Category: Education

Pic of the day

schoolgirls, hole in the roof
Click to enlargeREUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Palestinian schoolgirls, pictured through a hole in the roof of a classroom…damaged by Israeli shelling during a 50-day invasion last summer, attend a lesson on the first day of a new school year at Suhada Khouza school in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

Ah, yes, enlightenment from the heavens – courtesy of Israeli heroes of Apartheid.

End of label fables?

Sweet news from the FDA: The government agency is proposing that Nutrition Facts labels also include the “% Daily Value” for added sugar. In 2014, they proposed that Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods list the grams of added sugar in addition to the grams of total sugar, but now they’re taking things a step further.

The Daily Value, or DV, is the amount of an essential nutrient that meets the needs of most people. There are also DVs that indicate upper limits of stuff we shouldn’t get too much of, like sodium and saturated fat. The FDA is taking the recommendation of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) that added sugars not exceed 10% of total calories. Since the feds use a reference diet that contains 2,000 calories daily, that puts the DV for added sugar at about 200 calories, or 50 grams, maximum.

If the proposal goes through, the labels will list grams of added sugar and the %DV they provide per serving.

The reason nutritionists don’t like the current Nutrition Facts label is that it seems to confuse consumers by implying there might be added sugar when there isn’t. Look at a label now and you’ll see that it just lists “sugars” under the carbohydrate heading. That’s fine when the only sugar in a product is added sugar, as with soda and most hard candy. But things get more complicated when you look at foods like tomato sauce, pure fruit juice, or even plain milk and yogurt…

Check the labels on those foods and you’ll also find that they have “sugar,” but most of it is simple carbohydrates that are naturally present in the food — what’s generally regarded as “intrinsic” sugar. It’s also why many of your patients may want to know why the orange juice they buy has sugar in it. “It’s supposed to be 100% juice,” they’ll say.

It is, of course, but the label didn’t allow for distinguishing between intrinsic sugar and added sugar. If this proposal goes forward (and I cannot imagine it wouldn’t) then 100% juice will list the grams of total sugar and “0 grams” of added sugar.

Even whole fruit has intrinsic sugar (a reason it tastes good) but the labels on those packages of cut-up fresh fruit you buy still have to list just total sugar. The last thing we should want is a label that scares our patients away from eating whole fresh fruit…

Consumers have already cut their sugar intake during the past decade. Between 1999 and 2008 an analysis of government data on added sugar consumption showed we had decreased our average daily intake of added sugars by nearly 25% — from 100 grams daily to about 77 grams. That’s huge, and most of it was from decreased soda consumption (sugar from “energy drinks” was the only category where added sugar actually increased a bit).

Knocking out sugar-sweetened beverages from diets gets our patients half-way to a better diet because these drinks provide about half of Americans’ added sugar…

An informed consumer…says Dr. Keith Ayoob.

Social networks scan for predators — sort of

On March 9 of this year, a piece of Facebook software spotted something suspicious.

A man in his early thirties was chatting about sex with a 13-year-old South Florida girl and planned to meet her after middle-school classes the next day.

Facebook’s extensive but little-discussed technology for scanning postings and chats for criminal activity automatically flagged the conversation for employees, who read it and quickly called police.

Officers took control of the teenager’s computer and arrested the man the next day, said Special Agent Supervisor Jeffrey Duncan of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The alleged predator has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges of soliciting a minor…

Facebook is among the many companies that are embracing a combination of new technologies and human monitoring to thwart sex predators. Such efforts generally start with automated screening for inappropriate language and exchanges of personal information, and extend to using the records of convicted pedophiles’ online chats to teach the software what to seek out…

Like most of its peers, Facebook generally avoids discussing its safety practices to discourage scare stories, because it doesn’t catch many wrongdoers, and to sidestep privacy concerns. Users could be unnerved about the extent to which their conversations are reviewed, at least by computer programs…

NSS.

Barring a wave of costly litigation or new laws, it is hard to see the protections getting much tougher, experts said. Instead, the app and location booms will only add to the market pressure for more freedom on youth sites and greater challenges for parents.

…Said the FBI’s Brooke Donahue. “The free market pushes towards permissiveness.”

