Friday Links

In New York, Texas, and a slice of the rest of the country where data is available, teachers and other staff where school buildings are open have higher COVID infection rates than their surrounding communities.

Critically, the data does not show whether teachers caught the virus in schools, or offer definitive answers about the risks of school reopening. It’s possible the results reflect more widespread testing among teachers, and the evidence that remote teachers have lower infection rates is mixed. But the latest data complicates our understanding of the risks of school reopening.

A couple of years ago I gave a statistics course for the Swedish National Research School in History, and at the exam I asked the students to explain how one should correctly interpret p-values. Although the correct definition is p(data|null hypothesis), a majority of the students either misinterpreted the p-value as being the likelihood of a sampling error (which of course is wrong, since the very computation of the p-value is based on the assumption that sampling errors are what causes the sample statistics not coinciding with the null hypothesis) or that the p-value is the probability of the null hypothesis being true, given the data (which of course also is wrong, since it is p(null hypothesis|data) rather than the correct p(data|null hypothesis)).

This is not to blame on students’ ignorance, but rather on significance testing not being particularly transparent (conditional probability inference is difficult even to those of us who teach and practice it).

For a typical citizen, political knowledge is just as often a liability as a source of power. Ignorance protects us from painful truths, insulates us from responsibility for our actions, and sustains the relationships that we depend upon for meaning and belonging. To understand and address societal ignorance, we must come to terms with such benefits.

The link between the Great War and the influenza pandemic was more than a mere coincidence of timing. Massive movements of troops around the world — unprecedented at the time, but foreshadowing our own world of extensive tourist and business travel — were a major factor in spreading the 1918–19 pandemic. And, as with current pandemics, the close proximity of humans and food-producing animals played a major role. But recent research has also pointed to more direct links to the war, including the role of poison gas and the local climate change created by the conflict.

The gases used in the Great War included chlorine, phosgene and (perhaps the most horrible of all) mustard gas, which not only caused disabling blistering but is also highly carcinogenic and mutagenic. The outbreak of flu, particularly deadly to the young men among whom it spread, probably arose from the mutagenic effects of one or more of these gases, combined with repeated transmission from humans to animals and vice versa.

Even more striking is the possibility that soil particles, explosives and other chemicals generated by the continuous bombardment on the Western Front played a role in generating a six-year European climate anomaly characterised by unusually cold and rainy weather — weather that contributed both to the infamous mud of the trenches and to the severity of the pandemic. As well as the obvious effects of cold weather, which weakened immunity and encouraged crowding indoors, the climate anomaly disrupted the migratory patterns of mallard ducks and other birds that were important vectors for the disease.

“Making progress in this effort will help us reach our full economic potential as a nation,” Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said at a conference Tuesday addressing the topic of race and the economy.

A December study by consultant McKinsey & Co. found that students of color in U.S. schools had fallen behind in math by three to five months because of the pandemic; White students trailed by only one to three months.

It’s rare for economists to highlight how little is known about which policies and institutions fuel economic growth and prosperity. But in their latest book, Good Economics for Hard Times, Nobel Prize-winning economists Esther Duflo and Abhijit V. Banerjee do exactly that. And it’s this quality of humility and courage, espoused throughout their writing, that inspires confidence and curiosity in what they hae to say about other, potentially more important, issues.

The chapter on trade more or less debunks a foundational economic model — Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage, which describes how countries are better off under free trade.

Our crowds are “the people” in action; their crowds are oppressed automatons.

Friday Links

I’ve been reading Michael Sandel’s powerful new book The Tyranny of Merit, and it occurred to me that, in over 25 years of being involved in higher education, I have never heard of anyone unpacking the knapsack of college privilege. The more I reflect on this, the more stunning I find it, given just how many advantages our society bestows on college graduates.

The Tyranny of Merit is a searing account of the way that our system of meritocracy has perverted our democracy, and the central responsibility that higher education bears for this disaster. Meritocracy can be defined as the idea that people with the highest merit should rise to the top, and that those who have achieved high places have earned their comfort, status and authority.

Merit is, of course, contextual. In a warrior society, merit would be determined by prowess with a gun or a sword. In our knowledge-based economy, graduating from college is the single most powerful symbol of making it. But, as Sandel highlights, there is a problem with this. He writes, “Elites have so valorized a college degree -- both as an avenue for advancement and as the basis for social esteem -- that they have difficulty understanding the hubris a meritocracy can generate.”

But clearly having a college degree is a form of identity that confers massive privileges, which also impact lived experience and perspective. So why do other forms of identity get movements with profound cultural power (Me Too and Black Lives Matter), while the scant attention paid to educational privilege is wrapped in the boring language of economics with phrases like "the returns to education"?

The hard truth is that, even as colleges critique other forms of privilege, they do everything in their power to advertise the massive advantages graduates of their institution enjoy. College equals privilege. It’s part of the brand, a feature, not a bug.

