To choose otherwise is quite literally heresy – and heretics by and large have a difficult time of it in society. The platitudes I face as a non-voter are known to everyone, precisely because they are platitudes – People have marched for miles! or Immigrants crossed oceans! Understanding the Soviet Union and North Korea gives a bit of insight into human social psychology. No matter how absurd the state line, a huge majority of the populace can be found to promulgate it. Frankly I am baffled that those of us who were nerds in high school now defer to the winners of popularity contests.

RE: How Ebola Spreads

RE: How Ebola Spreads

For Ebola Zaire to become airborne in humans, it would need to cause lung disease significant enough to release lots of virus into respiratory secretions. The virus would then need to survive outside the body, dried and in sunlight for a prolonged time. And it would need to be able to infect another person more than a couple feet away. There’s no evidence from previous epidemics or laboratory experiments that Ebola Zaire behaves in this way.

NYT: Loss of Eden in London?

NYT: Loss of Eden in London?

The Warburg Institute here has trained generations of scholars, who liken its world-renowned library of Renaissance and post-Classical material to an intellectual paradise. Now many scholars fear for the Warburg’s future over a funding dispute with the University of London. In recent years the Warburg has had to pay the university, which is state-run, an increasingly large percentage of its annual budget to maintain the Bloomsbury mansion that it calls home. Warburg defenders fear this will push the institute into financial ruin.

BBC: Complex Organic Molecule In Space

BBC: Complex Organic Molecule In Space

Iso-propyl cyanide has been detected in a star-forming cloud 27,000 light-years from Earth. Various organic molecules have previously been discovered in interstellar space, but i-propyl cyanide is the first with a branched carbon backbone. The branched structure is important as it shows that interstellar space could be the origin of more complex branched molecules, such as amino acids, that are necessary for life on Earth.

WWF: Half of Global Wildlife Lost

WWF: Half of Global Wildlife Lost

Between 1970 and 2010 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe dropped 52 percent, says the 2014 Living Planet Report released today by World Wildlife Fund. This biodiversity loss occurs disproportionately in low-income countries—and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries. The report’s data also point to other warning signs about the overall health of the planet.

TN: Student Debt Sentence

TN: Student Debt Sentence

Public funds in the form of federal student loans has been called the “lifeblood” of the for-profit system, providing on average 86 percent of revenues. Such schools now enroll around 10 percent of America’s college students, but take in more than a quarter of all federal financial aid—as much as $33 billion in a single year. By some estimates it would cost less than half that amount to directly fund free higher education at all currently existing two- and four-year public colleges.

RE: 25% of Americans Wish To Secede

RE: 25% of Americans Wish To Secede

For the past few weeks, as Scotland debated the wisdom of independence, Reuters has been asking Americans how they would feel about declaring independence today, not from the United Kingdom, but from the mother country they left England to create. Almost a quarter of those surveyed said they were strongly or provisionally inclined to leave the United States, and take their states with them. The sense of aggrievement is comprehensive, bipartisan, somewhat incoherent, but deeply felt. This should be more than disconcerting; it’s a situation that could get dangerous.

Pew: Wide Differences Over Issues That Matter

Pew: Wide Differences Over Issues That Matter

Republican and Democratic voters are split not only over their candidate preferences, but also about the importance of key issues in the election. The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that terrorism and the economy are top issues for both Republican and Democratic voters, though in both cases they rate as more important for Republicans than Democrats.

HRW: Liberty to Monitor All

HRW: Liberty to Monitor All

How large-scale US surveillance is harming journalism, law, and American democracy. The 120-page report documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented US government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions.

TG: ISIS and Modern Western Philosophy

TG: ISIS and Modern Western Philosophy

Over recent weeks there has been a constant background noise suggesting that Islamic State (Isis) and its ideology are some sort of throwback to a distant past.It needs to be said very clearly: contemporary jihadism is not a return to the past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology with a very significant debt to western political history and culture. Central to ISIS’s programme is its claim to Muslim heritage. Part of countering this requires understanding the contemporary sources of its ideology and its violence.

NYT: Foreign Influence in Think Tanks

NYT: Foreign Influence in Think Tanks

More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities, an investigation by The New York Times has found. The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington and it has set off troubling questions about intellectual freedom. The think tanks do not disclose the terms of the agreements they have reached with foreign governments and have not registered with the United States government as representatives of the donor countries, perhaps in violation of federal law.