A free nation tends to push towards permissiveness, as well. The presumption being that as education becomes pervasive, probably more sophisticated – young individuals feel themselves more capable of making sophisticated decisions. Without someone looking over their shoulder. The only folks easily fitting the definition of OK to guide, overlook, regulate, of course are parents.

With more and more single parents that ain’t getting easier anytime soon. With a crap economy improving to just crappy, time for family life ain’t getting any easier.

Might be nice if there really was sufficient education, access to information beyond superstition and cultural foibles. You might think it a copout to only take the time to point young people in the direction of answers. But, I’m not confident even that much is easily available.

I think we need a Socrates or Mr. Chips-level Google.

Oh, the FBI? I trust ’em about as far as I can throw them uphill into a heavy wind.

The Grand Illusion — choosing excellent American Universities

To understand the failures of the modern American college system — from admissions marketing to graduation rates — you can begin with a notorious university football scandal.

In November 2006, Butch Davis, a high-profile coach with jobs in the N.F.L. and the University of Miami on his résumé, was hired to coach football at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The job offered Mr. Davis a rare opportunity to work for a university that had won dozens of championships in multiple sports while avoiding the scandals and corruption that seemed commonplace at Miami and elsewhere.

But it didn’t take long for Mr. Davis to realize that Chapel Hill’s reputation for sports excellence without compromise was a myth. From 1991 to 2009, the university’s department of African and Afro-American studies ran a huge academic fraud operation. Thousands of students, including regular undergraduates and athletes trying to maintain playing eligibility, enrolled in fake courses in which they didn’t have to attend classes, meet with professors or produce any legitimate academic work.

After the fraud was exposed and both the university chancellor and Mr. Davis lost their jobs, outside investigators discovered that U.N.C. had essentially no system for upholding the academic integrity of courses. “So long as a department was offering a course,” one distinguished professor told the investigators, “it was a legitimate course.”…

Most colleges, presumably, aren’t harboring in-house credit mills. Yet in its underlying design, organizational values and daily operations, North Carolina is no different from most other colleges and universities. These organizations are not coherent academic enterprises with consistent standards of classroom excellence. When it comes to exerting influence over teaching and learning, they’re Easter eggs. They barely exist.

This goes a long way toward explaining why colleges spend so much time and effort creating a sense of tribal solidarity among students and alumni. Think of the chant that Joe Paterno and students cried out together at the height of their university’s pedophilia scandal: “We are! Penn State!” The costumes, rituals and gladiatorial contests with rival colleges are all designed to portray the university as united and indivisible. Newer colleges that lack such deeply rooted identities spend millions of dollars on branding consultants in order to create them.

They do this to paper over uncomfortable truths revealed by their own researchers.

RTFA. Understand “How College Affects Students” concludes – after 848 pages – “The great majority of postsecondary institutions appear to have surprisingly similar net impacts on student growth,” the authors write.

“If there is one thing that characterizes the research on between-college effects on the acquisition of subject matter knowledge and academic skills, it is that in the most internally valid studies, even the statistically significant effects tend to be quite small and often trivial in magnitude.”

Prestigious colleges are those with the most bucks, which, in and of itself, is the driving force in ranking. You get to select the best students then you crank out the slightly better resulting graduates. The rest is sound and fury signifying nothing more than the usual mind-candy-level advertising.

Pick out a college you can afford. Make certain it meets adequate standards – and do the work. Ignore the time wasted on sports rivalries and other gladiatorade pursuits. Graduate and carry on.

Dismantling higher education in America

While researching a recent column for Al Jazeera America on the “killing of tenure” and what it means for the future of higher education, it became clear that the attempts by conservatives to dismantle the institution of tenure, highlighted by the Wisconsin legislature’s removal of previously statutory tenure protections, are only one component of a much wider array of threats to the profession of teaching and research.

For academics lucky enough to have tenure at an “R-1 research university” — one with “extensive” doctoral level graduate programs and support for faculty research as well as teaching — the erosion of traditional tenure protections is damaging because it threatens not only academic freedom but research and teaching that contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to U.S. GDP. The continued downtrend in funding for university research has paralleled and is tied to the erosion of tenure, academic freedom and shared governance more broadly. All these trends are tied to the corporatization of the university; that is, the increasingly privatized model of higher education which does away with shared governance and tenure in favor of centralized administration and contingent labor, puts profits and the bottom line ahead of the public good, and efficiency and “customer service” ahead of a well-rounded education that encourages critical inquiry and independent thought.