I’m trying to find a kinder word for this than hypocrisy, but if we look at this situation from the perspective of those who do not have college degrees, how would we characterize it? So many people learn in college that privilege is nefarious, and yet they are part of a system whose goal is to confer advantage.

Early learning programs are collapsing under the financial and logistical strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a July survey, 40% of child care providers, and half of providers of color, reported that they were certain they would close permanently without public assistance. Now, about half of providers report having to take on debt and raise their tuition by 11% to 14% to stay open due to pandemic-related expenses. If families who are already struggling financially during the pandemic cannot afford increased tuition, early learning programs will continue to permanently close. Black and Latino families already had inadequate access to high-quality early learning programs before the pandemic, and these new child care challenges will reduce this access even more.

Among the reasons people aren’t enrolling, particularly at community colleges, is that they’re too busy navigating economic uncertainty to make college a priority. But Strada’s data suggest that when workers eventually do set out to learn new skills, they’re most likely to enroll in a nondegree program or seek skills training.

The full spectrum of high- to low-quality instructional techniques implemented in traditional, face-to-face classrooms across the country can be implemented in some form or another (with similar rates of success) virtually. The prerequisites for quality education—whether it be online or face-to-face—are more similar than they are different. If you want to know whether crisis schooling (regardless of whether it's online or face-to-face) can ever compare with non-crisis schooling, then of course not. That speaks more to the pandemic and the state of this country than it provides any true test of the promise or limitations of online learning.

I’ll state at the outset here that “firsts” are always a tricky thing to write about, especially when it comes to an artistic technique as widespread and important as vanishing point perspective. There are other candidates and other artists for this record, but the Florentine fresco Holy Trinity by early Renaissance artist Masaccio is a widely recognised contender for the first ever use of a single vanishing point in a work of art.

A growing body of scientific evidence also shows that the joy delivered by birds isn’t just anecdotal. Research increasingly links exposure to nature—and specifically, exposure to birds—with improved wellbeing.

The number of rural students expected to enroll in college in the near future has plummeted due to COVID-19. A major indicator of this trend is that the number of rural students completing federal application forms for financial aid has dropped by 16 percent compared to last year. This is higher than the 14.2 percent drop amongst urban students.

In some rural states, the drop was even bigger. For example, West Virginia experienced a 26.1 percent decrease, while Louisiana fell by 26.4 percent.

Back in the first heyday of artificial intelligence, there was a lot of optimism about the rate of progress. In a fairly short time, computers could already do complicated math and play chess faster and better than people. AI researchers had already solved many of the problems that were a marker of intelligence in people – the hard stuff – so surely a truly intelligent machine was not far behind?

Well, it turns out that it’s actually really difficult to teach a robot to walk on two legs, or train an algorithm that can simulate a convincing conversation. It’s not impossible, as the last few years of AI have demonstrated, but it’s several orders of magnitude more complicated than something like chess. To put it another way, for a machine hard is easy and easy is hard.

For instance, at a national level, caesarean section rates are over 50 per cent in the Dominican Republic Brazil, Egypt and Turkey, compared to around 30 per cent in Australia and the USA, and less than three per cent in South Sudan, Nigeria and Ethiopia. The World Health Organization has advised that caesarean section rates higher than 15 per cent at a population level may not improve women’s or babies’ health; while caesarean section rates below 10 per cent may be a sign of inadequate access to quality maternity care.

Friday Links

Fourier was an early socialist, envisioning a society divided into “phalanxes,” cooperative, self-sufficient communities composed of exactly 1,620 people—two of each of the 810 character types that he believed comprised the human race. In the mid-nineteenth century, Levi writes, around 200,000 people in the United States subscribed to Fourier’s political philosophy, and there were many Fourierist publications and groups in the United Kingdom and France, too.

In Harmony, children’s early education would take place largely in the kitchen, which should be outfitted with tools designed for small hands.

“In common with the rest of the population, the children should work with their tastes and thus be primarily involved in preparing their favorite foods: dishes such as sugared creams, compotes, cakes, jams, and fruits,” Levi writes.

Fourier even suggested replacing war with an enormous, months-long cooking contest, with alliances resulting in innovative combinations of dishes, and victory celebrated by the release of 300,000 Champagne corks. In response to those who might mock this vision, he noted that the cruelty and suffering of real-world war must surely be seen as more ridiculous.

Radiocarbon dating only works on organic material, so how do you accurately measure the last time rocks and sediment saw sunlight? Luminescence dating.

For decades now, families have been baffled by the E.F.C., the output of a federal formula that uses income and some household assets. Given that it doesn’t account for parents’ own student debts, for instance, plenty of people wondered whether the extra-large number was what they were supposed to pay for four years of college, not just one. It wasn’t.

I used to be virtual. Now I’m remote.