NYT: The New History Wars

NYT: The New History Wars

“College-level work” now requires attention to context, and change over time; includes greater use of primary sources; and reassesses traditional narratives. This is work that requires and builds empathy, an essential aspect of historical thinking. The critics are unhappy, perhaps, that a once comforting story has become, in the hands of scholars, more complex, unsettling, provocative and compelling.

AJA: Emotion Driven Economy

AJA: Emotion Driven Economy

Economic predictions depend on figuring out what generates economic activity. Since the turn of the 20th century, economists have struggled to grasp what drives various parts of the economy, from consumer goods to commodities to housing. Recent research suggests financial markets and economic growth are supported mainly by animal spirits, not rational calculation

TG: Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

TG: Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

The four founders of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, cosmologist Martin Rees, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, economic theorist Sir Partha Desgupta and philosopher Huw Price, are in the business of “horizon scanning” – identifying low-probability-but-high-consequence events – and are concerned mainly with risks we have created ourselves – the consequences of being too clever for our own good. One prominent risk is that artificial intelligence (AI) will outcompete our own for predominance, ultimately allowing AI to relate to humans much as humans currently do to chimpanzees. There is also the risk of the deliberate or accidental release of a virus with a modified genome, the adoption of stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering, and the use of 3-D printers to create military-grade weapons.

PS: Trouble with Universal Education

PS: Trouble with Universal Education

The world is gearing up to establish a new set of goals for the next 15 years. Given limited resources, policymakers and international organizations must ask themselves: Where can we do the most good? Maximizing the impact of scarce resources on the lives of the world’s poorest people demands tough choices. In an ideal world, universal, high-quality education at all levels would be worth pursuing. But, amid competing demands for basic necessities like health care and potable water, narrower, more cost-effective education targets are essential.

MIT: The History Inside Us

MIT: The History Inside Us

Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, has shown that if only a few of the trillions of cells in a body escape destruction, a genome may survive for tens of thousands of years. For a long time, we have seen the genome as a tool for predicting the future, but it may have even more to tell us about the past. Geneticists are finding ways to explore not just big events but also the dynamics of populations through time.

NC: The Carnage of Capitalism

NC: The Carnage of Capitalism

Capitalism is expanding like a tumor in the body of American society, spreading further into vital areas of human need like health and education. Not coincidentally, as inequality has surged since the 1980s, the number of administrators at private universities has doubled. Administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country. As with education, the extremes forced upon us by free-market health care are nearly beyond belief.

AJ: School Nutrition Association

AJ: School Nutrition Association

A bitter fight erupted when the School Nutrition Association decided to oppose nutrition improvements to federally subsidized school meals. Michelle Obama has made the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 one of her top causes. The result is an unfortunate standoff between the White House and the SNA’s current leadership. Why did the SNA reverse its earlier position supporting healthier school meals?

PS: The Dark Side of Physics

PS: The Dark Side of Physics

Physics provides the evolving core framework on which other fields of science are built. And now, science can go far beyond any previous expectation and extrapolation. In coming decades, everything will be susceptible to major revision as new cross-disciplines – and undisciplined threads of study – emerge. Quantum engineering teams are already springing up in academic and research institutes all around the world. The merging of computer science and engineering with neuroscience has already produced results that not long ago belonged only to science fiction.

NYT: What Science Says About Marijuana

NYT: What Science Says About Marijuana

Marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs and is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco. That doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless; but, on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking. Marijuana’s negative health effects are arguments for the same strong regulation that has been effective in curbing abuse of legal substances.

TA: Secrets of the Creative Brain

TA: Secrets of the Creative Brain

What differences in nature and nurture can explain why some people suffer from mental illness and some do not? And why are so many of the world’s most creative minds among the most afflicted? Although many people continue to equate intelligence with genius, having a high IQ is not equivalent to being highly creative. Rather, creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see. So why do these highly gifted people experience mental illness at a higher-than-average rate? One interesting paradox that has emerged during conversations with subjects about their creative processes is that, though many of them suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, they associate their gifts with strong feelings of joy and excitement.

BIJ: Afghanistan 1000+ Drone Strikes

BIJ: Afghanistan 1000+ Drone Strikes

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and others have used open sources – media reports, court affidavits, NGO reports and independent field investigations – to piece together a strike-by-strike picture of more than 450 strikes in the US’s covert campaigns, revealing at least 2,681 reported deaths, including 480 people or more who are described as civilians.

