With online lectures, MOOCs, and open courseware, it’s probably never been easier to get access to college-level instruction on a huge variety of topics. But yesterday saw the launch of a new entry dedicated to scientific concepts: the World Science University, launched by the group that runs the World Science Festival.
The WSU takes a somewhat different approach to things, offering two levels of courses in physics, depending on how interested you are in delving into the underlying math. It’s also got what you might call a physics FAQ, with answers provided in video form. We’ve been playing with the beta version of the courses over the last few weeks, and we sat down with WSU founder and lecturer Brian Greene to talk about why they’ve decided now is the time to tackle online science education.
This is both fascinating and sad:
Everybody knows that our political views can sometimes get in the way of thinking clearly. But perhaps we don’t realize how bad the problem actually is. According to a new psychology paper, our political passions can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills. More specifically, the study finds that people who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.
The study, by Yale law professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues, has an ingenious design. At the outset, 1,111 study participants were asked about their political views and also asked a series of questions designed to gauge their “numeracy,” that is, their mathematical reasoning ability. Participants were then asked to solve a fairly difficult problem that involved interpreting the results of a (fake) scientific study. But here was the trick: While the fake study data that they were supposed to assess remained the same, sometimes the study was described as measuring the effectiveness of a “new cream for treating skin rashes.” But in other cases, the study was described as involving the effectiveness of “a law banning private citizens from carrying concealed handguns in public.”
The result? Survey respondents performed wildly differently on what was in essence the same basic problem, simply depending upon whether they had been told that it involved guns or whether they had been told that it involved a new skin cream. What’s more, it turns out that highly numerate liberals and conservatives were even more—not less—susceptible to letting politics skew their reasoning than were those with less mathematical ability.
The U.S. Navy has done the math and realized that they need UCAVs on their carriers as soon as possible. The current plan is to get these aircraft into service six years from now. But there is an effort to get the unmanned carrier aircraft into service sooner than that. The math problem that triggered all this is the realization that American carriers had to get within 800 kilometers of their target before launching bomber aircraft. Potential enemies increasingly have aircraft and missiles with a range greater than 800 kilometers. The X-47B UCAV has a range of 2,500 kilometers and is seen as the solution.
Denigrating grandmothers for their supposed lack of technological prowess is bullshit because a) big fucking deal you can use a computer — your grandmother was probably old enough during the moon landing to roll her eyes when Neil Armstrong read his cheesy “one small step” line, and b) grandmothers are really crafty, so crafty, in fact, that they feign hearing problems so they can eavesdrop on younger people. Old age is just a giant con job aimed at exploiting youth’s fallacious sense of imperviousness. Old age is also usually your first tip-off that someone could be fairly accomplished at something, since they’ve likely spent a lifetime practicing, studying, and applying that something.
Keep that in mind as you peruse Grandma Got STEM, a blog devoted to grandmothers who have had enviable careers in science, technology, and math. The list of grandmothers includes women like Professor Mary Ellen Rudin, a mathematician with 100 publications on MathSciNet, 435 citations, and research papers written from 2002. She lives with her husband Walter (who is also a mathematician, so we have a big-time nerd alert with this family) in a Frank Lloyd Wright house.
Babushka has a degree in Math/ComputerSci from the days when we had to program on punch cards! Started out programming in FORTRAN on VAX/VMS. Our first home computer was a Trash 80, later upgraded to an IBM AT. Zedushka paid $500 for a 40MB hard drive in 1990! (He still beats himself up over that purchase)
We got an AOL account in 1994 and kept it for 2 weeks, then switched to Netcom. Got on that Internet thing and flamed people on Usenet!
For the meat and potatoes see this post from arms control wonk.
The dietary supplement is this. Multiply kg on hand (that isn’t converted to fuel plates which have to be reprocessed) by the square of the enrichment for “effective kilograms.” If this number is less than 28 there is not enough for a bomb.
Iran has refined 232.8 kg of uranium to the 20% level. They have converted 95.5 to fuel plates leaving 137.3 kg available. 20% squared is .04. That gives us 4.492 effective kg, or a bit less than 1/6 a significant mass (approximate amount required to go critical.)
Iran will not have the bomb (from its own production) in six months.
From the minute to the largeness of the Universe!
Into the depths of chaos! Wow….
The United States is an exceptional nation. As a people, we are not bound by blood, nationality, ethnicity, or religion. Instead, we are connected by the core belief that it does not matter where you came from; it matters only where you are going. This belief is what makes our country unique. It is also what makes education critically important, more so today than ever. While our political leanings may be different, our careers have taught us that education is inextricably linked to the strength of this country and our leadership in the international community.