The way we describe our digitally mediated selves, the ones that whirl through computer screens like silks through a magician’s hands, has changed during the pandemic. The change is more than just a matter of terminology. It signals a shift in perception and perhaps in attitude. “Virtual” told us that distance doesn’t matter; “remote” says that it matters a lot. “Virtual” suggested freedom; “remote” suggests incarceration.

Consider three special dice: A, B, and C. On a fair roll, A is more likely to beat B. B is more likely to beat C. But C is more likely to beat A. These are nontransitive dice.

An analysis by the Georgetown center using College Scorecard data found that nurses with associate degrees from a community college in California make more than graduates of a dozen master’s degree programs at Harvard

That students don’t know their likely future incomes well before they graduate is particularly surprising given that getting a good job is now the No. 1 reason they say they go to college, according to a nationwide survey of freshmen by an institute at the University of California at Los Angeles — edging out “learn[ing] more about things that interest me” — and that 84 percent said it was very important or essential to them to be financially very well off.

Friday Links

See, the fact that ghosts are showing up in the hagiography of a medieval saint at all is actually a really interesting phenomenon, what with all the Christianity in Europe at the time. From a Christian perspective in the late antique period, no one was supposed to believe in stuff like ghosts. According to theologians such as St Augustine, “The dead by their nature are not able to involve themselves in the affairs of the living”.

After being tipped off that students had cheated, he looked at their activity in the learning-management system and was able to see that close to 20 percent of them had opened course materials during the closed-book test. And that, he realized, didn’t account for anyone who broke the rules some other way.

My project is to build a stand-alone printer that prints random poems from a dataset of out-of-copyright texts. A little portable Bot-ish (sic!) Library to showcase the British Library collections and fill the world with more poetry.

Apollo 12 was the second manned mission to the Moon, and it holds a rare distinction in the annals of space exploration. It was the first (and, so far, only) time that people have gone to the Moon and picked up something left behind by someone else.

In the US, as elsewhere, universities are increasingly reliant on income from tuition and housing as a source of revenue, especially in the case where institutions are unable to raise tuition even as federal and state funding continues to plummet.

“For as long as humans have travelled for leisure, they have travelled to watch death, to view cadavers and relics,” writes geographer Tony Johnston. “Roman Gladiatorial games attracted crowds from around the Empire; medieval European pilgrimages to Christian relics of death sites were common; nineteenth-century tourists and locals visited Parisian morgues which could see 40,000 visitors per day.”

“Considering the diversity of sites, consumption of death by tourists is essentially a continuum, with educational, authentic and history-centric at one end, and synthetic, entertainment-focused and inauthentic at the other,” Johnston writes. The London Dungeon, for example, markets self-styled “gory and gruesome” theatrical performances, while the Auschwitz site means to educate. Yet Johnston quotes a Polish tourist company that promotes a program for stag parties that take place in the concentration camp: “Quad biking in the morning then visit one of the world’s most haunting museums.”

The long boom of the post-war period gave us trades union militancy, “women’s lib”, the Black Panthers, the gay rights movement and the legalization of abortion and homosexuality. Our recent stagnation has given us Trump and Brexit – and of course the economic crisis of the 1930s yielded much worse.

Which is another way of saying what Ben Friedman wrote in The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth – that economic growth gives us liberalism and demands for equality whilst stagnation and regress give us political reaction.

The hymn Amazing Grace was set to its current tune more than fifty years after it was written. Because it was written in common metre, it can also be sung to Mack the Knife, Sympathy for the Devil, the Pokemon theme, and the Gilligan’s Island theme.

Saturday Links

I am months overdue for my tests because I lost my job and health insurance in July. I am resigned to paying out of pocket for the tests. (I got this healthcare-only credit card when I got my teeth fixed a couple years ago and I’m planning to use that.) However I have been stymied because the labs I’ve contacted simply will not give me straight answers about how much it will cost.

I have always tried to be someone with an expansive moral imagination – that is, to try and understand the other side’s perspective even when I viscerally reject that perspective. But I cannot understand the mindset of people who defend the current system, or those who preserve it by opposing change even if they will not defend the current system explicitly. I cannot occupy that point of view. The system seems indefensible, and the most likely short-term change to the system will be to make it even worse. All here in America, the world’s shining city on a hill.

In 1919, only 31 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds were enrolled in high school. By 1980, enrollment had reached 90 percent. High school graduation rates rose from 16 percent to 71 percent during this same period. As a result, the school became an avenue through which policymakers could reach the vast majority of U.S. citizens, allowing them to enlist public education in the ideological contest with authoritarianism. By building a model of education that emphasized critical thinking and a humanistic view of individual freedom, U.S. policymakers explicitly tried to eschew educational practices they considered to be “indoctrination,” “propaganda,” or “authoritarian.”