TG: Climate Models’ Accurate Prediction

TG: Climate Models’ Accurate Prediction

Predicting global surface temperature changes in the short-term is a challenge for climate models. Temperature changes over periods of a decade or two can be dominated by influences from ocean cycles like El Niño and La Niña. We can’t yet predict ahead of time how these cycles will change. A new paper led by James Risbey just out in Nature Climate Change takes a clever approach to evaluating how accurate climate model temperature predictions have been while getting around the noise caused by natural cycles.

BBC: Learning in Your Sleep

BBC: Learning in Your Sleep

The idea of learning as you sleep was once thought very unlikely, but there are several ways to try to help you acquire new skills as you doze. During the night, our brain busily processes and consolidates our recollections from the day before, and there could be ways to enhance that process. In the near future, technology may offer further ways of upgrading the brain’s sleep cycles. Memory consolidation is thought to occur during specific, slow, oscillations of electrical activity, so the idea here is to subtly encourage those brain waves without waking the subject. But we shouldn’t shy away from the problems highlighted by fiction like Brave New World and The Simpsons. Although new methods might not be able to brainwash people against their will, we still need to question whether it would be right to start manipulating their children’s memories, for instance.

MIT: Forget the Wisdom of Crowds

MIT: Forget the Wisdom of Crowds

In recent years, researchers have spent a significant amount of time and effort teasing apart the factors that make crowds stupid. It turns out that if a crowd offers a wide range of independent estimates, then it is more likely to be wise. But if members of the crowd are influenced in the same way, for example by each other or by some external factor, then they tend to converge on a biased estimate. In this case, the crowd is likely to be stupid. Separating the more strongly influenced people from the independent thinkers creates two different groups and the group of independent thinkers is more likely to give a wise estimate. The research highlights the way bias can destroy the wisdom of a crowd, how that problem can be solved, but the possibilities for its application in the real world can be a little frightening.

PD: Google’s Monopoly Over What We Know

PD: Google’s Monopoly Over What We Know

Google’s monopoly power to discriminate information, to decide what we know and what we won’t know, and how accessible or inaccessible that information is, is the real relevant story to the EU controversy over the right to be forgotten. This sort of power goes well beyond abstract principles about freedom of speech, and into the mundane, existential power over businesses, industries, jobs, and the political economy.

NYT: NASA Satellite to Track Carbon

NYT: NASA Satellite to Track Carbon

On an average day, some 100 million tons of carbon dioxide is liberated from oil and coal by combustion, wafting into the air. Only half of the carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere; the other half falls back to earth. While scientists know what happens to half of that half — it dissolves into the oceans — the rest is a continuing puzzle. Now NASA is launching a satellite to help solve the puzzle.

PS: Post-Crash Economics

PS: Post-Crash Economics

We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the neoliberal capitalist consensus that has prevailed throughout the West since the 1980s – and that many claim led to the economic disaster of 2008-2009. There is growing discontent among economics students with the university curriculum, which they claim has become merely a branch of mathematics, disconnected from reality.

PS: The World Cup’s Sickening Message

PS: The World Cup’s Sickening Message

One billion people watched the opening match of the FIFA World Cup in São Paulo, Brazil, and hundreds of millions more will tune in at some point during the month-long tournament. For FIFA’s six major partners and the event’s eight official sponsors, this audience is nothing short of a gold mine. Indeed, they pay tens of millions of dollars in the hope that some of the magic of the “beautiful game” will rub off on their brands. For viewers, that is probably not a good thing. Sponsorship by companies like Budweiser, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and the food giant Moy Park brings millions of dollars to the game. But what message does it send to the global audience? Promoting alcohol, sugary drinks, and fast food may mean massive profits for corporations, but it also means worse health for individuals and a costly burden on countries’ health-care systems.

IPS: What Piketty Forgot

IPS: What Piketty Forgot

Piketty is right that our political economy favors the growth of inequality, and that inequality in turn poisons our politics. But while we should aspire to create a society that shares its prosperity, we need to address a much bigger gap than the one between rich and poor. We need to address the gap between what’s demanded by our planet and what’s demanded by our economy.

Oxfam: Ending Poverty and Suffering

Oxfam: Ending Poverty and Suffering

Two major injustices – inequality and climate change – are threatening to undermine the efforts of millions of people to escape poverty and hunger. By concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few, inequality robs the poorest people of the support they need to improve their lives. And as climate change devastates crops and livelihoods, it undoes poor people’s efforts to feed their families.

