Friday Links

But many students detest survey classes in general, and introductory U.S. history courses in particular.  They consider these sweeping introductions a colossal waste of time and money, a diversion from their real interests, and little more than a box checking exercise taken only to fulfill a requirement.  Typically large and impersonal, and, in the case of history, repetitive of classes that students took in high school, these are courses to ”get out of the way.”

But the value of an introductory class lies, I think, in instilling a particular way of thinking.  In history, that means recognizing:That everything – every concept, activity, institution, and social role -- has a history.

That “we can’t escape history”  -- that our lives are caught up in long-term historical processes and that many of society’s most pressing problems are rooted in the past decisions and actions.

That judging the past fairly is hard, since it requires us to recognize that the past is another country, with its own culture, circumstances, and moral frameworks.

That “nothing is inevitable until it happens,” that history is contingent and key events are the consequence of chance, personality, mindsets, individual and collective choices, and circumstances.

That “History is problem solving”; understanding the confluence of factors and conjuncture of forces that contribute to historical change, whether this involves the role of racism or fear of the Soviet Union play in the decision to use nuclear weapons against Japan or the influence of geography on the outcome of the Civil War.

The disappointing April jobs report released last week inspired many commentators to echo this analysis: The post-pandemic recovery is slowing down because government benefits are too generous.The business class is right to be scared. But it's not because the recovery is slowing.

The coming months are set to turn into a time of reckoning for bad employers. The unique dynamic of the pandemic recovery could prove quickly unsurvivable for companies that are inefficient, as well as those that offer low pay, toxic work environments, or abusive bosses.

Most people are inherently reluctant to change things, even when it could be to their benefit. We see this dynamic everywhere. People rarely switch jobs, even though job switchers often end up making more money as a result. Studies have found millions don't refinance their mortgage, even though it would save them significant money with no downside. Similarly, people rarely switch health insurance even if it would be to their financial benefit. People often go with whatever treatment center their doctor refers them to, even if shopping around could save them hundreds.

The pandemic though has forced people to rethink their plans. Pew Research found two thirds of unemployed people are seriously considering changing the field they work in.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of art are all the rage right at the moment. For the right price (sometimes millions of dollars!) you can acquire a record of ownership of a digital asset like an image or video. Your ownership is recorded in a blockchain. You’re not even buying the copyright to this image, you’re just buying the concept of owning it. Does that explanation make sense to you? Because it barely makes sense to me.

Right now there’s a statement you can sign on the mathematical community’s ties with the NSA — the US National Security Agency, one of the world’s largest employers of mathematicians.

Most discussions of fatigue at the turn of the twentieth century begin with neurasthenia (from a Greek term meaning nervous exhaustion), the diagnosis popularized by neurologist George M. Beard in 1869. Like other physicians at the time, Beard viewed the body as a machine powered by energy produced by the nerves. The depletion of that energy resulted in the condition he called neurasthenia.

Josephine Clara Goldmark’s landmark book Fatigue and Efficiency appeared in 1912. Chair of the Committee on the Legal Defense of Labor Laws of the National Consumers League, Goldmark had begun her study of fatigue several years earlier at the request of her brother-in-law Louis Brandeis (later the first Jewish justice on the U.S. Supreme Court), who was preparing his brief for Muller v. Oregon, the Supreme Court case that established the constitutionality of limiting women’s working hours. Although Goldmark noted that many factors contributed to industrial fatigue, including noise, speed, and monotony, she placed the greatest emphasis on the length of the working day.

The book also reflected contemporary beliefs about women’s bodies. Women “are less resistant to fatigue than men,” Goldmark wrote, “and their organisms suffer more gravely than men’s from the strains and stresses of industrial fatigue.”

Friday Links

“Together, these findings illustrate that the most common approach to diversity in higher education ironically reflects the preferences, and privileges the outcomes, of White Americans,” the study notes.

What must one believe in to be willing to borrow tens of thousands of dollars in order to pursue a certification of completion — a B.A.? What would a college have to promise in order to compel someone to do that? What would a bank have to believe to extend this person credit? Or the U.S. government, to guarantee such loans en masse — now roughly $2 trillion? And what would a society have to believe to sustain the system that keeps it all going?