Today, globalization and the technological sophistication of our economy are widening already troubling socioeconomic disparities, rewarding those who acquire the right skills and punishing brutally those who do not. Much is at stake.
It is not hyperbole to say that the state of education in our country is a challenge to our national security. Human capital has never been more important for success in our increasingly competitive world economy. Yet, although the United States invests more in education than almost any other developed nation, its students rank in the middle of the pack in reading and toward the bottom in math and science. On average, U.S. students have fallen behind peers in Korea, China, Poland, Canada, and New Zealand. This puts us on a trajectory toward massive failure.
Our schools simply must do better. It is essential, too, that we provide a base of knowledge for our students in order to produce citizens who can serve in the Foreign Service, the intelligence community, and the armed forces. The State Department is struggling to recruit enough foreign-language speakers, U.S. generals are cautioning that enlistees cannot read training manuals for sophisticated equipment, and a report from the XVIII Airborne Corps in Iraq found that out of 250 intelligence personnel, fewer than five had the “aptitude to put pieces together to form a conclusion.”
For the United States to maintain its role of military and diplomatic leadership, it needs highly qualified and capable men and women to conduct its foreign affairs. Knowledge of the world and of foreign languages is essential.
Finally, we must also foster a deeper understanding of America’s core institutions and values. Successfully educating our young people about our country, its governmental institutions and values—what is sometimes called “civics”—is crucial to our coherence as a population and for informed citizenry.
Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate led to a wave of pundit accolades. Now, declared writer after writer, we’re going to have a real debate about the nation’s fiscal future. This was predictable: never mind the Tea Party, Mr. Ryan’s true constituency is the commentariat, which years ago decided that he was the Honest, Serious Conservative, whose proposals deserve respect even if you don’t like him.
But he isn’t and they don’t. Ryanomics is and always has been a con game, although to be fair, it has become even more of a con since Mr. Ryan joined the ticket.
Let’s talk about what’s actually in the Ryan plan, and let’s distinguish in particular between actual, specific policy proposals and unsupported assertions. To focus things a bit more, let’s talk — as most budget discussions do — about what’s supposed to happen over the next 10 years.
On the tax side, Mr. Ryan proposes big cuts in tax rates on top income brackets and corporations. He has tried to dodge the normal process in which tax proposals are “scored” by independent auditors, but the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math, and the revenue loss from these cuts comes to $4.3 trillion over the next decade.
Ultimate Fighting vs. Math: One Man’s Quest to Bring Statistical Analysis to the Chaos of Mixed Martial Arts
Nick Diaz had the guy on the floor, crawling backwards like a scared crab. As he approached, muscles gleaming, mouth in a menacing snarl, the 9,000 keyed up fans gathered in Las Vegas for the Ultimate Fighting Championship wailed at the show of total dominance unfolding before them in the cage. As the final seconds of the round ticked away, Diaz drove his foot into his opponent’s knee.
Three young men in the arena were not clapping or hooting. They were working for a Washington, D.C.-based company called FightMetric, and they were watching the action quietly with old video game controllers in their hands, pushing buttons every time one of the fighters visited some brutality upon the other. When Diaz slammed Carlos Condit in the head with his fist, one of them ticked his controller. When Condit kicked Diaz in the stomach, one of the others ticked his. As the audience roared at the ferocious beating taking place in the ring, the three men from FightMetric were methodically turning it into a stream of numbers. After five rounds, when all was said and done, their record would indicate that even though Diaz seemed to spend most of the match as the aggressor, he had in fact been outperformed.
Mixed martial arts — often called ultimate fighting — has, in its short life, become one of the most popular sports in America. There were an estimated 5 million people watching Diaz fight Condit on TV in February. The sport has its own news sites, magazines, message boards, and training gyms all over the country.
For all that enthusiasm, however, the sport has had a weak spot: It can be surprisingly difficult to say with any specificity what makes a mixed martial artist great, or what makes one fighter better than another. In baseball, there are home run tallies and RBIs and countless more obscure measures of a player’s skills. In MMA, fans find it easy to call someone a force of nature, but historically, it’s been impossible to back it up with data. In some cases, it is frustratingly hard to tell who is even winning a match.
That uncertainty can be traced back to the sport’s origins. When the Ultimate Fighting Championship was created in the early 1990s, the point was to give pairs of tough, bloodthirsty fighters an open venue in which to attack each other in whatever way they pleased. There were no standard measures of anything. There were barely any rules at all, and the only statistic anyone kept track of was who was still standing at the end.