How statistics lost their power and why we should fear what comes next | William Davies

The Long Read: The ability of statistics to accurately represent the world is declining. In its wake, a new age of big data controlled by private companies is taking over and putting democracy in peril

In theory, statistics should help settle arguments. They ought to provide stable reference points that everyone no matter what their politics can agree on. Yet in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western liberal democracies. Shortly before the November presidential election, a study in the US discovered that 68% of Trump supporters distrusted the economic data published by the federal government. In the UK, a research project by Cambridge University and YouGov looking at conspiracy theories discovered that 55% of the population believes that the government is hiding the truth about the number of immigrants living here.

Rather than diffusing controversy and polarisation, it seems as if statistics are actually stoking them. Antipathy to statistics has become one of the hallmarks of the populist right, with statisticians and economists chief among the various experts that were ostensibly rejected by voters in 2016. Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some peoples sense of political decency.

Nowhere is this more vividly manifest than with immigration. The thinktank British Future has studied how best to win arguments in favour of immigration and multiculturalism. One of its main findings is that people often respond warmly to qualitative evidence, such as the stories of individual migrants and photographs of diverse communities. But statistics especially regarding alleged benefits of migration to Britains economy elicit quite the opposite reaction. People assume that the numbers are manipulated and dislike the elitism of resorting to quantitative evidence. Presented with official estimates of how many immigrants are in the country illegally, a common response is to scoff. Far from increasing support for immigration, British Future found, pointing to its positive effect on GDP can actually make people more hostile to it. GDP itself has come to seem like a Trojan horse for an elitist liberal agenda. Sensing this, politicians have now largely abandoned discussing immigration in economic terms.

All of this presents a serious challenge for liberal democracy. Put bluntly, the British government its officials, experts, advisers and many of its politicians does believe that immigration is on balance good for the economy. The British government did believe that Brexit was the wrong choice. The problem is that the government is now engaged in self-censorship, for fear of provoking people further.

This is an unwelcome dilemma. Either the state continues to make claims that it believes to be valid and is accused by sceptics of propaganda, or else, politicians and officials are confined to saying what feels plausible and intuitively true, but may ultimately be inaccurate. Either way, politics becomes mired in accusations of lies and cover-ups.

The declining authority of statistics and the experts who analyse them is at the heart of the crisis that has become known as post-truth politics. And in this uncertain new world, attitudes towards quantitative expertise have become increasingly divided. From one perspective, grounding politics in statistics is elitist, undemocratic and oblivious to peoples emotional investments in their community and nation. It is just one more way that privileged people in London, Washington DC or Brussels seek to impose their worldview on everybody else. From the opposite perspective, statistics are quite the opposite of elitist. They enable journalists, citizens and politicians to discuss society as a whole, not on the basis of anecdote, sentiment or prejudice, but in ways that can be validated. The alternative to quantitative expertise is less likely to be democracy than an unleashing of tabloid editors and demagogues to provide their own truth of what is going on across society.

Is there a way out of this polarisation? Must we simply choose between a politics of facts and one of emotions, or is there another way of looking at this situation?One way is to view statistics through the lens of their history.We need to try and see them for what they are: neither unquestionable truths nor elite conspiracies, but rather as tools designed to simplify the job of government, for better or worse. Viewed historically, we can see what a crucial role statistics have played in our understanding of nation states and their progress. This raises the alarming question of how if at all we will continue to have common ideas of society and collective progress, should statistics fall by the wayside.

In the second half of the 17th century, in the aftermath of prolonged and bloody conflicts, European rulers adopted an entirely new perspective on the task of government, focused upon demographic trends an approach made possible by the birth of modern statistics. Since ancient times, censuses had been used to track population size, but these were costly and laborious to carry out and focused on citizens who were considered politically important (property-owning men), rather than society as a whole. Statistics offered something quite different, transforming the nature of politics in the process.

Statistics were designed to give an understanding of a population in its entirety,rather than simply to pinpoint strategically valuable sources of power and wealth. In the early days, this didnt always involve producing numbers. In Germany, for example (from where we get the term Statistik) the challenge was to map disparate customs, institutions and laws across an empire of hundreds of micro-states. What characterised this knowledge as statistical was its holistic nature: it aimed to produce a picture of the nation as a whole. Statistics would do for populations what cartography did for territory.

Equally significant was the inspiration of the natural sciences. Thanks to standardised measures and mathematical techniques, statistical knowledge could be presented as objective, in much the same way as astronomy. Pioneering English demographers such as William Petty and John Graunt adapted mathematical techniques to estimate population changes, for which they were hired by Oliver Cromwell and Charles II.

The emergence in the late 17th century of government advisers claiming scientific authority, rather than political or military acumen, represents the origins of the expert culture now so reviled by populists. These path-breaking individuals were neither pure scholars nor government officials, but hovered somewhere between the two. They were enthusiastic amateurs who offered a new way of thinking about populations that privileged aggregates and objective facts. Thanks to their mathematical prowess, they believed they could calculate what would otherwise require a vast census to discover.

There was initially only one client for this type of expertise, and the clue is in the word statistics. Only centralised nation states had the capacity to collect data across large populations in a standardised fashion and only states had any need for such data in the first place. Over the second half of the 18th century, European states began to collect more statistics of the sort that would appear familiar to us today. Casting an eye over national populations, states became focused upon a range of quantities: births, deaths, baptisms, marriages, harvests, imports, exports, price fluctuations. Things that would previously have been registered locally and variously at parish level became aggregated at a national level.

New techniques were developed to represent these indicators, which exploited both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the page, laying out data in matrices and tables, just as merchants had done with the development of standardised book-keeping techniques in the late 15th century. Organising numbers into rows and columns offered a powerful new way of displaying the attributes of a given society. Large, complex issues could now be surveyed simply by scanning the data laid out geometrically across a single page.

These innovations carried extraordinary potential for governments. By simplifying diverse populations down to specific indicators, and displaying them in suitable tables, governments could circumvent the need to acquire broader detailed local and historical insight. Of course, viewed from a different perspective, this blindness to local cultural variability is precisely what makes statistics vulgar and potentially offensive. Regardless of whether a given nation had any common cultural identity, statisticians would assume some standard uniformity or, some might argue, impose that uniformity upon it.

