Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Friday, December 06, 2013
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The lackluster performance of American 15-year-olds in international academic testing is arousing debate, and widely diverging viewpoints are strikingly crystallized in essays by Diane Ravitch and Michelle Rhee.
The Program for International Student Assessment, commonly known as PISA, was administered to 15 year olds in 65 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group that includes the world's wealthiest nations. A New York Times story by Motoko Rich reports that more than 6,000 American kids took the tests. The story says American test-takers were out-scored in math by students in 29 countries. Students in 22 countries did better in science, and students in 19 countries did bettering reading. The scores put school systems in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and South Korea in the top ranks.
"In the midst of increasingly polarized discussions about public school education, the scores set off a familiar round of hand-wringing, blaming and credit-taking," Rich writes.
Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of public schools in Washington DC, writes in Time that we should be appalled at the state of American public schools, which she says perform "at the same level as (those in) the Slovak Republic where the government spends half as much per pupil and the GDP is 171 times smaller." Rhee says America didn't settle for 26th place in the Olympics, and we shouldn't settle for an educational system that puts young Americans at a disadvantage in an increasingly global economy.
Diane Ravitch, historian of education at New York University, says if the PISA scores show anything, it's that the test and punish strategies of the last dozen years don't work. "No child Left Behind and Race to the Top are manifest failures at accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores," Ravitch writes at Huffington Post. She notes American kids have never scored near the top in international testing. Rhee agrees, but says we need to keep aiming higher. Ravitch cites research by educational consultant and author Keith Baker who found no relationship between a nation's economic productivity, the quality of its life and democratic institutions, and test scores of its students. As a sign of creativity, Ravitch writes, the U.S. has produced more patents per million people than any other nation.
Rhee, who is also the founder of StudentsFirst, a political lobbying and education reform nonprofit, asserts that "We spend so much time on making our kids feel good about themselves that we've lost sight of taking the time necessary to make them good." She says that underpinning educational improvement, we must have "a national desire to become the best, and our reaction to the PISA results will indicate whether that is the case."
Ravitch says improving the quality of life for the nearly one quarter of American students who live in poverty would improve their academic performance. Ravitch thinks the more we emphasize test scores, the more we reward compliance and conformity, and the less we focus on ingenuity, creativity, the ability to think differently and capacity to ask good questions. She writes that she'd prefer tending to "character, persistence, ambition, hard work and big dreams," none of which can be measured by standardized tests like PISA.
Red Rhee's piece here, Ravitch's piece here, and the New York Times story here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, December 03, 2013
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A national survey by the American Association of School Administrators showed that 30 percent of nation's schools eliminated planned field
trips in the 2010-2011 school year and 43 percent planned to eliminate
trips in the 2012- 2013 year. What are our future citizens losing? It
may be quite a lot. Recent research showed a mere half day's exposure to
art produced a wide range of desirable intellectual and emotional
Brian Kisida, Jay P. Greene, and Daniel H. Bowen, in their New York Times essay "Art Makes You Smart"
describe a controlled study that involved nearly 11,000 students and
500 teachers from 23 schools. Half of the students were selected by
lottery to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art,
which opened in November 2011 in Bentonville, Arkansas. The museum,
founded by Alice Walton, whose father Sam Walton founded Walmart, has
more than 50,000 square feet of gallery space and an endowment of $800
million. The youngsters, in grades 3-12, were divided into anonymous
pairs, based on grade level and demographic similarities. One member of
each pair toured the museum, and the other paired partners had tours
that were deferred until after the study. Students whose visits were
deferred were the control group.
Kids who visited the museum
saw and discussed five paintings, and some got to wander around looking
at things on their own. All the youngsters were asked to write a short
essay on a painting they had not previously seen, Bo Bartlett's
They were asked what's happening in the picture, and why do you think that? Mary Anne Janco, writing in The Inquirer
says Bartlett painted The Box after 9/11. It shows his son, Eliot, and a
young girl who also modeled for his paintings, dressing up from
military garb found in a box.