But this approach to education began to change once the threat of authoritarianism seemed to diminish in the 1980s. Educators began to place the needs of the market over the imperative of civic-mindedness. That turn has gradually transformed the role of schools in American life from incubators of democratic citizens to engines of economic aspiration.

American educators first began to discuss the perils of authoritarianism during World War I, with the rise of an aggressive, expansionist Germany under the helm of Prussian Kaiser Wilhelm II. When the United States entered the war against Germany in 1917, U.S. scholars cast “Prussianism” as an authoritarian ideology, and they denounced its centralized approach to schooling and governance; the United States, on the other hand, administered schools locally. Studies of German schools published during the war, such as Victor Friedel’s The German School as War Nursery and Thomas Alexander’s The Prussian Elementary Schools, described how the Prussian schoolmasters had distorted German life and steered German culture toward the imperialistic goals of the state.

As Alexander, a professor of education at the George Peabody College for Teachers (Vanderbilt University), explained in 1918 “the Prussian is to a large measure enslaved through the medium of his school . . . his learning instead of making him his own master, forges the chain by which he is held in servitude.” By contrast, he argued, American education ought to take a more student-centered approach in accordance with “the democratic principles for which we are aiming.”

"A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual's encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind."

McLuhan was not concerned primarily with the upsides of the internet. He warned that surrendering to private manipulation would narrow down the availability of the information we receive based on what marketers and advertisers choose for consumers and voters to see. And nowhere is that more evident than in our addictions to social media platforms and our need to be connected 24/7. 

In the late fifteenth century, Spanish colonizers in the Caribbean were starving in a land of plenty. They had just established their newest settlement, La Isabela, in what is now the Dominican Republic. The Spaniards planned to survive by exploiting the area’s indigenous people, the Taínos. But the Taínos refused to plant their annual crops, in protest of the Spanish invasion and appropriation of their lands.

From the long-lasting impacts of redlining in the US to the falling proportion of female graduates in computer sciences since 1984, the examination of unequal power forces runs as a central theme in the book.

The authors focus on data justice, as opposed to data ethics. They argue that data ethics and its focus on fairness and biases create structures that protect power. A great example of this is the rampant use of artificial intelligence for a ‘fair’ hiring process. As AI pulls from existing datasets (in which white, rich men are overrepresented), it can hamper the chances of women and minority communities getting past resume screenings. Conversely, datasets in which marginalised communities are overrepresented, such as policing or access to government aid, lead to situations where algorithms will predict them to be more of a threat, making it more difficult for these groups to access credit or producing a higher probability of individuals being incarcerated.

Missing from this commentary is the acknowledgement that young people have been found to have a high rate of compliance with regulations. They are also at a particularly high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to things like their over-representation in jobs dealing with customers face to face, and being more likely to reside in shared living spaces and rely on public transport than older adults.

So the suggestion that spikes are entirely due to reckless rule breaking and that young people are the root cause of a second wave of COVID-19 is problematic and unhelpful, particularly when used to justify the implementation of unique measures for students who are effectively living in isolation across Scotland right now.

The seriousness of COVID-19 and the importance of containing it is not in question. But these restrictions have been uniquely and unhelpfully couched in the rhetoric of blame and punishment. This has contributed to an image of young people as reckless and substantial risks to public health, with media coverage of parties in student halls focusing on a minority of rule breakers.

"Right now, the president might be the victim of a well-described medical phenomenon called the VIP syndrome."

If you looked at this treatment regimen, not knowing the patient, you’d assume this was someone on the brink of death – ventilated. Last ditch effort time. Of course, the president does not seem to be particularly sick. So, let’s face it – if you or I had COVID and were as sick as the president, there is no way we would be getting this kind of treatment. And here’s the thing – we’re probably better off.

Look, I’m not going to go hardcore egalitarian here. If we had a magic pill that cured COVID with no side effects, but cost 10 million dollars – sure give it to the president even though the rest of us can’t get it. The unfairness is not really what the VIP syndrome is about. It’s the risk the VIP faces getting medications – and combinations of medications - that we don’t know enough about. Doctors know that standard care is the best care. That’s why it’s standard. The Hail Mary Pass is for the 4th quarter when your team is about to lose. It’s not your opener. But for VIPs, these essential truths get forgotten.

Friday Links

I never met a student who was a Snidely Whiplash of cheating, twisting his mustache and rubbing his hands together with glee as he displayed callous and wanton academic dishonesty.

But that’s how so much of the educational software that’s sold to schools to curb cheating seems to imagine students — all students: unrepentant criminals, who must be rooted out and punished. Guilty until TurnItIn proves you innocent.

We need to dismantle the surveillance ed-tech that already permeates our schools. I think this is one of our most important challenges in the months and years ahead. We must abolish "cop shit," recognizing that almost all of ed-tech is precisely that.