Not every aspect of a given population can be captured by statistics. There is always an implicit choice in what is included and what is excluded, and this choice can become a political issue in its own right. The fact that GDP only captures the value of paid work, thereby excluding the work traditionally done by women in the domestic sphere, has made it a target of feminist critique since the 1960s. In France, it has been illegal to collect census data on ethnicity since 1978, on the basis that such data could be used for racist political purposes. (This has the side-effect of making systemic racism in the labour market much harder to quantify.)

Despite these criticisms, the aspiration to depict a society in its entirety, and to do so in an objective fashion, has meant that various progressive ideals have been attached to statistics. The image of statistics as a dispassionate science of society is only one part of the story. The other part is about how powerful political ideals became invested in these techniques: ideals of evidence-based policy, rationality, progress and nationhood grounded in facts, rather than in romanticised stories.

Since the high-point of the Enlightenmentin the late 18th century, liberals and republicans have invested great hope that national measurement frameworks could produce a more rational politics, organised around demonstrable improvements in social and economic life. The great theorist of nationalism, Benedict Anderson, famously described nations as imagined communities,but statistics offer the promise of anchoring this imagination in something tangible. Equally, they promise to reveal what historical path the nation is on: what kind of progress is occurring? How rapidly? For Enlightenment liberals, who saw nations as moving in a single historical direction, this question was crucial.

The potential of statistics to reveal the state of the nation was seized in post-revolutionary France. The Jacobin state set about imposing a whole new framework of national measurement and national data collection. The worlds first official bureau of statistics was opened in Paris in 1800. Uniformity of data collection, overseen by a centralised cadre of highly educated experts, was an integral part of the ideal of a centrally governed republic, which sought to establish a unified, egalitarian society.

From the Enlightenment onwards, statistics played an increasingly important role in the public sphere, informing debate in the media, providing social movements with evidence they could use. Over time, the production and analysis of such data became less dominated by the state. Academic social scientists began to analyse data for their own purposes, often entirely unconnected to government policy goals. By the late 19th century, reformers such as Charles Booth in London and WEB Du Bois in Philadelphia were conducting their own surveys to understand urban poverty.


Illustration by Guardian Design

To recognise how statistics have been entangled in notions of national progress, consider the case of GDP. GDP is an estimate of the sum total of a nations consumer spending, government spending, investments and trade balance (exports minus imports), which is represented in a single number. This is fiendishly difficult to get right, and efforts to calculate this figure began, like so many mathematical techniques, as a matter of marginal, somewhat nerdish interest during the 1930s. It was only elevated to a matter of national political urgency by the second world war, when governments needed to know whether the national population was producing enough to keep up the war effort. In the decades that followed, this single indicator, though never without its critics, took on a hallowed political status, as the ultimate barometer of a governments competence. Whether GDP is rising or falling is now virtually a proxy for whether society is moving forwards or backwards.

Or take the example of opinion polling, an early instance of statistical innovation occurring in the private sector. During the 1920s, statisticians developed methods for identifying a representative sample of survey respondents, so as to glean the attitudes of the public as a whole. This breakthrough, which was first seized upon by market researchers, soon led to the birth of the opinion polling. This new industry immediately became the object of public and political fascination, as the media reported on what this new science told us about what women or Americans or manual labourers thought about the world.

Nowadays, the flaws of polling are endlessly picked apart. But this is partly due to the tremendous hopes that have been invested in polling since its origins. It is only to the extent that we believe in mass democracy that we are so fascinated or concerned by what the public thinks. But for the most part it is thanks to statistics, and not to democratic institutions as such, that we can know what the public thinks about specific issues. We underestimate how much of our sense of the public interest is rooted in expert calculation, as opposed to democratic institutions.

As indicators of health, prosperity, equality, opinion and quality of life have come to tell us who we are collectively and whether things are getting better or worse, politicians have leaned heavily on statistics to buttress their authority. Often, they lean too heavily, stretching evidence too far, interpreting data too loosely, to serve their cause. But that is an inevitable hazard of the prevalence of numbers in public life, and need not necessarily trigger the type of wholehearted rejections of expertise that we have witnessed recently.

In many ways, the contemporary populist attack on experts is born out of the same resentment as the attack on elected representatives. In talking of society as a whole, in seeking to govern the economy as a whole, both politicians and technocrats are believed to have lost touch with how it feels to be a single citizen in particular. Both statisticians and politicians have fallen into the trap of seeing like a state, to use a phrase from the anarchist political thinker James C Scott. Speaking scientifically about the nation for instance in terms of macroeconomics is an insult to those who would prefer to rely on memory and narrative for their sense of nationhood, and are sick of being told that their imagined community does not exist.

On the other hand, statistics (together with elected representatives) performed an adequate job of supporting a credible public discourse for decades if not centuries. What changed?

The crisis of statistics is not quite as sudden as it might seem. For roughly 450 years, the great achievement of statisticians has been to reduce the complexity and fluidity of national populations into manageable, comprehensible facts and figures. Yet in recent decades, the world has changed dramatically, thanks to the cultural politics that emerged in the 1960s and the reshaping of the global economy that began soon after. It is not clear that the statisticians have always kept pace with these changes. Traditional forms of statistical classification and definition are coming under strain from more fluid identities, attitudes and economic pathways. Efforts to represent demographic, social and economic changes in terms of simple, well-recognised indicators are losing legitimacy.

Consider the changing political and economic geography of nation states over the past 40 years. The statistics that dominate political debate are largely national in character: poverty levels, unemployment, GDP, net migration. But the geography of capitalism has been pulling in somewhat different directions. Plainly globalisation has not rendered geography irrelevant. In many cases it has made the location of economic activity far more important, exacerbating the inequality between successful locations (such as London or San Francisco) and less successful locations (such as north-east England or the US rust belt). The key geographic units involved are no longer nation states. Rather, it is cities, regions or individual urban neighbourhoods that are rising and falling.

The Enlightenment ideal of the nation as a single community, bound together by a common measurement framework, is harder and harder to sustain. If you live in one of the towns in the Welsh valleys that was once dependent on steel manufacturing or mining for jobs, politicians talking of how the economy is doing well are likely to breed additional resentment. From that standpoint, the term GDP fails to capture anything meaningful or credible.