WP: Actually, Miss USA Is Right

WP: Actually, Miss USA Is Right

Nia Sanchez, a black belt in taekwondo, waded into fraught waters when she told Miss USA judge Rumer Willis that teaching women self-defense could help reduce sexual assaults on college campuses. Within hours, some anti-rape activists were blasting Sanchez as victim-blaming and anti-feminist. In the face of what the American Medical Association has called an “epidemic” of sexual violence there are things all people can do to increase safety for ourselves and for one another. The White House was wrong to omit self-defense from its prevention recommendations to college campuses and Miss USA was right to endorse it.

MIT: Neuroscience’s New Toolbox

MIT: Neuroscience’s New Toolbox

Optogenetics has provided a much more detailed view of the hypothalamus, and thus a much more complex and nuanced picture of aggression. Activating specific neurons in that little town can tip an organism to make war, but activating the neurons next door can nudge it to make love. The new techniques will give scientists the first glimpses of how thoughts, feelings, forebodings, and dysfunctional mental activity arise from the neural circuitry and from the activity of particular types of cells.

TG: Student Loans Executive Order

TG: Student Loans Executive Order

In another attempt to stem the economic threat of high student debt and win favor for his party before November’s election, President Obama on Monday signed an executive order that will limit federal student loan payments for 5 million more people.

NC: Student Debt Crisis

NC: Student Debt Crisis

Homeowners can refinance a mortgage at under 4 percent. Car loans are available for under 3 percent. Yet college graduates are paying interest of 7 percent or higher on undergraduate loans, and are unable to refinance. Elizabeth Warren’s goal is passage of a bill that will allow students to refinance their loans at lower rates.

NYT: What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

NYT: What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

Does handwriting matter? Not very much, according to many educators. But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters but how – printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns and each results in a distinct end product. Researchers have found that when children compose text by hand, they not only consistently produce more words more quickly than they on a keyboard, but express more ideas. There may even be a difference between printing and cursive writing – a distinction of particular importance as the teaching of cursive disappears in curriculum after curriculum.

AN: Obama Enemy of Press Freedom

AN: Obama Enemy of Press Freedom

While Attorney General Eric Holder recently pledged that under his watch, journalists will not go to jail, the administration has continued to use the judicial system to harass journalists into revealing their sources. Journalists and press freedom advocates say the administration’s war on journalists has chilled national security reporting, with potential sources afraid to speak to reporters for fear of being prosecuted.

NYT: Press Freedom Infringed

NYT: Press Freedom Infringed

The Supreme Court on Monday turned down an appeal from James Risen, a reporter for The New York Times facing jail for refusing to identify a confidential source. The court’s one-line order gave no reasons but effectively sided with the government in a confrontation between what prosecutors said was an imperative to secure evidence in a national security prosecution and what journalists said was an intolerable infringement of press freedom.

NYT: Judging Spinoza

NYT: Judging Spinoza

No less an eminence than David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, publicly argued for “amending the injustice” done to the philosopher, insisting that the 17th-century rabbis had no authority “to exclude the immortal Spinoza from the community of Israel for all time.” The ban on Spinoza was never rescinded. One pressing question concerns the wisdom and efficacy of enforcing orthodoxy, or conformity in the matter of ideas in religious communities. Spinoza believed that he had, through metaphysical inquiry, discovered important truths about God, nature and human beings, truths that led to principles of great consequence for our happiness and our emotional and physical flourishing. By enforcing conformity of belief and punishing deviations from dogma, religious authorities risk depriving the devoted of the possibility of achieving in religion that which they most urgently seek.

TN: Making Students Pay

TN: Making Students Pay

With tuition costs more than doubling over the past generation, and student debt now exceeding $1 trillion, everyone knows the cost of college is too damn high. About 40 million people nationwide are weighed down by education debts that often reach into the tens of thousands. But those numbers are just a sliver of the bleak shadow that Wall Street casts over higher education.

NYT: Faking Cultural Literacy

NYT: Faking Cultural Literacy

It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything. We pick topical, relevant bits from Facebook, Twitter or emailed news alerts, and regurgitate them. What matters to us is not necessarily having actually consumed content but having a position on it. We come perilously close to knowledgeability that is really a new model of know-nothingness.