"On 'snow days' or days when school buildings are closed due to an emergency, all students and families should plan on participating in remote learning," the NYC Department of Education said.

Two 19th century Belgian bibliographers heard about the Dewey Decimal System and asked to translate it into French. But rather than slavishly follow Dewey, they added some significant twists. Their system, first published in 1905 and still used today, is known as the Universal Decimal Classification.

The truth is the question of whether student debt should be canceled is largely irrelevant. Most student debt will be canceled sooner or later, because an ever-growing share of borrowers cannot possibly repay their loans. Ever. The only question that matters is whether President Biden and Democrats in Congress can grapple with reality and fix America's colossally stupid system of funding higher education.

Effectively, the IDR program (whose enrollment has grown steadily to about a fifth of borrowers) is a tacit admission that most student loans are never going to be paid off in full. Those who have not enrolled have seen far higher rates of default; on current trends most borrowers will be in IDR eventually, which is rapidly becoming a kind of ad hoc bankruptcy program for student borrowers. In a sense, the U.S. is starting to fund its higher education system with a payroll tax on people who go to college but are too poor to pay for it out of pocket — except we then force them to sit under an enormous load of basically imaginary debt for decades while doing it. This damages their credit, making it harder to get a job, a house, a car, and so on.

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But there is a problem with the new authenticity standard. The people who made applying to college an elaborate performance, a nervous and yearslong exercise in self-construction have now decided that the end result of this elaborate performance must be “the real you.”

As we face a new struggle to get covid-19 vaccination rates up in this country, we need to remember that there is a group of people with virtually zero vaccine uptake. This group often congregates together in indoor gatherings, coming into close physical contact for extended periods. Fully 24% of Americans are part of this group. We call them children.

Even before the 1950s began, Meredith writes, the phrase “the Nifty Fifties” began circulating. On a much more ominous note, one Chicago Tribune writer warned that “with an eye to Russia, this next decade will be tagged either ‘The Friendly Fifties’—or ‘The final Fifty.” And a report from Hays, Kansas, explained that dust storms in that area had led residents to declare the start of the “Filthy ’50s,” a callback to the “Dirty ’30s.”

Instead of lamenting a demise of expertise, wouldn’t it be more productive to ask whether the language of expertise features characteristics that invite its audience to overlook or misread it?

But new research suggests schools that tighten security and surveillance in response to shootings or other acts of violence may worsen long-term discipline disparities and academic progress, particularly for Black students.Schools that maintain the closest watch on students have significantly higher suspension rates and lower math performance than schools that use a lighter touch, according to new research released at the annual American Educational Research Association conference earlier this month. The findings also suggest a high-surveillance culture at school can make it harder for educators to implement strategies like restorative justice intended to reduce discipline disparities for students of color.

And these consequences fell disproportionately on Black students, who were more than four times more likely than white students to attend a school with the highest level of surveillance.

Indeed, it was lost—an estimated 1000 pages of poetry and pictures—until partly rediscovered by a small boy named Dave, in an IKEA in suburban Stroughton, Massachussets.

Substantial portions were in use as a prop book on a VITTSJÖ shelf unit (appropriately, as this unit promises ‘an open, airy feel.’)

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Yet, in district after district, Black families are largely choosing to continue learning from home, despite efforts to reopen their schools. Rather than using equity as a buzzword to gain moral high ground in the reopening debate, we believe that advocates and school officials should listen to and engage with Black families and trust their decision-making.

So how can I make such a brash counter-claim that tests, quizzes, and exams are not essential? McFarland mentions how proctoring is not optional if “the goal of an exam or test or assignment is to measure learning or skill mastery.”

This is where the big reveal comes: quizzes, tests, exams, assignments – none of those can measure learning or skill mastery. Not directly at least.

All forms of tests and assignments are designed to serve as this evidence in the form of a proxy for direct observation. The idea is that if you really learned something, you can take that knowledge and answer questions about it, or describe it, or do a project with it, or something along those lines. There are a wide range of assignment options that work well as a proxy, but exams and tests are usually questionable at best. This is especially true when they rely on one of the most popular forms: the multiple choice question.