When macroeconomics is used to make a political argument, this implies that the losses in one part of the country are offset by gains somewhere else. Headline-grabbing national indicators, such as GDP and inflation, conceal all sorts of localised gains and losses that are less commonly discussed by national politicians. Immigration may be good for the economy overall, but this does not mean that there are no local costs at all. So when politicians use national indicators to make their case, they implicitly assume some spirit of patriotic mutual sacrifice on the part of voters: you might be the loser on this occasion, but next time you might be the beneficiary. But what if the tables are never turned? What if the same city or region wins over and over again, while others always lose? On what principle of give and take is that justified?

In Europe, the currency union has exacerbated this problem. The indicators that matter to the European Central Bank (ECB), for example, are those representing half a billion people. The ECB is concerned with the inflation or unemployment rate across the eurozone as if it were a single homogeneous territory, at the same time as the economic fate of European citizens is splintering in different directions, depending on which region, city or neighbourhood they happen to live in. Official knowledge becomes ever more abstracted from lived experience, until that knowledge simply ceases to be relevant or credible.

The privileging of the nation as the natural scale of analysis is one of the inbuilt biases of statistics that years of economic change has eaten away at. Another inbuilt bias that is coming under increasing strain is classification. Part of the job of statisticians is to classify people by putting them into a range of boxes that the statistician has created: employed or unemployed, married or unmarried, pro-Europe or anti-Europe. So long as people can be placed into categories in this way, it becomes possible to discern how far a given classification extends across the population.

This can involve somewhat reductive choices. To count as unemployed, for example, a person has to report to a survey that they are involuntarily out of work, even if it may be more complicated than that in reality. Many people move in and out of work all the time, for reasons that might have as much to do with health and family needs as labour market conditions. But thanks to this simplification, it becomes possible to identify the rate of unemployment across the population as a whole.

Heres a problem, though. What if many of the defining questions of our age are not answerable in terms of the extent of people encompassed, but the intensity with which people are affected? Unemployment is one example. The fact that Britain got through the Great Recession of 2008-13 without unemployment rising substantially is generally viewed as a positive achievement. But the focus on unemployment masked the rise of underemployment, that is, people not getting a sufficient amount of work or being employed at a level below that which they are qualified for. This currently accounts for around 6% of the employed labour force. Then there is the rise of the self-employed workforce, where the divide between employed and involuntarily unemployed makes little sense.

This is not a criticism of bodies such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which does now produce data on underemployment. But so long as politicians continue to deflect criticism by pointing to the unemployment rate, the experiences of those struggling to get enough work or to live on their wages go unrepresented in public debate. It wouldnt be all that surprising if these same people became suspicious of policy experts and the use of statistics in political debate, given the mismatch between what politicians say about the labour market and the lived reality.

The rise of identity politics since the 1960s has put additional strain on such systems of classification. Statistical data is only credible if people will accept the limited range of demographic categories that are on offer, which are selected by the expert not the respondent. But where identity becomes a political issue, people demand to define themselves on their own terms, where gender, sexuality, race or class is concerned.

Opinion polling may be suffering for similar reasons. Polls have traditionally captured peoples attitudes and preferences, on the reasonable assumption that people will behave accordingly. But in an age of declining political participation, it is not enough simply to know which box someone would prefer to put an X in. One also needs to know whether they feel strongly enough about doing so to bother. And when it comes to capturing such fluctuations in emotional intensity, polling is a clumsy tool.

Statistics have faced criticism regularly over their long history. The challenges that identity politics and globalisation present to them are not new either. Why then do the events of the past year feel quite so damaging to the ideal of quantitative expertise and its role in political debate?

In recent years, a new way of quantifyingand visualising populations has emerged that potentially pushes statistics to the margins, ushering in a different era altogether. Statistics, collected and compiled by technical experts, are giving way to data that accumulates by default, as a consequence of sweeping digitisation. Traditionally, statisticians have known which questions they wanted to ask regarding which population, then set out to answer them. By contrast, data is automatically produced whenever we swipe a loyalty card, comment on Facebook or search for something on Google. As our cities, cars, homes and household objects become digitally connected, the amount of data we leave in our trail will grow even greater. In this new world, data is captured first and research questions come later.

In the long term, the implications of this will probably be as profound as the invention of statistics was in the late 17th century. The rise of big data provides far greater opportunities for quantitative analysis than any amount of polling or statistical modelling. But it is not just the quantity of data that is different. It represents an entirely different type of knowledge, accompanied by a new mode of expertise.

First, there is no fixed scale of analysis (such as the nation) nor any settled categories (such as unemployed). These vast new data sets can be mined in search of patterns, trends, correlations and emergent moods. It becomes a way of tracking the identities that people bestow upon themselves (such as #ImwithCorbyn or entrepreneur) rather than imposing classifications upon them. This is a form of aggregation suitable to a more fluid political age, in which not everything can be reliably referred back to some Enlightenment ideal of the nation state as guardian of the public interest.

Second, the majority of us are entirely oblivious to what all this data says about us, either individually or collectively. There is no equivalent of an Office for National Statistics for commercially collected big data. We live in an age in which our feelings, identities and affiliations can be tracked and analysed with unprecedented speed and sensitivity but there is nothing that anchors this new capacity in the public interest or public debate. There are data analysts who work for Google and Facebook, but they are not experts of the sort who generate statistics and who are now so widely condemned. The anonymity and secrecy of the new analysts potentially makes them far more politically powerful than any social scientist.

A company such as Facebook has the capacity to carry quantitative social science on hundreds of millions of people, at very low cost. But it has very little incentive to reveal the results. In 2014, when Facebook researchers published results of a study of emotional contagion that they had carried out on their users in which they altered news feeds to see how it affected the content that users then shared in response there was an outcry that people were being unwittingly experimented on. So, from Facebooks point of view, why go to all the hassle of publishing? Why not just do the study and keep quiet?

What is most politically significantabout this shift from a logic of statistics to one of data is how comfortably it sits with the rise of populism. Populist leaders can heap scorn upon traditional experts, such as economists and pollsters, while trusting in a different form of numerical analysis altogether. Such politicians rely on a new, less visible elite, who seek out patterns from vast data banks, but rarely make any public pronouncements, let alone publish any evidence. These data analysts are often physicists or mathematicians, whose skills are not developed for the study of society at all. This, for example, is the worldview propagated by Dominic Cummings, former adviser to Michael Gove and campaign director of Vote Leave. Physics, mathematics and computer science are domains in which there are real experts, unlike macro-economic forecasting, Cummings has argued.