The student essays were
stripped of identity information and measured for critical thinking
using a rubric developed by researchers at the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum
in Boston. The children who had visited the museum turned in higher
performances on critical thinking, as well as showing greater historical
empathy, tolerance, and sustained interest in art. The surveys were
conducted between three and eight weeks after the museum visits, and
results showed children remembered a great deal of the factual
information about the art they saw, even though they hadn't been tested
or required to memorize anything. Children who took the tour also
observed and described more details in the images. Research results are
also published in the Educational Researcher.
|Ploughing It Under|
In a story in EducationNext.org,
the three researchers describe how the assessments were done and the
value for the kids. During the museum tour, children saw and discussed Eastman Johnson's painting At the Camp-Spinning Yarns and Whittling,
depicting abolitionists making maple syrup to undermine the sugar
industry, which relied on slave labor. And 88 percent of the youngsters
remembered details of the pantingand its meaning. Nearly as many
remembered the artist and meaning of Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter, showing the importance of women in the work force during World War II; Thomas Hart Benton's Ploughing it Under, showing a farmer destroying his crops as part of a Depression era price support program, and Romare Bearden's painting Sacrifice,
part of the Harlem Renaissance art movement. While all the youngsters
who had the museum experience demonstrated enhanced skills, students
from rural and high poverty schools seemed to benefit the most.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, November 21, 2013
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wanted to help families in her rural Ugandan village keep their children in
school, so she mobilized students,
parents and community leaders into a group that formed a new primary school. The
school is functioning, fewer kids drop out, and the school has initiated some income-generating projects
to support the poorest students. She also sparked formation of a women's development
group that focuses on sanitation and hygiene. Rose Asiimwe is a sophomore at the African Rural University (ARU), an unusual institution that encourages students to bring their academically acquired technological and
entrepreneurial skills back home.
ARU is a
women-only institution with a vision of its graduates as change agents who can
help people of Uganda and beyond make their own communities better places to
live and thrive. The ARU website
explains the school's core beliefs. Among them: "Lasting
change comes only when people shift from reacting or adapting to events and
circumstances and become creators of events and circumstances." Another core
belief is that when people share a common vision they can transcend barriers
caused by tribal, religious, political and gender differences.
consultant and CEO of her own
consulting group, has written a story of the university’s founding and achievements. ARU is part of a continuum of educational
institutions from primary school through
Uganda Rural Development and
Training Programme (URDT), founded
in 1987, in Kagadi, had taught children and adults of both sexes, as well as entrepreneurs and farmers, and had
started a girls' school. All the students
had academic grades, but primary
and secondary students in the Girls School were also graded on their
ability to get their families to improve living conditions while their daughters were away studying. The URDT Girls School graduated its
first high school class in 2007, and those young women were already community
leaders. Read an article by Robert Fritz on URDT
emphasis on processes and system dynamics emphasis
Mwalimu Musheshe, named an Ashoka
Fellow in 2001, founded ARU with URDT. Ashoka
considered his concept of the school a system changing idea. The country's first all-women's
university would create a core of
visionary women leaders and role models, aid gender parity in education, and
reduce infant mortality.
ARU began in
September 2006 with 29 researcher students in a five year pilot program with
three years of study and two years of field work in a dozen communities where they performed as "rural transformation
specialists." Students visited hundreds of households in their communities, creating a baseline survey on such
matters as income, health, sanitation
and nutrition. That information helped identify projects people wanted,
and students used their training and access to expertise to help people carry
them out. ARU and its feeder schools emphasized creative processes, community
learning, entrepreneurship, sustainable development and creating social capital.
ARU rural transformation courses draw on science and humanities, Seybold
writes, and inspiration from "traditional
wisdom specialists," old men and women who know and share traditional knowledge.
ARU's goal was to foster systems
thinking in every part of the curriculum.
As Seybold writes, it wasn’t the students' job to fix the system, but to
understand it thoroughly enough so that
they could help community members identify and collaborate on their
shared vision. Some resulting
projects have included new roads, schools, savings societies, market places and farmers' co-ops.
Students also worked on how to
measure impact of their work—what information to collect, how to establish data
bases, and how to get feedback from community members, who were asked to play a
key role in evaluating projects.