The research is usually aimed at seeing how many students cheated, not finding out the likelihood that they will cheat on your specific test this Friday.

The reason for this is because those numbers probably wouldn’t be as scary as “5000% of students cheat!” This is important because the real concerns most critics have with proctoring technology are about the problems with racism, ableism, and privacy violations that students have reported. If you think that most of the students in your course would probably cheat, you kind of shrug at the possible problems and say “well, I have to do something.” But if someone were to say that there was a less-than-5% chance any given student would cheat on your specific exam, then suddenly, the problems you subject students to do not seem worth it.

But it is also not surprising that a younger generation of left intellectuals has turned against higher education, given that it has turned against them. Following years of austerity budgets and the systematic deprofessionalization of academic labor, millennials and their generational successors have found it harder and harder to get faculty positions. As for students, a college degree of some sort has become a near-universal standard for younger cohorts entering an increasingly credentialized labor market. For them, the university has meant neither an enriching intellectual experience that sets them on a path of humanistic, lifelong inquiry nor a path to middle-class economic stability, but rather escalating tuition for degrees of questionable value that sets them on a path of crushing, lifelong debt. Once popular on the right, the Bennett hypothesis is likely to find more and more of its adherents on the left.

But brains need not and should not be confined to our bodies. They can, and should, and sometimes do, reside elsewhere.

One place is in our habits. I invest into tracker funds by direct debit each month. Most of my investment is done without thinking. 

Strictly speaking, this isn’t optimal: stock markets aren’t fully efficient and tracker funds can be beaten by momentum and defensive stocks (pdf) (but, I suspect, not by any other strategy). Implementing such strategies, however, would require me to think. And if I did that I’d fall prey to the gazillion cognitive biases that I warn IC readers against.

But there is another more cynical case for universal voting. Democracy, which has come to be based on an ever-greater franchise, provides legitimacy to government and an orderly mechanism for resolving political conflict. Undermine those things, and violence and instability could spill out of control.

Sesame Street introduced Roosevelt Franklin in February 1970. He was created and originally voiced by Sesame Street actor Matt Robinson, who felt the show lacked content that would draw in Black kids. He told Ebony magazine in a 1970 interview that kids needed “more realism in black-oriented problems,” a concern echoed by others....

The Muppet was a hot topic behind the scenes. Other Black Sesame Street staffers felt he was too stereotypical, with one of the show’s advisers noting, “I like the idea of black muppets, [but not] this one-dimensional use of black muppets.” Robinson pushed back, advocating for the use of Black English as a way to meet kids where they were. Still, a 1973 article in Black World Magazine called the attempt “a gross misrepresentation of Black Language.” Later, a 1975 Freedomways article called out Roosevelt and his segments as “a chaos of ‘darky’ accents and racist stereotypes.”

Friday Links

The idea that education acts as a Matthew Effect that disproportionately benefits those who start with most is an uncomfortable but well-understood phenomenon. Everything we do in schools either widens the advantage gap between the most privileged and least privileged students, or narrows it. This is, I think, a real dichotomy: anything that, on balance, appears net neutral is in fact acting to keep the gap a yawning chasm of inequity.

Leaving a sock on the ground is a manifestation of a concept from physics you may have heard of: entropy. Entropy is a measure of how much energy is lost in a system. If a system loses too much energy, it will disintegrate into chaos. It takes only a little bit of energy to pick up one sock. But if you don’t take care of your yard, let pipes stay clogged and never fix electrical problems, it all adds up to a chaotic home that would take a lot of energy to fix. And that chaos will leach away your time and ability to accomplish other things.

ACP President Jacqueline Fincher, MD, MACP, says the new guidance reflects several years' worth of data that suggest that shorter antibiotic courses for these infections are just as effective as longer courses, and the growing recognition that overly long prescriptions are among the factors driving unnecessary antibiotic use and promoting antibiotic resistance."These are common infections that physicians and other clinicians treat every day," Fincher told CIDRAP News. "This is the low-hanging fruit that we can go ahead and grab and do something about while we look into other things."

Experts warn we are about to enter a new period of flux as the school year ends and more teachers consider whether to leave after another year of heightened stress. That could lead to a small but meaningful uptick in teachers leaving their schools.