Figures close to Donald Trump, such as his chief strategist Steve Bannon and the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, are closely acquainted with cutting-edge data analytics techniques, via companies such as Cambridge Analytica, on whose board Bannon sits. During the presidential election campaign, Cambridge Analytica drew on various data sources to develop psychological profiles of millions of Americans, which it then used to help Trump target voters with tailored messaging.

This ability to develop and refine psychological insights across large populations is one of the most innovative and controversial features of the new data analysis. As techniques of sentiment analysis, which detect the mood of large numbers of people by tracking indicators such as word usage on social media, become incorporated into political campaigns, the emotional allure of figures such as Trump will become amenable to scientific scrutiny. In a world where the political feelings of the general public are becoming this traceable, who needs pollsters?

Few social findings arising from this kind of data analytics ever end up in the public domain. This means that it does very little to help anchor political narrative in any shared reality. With the authority of statistics waning, and nothing stepping into the public sphere to replace it, people can live in whatever imagined community they feel most aligned to and willing to believe in. Where statistics can be used to correct faulty claims about the economy or society or population, in an age of data analytics there are few mechanisms to prevent people from giving way to their instinctive reactions or emotional prejudices. On the contrary, companies such as Cambridge Analytica treat those feelings as things to be tracked.

But even if there were an Office for Data Analytics, acting on behalf of the public and government as the ONS does, it is not clear that it would offer the kind of neutral perspective that liberals today are struggling to defend. The new apparatus of number-crunching is well suited to detecting trends, sensing the mood and spotting things as they bubble up. It serves campaign managers and marketers very well. It is less well suited to making the kinds of unambiguous, objective, potentially consensus-forming claims about society that statisticians and economists are paid for.

In this new technical and political climate, it will fall to the new digital elite to identify the facts, projections and truth amid the rushing stream of data that results. Whether indicators such as GDP and unemployment continue to carry political clout remains to be seen, but if they dont, it wont necessarily herald the end of experts, less still the end of truth. The question to be taken more seriously, now that numbers are being constantly generated behind our backs and beyond our knowledge, is where the crisis of statistics leaves representative democracy.

On the one hand, it is worth recognising the capacity of long-standing political institutions to fight back. Just as sharing economy platforms such as Uber and Airbnb have recently been thwarted by legal rulings (Uber being compelled to recognise drivers as employees, Airbnb being banned altogether by some municipal authorities), privacy and human rights law represents a potential obstacle to the extension of data analytics. What is less clear is how the benefits of digital analytics might ever be offered to the public, in the way that many statistical data sets are. Bodies such as the Open Data Institute, co-founded by Tim Berners-Lee, campaign to make data publicly available, but have little leverage over the corporations where so much of our data now accumulates. Statistics began life as a tool through which the state could view society, but gradually developed into something that academics, civic reformers and businesses had a stake in. But for many data analytics firms, secrecy surrounding methods and sources of data is a competitive advantage that they will not give up voluntarily.

A post-statistical society is a potentially frightening proposition, not because it would lack any forms of truth or expertise altogether, but because it would drastically privatise them. Statistics are one of many pillars of liberalism, indeed of Enlightenment. The experts who produce and use them have become painted as arrogant and oblivious to the emotional and local dimensions of politics. No doubt there are ways in which data collection could be adapted to reflect lived experiences better. But the battle that will need to be waged in the long term is not between an elite-led politics of facts versus a populist politics of feeling. It is between those still committed to public knowledge and public argument and those who profit from the ongoing disintegration of those things.

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Anti-Trump ‘alternative inauguration’ to toast president-elect’s popular vote loss

In conservative upstate New York an alternative inauguration party will hail the fact that 3 million more people voted for Clinton as defiance spreads nationwide

On the evening of 20 January, just a few hours after the former host of Celebrity Apprentice has taken the oath of office to become the 45th president of the United States, about 80 people in the tiny snowbound town of Saranac Lake in heavily conservative upstate New York will gather for an inauguration party.

The event is being billed as a celebration, a chance to rejoice in the electoral victory that saw their political ideals prevail. Food and drink will flow freely, musicians from across the area will perform. The Stars and Stripes will be flown to denote the deep patriotism of the event. And then at the height of the night the carousers will participate in a rendition of Leonard Cohens Hallelujah, with lyrics specially rewritten for the occasion.

Trump said hed make us great again

But we dont even trust the man

He lies and cheats and tries to foster anger

As the lyrics suggest, the party will not be honoring the electoral victory of the newly enshrined President Trump. On the contrary, Saranac Lakes Alternative Inauguration Party will mark the defeat of Donald Trumps brand of anti-establishment xenophobic nationalism.

A celebration of Trumps defeat on the day of his inauguration seems several stages beyond fanciful. The real estate billionaire did after all pull off one of the biggest electoral surprises of modern times.

Yet the progressive inhabitants of Saranac Lake are not alone in such thinking. Across the country, a growing chorus of influential voices can be heard exhorting liberals not to wallow in despondency in the wake of the Trump ascendancy, but to embrace optimism and celebrate a victory of their own.

From national leaders such as Bernie Sanders and the Rev Al Sharpton, to state authorities on both coasts, through urban bastions and university towns scattered across the heartlands, a unifying message is emerging. Do not despair, it says, we won!

The counterintuitive idea of liberal victory in the 2016 presidential race is posited on Hillary Clintons startling triumph in the popular vote. With the final tally of votes now certified by all 50 states, the definitive result of the presidential election carries quite a punch.

Clinton attracted the support of 65,844,610 Americans. Trump was backed by 62,979,636. Which means that fully 2.9 million more Americans voted for Trumps Democratic opponent than for him.

Whether those millions voted because they liked Clintons vision for the country, or because they detested Trumps, is impossible to say. But it is fair to say that Trump failed to persuade a majority of voting Americans to back him on his unlikely journey to the White House.

National political leaders have begun, like the folk of Saranac Lake, to draw strength for the no-doubt brutal fight ahead by focusing on the popular vote as a measure of the depth of support for progressive values that persist in the US today. Bernie Sanders, who played no small part in boosting Clintons numbers by inspiring young people to rally to the liberal cause, told the Guardian that in his view the president-elect had to take on board the truth of his defeat in terms of national votes and act accordingly.