We know that algorithms are biased, because we know that humans are biased. We know that facial recognition software struggles to identify people of color, for example, and there have been reports from students of color that the proctoring software has demanded they move into more well-lit rooms or shine more light on their faces during the exam. Because the algorithms that drive the decision-making in these products is proprietary and "black-boxed," we don't know if or how it might use certain physical traits or cultural characteristics to determine suspicious behavior.

I will close by saying that — as with so much in ed-tech — the actual tech itself may be a distraction from the conversation we should have about what we actually want teaching and learning to look like. We have to change the culture of schools not just adopt kinder ed-tech. We have to stop the policing of classrooms in all its forms and support other models for our digital and analog educational practices.

The COVID-19 pandemic is just what the Doctor ordered for American education. Well, it could be. First, we must, as is our wont, muddle for as long as possible. Plenty of time. What with students and teachers being quarantined one right after another, it’s going to be a long year. Time a plenty to fall for all that state propaganda about how classrooms are safe and kids need to be in the classroom just like before. You’d think we would learn. It’s been a long year already

Dr. says: In order to safely open the schools, class sizes need to be reduced by at least one-third, by one-half being even mo betta. Class schedules need be staggered in order to reduce hallway, bathroom, and cafeteria crowding. Extra staffing required. Ventilation needs to be improved. Things that will require money and money was always the problem; before the pandemic, for a long time now. The big con that let them get by without properly funding the school for so long now was to blame it on the teachers. Who else could they blame, themselves?

Regular readers know I have written extensively about Hong Kong’s success, in several posts, relaying on the expertise of my Oxford friend, Canadian medical doctor Sarah Borwein, who currently practices in Hong Kong and is a veteran of the SARS crisis from her timepracticing in Beijing. I’m not going to repeat points I made in those previous posts, except to say  early and comprehensive mask wearing; excellent widespread access to good, affordable medical care; and comprehensive contact tracing were all part of the mix.

Hong Kong has never had to lock down completely, but it has more or less sealed its borders. Even Hong Kong residents have faced barriers to their return, and when they did make it home, they were immediately tested. If necessary, they were subject to a quarantine.

Saturday Links

Debates about whether to bar anticapitalist views from the classroom are not new. British lawmakers have considered similar bans on numerous occasions since the 1917 Russian revolution. But previous British governments refused to forbid materials from radical groups – including communists – from British classrooms, even at the height of the cold war.

Meanwhile in the US, legislation barring the teaching of “subversive” doctrines proliferated. States and towns demanded loyalty oaths from teachers and required that schools teach the “American way” of “free enterprise”. By the early 1950s, school curricula had become a central focus of anticommunist crusaders such as Senator Joseph McCarthy. Seemingly anodyne elementary-school stories such as Robin Hood were held up as dangerous “communist” indoctrination in “robbing the rich to give to the poor”.

I think it is also critically important to situate the study of digital curation so that it isn’t simply an esoteric matter that’s only relevant for cultural heritage organizations. Digital curation is set of concerns and practices that are present in students’ every day lives, and can be found all throughout society–and these practices have real, social and political consequences.

“The first person to claim extended interaction with aliens said that they were friendly, helpful, even noble beings,” writes Bader. In 1952, one George Adamski ran into Orthon, a five-feet-six-inch humanoid in a brown jumpsuit who hailed from Venus. Orthon was the first in a series of encounters with aliens who “resembled earthlings in every way,” writes Bader. “The beings spoke near-perfect English… They managed to hold down jobs [on Earth] by visiting their home planets only during work holidays.” Throughout the 1950s, many contactees referred to aliens as their peaceful “Space Brothers.”

Patent offices cannot make the connections to traditional knowledge because so much of it is either untranslated or just not easily accessible. As a result, it’s much more likely to be overlooked when examining patents. The Indian government attempted to solve this problem in a very pragmatic way: collect, translate, and make available every written account of traditional knowledge that they could find.

The Traditional Knowledge Digital Library is a repository of hundreds of books of traditional Indian medicine, compiled, scanned, and translated. In all, it runs to 34 million pages. Now, every time someone tries to patent some organic compound from the Indian subcontinent, patent examiners can look it up in the library and see whether it is being co-opted.

Friday Links

“A rooster sits on the apex of a barn roof. The roof pitches at an angle of 43 degrees above the horizontal and is made of wood painted red. On the northern side of the roof, there is a large tree which casts a shadow over most of the roof. On the southern side, there is a duck pond. There is a very light rain shower falling, and the wind speed is 20 km/h from the Southwest. It is 10:47am on the 19th of August and the current temperature is 14 degrees celsius. The rooster lays an egg. Which way does it roll?”

The correct answer to this puzzle is usually given as: “Roosters don’t lay eggs.”

I take offense at this for several reasons....