Today upwards of three-quarters of faculty members nationwide are working outside of the tenure system. This reorientation of the profession away from tenure, shared governance and academic freedom, which together formed the bedrock of the great American university system, has left contingent and tenure-line faculty alike to face an unprecedented array of obstacles to their economic, let alone professional, survival.

Indeed, upwards of a quarter of faculty with doctorates live below the poverty line — eight percentage points higher than the national average for all Americans. Think of this in the context of the American dream, where dedication and education are supposed to ensure a piece, however modest, of the American dream. If 10 years of intensive college and graduate study can’t even get a person a better salary than the average Walmart cashier, there is something profoundly wrong.

The average American voter still sits back, accepting every ideological lie from the political economy of wealth and power. The working people who built the wealth of the nation on their backs are relegated more often to leftover jobs, ignorant of the qualities needed nowadays for advancement. The best-educated segment of our populace is considered advanced meat robots by conservative politicians, nothing more than articulate proletarians – interesting, but, unproductive by the liberal side of American politics more concerned with the workings of Wall Street than the potential of academia.

The best-educated of our political elites sit back and prate about the young tigers of the whole world still coming to the United States for their education – even though that phenomenon, premised upon the worldwide myth of an educational system that began to crumble over a half-century ago, already shows the cracks of diminishing returns. Other nations now better educate their young. Other nations are well along at building networks of new and powerful research and thought.

Congress only debates who should rule: Caeser or Mammon?

U.S. Census Maps = the True America

non-english at home

In 1874, the U.S. Census Bureau published the Statistical Atlas of the United States. For the first time, essential information about who we were, where we lived and how we lived was available in the form of user-friendly U.S. census maps that could be accessed by all. The Bureau continued to publish atlases after each census until 1930, when the powers that be decided to cease production. In fact, no such atlas was produced again until 2007, when the Bureau published the Census Atlas of the United States, based on the results of the 2000 census. But with no plans in the works for an atlas based on the 2010 census (with only some U.S. census maps made available and hardly anyone else stepping up), one intrepid statistician, Dr. Nathan Yau of FlowingData, took matters into his own hands.

Yau’s elegant and endlessly fascinating homemade U.S. census maps, sport a design similar to those in the original atlas nearly 150 years ago. Some of these maps will, no doubt, confirm your assumptions (population density). Others will upend them (proportion of non-citizens). Others still will address issues about which you likely had no assumptions in the first place (cancer mortality). Some show how slowly the gears of history can move (population with French ancestry). Some show how fast the gears of history can move (English not spoken at home). And almost all show that, for whatever reason, Nevada is a major wild card.

Maps are fascinating. The best compress a great deal of information into a severely limited space. Some are ginormous. These arem’t very big; but, they are a delight. Worth studying to add to your knowledge of this cranky nation.

Which is probably why there are politicians who would rather these maps didn’t exist.

A pool parasite — not carrying a beer

Cryptosporidium
Yes – highly magnified

A hardy parasite has led federal health officials to warn pool goers to be careful in the water this summer.

Outbreaks related to pools, hot tubs and other recreational uses of water can be dangerous and according to a new report the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 90 outbreaks between 2011 to 2012 resulted in 1,788 illnesses, 95 hospitalizations and one death.

A major cause of the outbreaks in treated water, including hot tubs and pools, is a hardy parasite called Cryptosporidium, which is encased in a tough shell and causes acute gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea.

Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, said the parasite is particularity troubling due to how long it can live in treated water.

It can survive for 10 days,” Hlavasa told ABC News, noting that other bacteria including E. coli are killed in minutes to hours in a treated pool.

“With these outbreaks, we see they disproportionately affect young children,” Hlavasa said. “They’re the ones who can go to a pool and young children tend to carry lots of germs.”…

To stay safe, pool goers should look to see if their pool’s most recent inspection was posted through their local health department or even look into buying their own chlorine tests that can be used to test if the water is properly treated.

Eeoough! You’re often better off if you can avoid the young of your own species. :)