Mr Trump has got to understand that he does not have a mandate. He lost by almost 3 million votes.

Sanders went on to say that the knowledge that most voting Americans backed progressive policies on 8 November should embolden people as the new Trump era begins. If we stand together, we can effectively take on Mr Trumps ugly ideas and continue the fight for a progressive vision for this country. On virtually every major issue facing this country whether its raising the minimum wage, pay equity for women, rebuilding our infrastructure, making public colleges and universities tuition-free, criminal justice and immigration reform, dealing with income and wealth inequality the strong majority of the American people are on our side.


The Rev Al Sharpton speaks during the National Action Networks We Shall Not Be Moved march in Washington DC on 14 January. Photograph: Aaron P Bernstein/Reuters

For civil rights activist Al Sharpton, the issue of the popular vote is especially poignant and personal. On 20 January 2001, as George Bush was being inaugurated at the Capitol building having lost the popular vote to Al Gore, Sharpton staged a shadow inauguration in DCs nearby Stanton Park as a protest against what he saw as the stealing of the election.

Last Saturday Sharpton echoed that event by leading a We Shall Not Be Moved march from the Washington Monument to the Martin Luther King Memorial. Again, Sharpton is exercised by the popular vote. As he explained to the Guardian: Numbers do not lie. Most American voters, by almost three million, supported our policies and program our values were not rejected.

Sharpton predicts that the 2016 presidential election will go down in infamy because of the scale of Clintons margin of victory in sheer votes as well as evidence of Russian hacking and other peculiarities. He said the popular vote result should comfort progressive Americans, but more importantly it should energize people to do something about this misdeed. Rather than say we were robbed and then sit around and have a pity-party, we should be getting even.

The We Shall Not Be Moved march will be followed a week later by the climax of the alternative-inauguration wave of 2016: the Womens March on Washington. Hundreds of thousands of people of both genders are expected to descend on Washington or attend some 200 sister marches to be held across the US and around the world.

Linda Sarsour, one of four co-chairs of the march, said that she saw in the popular vote results the dominance of progressive values in the US. We intend to let the president-elect know on his first day in office that we are strong, we are united and we will protect those most vulnerable to attack.

Sarsour also said that she wanted to see more attention paid to the millions of Americans who cast no ballot on 8 November. We are focused on the silent majority, those who sat at home and did not vote at all. We want to understand why they were inactive, so that we can provide the spark that will inspire them to be involved.


Lawrence Lessig: The Republicans are so good at the chutzpah of their claim to power. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Will President Trump hear all these messages as he takes his seat in the Oval Office? Lawrence Lessig, the Harvard law professor who made a brief bid in 2016 for the Democratic presidential nomination, predicts that Trump will ignore calls for him to show electoral humility, just as Bush did in 2001.

The Republicans are so good at the chutzpah of their claim to power minority presidents acting as though they are dominant in the world. We have to develop a way of tamping down their arrogance these are minority presidents who do not represent most Americans.

The idea that Trumps contentious rhetoric from immigration and trade to climate change represents a minority view was what drove Saranac Lake to throw an alternative inauguration party. The town of just 5,500 residents is situated in the middle of the highly conservative rural north country of upstate New York, close to the Canadian border, but it is a liberal oasis, a tiny dot of blue bobbing on a sea of red.

On the morning of 10 November, two days after the election when the entire country was still reeling from the shock of election night, four local friends happened to bump into one another in a shop on Main Street owned by one of them, Barbara Curtis.

The four were all Sanders supporters who had transferred their allegiance to Clinton in the general election, mainly in the hope of blocking Trump. That morning they were each filled with disbelief and despair that a man whom they consider to be a racist and misogynist had been anointed head of state.

We were in a miserable mood, said one of the four, the director of the local library, Pete Benson. But then we had the idea.

The idea began by asking a question: what do we do now? The four decided to set up a new group to generate discussion around that conundrum. They called it Now what?.

As the days passed, and Clintons lead in the popular vote began to grow as late results were counted, they began to see a way forward. It made us think we could be optimistic, said another of the gang of four, Emily Martz, an environmental development worker. The majority of Americans did not vote for the hatred and tolerance of Trump. The values that we believe in, of inclusion and justice for all, freedom of the press and religion and assembly, had in fact prevailed.


Saranac Lake is a liberal oasis in the midst of conservative upstate New York. Photograph: Rob Fountain/AP

Out of that sense of hope the Alternative Inauguration Party was born. It was such a simple idea, but it gave us hope the feeling that we were not alone, said the fourth founding member, Emily Warner.

So just how much of a thumping did Trump take in terms of the popular vote? And why should we care anyway? Under the arcane rules laid down by the Founding Fathers for the selection of the nations head of state, its essentially irrelevant who wins the most votes nationally. Presidents are chosen not directly by the American people, but indirectly through the electoral college that is put together on a state-by-state basis.

Famously, it takes a presidential hopeful 270 electoral college votes out of the total of 538 to win the keys of the White House, and on that official count Trump won handsomely. When the chips were down, according to the centuries-old rules of the game, he soundly defeated Clinton by 306 electoral college votes to 232.

So yes, Trump won, and no amount of brouhaha over recounts and faithless electors and talk of Russian hackers will change that now. But there is another way of looking at the results, one that resonates with the vocabulary of modern democracies in which we the people are supposed to call the shots.

What we think of as democratic legitimacy these days is winning popular support, said John Woolley, professor of political science at UC Santa Barbara. Theres an equation in most peoples minds that in a modern democracy winning means getting more votes than anyone else.

The Now What? group in Saranac Lake like to quote the figure that 72% of Americans of eligible voting age did not vote for Trump a statistic achieved by combining Clintons votes to the almost 8 million ballots cast for third-party candidates and then rolling in the hordes of those who did not vote at all. Other estimates put that figure even higher, at 75%.

The 72% figure should be handled with great caution, as there is no way of knowing what the no-voters would have done had they got themselves to the polling stations. But you dont need to stretch the boundaries of electoral mathematics to know that what happened on 8 November 2016 was historically significant.

Though America is well accustomed to backing presidents who failed to win more than half of the votes cast, winning on the plurality Abraham Lincoln in 1860, Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and Bill Clinton in 1992 all falling into that camp it is very rare for presidents to be elected having garnered fewer votes nationwide than their opponent.

