U.S. students still lag among nations prizing education

Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the United States continue to lag behind students in several East Asian countries and some European nations in math and science, although American fourth graders are closer to the top performers in reading, according to test results released on Tuesday.

Fretting about how American schools compare with those in other countries has become a regular pastime in education circles. Results from two new reports, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, are likely to fuel further debate.

South Korea and Singapore led the international rankings in math and fourth-grade science, while Singapore and Taiwan had the top-performing students in eighth-grade science. The United States ranked 11th in fourth-grade math, 9th in eighth-grade math, 7th in fourth-grade science and 10th in eighth-grade science…

In the United States, only 7 percent of students reached the advanced level in eighth-grade math, while 48 percent of eighth graders in Singapore and 47 percent of eighth graders in South Korea reached the advanced level. As those with superior math and science skills increasingly thrive in a global economy, the lag among American students could be a cause for concern.

“Clearly, we have some room to improve, particularly at the number of advanced students we have compared to the world,” said Jack Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics at the Education Department…

The test designers included questionnaires for parents about preparation before formal schooling. Ina V. S. Mullis, an executive director of the International Study Center, said that students whose parents reported singing or playing number games as well as reading aloud with their children early in life scored higher on their fourth-grade tests than those whose parents who did not report such activities. Similarly, students who had attended preschool performed better.

“What’s remarkable is that in all the countries, this concept of an early start is there over and over again,” said Michael O. Martin, the other executive director of the center. “You can get the early childhood experience in a variety of ways, but it’s important you get it.”

I won’t drive you nuts with tales of trudging through knee-deep snow to get to-and-from elementary school. Though it was true. Growing up in a factory town where the mayor – who held office 22 years – said, “The Lord put the snow on the ground, let him take it away!” That solved the question of snow plows.

What was important to me was that my parents spent time with me – teaching me to read by the time I was 4 years old. They made certain we played board games, learned enough early maths to play Monopoly, worked hard at instilling an appreciation of knowledge and learning.

Even Finland, one of the world-leaders referred to this article, makes certain intellectual stimulation is part of the regimen of play and socialization they provide through creches and community life – while at the same time they maintain their rule of no organized schooling until children are 6 or 7.

Overweight or obese is main reason for dismissing U.S. soldiers

Under intense pressure to trim its budget, the Army is dismissing a rising number of soldiers who do not meet its fitness standards, drawing from a growing pool of troops grappling with obesity.

Obesity is now the leading cause of ineligibility for people who want to join the Army, according to military officials, who see expanding waistlines in the warrior corps as a national security concern.

Between 1998 and 2010, the number of active-duty military personnel deemed overweight or obese more than tripled. In 2010, 86,186 troops, or 5.3 percent of the force, received at least one clinical diagnosis as overweight or obese, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.

The trend has prompted the military to reexamine its training programs and is driving commanders to weed out soldiers deemed unfit to fight. “A healthy and fit force is essential to national security,” said Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “Our service members must be physically prepared to deploy on a moment’s notice anywhere on the globe to extremely austere and demanding conditions.”

During the first 10 months of this year, the Army kicked out 1,625 soldiers for being out of shape, about 15 times the number discharged for that reason in 2007, the peak of wartime deployment cycles…

Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said he was floored by what he found in 2009 when he was assigned to overhaul the Army’s training system. Seventy-five percent of civilians who wanted to join the force were ineligible, he said. Obesity was the leading cause.

“Of the 25 percent that could join, what we found was 65 percent could not pass the [physical training] test on the first day,” he said in a recent speech. “Young people joining our service could not run, jump, tumble or roll — the kind of things you would expect soldiers to do if you’re in combat.”

RTFA for details and the many directions the report describes as health and fitness failures among those trying to enlist, today. There’s a lot there to ponder. Not just obesity from inactivity and overeating keeping out recruits; but, soldiers who thought they had a career being dismissed from service, from their job.

Do we live in a computer simulation run by our descendants? Seriously concerned? — try lattice quantum chromodynamics

A decade ago, a British philosopher put forth the notion that the universe we live in might in fact be a computer simulation run by our descendants. While that seems far-fetched, perhaps even incomprehensible, a team of physicists at the University of Washington has come up with a potential test to see if the idea holds water.

The concept that current humanity could possibly be living in a computer simulation comes from a 2003 paper published in Philosophical Quarterly by Nick Bostrom, a philosophy professor at the University of Oxford. In the paper, he argued that at least one of three possibilities is true:

The human species is likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage.