The teamwork of
school and community were in play when ARU needed its own library as a
condition for certification as a university. There were national standards for space and academic content,
Seybold says, but planners wanted a deep understanding of who the library
should serve and how. A group of
students, staff, faculty, librarians and media personnel explored ARU's
expectation that the new facility would be a magnet for scholars, government
officials, the local community and a broader region of 10 million subsistence farmers with low literacy. They
planed data bases that would be used by all, and a rich collection of
agricultural samples on seeds,
plants, soil and access to
successful agricultural practices. Read
Seybold's article here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, November 14, 2013
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health and educational achievement are closely entwined, poverty erodes
both, and researchers are discovering more about the connections. Ruth E. Perry, MD
, who heads the Trenton Health Team, underscores an observation of Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
who says "Our Zip code may be more important to our health than our
genetic code." Dr. Perry also cites reports on the overarching impact of
health disparities and two recent studies that say nearly 100,000
minority New Jersey children live in isolated poverty and attend schools
more segregated than any in the Deep South.
In a column for the Newark Star Ledger,
Dr. Perry, a physician who comes from a family of educators, notes some
of the research linking poverty, health and education. She quotes James Heckman,
a University of Chicago professor and Nobel Laureate in Economics:
"Children raised in disadvantaged environments are not only much less
likely to succeed in school or society but are also much less likely to
be healthy adults." In a New York Times Column Heckman writes
that whether a person finishes college is largely the result of what
has happened before kindergarten, and kids who lose the lottery at birth
sometimes never get a chance to catch up. As an example of the value of
counteracting early disadvantage, he describes the Carolina Abecedarian Project,
in which a group of children received cognitive and social stimulation
from infancy through age five while their parents got skills training.
The children also got regular check ups and health care. Their progress
was monitored at ages 12, 15, 21 and 30, Heckman writes, and the program
showed lasting impact on IQ scores; in addition, those treated had
higher educational attainment and more skilled employment than peers in
most dramatic, Heckman writes, is the life-long health impact: 30 years
later adults who were in the program now have lower blood pressure,
less abdominal fat, and lower likelihood of metabolic syndrome and
cardiovascular disease than untreated peers. Read his column here.
The Trenton Health Team (THT)
is a partnership made up of the city’s two hospitals, a health clinic,
the city of Trenton, the N.J. Department of Health and Human Services
and many community organizations. THT recently completed a community
health needs assessment that uncovered discouraging educational
statistics. In Trenton’s six Zip codes, the high school graduation rate
ranges from 53 percent to 74 percent, and college graduation rates range
from a dismal 6 percent to 17 percent.
Segregation in New Jersey schools is analyzed in studies by Paul Trachtenberg at the Rutgers Institute on Education Law and Policy (IELP) and Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
The reports say nearly half of the black and Hispanic students in
2010-2011 were enrolled in schools where fewer than 10 percent of the
students were white. The IELP report
describes 191 N.J. schools in which one percent or fewer of the
students are non-minority as "apartheid schools." Most of those are in
Newark, Camden, Paterson and Jersey City. The report says 26 percent of
black student and 13 percent of Latino students attend apartheid
schools, and across the U.S. only Detroit and Chicago have more extreme
school segregation. Trenton schools, where the poverty level is 70
percent and nearly 96 percent of the students are black and Hispanic,
are among schools described as "intensely segregated." That's a category
in which 90 percent of more of the enrollment is minority. Nearly 30
percent of Latino students and 22 percent of black students in N.J.
attend intensely segregated schools. The landmark Brown v. Board of Education
Supreme Court ruling of 1954 bans segregation by law, but not
segregation by circumstance. The IELP report says while litigation has
successfully brought more money to poor urban districts, "New Jersey's
uniquely strong state law regarding racial balance in the schools has
not been seriously implemented for the past 40 years." The report
emphasizes half a century of research has documented diminished
opportunities and less fortunate outcomes for kids in highly segregated
schools where students come from impoverished families.
Dr. Perry says researchers from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins
found more than 30 percent of direct medical costs of minority
populations in the US results from health inequities-an amount that
totaled $230 billion from 2003-2006. Indirect costs of those
disparities, which include lost productivity, lost wages, absenteeism,
and premature death over the same period, brings the total to $1.24
trillion. "Clearly," Dr. Perry writes, "reducing education and health
disparities is in our best interest both for social and economic
reasons." Read Dr. Perry's column here and the Rutgers IELP report here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Friday, November 08, 2013
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varieties of apples flourished in America in centuries past. Apples were
something people drank, and the extraordinary varieties of red, green, yellow and
purplish fruits, many of them sour, bitter, and unappetizing by themselves, made
excellent hard cider and hog feed.