AN: Outdoor Schools Make Kids Smarter

AN: Outdoor Schools Make Kids Smarter

The original kindergarten —the children’s garden—conceived by German educator Friedrich Froebel in the 19th century, was a place where children learned through play, often in nature. That idea is fast eroding. Instead children are focusing on a narrowing range of literacy and math. In the face of this indoor-ification of early childhood, a cultural and educational movement is emerging—focused on new approaches to nature-based education. The many skills children develop through play, particularly the self-control practiced and refined in imaginary play, are related to long-term academic achievement. Outdoor play can also remedy behavioral problems leading to lower arrest rates. Teachers and parents of children in nature preschools and forest kindergartens are finding that mastering puddles is just as important as learning letters in preparing children to find their way through the smartboard jungle.

TG: Children Mental Health Crisis

TG: Children Mental Health Crisis

In 2004, the first academic studies of trends in child and adolescent mental health began to report a worrying deterioration. The origins of this crisis – and it is a crisis – do not lie in massive overuse of the web, but elsewhere. But if things looked worrying in 2004, they look a darn sight worse today, 10 years later.

NYT: Writing About a Life of Ideas

NYT: Writing About a Life of Ideas

When an intellectual dies, there are no heaps of flowers or public mournings. The odd wistful editorial will be written in upmarket newspapers; colloquia organized in ivy-clad colleges. Few Americans will know, for instance, that Ronald Dworkin, a formidable figure in American liberal philosophy, died last year.

FA: Thomas Piketty

FA: Thomas Piketty

“Every now and then, the field of economics produces an important book; this is one of them,” writes Tyler Cowen in his Foreign Affairs review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Justin Vogt, deputy managing editor of Foreign Affairs, recently sat down with Piketty to discuss inequality and his controversial policy proposals.

PS: The Oligarchy Fallacy

PS: The Oligarchy Fallacy

The anti-oligarchy argument claim is that the rich have too much money, which they use to elect politicians who will enact laws that favor their interests. But it seems better to argue about the best policies to improve income distribution efficiently, and to point out which politicians support them. “Yes” to the EITC and pre-school education; “no” to subsidies for oil, agriculture, and mortgage debt.

NYT: Illustrating Climate Change

NYT: Illustrating Climate Change

As part of an effort to make the public see global warming as a tangible and immediate problem, the White House has inaugurated a website, climate.data.gov, aimed at turning scientific data about projected droughts and wildfires and the rise in sea levels into eye-catching digital presentations that can be mapped using simple software apps.

BBC: Cosmic Inflation

BBC: Cosmic Inflation

Scientists say they have extraordinary new evidence to support a Big Bang Theory for the origin of the Universe. The breakthrough was announced by an American team that has been using a telescope at the South Pole to make detailed observations of a small patch of sky. The aim has been to try to find a residual marker for “inflation” – the idea that the cosmos experienced an exponential growth spurt in its first trillionth, of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. inflation came with a very specific prediction – that it would be associated with waves of gravitational energy, and that these ripples in the fabric of space would leave an indelible mark on the oldest light in the sky -the famous Cosmic Microwave Background. The team says it has now identified that signal.

CP: On Academic Labor

CP: On Academic Labor

Noam Chomsky discusses issues related to the breakdown of our educational system, specifically he discusses hiring faculty off the tenure track, how higher education ought to be, “shared governance” and worker control, the alleged need for labor “flexibility”, the purpose of education, and the love of teaching.

NAEP: US 2013 Maths and Reading Results

NAEP: US 2013 Maths and Reading Results

Nationally representative samples of more than 376,000 fourth-graders and 341,000 eighth-graders were assessed in either mathematics or reading in 2013. Average mathematics scores for fourth- and eighth-graders in 2013 were 1 point higher than in 2011, and 28 and 22 points higher respectively in comparison to the first assessment year in 1990.

BBC: Maths as Beauty

BBC: Maths as Beauty

Mathematicians were shown “ugly” and “beautiful” equations while in a brain scanner at University College London. The same emotional brain centres used to appreciate art were being activated by “beautiful” maths. The researchers suggest there may be a neurobiological basis to beauty.

TG: US Common Core

TG: US Common Core

I am concerned that the Common Core, successful or not, will normalize the idea of simply outsourcing education and bring to a whimpering end one of the final refuges Americans have against the modern era’s non-stop assault of marketing and commercial persuasion.