“If the economy accelerates with all the government spending, as I anticipate it will, outside-of-teaching opportunities are going to look pretty good, so we may well face some staffing challenges,” said Dan Goldhaber, a leading researcher on teacher quality issues at the University of Washington. But, he emphasized, such challenges likely won’t be felt across the board, but rather in subjects like special education and math and science, as well as in schools with more low-income students and more students of color.

Actual incidents of intentional smallpox infection “may have occurred more frequently than scholars have previously acknowledged.”

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.”

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For a few decades in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, authors from across ideologies and genres published stories that today would be called “cli-fi,” or climate fiction. French author Jules Verne, best known for popular adventure stories like Around the World in 80 Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, penned a novel in 1889 called Sans Dessus Dessous about capitalists intentionally heating the Arctic to extract coal reserves. Mark Twain included a subplot of selling warm climates in his 1892 novel The American Claimant. Recently, literary scholar Steve Asselin reexamined these and dozens of other early cli-fi stories, finding several disquieting themes relevant to how we think about modern-day climate change.

Judged by the standard of Arrow’s ideal of complete state-contingent markets, we’ve seen astoundingly little useful financial innovation during my long lifetime.

Quakers – the Religious Society of Friends – are famously nonviolent. One wartime tactic bears their name, not because they created it but because it bears the same hallmarks of nonviolence: the quaker guns.

This is how it typically worked: find a log that was roughly the shape and size of an artillery gun barrel, paint it black, and maybe carve the end a bit so it looks like a muzzle. Prop it up, point it at your enemy, and trust them to come to the wrong conclusion.

Despite the theory’s intuitive appeal, standards-based reform does not work very well in reality. One key reason is that coordinating key aspects of education at the top of the system hamstrings discretion at the bottom. The illusion of a coherent, well-coordinated system is gained at the expense of teachers’ flexibility in tailoring instruction to serve their students. Classrooms are teeming with variation.

The media narratives Americans consume may shape their opinions about whether the events of January 6 constitute terrorism, to a startling degree.

It is estimated that only 10% of academic titles are available for university libraries to purchase as digital copies for their students, and the books which are available, are frequently placed under restrictive licensing, made available only in bundles, and sold to libraries at incredibly high costs for single user or one-year access. As a result, academic librarians have been left with no choice but to tell staff and students that it is not possible to acquire key texts, and lecturers have had to re-design their reading lists around what is available.

I think what he's saying is digital art is the Platonic ideal of a Veblen good.

But “ownership” of crypto art confers no actual rights, other than being able to say that you own the work. You don’t own the copyright, you don’t get a physical print, and anyone can look at the image on the web. There is merely a record in a public database saying that you own the work – really, it says you own the work at a specific URL.

“We the people” have gotten a bad reputation in the annals of democratic theory. Thinkers from Alexander Hamilton to Alexis de Tocqueville have identified an excess of democracy as the greatest threat to U.S. democracy. As recently as 2019, the Harvard scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt fretted about “an overreliance on the ‘will of the people’”—a Hamilton phrase—in their bestseller, How Democracies Die.

“It’s quite simple, really: Daylight Saving Time is a hoax perpetrated by the liberal elite as a form of mind control and time manipulation in order to make us all complacent and ready to be sold into the sex trade,” Perkins explained. “It didn’t exist until 1992, when it was instituted by perverted infidel Bill Clinton so that he and his satanic cabal could have a masked satanic ceremony on the White House lawn — they use TV commercials with subliminal messaging to lull the populace into a deep sleep for 60 minutes while they douse each other in pig’s blood and engage in extramarital sex. Like I said, pretty obvious.”

(End note: the only honest way I’ve heard to increase your winnings in the lottery is this: pick numbers higher than 31. This won’t increase your chances of winning, but it may just increase the amount you win if you do. Many people use their birthdays when choosing numbers, so when the numbers 1 to 31 come up there may be more winners. More winners means a smaller share of the prize to each one. If you win with numbers above 31, you may just be sharing the prize with fewer people – and so winning more money. I have no idea if this technique actually works in practice because I don’t buy lottery tickets, but it’s a neat idea, and you probably won’t go to jail for trying it.)