Rowan Jacobsen, in his Mother Jones story "Why Your Supermarket Only Sells 5 Kinds of Apples," writes about the biological evolution of the American apple and the political
and social forces that shaped it. He
also tells the story of John Bunker, known in Maine as The
Apple Guy, whose decades-long mission has been to identify and preserve as many
varieties as possible.
One of the
interesting things about apples is that if a tree is
grown from seed, its apples won’t be anything like apples of its parent
tree. Individual seeds in each apple contain genetic instructions for a totally new apple. As Jacobson
explains, "An apple fruit is a disposable womb of the mother tree, each
containing a unique combination of genes from the mother tree, and the mystery
dad, whose contribution arrived in a pollen packet inadvertently carried by a
The Plant Genetic Resource Unit, in
Geneva, New York now maintains 2,500 varieties of apple trees collected from all over the world. While the ancient fruit originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan, Michael Pollan suggests in his book the Botany of Desire, a Plant’s Eye View of the World,
that the apple as it dispersed became quintessentially American. It was hardy,
grew anywhere, could thrive with no maintenance, and was almost mystically democratic.
In the early 1800s when Johnny Appleseed was planting his
trees, Pollan writes, "they were a
blooming fruiting meritocracy in which every apple seed roots in the same soil
and has an equal chance of greatness.”
Further, Pollan says, hard cider was the buzz of choice in
early America, because while the
Bible warned against the dangers of the grape, apples even when fermented were
considered more innocent. But that
view, too, evolved.
Jacobsen write that many apple varieties disappeared during Prohibition when trees bearing the
best cider apples were chopped down.
More diversity was lost with the increasing industrialization of
agriculture. To consistently
produce sweet, tasty, bright colored apples, farmers had to take a cutting from
a tree that produced fruit with the desired trait, and graft it onto living stock. Every McIntosh, Red Delicious and Granny Smith comes
from grafting. As industrialization of agriculture
increased, so did focus on a few commercially appealing varieties that would
withstand long shipment.
The loss of
biodiversity puts plants at risk for pests and disease, and today’s apples are
vulnerable to both. Apples require more pesticides than any other crop,
and are hard to grow organically. Bunker studies apples growing in towns, forests and on neighbors’ lands, and tries to save rare apples, some of which have blight resistant
genetic traits. He estimates he
has rescued 80 to 100 varieties, growing grafted trees at his Fedco Nursery, and selling vintage
mail order company he founded 30 year ago. Bunker fears our
diverse agricultural heritage is in danger not only because of the dwindling number of varieties being
commercially grown, but
because many new apples like the Sweet Tango
are the intellectual property of
those who bred them.
He keeps looking for lost specimens he’s
heard about from distant visitors and
local lore, or read about in old books and farm catalogs. His search for the Fletcher Sweet led him to an
elderly resident in the town of
Lincolnville who knew of a gnarled ancient tree that grew apples he ate as a
child. Bunker cut shoots from what little life was left in the tree, and his
new grafted trees produced a juicy
green flavorful apple. So he has
given some young Fletcher Sweet trees back to Lincolnville. Read the Mother Jones story here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, October 31, 2013
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leaders can learn valuable lessons from the exuberant four day Carnival
celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo and other big Brazilian
cities, according to a scholar who has studied how people in samba schools prepare the elaborate floats and present imaginative themes and fabulous performances in music and dance.
Carnival, with its festivals, costumes and parades
coming just before Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter, has been
celebrated in Brazil for centuries. Samba schools, which compete for
prestigious rankings of their Carnival entries, aren't teaching
institutions as the name might imply. The Rio Service Carnival Travel and Tourism website
explains that samba schools are more like social clubs, community
organizations, and sometimes political groups, that also spend months of
every year preparing for Carnival. They got started in the 1920s, the
website says, among people from the Bahia state in eastern Brazil who
came to the cities bringing the music and dance of their Candomble
religion. Today's samba schools are big, complex organizations, and Alfredo Behrens
, a professor of Global Leadership at Faculdade FIA de Administracao e Negocios
in Sao Paolo, believes big corporations should pay heed to how they operate.