AJA: Free Speech and Terrorism

AJA: Free Speech and Terrorism

Working toward social justice requires the courageous protest by a minority to help the majority gain the wisdom necessary to change; criminalizing social activity that leads to crucial discussions about how to minimize suffering and terror, and labeling that activity a form of terrorism, is contrary to the values necessary for a healthy democracy.

DS: Century of Violence

DS: Century of Violence

World War I may have ended in 1918, but the violence it triggered in the Middle East still hasn’t come to an end. Arbitrary borders drawn by self-interested imperial powers have left a legacy that the region has not been able to overcome. No group of countries, particularly given their small sizes, has seen so many wars, civil wars, overthrows and terrorist attacks in recent decades. To understand how this historical anomaly came to pass, several factors must be considered: the region’s depressing history prior to World War I, the failure of the Arab elite and the continual intervention by the superpowers thereafter, the role of political Islam, the discovery of oil, the founding of Israel and the Cold War.

AJA: Indonesia and Climate Change Deniers

AJA: Indonesia and Climate Change Deniers

Climate change may be the world’s “most fearsome” weapon of mass destruction, and urgent global action is needed to combat it, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday, comparing those who deny its existence or question its causes to people who insist the earth is flat.

TM: Terms and Conditions

TM: Terms and Conditions

You don’t really read the endless pages of terms and conditions connected to every website you visit or phone call that you make, but every day billion-dollar corporations are learning more about your interests, friends, family, finances and secrets precisely because of this, are selling the information to the highest bidder, and you agreed to all of it.

NYT: Is Atheism Irrational?

NYT: Is Atheism Irrational?

To believe in both materialism and evolution requires acceptance that your belief-producing faculties are not reliable, but that is to fall into a total skepticism, which leaves you with no reason to accept any of your beliefs. The only sensible course is to give up the claim leading to this conclusion: that both materialism and evolution are true.

BP: Cosmic Accident

BP: Cosmic Accident

If the multiverse idea is correct, then the historic mission of physics to explain all the properties of our universe in terms of fundamental principles — to explain why the properties of our universe must necessarily be what they are — is futile, a beautiful philosophical dream that simply isn’t true.

TD: Myth of Human Progress

TD: Myth of Human Progress

Our financial system—like our participatory democracy—is a mirage. The ecosystem is at the same time disintegrating. We bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess.The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power for a small, global elite—are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence.

NYT: NSA Targets Children

NYT: NSA Targets Children

The turtle wearing a hat backward, baggy jeans and purple sunglasses looks just like other cartoon characters that marketers use to make products like cereal and toys appealing to children. But the reptile, known as T. Top, who says creating and breaking codes is really “kewl,” is pushing the benefits of the National Security Agency.

DS: Disaster Centennial

DS: Disaster Centennial

It has now been 100 years since the outbreak of World War I, but the European catastrophe remains relevant today. As the Continent looks back this year, old wounds could once again be rubbed raw. More than 60 million soldiers from five continents participated in that orgy of violence. The absolute focus on national interests did not lead to happy times for any of the wartime enemies. In the era of NATO and integrated armed forces, hardly anyone can imagine a war between Europeans. Still, it is possible to sow discord in other ways in the 21st century. Historians of different stripes note with concern that the course of events in 1914 are not that different from what is happening in Europe today.

NYT: Why We Talk About the 1%

NYT: Why We Talk About the 1%

If you look at the bottom 4 percent of the top 5, you see good but not spectacular income gains. These are the kinds of gains that you might be able to explain in terms of skills, assortative mating, and so on. But the top 1 percent is in a different universe altogether.

BBC: Universe to 1% Accuracy

BBC: Universe to 1% Accuracy

Astronomers have measured the distances between galaxies in the universe to an accuracy of just 1%. This staggeringly precise survey – across six billion light-years – is key to mapping the cosmos and determining the nature of dark energy. While we can’t say with certainty, it’s likely the universe extends forever in space and will go on forever in time.

BP: When Einstein Met Tagore

BP: When Einstein Met Tagore

On July 14, 1930, Albert Einstein welcomed into his home on the outskirts of Berlin the Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. The two proceeded to have one of the most stimulating, intellectually riveting conversations in history. The book, Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagore, recounts the historic encounter, amidst a broader discussion of the intellectual renaissance that swept India in the early twentieth century, germinating a curious osmosis of Indian traditions and secular Western scientific doctrine. This excerpt from one of Einstein and Tagore’s conversations dances between previously examined definitions of science, beauty, consciousness, and philosophy in a masterful meditation on the most fundamental questions of human existence.