The scores showed only 39% of all students were proficient or advanced in English and that 40% were proficient or advanced in math. Only 20.7% of voucher students were proficient or advanced in English and just 17.8% were proficient or advanced in math.

It’s time for pi! This elusive irrational number has been chased by many mathematicians throughout history, but few were as successful as Zu Chongzhi, an astronomer and mathematician of southern China. Zu Chongzhi, by the way, was one of many inventors to re-create the south-pointing chariot and he also invented the “thousand league boat,” the Chinese foot-powered paddle boat. But his greatest legacy was his calculations for pi.

Three months after Nasrudin married his new wife, she gave birth to a baby girl.

“Now, I’m no expert or anything,” said Nasrudin, “and please don’t take this the wrong way-but tell me this: Doesn’t it take nine months for a woman to go from child conception to childbirth?”

“You men are all alike,” she replied, “so ignorant of womanly matters. Tell me something: how long have I been married to you?”

“Three months,” replied Nasrudin.

“And how long have you been married to me?” she asked.

“Three months,” replied Nasrudin.

“And how long have I been pregnant?” she inquired.

“Three months,” replied Nasrudin.

“So,” she explained, “three plus three plus three equals nine. Are you satisfied now?”

“Yes,” replied Nasrudin, “please forgive me for bringing up the matter.”

Friday Links

Early childhood education and care is widely regarded as helping children’s academic, cognitive and social development. Our study, published in the journal Behavior Genetics, looked into whether attending preschool or childcare influences later academic achievement.

We found no statistically significant difference between the literacy and numeracy scores of school children who had attended preschool or childcare and children who didn’t. Nor did the duration of preschool or childcare attendance have an impact on later literacy and numeracy scores.

We did not look at the relations between social and emotional skills, and early childhood education and care.

Core rope memory was used for the Apollo Guidance Computer, the computer that ran all the navigation and controlled the spacecraft itself. For such a crucial function you needed as much reliability as possible. Because space (inside) was extremely limited, it needed to be extremely compact. And you really really did not want to accidentally wipe or overwrite it.

To meet all these criteria, the software for the guidance computer was literally hand-woven into it. The memory looked rope-like, hence the name, but really it consisted of clusters of wires (“ropes”) wrapped around magnetic cores. In contrast to normal computer memory, it wasn’t the cores but the configuration of the wires that carried all the information.

The bidders: Titus Flavius Claudius Sulpicianus, Pertinax’s father-in-law; Didius Julianus, the proconsul of North Africa. Sulpicianus was inside the Praetorian camp at the time and Julianus was not, so the advantage was his. He offered the enormous sum of 20,000 sesterces to each guard member. Guards at this time would have been paid about 2,500 sesterces a year, so you can imagine the size of this bid. But Julianus, immediately outside the encampment, shouted his bid: 25,000 sesterces each, ten years’ wages, if they would appoint him emperor instead. So they did.

Note that I keep saying viral RNA, not virus. We do not know if these kids were shedding live virus that was actively capable of infecting others. The authors did not do viral cultures or other infectivity assays. So the errors in the headline? The word contagious. Higher viral load does not necessarily mean more contagious.

Friday Links

With schools reopening after COVID-19 closures, concerns about the safety and certainty of public schooling have driven some parents to consider alternatives to sending kids back to brick-and-mortar classrooms.

One option making headlines is the formation of “learning pods” also known as “pandemic pods.” Pandemic pods are small groups of children from different families who learn together outside of traditional school buildings.

While pandemic pods may seem relatively harmless, they are part of a growing trend towards education privatization that undermines public education and democracy.

As Election Day approaches, he confronts not only an incumbent Republican president flush with campaign cash but also a nearly two-century-old hazard of history. Since the 1830s, the vice presidency has become a dead end for Democratic aspirants to the White House. 

Interestingly, the middle-class parents we spoke to used NAPLAN as a tool designed for them to check on their children’s progress and help them improve. But the working-class parents we spoke to saw NAPLAN as a tool for governments, and didn’t use the results to judge their child’s progress or seek additional help based on the results.

All the working-class parents we spoke with saw NAPLAN as a tool for government to assess schools and teachers. Parents did not see NAPLAN testing or reporting as something for them.

Every student is guilty until the algorithm proves her innocence.

However, what could not be fixed in the remote teaching and learning model were the persistent infrastructure and network holes, glaring social-cultural inequities and social-community environments that are not conducive to learning.

Yes, there are racial inequalities in testing that should concern us. But no one – no one – was helped more by a strong SAT score than a poor black kid.

Friday Links

Building a politics around the idea that a college degree is a precondition for dignified work and social esteem has a corrosive effect on democratic life. It devalues the contributions of those without a diploma, fuels prejudice against less-educated members of society, effectively excludes most working people from elective government and provokes political backlash.