Behrens, whose most recent book is Shooting Heroes and Rewarding Cowards: A Sure Path Towards Organizational Disaster, studied Mocidade Alegre,
a samba school that won first place in the Sao Paolo parade in 2012 and
2013. He interviewed people throughout the organization, including
dancers, who have no managerial authority, members of a
250-man percussion orchestra known as a bateria, many directors and the school's president. He writes about his findings in his Harvard Business Review blog. He explains that referees judge the samba schools wins and rankings based on 10 criteria similar to key performance indicators (KPIs) used in the corporate world.
many samba school participants hold corporate day jobs, they put in long
unpaid hours for Carnival preparation. Behrens says Mocidade
members feel like family. He quotes Daniel Sena, the schools' director
general of harmony, as saying winning is important, but the core of the
school business is treating people nicely. "That's what makes people
come back for the renewed challenges even after losing a parade," he
told Behrens. Sena, who works in finance, thinks niceness is undervalued
in the business world. A corporate mediator and samba coordinator told
Berhens she'd seen "corporations discarding people as if they were
garbage when they are past their prime" while samba schools "recycle"
and respect their "oldies." Behrens says Mocidade is a closely-knit
community with strong focus and great teamwork. It has more than 30
directors, who have considerable autonomy in their own projects. The
president is a woman, newcomers are welcome, and the organization
doesn't rely on conventional discriminatory ethnic and social
hierarchies. Behrens thinks businesses in Brazil and elsewhere can be
more successful if they learn how to build community and practice in
ways that make people want to engage and work together. Read Behrens blog here
. And see some fabulous photos in the Daily Mail
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Friday, October 25, 2013
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people say their hearts are broken and their feelings are hurt, their
expressions may be more than metaphor. Scientists have discovered that
social pain is just as real as physical pain, and in fact can be eased by painkillers.
Researchers have found that cruel words and social rejection registers in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the same brain region where physical pain is processed. For Matthew Lieberman, PhD, a professor of psychology and director of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at UCLA, that's a strong indication that our need for social connection is ancient and hard-wired.
"The existence of social pain is a sign that evolution has treated social connection like a necessity, not a luxury," he says. In a Scientific American interview with Gareth Cook,
Lieberman emphasizes that because of the way social pain and pleasure
are "wired into our operating systems," the need to connect with others
is urgent and compelling. Studies of mammals, from small rodents to
humans, show that social connections shape us and that we suffer
seriously when our social bonds are threatened or broken.
research has direct implications for the way we structure
organizations, institutions, and businesses, and the way we raise and
educate children, Lieberman says.
says fMRI studies show the brain has two distinct networks that support
social and non social thinking. They operate like a neural seesaw, he
explains, with one network quieting down as the other intensifies. When
we finish with a non-social thought process, such as solving a math
problem, the social thinking network is instantly reactivated as a
default. That's the network operating when we're trying to understand
the thoughts, feelings and goals of other people, and not just their
observes business leaders should realize that praise and an environment
free from physical threats are powerful incentives just as money and
material benefits are. "It is social comfort that allows us to make the
most of our environment," he says: when we care, we work harder,
complement each other's strengths and weaknesses more, and use our
natural capacities better.
Brain science also offers new clues for education, Lieberman says. As he explains in a webinar on the Social Brain and Its Superpowers, experiments have shown that affirmation and rejection have profound
consequences. When two groups of participants experienced either
affirmation or rejection and then took IQ and GRE tests, those rejected
had dramatically lower scores. Some 40 percent of kids say they have
endured bullying-physical, verbal or cyber-he observes, and the impact
can linger. "A kid who broke his leg on the playground wouldn't be
expected to return to class and do math," he says, "but a kid who has
been bullied is expected to be able to set that feeling aside." He
thinks mindfulness training, and learning how to engage the brain's self
control mechanisms, may build resilience to social pain.