HI: Prepper Philosophy

HI: Prepper Philosophy

The “defend what’s mine” mentality states that the moment “shit goes down,” every other human in the world instantly becomes either a resource to be used or a threat to be eliminated. Never have I encountered someone who is prepping for the purpose of building a post-apocalyptic community or offering a haven of help and support for other less-prepared people in the event that something terrible does happen.

AN: Major Social Transformation Close

AN: Major Social Transformation Close

Moyer’s work is heartening for social justice activists because it shows how movements grow, recede and change their functions at different stages. By understanding the current stage of development we can better define the work that must be done to achieve success and predict how the power structure and public will react to our actions.

TG: Book Banning in the US

TG: Book Banning in the US

An anti-censorship group in America has reported a flurry of attempted book bannings in the last quarter of the year and has said there are increasing numbers of books being taken off school shelves that deal with race or sexuality or are written by “minority” authors.

BBC: Perils of Belief

BBC: Perils of Belief

While human beings are willing to kill others for the sake of belief, they are ready to die for the same reason. No other species shows any sign of killing or dying for the sake of a mere idea. Some will say that’s because other species can’t formulate ideas or beliefs, but I think the answer lies elsewhere. The ability to form complex beliefs about the world has given us humans great power – at least over material things. But these more highly developed intellectual capacities also give us a clearer awareness of the fact that we are going to die. This can fill us with dread, and there are many who find relief in clinging to a belief for which they are ready to sacrifice their lives. Curiously, it may be fear of mortality that has led so many believers to embrace death.

PS: Age of Sustainable Development

PS: Age of Sustainable Development

Our generation can end the ancient scourge of extreme poverty, but it can also destroy the earth’s life-support system through human-induced environmental devastation. By necessity, then, we have entered The Age of Sustainable Development. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University is launching a free, global, online university course by the same name in January 2014. Sustainable development is both a way of understanding the world and a way to help save it, it will become the organizing principle for our politics, economics, and even ethics in the years ahead.

MIT: Decline of Wikipedia

MIT: Decline of Wikipedia

The sixth most widely used website in the world is not run anything like the others in the top 10. It is not operated by a sophisticated corporation but by a leaderless collection of volunteers who generally work under pseudonyms and habitually bicker with each other. It rarely tries new things in the hope of luring visitors; in fact, it has changed little in a decade. And yet every month 10 billion pages are viewed on the English version of Wikipedia alone.

MIT: 2013 Top Tech Reads

MIT: 2013 Top Tech Reads

MIT Technology Review looks back at leading stories from 2013 including stories related to the pricing of drugs by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, the danger of increased information gathering by governments and companies, the internet and free speech, the effect on jobs of automation, artificial intelligence, and advanced software, the creation of treatments for erasing traumatic memories, the future of driverless cars, the reinvention of the computer chip, saving Wikipedia, and the necessity for genetic engineering in crops.

DS: Putin War of Images

DS: Putin War of Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has created an anti-CNN for Western audiences with the international satellite news network Russia Today. With its recipe of smart propaganda, sex appeal and unlimited cash, it is outperforming its peers worldwide.

WH: András Schiff Explores Beethoven Piano Sonatas

WH: András Schiff Explores Beethoven Piano Sonatas

András Schiff last performed the complete Beethoven piano sonatas at Wigmore Hall from 2004–6 to overwhelming critical acclaim, with the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger describing one particular performance as ‘a riveting mixture of erudition, analysis, passion, wit and memory’.
On the day before each of the eight recitals in the series, the world-renowned pianist, pedagogue and lecturer gave a lecture-recital in which he explored the works to be performed. Deeply engaging and insightful, these thought-provoking lecture-recitals, recorded live at the Hall, are now available below to hear as eight lecture-recitals.

NYT: Gifted Students

NYT: Gifted Students

In a post-smokestack age, there is only one way for the United States to avoid a declining standard of living, and that is through innovation. The nation has to enlarge its pool of the best and brightest science and math students and encourage them to pursue careers that will keep the country competitive. But that isn’t happening.

NYT: Malta’s Tangled History

NYT: Malta’s Tangled History

Settlement on Malta dates back to prehistory; it has been ruled over the centuries by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and Arabs, among others. After briefly being conquered by Napoleon around the turn of the 19th century, it spent many decades under British rule before achieving independence in 1964. The history of Malta — actually an archipelago that includes three inhabited islands, just 50 miles south of Sicily — is peppered with violence and disorder. Today, though, it is hard to find a corner of the country that doesn’t feel peaceful and safe.