Only five presidents in US history have been put into the White House having suffered such ignominy: John Quincy Adams (1824), Rutherford Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888), George W Bush (2000) and now Donald Trump.

Even among that handful of popular vote losers, Trump stands out. Woolley has produced a graph comparing the popular and electoral college vote percentages for all presidential elections since 1824. It shows Trump failing in terms of democratic legitimacy more conclusively than in any other presidential election than that of Adams.

us election popular vote

Thats not a flattering comparison from Trumps perspective. Adams was accused in 1824 of in effect bribing his way into the White House by forging a corrupt bargain with another candidate to whom he then gave a plum administration job.

The extent of Trumps defeat is underlined by the 2000 election with its legendary hanging chads. Progressives are still agitated 16 years later by what they denounce as the stolen election, yet in that case Al Gore won the popular vote by only half a million more votes than Bush compared with the margin of almost 3 million enjoyed by Hillary Clinton.

In Woolleys analysis, the size of Trumps popular vote defeat is remarkable. Its a pretty big fact. Because it resonates so deeply with liberals and Democrats and is such a source of anger, Donald Trump is going to be embattled. There is going to be resistance at every turn, and this just fuels the fire.

That might help explain why Trump has been so touchy on the subject. In his eagerness to minimize the significance of the issue he has turned to fake news stories about illegal voting in 2016 touted by the conspiracy theory site, Infowars.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally

November 27, 2016

The resistance that Woolley predicts can already be seen sprouting across the country. Theres the visible manifestation of it in set-piece marches such as the Womens March and Sharptons We Shall Not Be Moved; there is the spawning of a myriad of social media-facilitated groups like the aptly named Resistance Party; and there is the rapidly developing notion of communities ranging from towns to cities to entire states erecting firewalls around themselves to protect their people, undocumented immigrants included, against any Trump assault.

Here too the advocates of the concept of sanctuary status are drawing sustenance from the popular vote victory. Progressives have been demoralized by the outcome of the election, but keep in mind we won the popular vote, winning the message with Americans, said Ed Murray, the mayor of one of the leading sanctuary cities, Seattle.

Nowhere is the power of the popular vote combined with the concept of sanctuary more evident than in California, a state that Clinton won by a whopping 4.3 million votes, with 61.6% to Trumps 32.8%. Californias secretary of state, Alex Padilla, told the Guardian that he respected the electoral college process and the outcome of the 2016 race, but added: That being said, the result was politically misleading in terms of giving any mandate to the president-elect.

He said that California was more committed than ever to the progressive direction, extending access to quality healthcare, accepting the science of climate change and acting to combat it, and immigration. No state has more at stake when it comes to immigration than us; our economy is dependent on it.

Three thousand miles away on the east coast, New York state is also pursuing the sanctuary concept, Clinton having won there by 1.7 million votes, 58.8% to Trumps 37.5%. But it doesnt feel a strong Democratic state if you are located up in Saranac Lake, surrounded by rural Trump supporters, and they have had to deal with their fair share of local antagonism.

The four organizers of the Alternative Inauguration Party have been lambasted as seditious by trolls on their Facebook page. They found it hard securing a venue for the party, as commercial property owners largely didnt want to know.

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People Across The U.S. Are Raising Money For Girls To See ‘Hidden Figures’

Hidden Figures, the hit film that tells the story of three black women who helped NASA send a man into orbit, has been praised for putting women of color in the spotlight.

Thats why people across the country teens, teachers and community leaders are raising money through GoFundMe to ensure young girls can see the movie.

One of those people is Taylor Richardson, a 13-year-old aspiring astronaut from Florida, who wants to send 100 girls to see Hidden Figures at a theater in Jacksonville, Florida. She also wants to raise money on GoFundMe for the girls to have snacks and get a copy of the Hidden Figures book.

Richardson first saw the movie at a screening at the White House and has since seen it three more times. She said the film was amazing.

Taylor Richardson
Taylor Richardson, a 13-year-old from Florida, wants to raise money for 100 girls to see “Hidden Figures” and get a copy of the book that inspired the movie.

I cried, I laughed, I got angry and then got determined to not let others impressions of me because of the color of my skin impact how my life will be, she told The Huffington Post. These black women did something I never knew about, and its not in any history books that Ive studied thus far.

As of Friday, Richardson has raised $2,540 of her $2,600 goal. She found the girls she plans to take to see the film from organizations that have impacted her life like the YMCA, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, See The Girl and Journey Into Womanhood. She wants them to go home after the movie feeling as inspired as she did.

This movie instills that us girls can dream big and make it even when odds are against us, she said. Most importantly I want girls to know that, like boys, they too can excel in STEM with hard work.

Several teachers across the country have also started GoFundMe campaigns to help send their students to see the influential film. After reaching his goal of $1,000, Peter Modlin will be taking girls in second, third, fourth and fifth grade who attend the Baltimore elementary school where he teaches. Modlin told HuffPost he hopes the students learn to dream big after watching the movie.

I want the girls to see this movie in hopes that a lightbulb might go off, he said. A lightbulb that signifies a belief in the opportunity to do or be anything they want to be, if they work hard to achieve that goal.

Peter Modlin
Second-grade language teacher Peter Modlin is excited to take students to see the film after reaching his $1,000 goal.

Like Richardson and Modlin, Phyllis Marshall raised money on GoFundMe so local girls could see Hidden Figures, and has since taken them to see it.

On Jan. 7, she took 50 girls from Roberts Family Development Center in Sacramento, California, to the theater.Shes worked with the center, which is in a low-income community and provides after-school care, for years.Through GoFundMe she raised more than her $1,500 goal, which provided transportation, snacks and tickets to the movie. Marshall said they loved it.

Phyllis Marshall
Phyllis Marshall took 50 girls from the Roberts Family Development Center, with whom she’s worked for years, to see the movie. She said “they loved it.”

Marshall was glad to be able to show the girls that women can succeed in science, technology and mathematics. She was especially thrilled to show them that women of color and their success deserve a place on the big screen.

I certainly hope as many young girls get to see that movie as possible.

Other teachers and community leaders are raising money for kids to see Hidden Figures, too.Check out their campaigns below.