at the Lieberman Lab shows that we learn best with the social parts of
our brains, not with the parts activated to memorize, he says. The
social brain network is in play when we take in new information, and
some research has shown that our brains light up when we absorb information that we think will interest others. As he puts it, we like to be Information DJs. Lieberman
wants more research on the use of learning in order to teach. "We ought
to be doing much more peer learning," he told Scientific American. "My
ideal situation would be a 14-year-old who has trouble in the classroom
being assigned to teach a 12-year-old. The teacher then becomes a coach
helping to teach the 12-year-old and the 14-year-old will reap the
benefits of pro-social learning." Lieberman is the author of the book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Access his webinar and the Scientific American story here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, October 17, 2013
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quantities of complex, messy, multi-dimensional data gathered from
biological and human social systems, collections that lack the formal
structure that might have existed had data been accumulated to examine a
specific question, are challenging to analyze. And such data sets are
burgeoning in multiple fields, from medical records, genomic sequencing,
and neural networks in the brain and to the social networks in human
A story by Jennifer Ouellette in Quanta Magazine
explains that today’s big data is "noisy, unstructured and dynamic,”
sometimes corrupted and sometimes incomplete, and that a wide range of
mathematical tools and techniques are needed to make sense of it. Yale
mathematician Ronald Coifman asserts that we need a "big data equivalent of a Newtonian revolution, on a par with the seventeenth century invention of calculus.”
He believes new techniques developing in modern math will help identify
and make visible the underlying structures of big data sets.
In an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican, Simon DeDeo,
a research fellow in applied mathematics and complex systems at the
Santa Fe Institute, suggests that the computer revolution is aiding the
discovery of some universal principles hidden in massive data. For
example, he says, the mathematical models that describe the conflict and
cooperating in editing contentious Wikipedia entries and are remarkably
similar to models based on the outbreak and resolution of wars among
ancient Greek city states. He and colleagues are now looking at the U.S.
government shut down to determine whether that conflict can be modeled
using the same math.
The Quanta story tells how DeDeo analyzed 300 years worth of data from the archives of Old Bailey, the criminal court of England and Wales. He used spreadsheets to record information from nearly 200,000 trials,
which included charge, verdict and sentence, and transcripts containing
10 million words. Using text recognition, he sifted through the words,
grouping them unto 1,000 categories. "Now you’re turned the trial into a
1,000 dimensional space that tells you how much the trial is about
friendship, or trust, or clothing,” he told Quanta.
his New Mexican article, DeDeo writes that he and collaborators saw
ideals of modern justice and fairness evolving from a harsh medieval
world. In the 1600s, he writes, "incorrigible pickpockets” were
sentenced to die; in the 1700s people convicted of violent and
nonviolent crimes met similar fates and were described in similar
language. Over the next 150 years, data shows growing recognition that
murder and rape differ from petty theft and fraud and should be treated
differently, a dramatically important social shift.
Gunnar Carlsson, a mathematician at Stanford University, studies cumbersome complex data using topological data analysis (TDA). Carlsson says TDA is a way of getting structured data out of unstructured data, so that machine learning, a set of techniques to construct and study systems that can learn from data, will work on it. Watch Carlsson’s short YouTube lecture. The seeds of TDA and modern network theory go back to the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg,
a math problem popular in the eighteenth century, Ouellette writes. The
challenge asks whether a person can travel to and from each of four
separate land areas, crossing each of seven connecting bridges only
once. The mathematician Leonhard Euler
realized distances and positions didn’t matter, but the number of land
masses-the nodes-and how the bridges connected them-the links or
highlighting the river Pregel. Wikipedia
Carlsson says huge, raw data sets with many dimensions can be mathematically compressed into lower-dimension structures that show primary regions and how they are connected.
Carlsson developed technology, which he offers through his company Ayasdi that can produce maps visualizing compressed representations
of huge data sets. For instance, the Quanta story says, data from a
breast cancer study was initially recorded on spreadsheets with 1,500
columns and 272 rows representing differing genomic samples from
patients. When the data was transformed by TDA into a network, the map
took the shape of a Y. Patients who died were clustered on the left
branch, and a smaller number who survived were on the right branch,
allowing geneticists to study factors that influence survival. Read the
Quanta story here and DeDeo’s article here. Read Ouellette’s Quanta piece on quantum computers, machine learning and big data, in Wired Magazine, here.
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Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
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Soap operas about soccer are being broadcast on radio and TV in 17
countries around the world to promote understanding, create dialogue, and
reduce conflict among people from different religious, ethnic and economic
groups. Each story about "The
Team," is crafted to address issues in the country where it is
presented. In Kenya, the members of the team come from
different tribes; in Morocco, they're both urban and rural, rich
and poor. In the Democratic
Republic of the Congo (DRC), the players on an all-girls team are all having
problems related to sexual violence.