Governing well requires not only technocratic expertise but also civic virtue — an ability to deliberate about the common good and to identify with citizens from all walks of life. But history suggests little correlation between the capacity for political judgment and the ability to win admission to elite universities. The notion that “the best and the brightest” are better at governing than their less-credentialed fellow citizens is a myth born of meritocratic hubris.

"An intensely religious person, she once said that “to understand God’s thoughts we must study statistics, for these are the measure of His purpose.”

For hundreds of years, mandatory isolation has been the go-to strategy for stemming the spread of contagious outbreaks. Despite this, the psychological impacts of such a traumatic and destabilizing event are understudied.

Over the last couple of decades, the humanities have often been defended. Too often. Those defenses have been most useful when they have segued into what has also become a thriving field over the same period, a field with much to tell us still: the history of the humanities.

Gordon Reid, president of Stop & Shop, a grocery chain owned by Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize NV, said he expects price to be a challenge for consumers in the last quarter of the year and into next year. While Mr. Reid hasn’t seen a direct connection to reduced unemployment checks, he said customers have become more price-conscious….

Friday Links

A team of five education scholars recently calculated that American schoolchildren in 2020 learned 30% less reading and 50% less maths than they would in a typical year. Despite that, the top third of pupils posted gains in reading.

What, if anything, is wrong with the Kaldor-Hicks principle? This is the question raised by Chris Whitty’s argument that the benefits of reopening schools outweigh the costs of doing so.

Even if we suppose that this is factually correct - which it might not be – it does not follow that it is right to reopen schools. As David Hume said, we cannot derive “ought” from “is”.

The philosophical problem arises from the fact that the winners and losers from reopening schools are different people. Children win by getting a better education, but school staff and their families lose because they face a higher risk of catching Covid-19. And even a small extra risk across tens of thousands of people adds up to a few certain deaths. How is it legitimate to impose death upon some so that others benefit, especially when they are not being compensated for that risk?

There’s a long tradition which says it is not. John Rawls objected that the Kaldor-Hicks principle (which is just a refinement of classical utilitarianism) “does not take seriously the distinction between persons.”

Friday Links

According to legend, Charlemagne liked to lay out his lavish banquets on a sparkling-white tablecloth spun from pure asbestos. After his guests had eaten their fill, the king would pluck the tablecloth off the table and fling it into the hearth. In the blaze, the cloth turned fiery red, but did not burn. When it was plucked out, it was cleaner than ever, with the debris of the meal roasted away.

But asbestos was also turned to less scrupulous uses. The wondrous properties of the material made it a prime tool for the creation of false relics: its incombustibility served as proof of authenticity. Scammers passed off chunks of asbestos as fragments of the True Cross, and the monks of Monte Cassino bought an asbestos towel under the impression that it was the cloth Jesus had used to wash his disciples’ feet.

Piloting an ocean exploration ship or Martian research shuttle is serious business. Let’s hope the control panel is up to scratch. Two studs wide and angled at 45°, the ubiquitous “2x2 decorated slope” is a LEGO minifigure’s interface to the world.

These iconic, low-resolution designs are the perfect tool to learn the basics of physical interface design. Armed with 52 different bricks, let’s see what they can teach us about the design, layout and organisation of complex interfaces.

Welcome to the world of LEGO UX design.

Saturday Links

A line of discussion began in the group after Linda L. posted a screenshot of some caribou crossing the road in Finland - In all these miles of driving and recording by the Street View car, had it ever hit anything? Street View Roadkill? In theory you'd be able to see the entire story: a poor creature running into the road in front of the car and then left on the road out the other side. I had never seen anything, had others?

I had a friend once who claimed it was his special ability to be able to tell exactly when it would start raining. Like he’d look up at the sky and say “in 90 minutes, it will be raining”.  This is not the most useful of talents in the age of meteorology but nevertheless I thought of him as I read this study, appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine, which found that ED visits for respiratory complaints spiked before a thunderstorm.

“Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”

Pearson, the world’s learning company, today released the results of its second Global Learner Survey, an annual study capturing the voice of learners worldwide. The findings show learners believe there is little likelihood of ever returning to the pre-COVID world of fully in-person work and learning, with more than 75% saying the pandemic has fundamentally changed education as we know it. While learners come to terms with this new reality, they also are pushing for schools and government to address inequity and rushing to gather the digital skills that will help them adapt to the new economy.

Theirtube is a YouTube filter bubble simulator that provides a look into how videos are recommended on other people’s YouTube. Users can experience how the YouTube home page would look for six different personas. Each persona simulates the viewing environment of real YouTube users who experienced being inside a recommendation bubble through recreating a YouTube account with a similar viewing history. TheirTube shows how YouTube’s recommendations can drastically shape someone’s experience on the platform and, as a result, shape their worldview.