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Zaha Hadid leaves 67m fortune, architect’s will reveals

British-Iraqi architect behind London 2012 aquatics centre leaves 1.7m to relatives and 500,000 to business partner

Zaha Hadid, the British-Iraqi architect who died suddenly last March, left a fortune worth 67m, her will reveals.

The designer of the London Olympics aquatics centre, Guangzhou opera house and buildings in countries ranging from Saudi Arabia and South Korea to Azerbaijan, bequeathed a lump sum of 500,000 to her business partner Patrik Schumacher. Hadid also left a total of 1.7m to four nieces and nephews, as well as her brother Haytham Hadid, whose share was 500,000.

The architect, who was made a dame in 2012, was unmarried with no children and left her international design businesses, which account for the bulk of her wealth, in trust.


London aquatics centre. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Hadid rose to become one of the worlds most famous architects with her brand of mathematically inspired curving buildings. She died aged 65 after suffering suspected heart failure while on holiday in Miami following an earlier bout of bronchitis.

Her will, obtained by the Architects Journal, shows that the net value of her estate was 67,249,458. The calculation was filed in the high court dated 14 December 2016.

Schumacher, a German architect who has taken over the running of Hadids London-based practice, angered his fellow executors of Hadids will in November after making a provocative speech that advocated abandoning social housing, the closure of art schools and building over Hyde Park. The executors are Schumacher, Peter Palumbo, the property developer, Brian Clarke, the artist, and Rana Hadid, the architects niece. They upbraided Schumacher in a public statement, saying Zaha Hadid would have been totally opposed to these views.

The will shows Hadid is leaving her architecture practice, of which she was the sole owner, in trust. In the year to the end of April 2015, Zaha Hadid Ltd turned over 48m and employed 372 people.


Patrik Schumacher. Photograph: Andrew Innerarity/Reuters

Hadid gave her executors powers to distribute all or some of the income from her several businesses, including the practice, to a wide range of parties. They include past, current and future employees and office holders of the companies, and the Zaha Hadid Foundation, which was set up to promote architectural education and exhibitions of Hadids work. Others who could benefit are family members and charities.

The will states that for the moment the trustees are her executors: Schumacher, Clarke, Palumbo and Rana Hadid.

Hadid was born in Baghdad in 1950 and became a revolutionary force in British architecture even though she struggled to win commissions in the UK for many years. She studied mathematics at the American University of Beirut before launching her architectural career in London at the Architectural Association.

By 1979, she had established her own practice in London Zaha Hadid Architects and gained a reputation across the world for groundbreaking theoretical works including the Peak in Hong Kong (1983), Kurfrstendamm 70 in Berlin (1986) and the Cardiff Bay opera house in Wales (1994).

The first major build commission that earned her international recognition was the Vitra fire station in Weil am Rhein, Germany (1993), but her scheme to build the Cardiff opera house was scrapped in the 1990s and she did not produce a major building in the UK until the Riverside Museum of Transport in Glasgow was completed in 2011.

She became the first female recipient of the Pritzker architecture prize in 2004 and twice won the UKs most prestigious architecture award, the RIBA Stirling prize.

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Eugene Cernan, last man on the moon, dies

(CNN)Eugene A. Cernan, the last astronaut to leave his footprints on the surface of the moon, has died, NASA said Monday.

The retired United States Navy captain was 82.
    His family confirmed the news in a statement Monday, saying he died following “ongoing health issues.”
    “Our family is heartbroken, of course, and we truly appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers. Gene, as he was known by so many, was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend,” the family said.
    Cernan’s death comes a little more than a month after fellow astronaut John Glenn died in December.
    Cernan earned several distinctions in his 13 years with NASA. He was the second American to walk in space and one of three men to have flown twice to the moon.
    But he’s best remembered as commander of Apollo 17, the last mission to the moon in December of 1972.
    “Apollo 17 built upon all of the other missions scientifically,” Cernan said in 2008. “We had a lunar rover, we were able to cover more ground than most of the other missions. We stayed there a little bit longer. We went to a more challenging unique area in the mountains, to learn something about the history and the origin of the moon itself.”
    Up until his death he was passionate about space exploration and hoped America’s leaders would not let him remain the last man to walk on the Moon, his family said.
    In his last conversation with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Cernan spoke of his “lingering desire” to inspire America’s youth to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics “and to dare to dream and explore,” NASA said.
    “Gene’s footprints remain on the moon, and his achievements are imprinted in our hearts and memories,” Bolden said.
    Cernan was born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 14, 1934. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1956 from Purdue University, where he received his commission through the Navy ROTC Program. He entered flight training upon graduation and went on to earn a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.
    He was one of 14 astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963 for the Apollo program, created to send humans to the moon. Of 18 total
    Like others in the program, Cernan also participated in Gemini missions, NASA’s second human spaceflight program, developed to support subsequent Apollo missions. On his first space flight, Cernan became the second American to walk in space during the Gemini IX mission in 1966, led by command pilot Thomas Stafford.
    On his second sojourn in May 1969, he was pilot of Apollo 10’s lunar module, the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and verification flight test of an Apollo lunar module.
    He made his third space flight as spacecraft commander of Apollo 17, the last scheduled manned mission to the moon, in December 1972.
    With the support of lunar module pilot Harrison H. Schmitt, Cernan established a base of operations in the moon’s Taurus-Littrow valley and made a home there for the mission for three days. From the landing base, they completed three excursions to nearby craters and the Taurus mountains.
    The mission launched on December 6, 1972 and returned two weeks later. It established several new records for manned space flight, including longest manned lunar landing flight (301 hours, 51 minutes), and longest lunar surface extravehicular activities (22 hours, 6 minutes).
    Leaving the moon in 1972, Cernan said, “As I take these last steps from the surface for some time into the future to come, I’d just like to record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow.”
    Cernan retired from the Navy after 20 years in 1976 and ended his NASA career. He went into private business and served as television commentator for early fights of the space shuttle.
    Cernan is survived by his wife, Jan Nanna Cernan, three daughters and nine grandchildren. His family said his experience as an Apollo astronaut had humbled him.
    “I was just a young kid in America growing up with a dream. Today what’s most important to me is my desire to inspire the passion in the hearts and minds of future generations of young men and women to see their own impossible dreams become a reality,” the family quoted him as recently saying.
    The family also shared a line from his book, “The Last Man on the Moon,” in which he describes walking on the moon to his 5-year-old granddaughter.
    “Your Popie went to Heaven. He really did.”