This afternoon, I was updating the streaming apps on my 2020 LG CX OLED TV, something I do from time to time, but today was different. Out of nowhere, I saw (and heard) an ad for Ace Hardware start playing in the lower-left corner. It autoplayed with sound without any action on my part.

“It is difficult to envision an investment in K-12 education with a higher ceiling on its potential return than improving school leadership,” the report’s authors say.

Friday Links

By 1941, the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum koksaghyz, supplied 30% of the USSR's rubber. During the Second World War, shortages of Havea rubber prompted other countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, to begin cultivating dandelion rubber. Once the war was over and supplies returned to normal, these countries — including, ultimately, the Soviets — switched back to Hevea tree rubber because it was cheaper.

Giving at scale by the super-wealthy has done little to redistribute wealth from rich to poor, helping perpetuate social inequalities rather than remedying them, while paying considerable dividends to donors in the form of privilege and influence in society and politics, new research shows.

Corporal punishment in state schools in the UK was made illegal in 1986. This is the story about how it was eliminated in one Local Education Authority, Oxfordshire, before that.

My dad became CEO of Oxfordshire in 1978. He was young, and opposed corporal punishment, but knew, as he puts it, that “in a time of cuts, if I went to the politicians and asked them for money for canes they’d ask me how many I wanted, and did I want the luxury versions”. So he didn’t talk to them about corporal punishment.

“The toll of death is simply staggering — worse than I would have predicted,” said Arthur Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine. “Covid has been nothing short of the worst failure of public policy in modern memory.”...

All other causes of death pale in comparison to the coronavirus death toll. So far, the coronavirus has killed roughly three times as many people as accidents, lung ailments, stroke or Alzheimer’s disease did in 2019. And the coronavirus has outpaced the number of deaths from diabetes, kidney disease, pneumonia and suicide by even larger multiples.

Prosecutors who want to hold police accountable should seek the bird in the hand, not the two in the bush. They should select charges in these cases so that conviction is a real possibility and, therefore, a real constraint on future police behavior. One "guilty" verdict on manslaughter will do more to reshape officers' behavioral calculus than an endless stream of "not guilty" decisions on murder.

Bottom line: Many people don’t like needles, and that could further slow vaccination efforts as winter turns to spring when supplies are expected to multiply and efforts to get the hesitant to sign up for a dose will intensify.

“Fear of needles was one of the barriers that was a significant predictor of people saying, ‘I don’t think I will get this vaccine,’” said Jeanine Guidry, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who researches visual communication and conducted a survey of 500 people in July.

Mather had learned about inoculation more than a decade earlier, from an African man named Onesimus, whom he enslaved. When he asked if Onesimus had ever had smallpox, the man showed him a scar on his arm and explained that his community in Africa used infected material from one person to inoculate others against the disease. A few years later, Mather read a report from Turkey describing a similar procedure.

I remember last March, about three days into the shutdown when my Facebook newsfeed was filled with hilarious memes from parents who had been home teaching their children for a few days. The memes praised teachers, joked about suspending their own children, and immediately needing a vacation. As I saw these posts, I laughed along with them but thought to myself “this won’t last long”. And how right I was. People got amnesia and quick.

While all viruses find ways to evade the body’s defenses, a growing field of research suggests that the coronavirus unhinges the immune system more profoundly than previously realized.

A billionth of a century is approximately pi seconds. The diameter of the Earth is roughly half a billion inches. (Incidentally, one millionth of a century is about 52 and a half minutes. This microcentury is apparently the optimal time for a lecture: long enough to get into depth and detail; not so long that people fall asleep.)

In our view, as education researchers who specialize in science education, the learning sciences and educational assessment, we see an abundance of reasons to let states off the hook for testing this year....

Unfortunately, national experts and research findings indicate that high-stakes testing does not live up to its promise. Instead, research has shown serious negative side effects.

Friday Links

Public incompetence is a moral issue, and it is a moral issue precisely in the way we see them now, defined as being instances of structural prejudice or privilege. The bias is towards those people who can get their problem solved though personal connections, through bribery, or by going private and opting out of the system entirely.