The productions are the work of Search for Common
Ground, a nonprofit based in Washington, DC that was founded 30 years
ago and now has offices in 30 countries, works with more than a thousand
partner organizations and has a staff of 600. A story in The Christian Science Monitor by
Gregory Lamb says Search for Common Ground has
become the biggest conflict-resolution and peace
building organization in the world. In addition to the soap opera
stories, the organization uses youth mediation training, back
channel diplomacy, music videos and call in radio shows, and community
initiative such as shared farming projects, soccer matches and participatory
John Marks, president and cofounder of the
organization, explains in the story that "We’re retaining about 25 percent of
the Congolese army in respecting the rights of women.” Women in the DNC still struggle for economic and
social equality with men, and there are also serious threats to their
well-being and safety.
Common ground has programs in several volatile regions including
Tunisia, Yemen, and Jerusalem
and is beginning
operations in Libya
The Monitor reports that Common ground will honor five
peacemakers with awards this November, including a posthumous award to Christopher Stevens, the American diplomat and
ambassador to Libya who died in an assault on the U.S. consulate.
Other recipients are Ingoma
translates as "New Era”, is Rwanda’s
only female Hutu and Tutsi drumming troupe
and is the subject of a new documentary film "Sweet Dreams." Marks explains
drumming in Rwanda has been a "man’s thing” that women didn’t do even though it
is the national music form. The group provides a place where ethnic hatred can
be replaced by a culture of hope respect
and reconciliation. An award will also be presented to three leaders from different faiths: Lord
George Carey of Clifton, former archbishop of Canterbury; Imam
Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the American
Society for Muslim Advancement; and Rabbi
David Rosen, international director of inter-religious affairs for the
Jewish Committee. Read the Monitor story here.
Posted By Prucia Buscell,
Thursday, October 03, 2013
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you smell the roses? Lilacs in spring rain? The alarming odors of
things burning or rotting? The answer may be more important than you
think. Scientists are discovering that an impaired sense of smell is one
of the earliest signs of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and other
Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology has
endorsed smell testing as an aid to the diagnoses of these diseases,
writes Richard L. Doty, though such testing is still not routinely performed in neurology clinics. In an article in The Scientist, Doty, director of the Smell and Taste Center
at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine,
describes recent research that shows difficulty smelling - a condition
called hyposmia - is often an important early warning signal. He cites a pioneering study
by Amy Bornstein Graves and colleagues at the University of South
Florida who administered smell tests to 1,604 senior citizens who had no
symptoms of dementia. Overall, people who had no sense of smell
and one genetic risk factor for dementia were five times more likely to
develop cognitive decline in the next two years than people whose sense
of smell was not impaired. Further, Doty notes, the smell test was more
predictive than cognitive test scores.
who has developed smell and taste tests, writes that olfactory test
results can help doctors with diagnosis and treatment. Alzheimer's and
Parkinson's diseases (AD and PD) are often misdiagnosed in patients
suffering from other afflictions, including severe depression or supranuclear palsy,
which are not accompanied by loss of smell and are not helped by drugs
used to treat AD and PD. In some patients with mild AD, he adds, smell
tests can indicate responsiveness to a drug that does improve cognitive
function in some patients.
olfactory dysfunction the result of damage that comes with
neurodegenerative diseases, or does loss of smell precede the damage?
Can damage to the olfactory system induce disease in those disposed to
neurodegenerative disorders? Doty says further research is needed to
answer those questions, and further an understanding of the relationship
between smell and health. Watch Doty's slide presentation on the sense of smell. He begins it with a picture of a Lady and the Unicorn tapestry showing the lady weaving a garland of carnations to illustrate the sense of smell. Five of the fifteenth century tapestries depict the five senses and a sixth is believe to represent love or understanding.
Doty's article is one of several in The Scientist issue devoted to examining our sense of smell. Another by Ron Yu discusses pheromones.
These elusive molecules, and the scents associated with them, are known
to influence mating and other behavior in insects and some mammals.
When it comes to human behavior, there's disagreement. If pheromones do
exist in humans, the molecular machinery that would make them work is
not clear. There is also evidence that smells can leave afterimages in the brain, even after the stimulus is no longer present, that influence memory. Marcel Proust, remembering the madeleines of his childhood, wrote that tastes and smells of the past "remain poised a long time, like souls, ..."
"Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived." Helen Keller