Friday Links

Nobody likes paying taxes (well, maybe some oddballs do, but to each their own), but over the last few years, Corporate America has been enjoying the lightest tax burden in history. That needs to change.

Foresters used to remove dead wood because it was once thought of as unsightly. Today, keeping dead wood on the ground has become a priority in forests around the world.

The lockdown in South Africa made it possible to investigate the changes in second‐year students' performance in the Economics department at the University of Pretoria. In particular, we are interested in assessing what factors predict changes in students' performance after transitioning from face‐to‐face (F2F) to online learning. Our main objectives in answering this study question are to establish what study materials the students were able to access (i.e. slides, recordings, or live sessions) and how students got access to these materials (i.e. the infrastructure they used).

The First Amendment of the US Constitution limits the government—not private entities—from restricting free expression. This is why companies like Facebook and Twitter can moderate content—and also why they could suspend then-President Trump’s accounts during his last weeks in office. While many Americans applauded this move as an appropriate response to the violent Capitol insurrection, unexpected critics emerged in corners of the globe where the American version of free speech is considered, well, weird.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the move as “problematic,” saying that lawmakers, rather than social media CEOs, should regulate speech—the exact opposite of what the First Amendment allows....

France’s Finance Minister also said he was “shocked” by the decision, which he framed as “social media oligarchy” regulating speech. Leaders outside of Europe criticized the move as well.

Children are human beings, not economic commodities. Our response to the pandemic should not be guided by the gloomy speculations of misguided economists, but young people and those who know them. 

Of course, money matters; it is what gets workers through the door.  But whilst it is usually necessary to get a job done, it is not sufficient to get it done well, at least where contracts and worker supervision are incomplete.

In several other countries, filing your taxes is a lot easier. The government uses data it already has on your income to fill out your taxes. But in the United States, Intuit has spent millions each year lobbying against these simpler systems which would eliminate the need for their services. Tax industry lobbying was how the IRS’s Free File was initially created, with the IRS agreeing to leave it up to those companies.

“People who are actually ranked toward the bottom of the income distribution tend to think they’re ranked higher than they truly are. And those who are ranked toward the top believe they’re ranked lower than they actually are.”

Friday Links

I can’t put my finger on it, but maybe I’m just really tired of the coronavirus pandemic, which wasn’t mishandled as some people say but in fact shown to be rationally handled by a group of insulated wealthy individuals who can pursue their greedy desires with the full knowledge that a vast percentage of Americans are economically superfluous and thus willing to fight among themselves for scraps?

Public colleges and universities have long served as engines of social mobility for low-income students in the United States, yet the rising cost of higher education in the past few decades has diminished that role.

"Each speech act takes place in the context of a given social understanding."

Horrocks saw a bird and wanted to shoot it. His shotgun was loaded with the wrong kind of shot for birds, so he got his pack camel to sit down and began to change out the ammunition. As he was doing so, Harry the Camel pushed to one side. The camel’s pack snagged on the shotgun trigger. Horrocks, in the firing line, lost a finger, part of his cheek, and several teeth to the shot.

A charlatan espousing popular beliefs can lead laypeople to choose to follow her advice rather than the advice of a genuine expert. This is true even in the face of increasing negative evidence regarding the accuracy of the charlatan.

Sometimes, you learn about an idea that really sticks with you. This happened to me recently when I learnt about “legibility” — a concept which James C Scott introduces in his book Seeing like a State.

Scott uses modern forestry practices as an example of the practice of legibility. Hundreds of years ago, forests acted as many things — they were places people harvested wood, but also places where locals went foraging and hunting, as well as an ecosystem for animals and plants. According to the logic of scientific forestry practices, forests would be much more valuable if they just produced timber. To achieve this, they had to be made legible....

Peter Prater’s family wasn’t thinking about covid-19 when the call came that he had been taken to the hospital with a fever.

It was April, and the Tallahassee Developmental Center, where Prater lives, hadn’t yet had any covid diagnoses. Prater, 55, who has Down syndrome and diabetes, became the Florida center’s first known case, his family said. Within two weeks, more than half of the roughly 60 residents and a third of the staff had tested positive for the virus, according to local news reports.

Mathematics is a continuum; what used to be called pure mathematics and applied mathematics are these days so closely intertwined as to be inseparable. One cannot engage in cutting edge applications of mathematics in isolation from people working on foundational problems, and vice versa.

[Mathematics] has been considered essential in higher education for over 2000 years and is widely viewed as a pinnacle of human thought. It has never been more prominent in popular intellectual culture, especially among young people. For a university to cut itself off from this tradition would seem to us to be a significant step away from what it means to be a seat of academic learning and scholarship, and so to risk severe reputational damage.

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.

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

With a background in indexing, I like to compare the index of a book with the taxonomy-enhanced search capabilities of a website, whereas the table of contents of a book is like the navigation scheme. A table of contents or navigation scheme is a higher-level, pre-defined structure of content, that guides users to the general organization of content and tasks. It helps users understand the scope of the content available, provides guidance on where and what content to find, and aids in exploration. An index or search feature, including faceted search, on the other hand, enables to user to find specific information or content items of interest. A taxonomy, regardless of its display type, serves the function of an index, not the table of contents.

The people we see are, by definition, those who are outdoors and thus who are disproportionately likely to be breaching the lockdown. What Mr Hannan isn’t seeing are the countless thousands of us staying indoors and observing the lockdown.