If you are rich in connections you can use them to avoid the consequences of government incompetence, at least up to a point. But this is only the beginning. There is a dynamic analysis as well as a static one. The value of this privilege increases with the haplessness of the institutions, so you have an incentive to choose less effective institutions over more effective ones, and in the extreme case, to actively sabotage the institutions. Similarly, improvement in the basic functioning of the state amounts to a confiscation of this privilege and its redistribution to the wider society. There is a reason why more egalitarian societies have good institutions and vice versa.

Educators might play a central role in in-school transmission networks. Preventing SARS-CoV-2 infections through multifaceted school mitigation measures and COVID-19 vaccination of educators is a critical component of preventing in-school transmission.

It’s surprising that Sweden was so unequal a century ago because in recent decades it’s been the standard bearer for a relatively egalitarian social democracy.  Piketty’s point is that Sweden’s equality is not some “essential cultural predisposition”, it’s a function of political choices and the economic regime.

Extreme insulation is a remarkably effective way to make things hot, as long as there’s at least a little heat coming from the inside.  That’s why big compost piles are hot inside; decomposition releases a tiny amount of heat, but when it’s well-insulated by a foot or two of material, that heat (mostly) stays where it is and adds up.  For a greenhouse, heat deposited by the visible light is basically being created inside and with enough glass it can be kept inside (or at least, it will escape as slowly as we’d like).

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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.

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One possible piece of evidence for prehistoric mathematics is the Ishango bone. It was dug up by a Belgian geologist in the 1950s in Ishango, in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo (near the border with Uganda); the bone had been buried in a volcanic eruption some 20,000 years ago.

Residents of US nursing homes with more than 40% non-white residents died of COVID-19 at 3.3 times the rate of those of those with higher proportions of white residents, a study today in JAMA Network Open shows.

No one talked about it much, but public health professionals were all aware of a potential nightmare scenario when COVID vaccinations started up in bulk. No, not a slew of severe adverse events – the clinical trials made it clear that these were fairly safe interventions. The nightmare scenario – discussed in small groups online and on campus, was this: What if the vaccines reduce the severity of COVID-19, but not the transmissibility?  In other words, what if the vaccine takes someone who would have been sick with COVID-19, isolating, at home, and converts them into an asymptomatic carrier – out in the world, spreading virus like millions of Typhoid Mary’s.

Fortunately, it doesn’t look like this scenario will come to pass.

As the pandemic sends thousands of recovering alcoholics into relapse, hospitals across the country have reported dramatic increases in alcohol-related admissions for critical diseases like alcoholic hepatitis and liver failure.

Alcoholism-related liver disease was a growing problem even before the pandemic, with 15 million people diagnosed with the condition around the country, and with hospitalizations doubling over the past decade.

It is often said that one theory can be driven out only by another; the neoclassicals have a complete theory (though I maintain it is nothing but a circular argument) and we need a better theory to supplant them. I do not agree. I think any other ‘complete theory’ would be only another box of tricks. What we need is a different habit of mind — to eschew fudging, to respect facts and to admit ignorance of what we do not know.

KHN sent queries about reinfection surveillance to all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Of 24 responses, fewer than half provided details about suspected or confirmed reinfection cases. Where officials said they’re actively monitoring for reinfection, they have found far more potential cases than previously anticipated.

There were thousands of Tweets which said exactly what I was going to say. I thought of ‘liking’ them, to show solidarity, but in the end, I thought ‘he’s just a prat who likes the attention, and my kids need a hug’, so I put my phone down

Covid-19’s fierce winter resurgence in California is notable not only for the explosion in overall cases and deaths in the state’s sprawling urban centers. This latest surge spilled across a far greater geographic footprint, scarring remote corners of the state that went largely unscathed for much of 2020.

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“Yeah, they may be effective 95 percent of the time, but what about the experience of being inoculated against the century’s first pandemic?” he continued. “We’re people, not zombie consumers. Each dose should be personalized and special.”

But as John Warner points out in his new polemic Sustainable. Resilient. Free. The Future of Public Higher Education, no-cost public college is neither utopian nor new. Rather, narratives that say college should be expensive, that you should take out debt to pay for it if you don’t have family funding, that it is a private investment in your future, are the historically recent developments.