Any posthuman civilization is very unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history.

We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

He also held that “the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation…”

Currently, supercomputers using a technique called lattice quantum chromodynamics and starting from the fundamental physical laws that govern the universe can simulate only a very small portion of the universe, on the scale of one 100-trillionth of a meter, a little larger than the nucleus of an atom, said Martin Savage, a UW physics professor…

“If you make the simulations big enough, something like our universe should emerge,” Savage said. Then it would be a matter of looking for a “signature” in our universe that has an analog in the current small-scale simulations.

Savage and colleagues…suggest that the signature could show up as a limitation in the energy of cosmic rays.

In a paper they have posted on arXiv, an online archive for preprints of scientific papers in a number of fields, including physics, they say that the highest-energy cosmic rays would not travel along the edges of the lattice in the model but would travel diagonally, and they would not interact equally in all directions as they otherwise would be expected to do.

This is the first testable signature of such an idea,” Savage said.

Here’s the best part:

If such a concept turned out to be reality, it would raise other possibilities as well. For example, Zohreh Davoudi suggests that if our universe is a simulation, then those running it could be running other simulations as well, essentially creating other universes parallel to our own.

“Then the question is, ‘Can you communicate with those other universes if they are running on the same platform?’” she said.

Har.

U.K. prosecutor makes first arrests in Libor-rigging fraud

The U.K. Serious Fraud Office and City of London Police made the first three arrests in global probes into tampering with benchmark interest rates including the London interbank offered rate.

The three men arrested, ranging in age from 33 to 47, are all British nationals living in the U.K., the SFO said in an e-mailed statement. The agency and police also searched three homes in Surrey and Essex.

Global authorities are investigating claims that more than a dozen banks altered submissions used to set benchmarks such as Libor to profit from bets on interest-rate derivatives or make the lenders’ finances appear healthier. Swiss lender UBS AG is expected to face a fine as early as this week that may surpass the record $466 million paid in June by Barclays Plc, the U.K.’s second-biggest bank, to settle claims it attempted to manipulate Libor…

Libor, a benchmark for more than $300 trillion of financial products worldwide, is derived from a survey of banks conducted each day on behalf of the British Bankers’ Association in London. The rates help determine borrowing costs for everything from mortgages to student loans…

Criminal probes by the SFO and U.S. Department of Justice are running in parallel with civil investigations being conducted by the Justice Department’s fraud division, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the U.K. Financial Services Authority.

Anyone think the brave conservatives in our Congress will stand up and applaud, encourage prosecution of this criminal fraud?

Here we have an international conspiracy that manipulated rates affecting everything from student loans and mortgages to funding for corporate expansion. The investigating bodies accept as a premise they will not charge the management of these banks as responsible for the crime – only individuals will take the fall for the crime. The banks will pay fines. If the fines are big enough to affect their profit margins, they will pass the cost along to customers.

Contemptible!

Patent lawsuits now dominated by trolls

For the first time, individuals and companies that do not themselves make anything – commonly known as “patent trolls” – are bringing the majority of U.S. patent lawsuits, according to a study by a California law professor.

The sharp increase in this type of lawsuit serves as a milestone likely to exacerbate the tension over patent issues and increase calls for patent reform and scrutiny of the system.

This year, about 61 percent of all patent lawsuits filed through December 1 were brought by patent-assertion entities, or individuals and companies that work aggressively and opportunistically to assert patents as a business model rather than build their own technology, according to a paper by Colleen Chien, a law professor at Santa Clara University.

That compares with 45 percent in 2011 and 23 percent five years ago.

“It’s pretty dramatic,” Chien told Reuters via email. “It means more suits are being brought by entities that don’t make anything than those that do.”

Many in Silicon Valley deride patent-assertion entities as “patent trolls.” The unflattering nickname arose because of their habit of suddenly demanding licensing fees from unsuspecting businesses, much like mythical trolls that lie in wait under bridges to extract tolls from travelers…

Many technology companies are eager for reforms that would make it harder to assert patents. Some would like to see the cost of asserting patents rise, for example. Many patent holders sue based on contingency, meaning they pay only if they win an award.

Blogging about the topic is on the increase, as well. Another symptom of the resentment most geeks and ordinary citizens feel towards the creeps. No doubt some of them aren’t creeps. It’s their own responsibility to differentiate themselves from the creeps, I guess.