The social sciences are, as Jon Elster said, fundamentally a collection of mechanisms. But many of these are unseen. It is the role of social science to expose these mechanisms, and to show us that what we see is not all there is. As Marx said: "If there were no difference between essence and appearance, there would be no need for science."

On June 20, 1917, Lucy Burns, co-founder of the National Woman’s Party (NWP), and Dora Lewis gathered with other suffragists in front of the White House. They held a banner criticizing President Wilson’s opposition to women’s suffrage: “We, the Women of America, tell you that America is not a democracy…. President Wilson is the chief opponent of their national enfranchisement.”

Friday Links

With several universities now coming to grips with the fact that they will still be online in the Summer (and most likely the Fall), several are turning to how to quickly train their entire faculty in online teaching in a hurry.

Out of all the different ways to approach learning theory, I like focus on power dynamics first when it comes to designing a course. So think about the overall power dynamic you want to see happening in your course. This can change from week to week, but in general most courses stick to one for the most part. The question is: who determines what learners will learn in your course, and who directs how it is learned?

This is such a strange and necessary time to talk about education technology, to take a class about education technology, to get a degree in education technology because what, in the past, was so often framed as optional or aspirational is now compulsory — and compulsory under some of the worst possible circumstances

One of the reasons that I am less than sanguine about most education technology is because I don't consider it this autonomous, context-free entity. Ed-tech is not a tool that exists only in the service of improving teaching and learning, although that's very much how it gets talked about. There's much more to think about than the pedagogy too, than whether ed-tech makes that better or worse or about the same just more expensive. Pedagogy doesn't occur in a vacuum. It has an institutional history; pedagogies have politics. Tools have politics. They have histories. They're developed and funded and adopted and rejected for a variety of reasons other than "what works." Even the notion of "what works" should prompt us to ask all sorts of questions about "for whom," "in what way," and "why."

Surveillance is not prevalent simply because that's the technology that's being sold to schools. Rather, in many ways, surveillance reflects the values we have prioritized: control, compulsion, efficiency.

Independent learning is a skill, and like most skills, you need to start slowly and carefully. Suddenly being thrown into ten courses online is not the best way to go. Many will sink, although some will certainly swim. However, experience tells us that graduate, older and lifelong learners all do much better in online learning than undergraduates. Blended learning – a mix of face-to-face and online – though is a very good way to ease gently into online learning. Introducing online or digital learning gradually in first year, supported by face-to-face classes, is a much better strategy.

As the author of a book on opportunity cost, I might be expected to be enthusiastic about the idea that trade-offs are always important in economic and policy choices. This idea is summed up in the acryonymic slogan TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). In fact, however, a crucial section of Economics in Two Lessons is devoted to showing that There Is Such A Thing As A Free Lunch. It is only when all free lunches have been taken off the table that we reach a position described, in the standard jargon, as Pareto-optimal.

To me, this is an example (and there are many right now) of the extent to which the fairness of the legal system may turn less on the words we use in a law than on the discretion of those who have the power to enforce it.

This evolved into an entire subcultural practice, called Grangerization. Hobbyists used printed books as the basis for a multidimensional media project. They pasted prints, as well as pages of text from other books, into the original volume, making connections between related topics.

In some cases, the resulting work smacked of obsessive fandom. One collector expanded a copy of an 1828 biography of Lord Byron from two volumes to five, rebinding the pages to accommodate 184 illustrations and 14 letters and autographs. Another turned a three-volume 1872 biography of Charles Dickens into nine oversized books packed with broadsides for performances, actor portraits, letters, and images taken from illustrated editions of the author’s books.

Grangerization reached its height of popularity in the first half of the nineteenth century. But not everyone saw it as an innovative, creative hobby. The idea of removing pages from one book to create something new infuriated some critics. One called Grangerization a “monstrous practice” of “hungry and rapacious book-collectors.” Another diagnosed its practitioners with “a vehement passion, a furious perturbation to be closely observed and radically treated wherever it appears, for it is a contagious and delirious mania.”

One advantage of today’s digital media is that we can freely copy material without tearing up precious original work. Of course, today’s Grangerizers have their own ethical questions, like plagiarism, to consider.

"The variation being meant as an evident one, accordingly as presenting in pure intuition the possibilities themselves as possibilities, its correlate is an intuitive and apodictic consciousness of something universal. The eidos itself is a beheld or beholdable universal, one that is pure, 'unconditioned,' that is to say according to its own intuition sense, a universal not conditioned by any fact."

A little-known Democratic senator from Missouri rides the public anger, consequently emerging as a national leader. “Their greed knows no limit,” said Harry Truman in February 1942 in talking about military contractors accused of gouging the government at such a critical time.

The public agreed. A Gallup Poll noted that 69 percent of Americans wanted the government to exert controls on the profits earned by contractors during the war.

Private sector partnership in the face of community need is nothing new, and has long been integral in national response and rebuilding. Take, for example, the case of the Waffle House Index.

Waffle Houses are what they sound like: homey diners that dominate the southern part of the United States, serving up staple favorites like pies and iced tea. With that in mind, the index sounds like a whimsical measurement, but it actually refers to a serious, though informal, measurement of a crisis’s severity. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses the restaurant chain to gauge how badly an area is affected. As a former FEMA official told NPR, “If the Waffle House is open, everything’s good.”

About Me

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

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