Harvard researchers estimate it would take about $79 billion per year to make all public colleges and universities free; by contrast, our present debt-leveraged, tuition-dependent Rube Goldberg machine that “subsidizes college attendance” costs the federal government $91 billion every year.

The study team analyzed the effect of education and birth year on differences in memory and verbal fluency among nearly 16,000 participants born between 1930 and 1955. Women had better memory scores overall, which became more significant in the groups born more recently. But in the older birth cohort, women had poorer fluency scores than men. That difference progressively reversed in the groups born later, reported Mikaela Bloomberg, a Ph.D. candidate from University College London. 

The religious basis of the act was explicit: the act stated its intention was to thwart “ye old deluder, Satan” in his goal “to keepe men from the knowledge of ye Scriptures.” To this end, the law required every town with 50 or more families to hire and maintain a teacher to instruct all children in reading and writing.

The first paper, which garnered widespread media coverage, found little evidence that COVID had spread in 17 schools in rural Wisconsin that opened buildings with strict safety procedures.

The other study, which has drawn less attention, found that across Wisconsin as a whole, 5,700 COVID cases were linked to outbreaks in K-12 schools and childcare facilities last fall.

Epidemiologist Theresa Chapple worries that studies that rely on contact tracing all have the same flaw — the lack of systematic “surveillance” testing that would provide a complete picture of virus cases in a school.

In the mid-nineteenth century, cities often had the power to lock kids up in reform schools, against their own and their parents’ objections, without convicting them of any crime. This fell under the general legal precept that “the welfare of the people is the supreme law.”

Secondary market trading is societally unproductive (more on that shortly) and should be discouraged by increasing transaction costs (this is one of the big reasons to push for a financial transactions tax, not for revenue purposes, although that’s a nice side bennie, but to shrink the financial casinos).

Friday Links

If a nation has a partisan head of state as well as being a de facto two-party state then that nation will be in a perpetual state of civil war. There is no avoiding it. The United States has two royal families who are constantly warring with each other to take the crown. It is a forever War of the Roses.

Ignoring Wikipedia, which is every bit as much a monopoly and a monopolist as the rest, is a dire mistake. There is nothing positive about sucking away users from high-quality content published by individuals, small blogs, or focused wikis. They’re not providing some type of public service by providing free content for Google to monetize without worries about being sued for copyright violations (and, surprise, Google funds Wikipedia). Wikipedia went dark to prove the point they’re vital and immediately missed. However, by doing that, they simultaneously proved another point: they’re a monopoly.

Rather than focusing on encouraging courageous behavior in these situations, the authors argue, institutions and professional groups should focus on addressing the dysfunctional systems and power imbalances that make ethical violations more likely.

“To be sure, courage should be celebrated,” the authors write. “But demanding individual courage is no substitute for institutional justice.”

Commentary from the AMS on cop shit.

A fundamental aspect of the switch to distance learning is its disruption of all the usual structures and processes by which this control is exercised. In our running example, you can leave a Zoom class just by clicking “Leave”, with no need to awkwardly face anyone and a reasonable likelihood, depending on the size of the class, that the instructor won’t even notice. To cover your bases, you can instead leave without leaving—just mute yourself, turn off video, and go about your business while remaining formally in the meeting.

For a different and much-discussed example, while we are used to being able to design students’ environments rather meticulously during exam proctoring to head off both distraction and temptation, there is no analogous form of control over the exam environment built into distance learning.

Many schools across the country do not require students to walk through metal detectors every day. The truth is that schools with more students of color are more likely to use metal detectors, locked gates, sweeps, and law enforcement to harden schools. Research has found that the percentage of students of color who attend schools is the greatest predictor of the presence of these measures, even when controlling for other factors such as neighborhood crime, poor school climate, and other factors that may explain school disruption. This research also shows that schools with 50% or more students of color were more than 18 times more likely to use a combination of metal detectors, school police, locked gates, and sweeps than schools with less than 20% students of color. In other words, the distinguishing factor of the schools that have metal detectors is not even the amount of crime in surrounding neighborhoods — instead, it is whether or not a large number of Black and Latino students attend.

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.

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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