FA: Policing Synthetic Biology

FA: Policing Synthetic Biology

Ongoing research and discoveries in the life sciences — the latest and most promising involving synthetic biology — have led to extraordinary advances that will benefit society. But criminals and terrorists could manipulate such advances to disrupt public safety and national security.

BBC: Genetic Memory

BBC: Genetic Memory

Behaviour can be affected by events in previous generations which have been passed on through a form of genetic memory, animal studies suggest. Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behaviour of subsequent generations.

FA: Banking Systems

FA: Banking Systems

The same kinds of politics that influence other aspects of society also help explain why some countries, such as the United States, suffer repeated banking crises, while others, such as Canada, avoid them altogether. A country does not choose its banking system; it gets the banking system it deserves, one consistent with the institutions that govern its distribution of political power.

PS: Is Economics a Science?

PS: Is Economics a Science?

One problem with economics is that it is necessarily focused on policy, rather than discovery of fundamentals. Nobody really cares much about economic data except as a guide to policy: economic phenomena do not have the same intrinsic fascination for us as the internal resonances of the atom or the functioning of the vesicles and other organelles of a living cell. Critics of “economic sciences” sometimes refer to the development of a “pseudoscience” of economics, arguing that it uses the trappings of science, like dense mathematics, but only for show. As economics develops, it will broaden its repertory of methods and sources of evidence, the science will become stronger, and the charlatans will be exposed.

NOC: What Marx Knew

NOC: What Marx Knew

Marx put too much faith in the masses and failed to see how easily they (we) can be bought off. If corporate elites have no incentive to curb capitalism and every incentive to grab a bigger and bigger share of the world’s wealth, and if the “working class” of the world, now numbering over 7 billion, can be placated with credit cards and Walmarts, what chance do we have?

NYT: Textbooks Reassess JFK

NYT: Textbooks Reassess JFK

The first — and for many the last — in-depth lesson that American students learn about the 35th president comes from high school textbooks. And on the eve of the anniversary of his assassination 50 years ago, a review of more than two dozen written since then shows that the portrayal of him has fallen sharply over the years.

FA: Devolution of the Seas

FA: Devolution of the Seas

Of all the threats looming over the planet today, one of the most alarming is the seemingly inexorable descent of the world’s oceans into ecological perdition. Over the last several decades, human activities have so altered the basic chemistry of the seas that they are now returning to the barren primeval waters of hundreds of millions of years ago. The world faces a choice. We do not have to return to an oceanic Stone Age. Whether we can summon the political will and moral courage to restore the seas to health before it is too late is an open question. The challenge and the opportunity are there.

TE: Time is Not Money

TE: Time is Not Money

Dozens of psychological studies have shown that people primed to think about money before an experiment are more likely to lie, cheat and steal during the course of that experiment. Thinking about time, by contrast, makes people more honest than normal rather than less so and the more reflective they are the more honest they become.

NG: Wise Old Whooping Cranes

NG: Wise Old Whooping Cranes

People have pondered the question for centuries: How do migrating birds find their way between far-flung breeding and wintering grounds? Do they have some genetic GPS to steer them along time-honored routes? Or do they learn the way from parents or elders in the flocks? New research shows that, at least in the case of whooping cranes, the birds do learn the route from their older and more experienced companions—and all of them get better at navigating with age and experience. Detailed whooper migration data is a silver lining to a near-tragedy. America’s whooping cranes were within a whisper of extinction during the mid-20th century, when as few as 16 individuals survived. Only a large-scale, international captive breeding and conservation effort enabled the species to survive—and ultimately made this discovery possible.

TE: Unreliable Research

TE: Unreliable Research

The idea that there are a lot of uncorrected flaws in published studies may seem hard to square with the fact that almost all of them will have been through peer-review. This sort of scrutiny by disinterested experts is often said to make the scientific literature particularly reliable. In practice it is poor at detecting many types of error.

TG: Universities Watching You

TG: Universities Watching You

It monitors email and social media accounts, uses thousands of surveillance cameras to track behavior and movement, is funded by billions of dollars from the federal government, and has been called “the most authoritarian institution in America”. The National Security Agency? Nope. It’s your average college or university.

HP: Denmark Happiest on Earth

HP: Denmark Happiest on Earth

Last month, Denmark was crowned the happiest country in the world. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control over: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.

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