It seems that, with a representative sample, when you throw grit into a regression along with measures of intelligence, grit just explains very little on its own. Grit just doesn’t contribute much at all to educational outcomes and has limited application in job-market success. In fact intelligence “contributes 48–90 times more than grit to educational success.” 1 More study is needed etc etc and I’ll wait for a good metastudy but still, it really isn’t looking good.

But I have been a teacher for 20 years, despite not yet turning 40, and every day it became clearer and clearer that not all students had the same gifts. Yes, of course, some of this variation is environmental. Of course it’s complicated. Of course I’ll never be able to understand all the science. But the realities of teaching and of having grown up in a school system where some students were so similar in so many ways but had such vastly different outcomes just wore me down every day. And then I discovered the behavioral genetics research and its description of how, for example, adopted siblings growing up in the same house and family would go on to totally different academic outcomes. I did not celebrate. I did give in. Because life’s not fair, and neither is school. And pretending like everyone has an equal shot at succeeding in either is the greatest cruelty I know.

Many ingredients combine to give U.S. soft power its strength and reach, but entertainment and culture have always been central to the mix. Film and television have shaped how the world sees the United States—and how it perceives the country’s adversaries. Yet that unique advantage seems to be slipping away. When it comes to some of the great questions of global power politics today, Hollywood has become remarkably timid. On some issues, it has gone silent altogether.

The most glaring example is the growing wariness of U.S. studios to do anything that might imperil their standing with the Chinese government. China’s box office is as large as the American one, and entertainment is above all a business. So Hollywood sanitizes or censors topics that Beijing doesn’t like. But the phenomenon is not limited to China, nor is it all about revenue. Studios, writers, and producers increasingly fear they will be hacked or harmed if they portray any foreign autocrats in a negative light, be it Russian President Vladimir Putin or North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Today, audiences can take their pick: there is no shortage of jingoistic U.S. films or televisions series, nor of material that challenges pro-American foreign policy orthodoxies. When it comes to how other great powers are portrayed, however, some hot-button topics are now off limits. American films dealing with the history and people of Tibet, a popular theme in the 1990s, have become a rare sight. There has never been a Hollywood feature film about the dramatic—and horrific—massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The 2012 remake of Red Dawn initially centered on a Chinese invasion in the United States but was later rewritten to make North Korea the aggressor instead of China. And Variety called the 2014 blockbuster Transformers: Age of Extinction “a splendidly patriotic film, if you happen to be Chinese.”

Nothing has happened to change the fact that after ten years, riders have always been fundamentally unwilling to pay prices that would cover Uber’s actual costs, that Uber was always less efficient than the traditional taxis it drove out of business, that its only “efficiency improvement” was to push driver compensation to minimum wage levels, and that its growth depended entirely on unsustainable predatory subsidies.

There needs to be discussion about how to best restructure airlines, tourist and entertainment industries because they have contributed to overall economic welfare in the past, and clearly can in the future. Uber has only served to reduce overall economic welfare. Society has nothing to gain from “saving” Uber.

When James Baldwin visited San Francisco in 1963 to film a documentary  about U.S. racism, he encountered neighborhoods in turmoil: the city was seizing properties through eminent domain, razing them, and turning them over to private developers. Part of a massive, federal urban renewal program, nearly 5,000 families—no fewer than 20,000 residents, the majority of them people of color—were being displaced from rental homes, private property, and businesses in the Western Addition neighborhoods. Baldwin spoke to a Black teenager who had just lost his home and watched as his neighborhood was destroyed. He told Baldwin: “I’ve got no country. I’ve got no flag.” Soon after, Baldwin would say:  “I couldn’t say you do. I don’t have any evidence to prove that he does.”

Friday Links

All private schooling engineers class inequality in an active kind of way over the long term, but in the short term, the effects are more subtle, and can be psychological: A number of studies have shown that living around kids who attend private schools entrenches an awareness of class difference among children from lower-income families before they are old enough to think critically about how money shapes our opportunities and even our emotional lives.

No amount of free scholarships can fix the flaws built into the private educational system; they are ethical camouflage in the form of human children. 

And education is not exactly a normal market, since no sane government would ever let it be fully privatized: That way lies straightforward plutocracy, as those familiar with European social history will know

At some point in this process, Bill became one of the advocates of what’s called Modern Monetary Theory, which makes the point that taxes don’t (directly) “fund” public expenditure. Rather, they ensure that the total demand for goods and services (for consumption and investment) don’t exceed the productive capacity of the economy, thereby generating inflation.

This reframing raises the question: does a Job Guarantee require higher taxation? The answer, using MMT reasoning, is “Almost certainly, yes”.

That doesn’t mean a Job Guarantee is a bad idea. The newly employed workers would be better off, and those already employed would get additional services in return for their higher taxes. But this isn’t a free lunch. As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, taxes are what we pay for civilised society.

About Me

Developer at Brown University Library specializing in instructional design and technology, Python-based data science, and XML-driven web development.