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    How The Insights Of The Large Hadron Collider Are Being Made Open To Everyone

    The ConversationIf you visit the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) exhibition, now at the Queensland Museum, youll see the recreation of a moment when the scientist who saw the first results indicating discovery of the Higgs boson laments she cant yet tell anyone.

    Its a transitory problem for her, lasting as long as it takes for the result to be thoroughly cross-checked. But it illustrates a key concept in science: its not enough to do it; it must be communicated.

    Thats what is behind one of the lesser known initiatives of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research): an ambitious plan to make all its research in particle physics available to everyone, with a big global collaboration inspired by the way scientists came together to make discoveries at the LHC.

    This initiative is called SCOAP, the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access in Particle Physics Publishing, and is now about to enter its fourth year of operation. Its a worldwide collaboration of more than 3,000 libraries (including six in Australia), key funding agencies and research centres in 44 countries, together with three intergovernmental organisations.

    It aims to make work previously only available to paying subscribers of academic journals freely and immediately available to everyone. In its first three years it has made more than 13,000 articles available.

    Not only are these articles free for anyone to read, but because they are published under a Creative Commons attribution license (CCBY), they are also available for anyone to use in anyway they wish, such as to illustrate a talk, pass onto a class of school children, or feed to an artificial intelligence program to extract information from. And these usage rights are enshrined forever.

    Open science

    The concept of sharing research is not new in physics. Open access to research is now a growing worldwide initiative, including in Australasia. CERN, which runs the LHC, was also where the world wide web was invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist at CERN.

    The main purpose of the web was to enable researchers contributing to CERN from all over the world share documents, including scientific drafts, no matter what computer systems they were using.

    Before the web, physicists had been sharing paper drafts by post for decades, so they were one of the first groups to really embrace the new online opportunities for sharing early research. Today, the pre-press site has more than a million free article drafts covering physics, mathematics, astronomy and more.

    But, with such a specialised field, do these open access papers really matter? The short answer is yes. Downloads have doubled to journals participating in SCOAP.

    With millions of open access articles now being downloaded across all specialities, there is enormous opportunity for new ideas and collaborations to spring from chance readership. This is an important trend: the concept of serendipity enabled by open access was explored in 2015 in an episode of ABC RNs Future Tense program.

    Greater than the sum of the parts

    Theres also a bigger picture to SCOAPs open access model. Not long ago, the research literature was fragmented. Individual papers and the connections between them were only as good as the physical library, with its paper journals, that academics had access to.

    Now we can do searches in much less time than we spend thinking of the search question, and the results we are presented with are crucially dependent on how easily available the findings themselves are. And availability is not just a function of whether an article is free or not but whether it is truly open, i.e. connected and reusable.

    One concept is whether research is FAIR, or Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. In short, can anyone find, read, use and reuse the work?

    The principle is most advanced for data, but in Australia work is ongoing to apply it to all research outputs. This approach was also proposed at the November 2016 meeting of the G20 Science, Technology and Innovation Ministers Meeting. Research findings that are not FAIR can, effectively, be invisible. Its a huge waste of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund research that wont be seen.

    There is an even bigger picture that research and research publications have to fit into: that of science in society.

    Across the world we see politicians challenging accepted scientific norms. Is the fact that most academic research remains available only to those who can pay to see it contributing to an acceptance of such misinformed views?

    If one role for science is to inform public debate, then restricting access to that science will necessarily hinder any informed public debate. Although no one suggests that most readers of news sites will regularly want to delve into the details of papers in high energy physics, open access papers are 47% more likely to end up being cited in Wikipedia, which is a source that many non-scientists do turn to.

    Even worse, work that is not available openly now may not even be available in perpetuity, something that is being discussed by scientists in the USA.

    So in the same way that CERN itself is an example of the power of international collaboration to ask some of the fundamental scientific questions of our time, SCOAP provides a way to ensure that the answers, whatever they are, are available to everyone, forever.

    Virginia Barbour, Executive Director, Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, Queensland University of Technology

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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    Reminder: The First Computer Programmer Was A Woman

    This is Ada King, the countess of Lovelace. In 1843 she composed the basis for what many call the first computer program.

    As the story goes, Lovelace entered into correspondence with inventor Charles Babbage after meeting him at a party. The two eventually discussed Babbage’s idea for an “analytical engine” — essentially a computer that could use an algorithm to shape its output — and Lovelace is credited with greatly expanding on and refining the concept.

    In a sense, she pioneered the idea of a computer algorithm. As puts it:

    In her notes, Ada described how codes could be created for the device to handle letters and symbols along with numbers. She also theorized a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping that computer programs use today. Ada also offered up other forward-thinking concepts in the article. For her work, Ada is often considered to be the first computer programmer.

    There are a couple of things worth taking from this 19th-century story.

    First and most obviously: Any time someone suggests that women are less inclined toward pursuits like technology and mathematics, you can immediately shoot them down. (And probably never talk to them again, because it’s simply a conversation that shouldn’t happen in the first place.) 

    But this is also a story of collaboration.

    Babbage and Lovelace were a team. At a time when men dominate the tech industry and businesses overall, this is a reminder that diverse talent can — and should — be elevated by those who are privileged enough to get a head start.

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    Textbooks worldwide rely on gender stereotypes, report finds

    Released for International Womens Day, a Unesco study of teaching materials in countries around the globe has found overwhelmingly strong gender bias

    In a Turkish textbook, a girl is pictured dreaming of her wedding day, while a boy imagines becoming a doctor. In a Tunisian one, students are asked to complete sentences about Mr Thompson, who is in the garage washing his car, and Mrs Thompson, in the kitchen preparing lunch (she [likes] cooking very much, they discover). A new report from Unesco says that gender bias is rife in textbooks around the world, and is undermining girls motivation and achievement in schools.


    A picture from Turkey Elementary Civics 3 Book 2. Photograph: Global Education Monitoring Report at UNESCO

    The report cites studies of textbooks around the world, including Chinese textbooks for primary-age children, finding that males were disproportionately represented in the material. In Chinese social studies texts, it said that all scientists and soldiers were depicted as male while all teachers and three quarters of service personnel were female, while in a 12-volume set of elementary Chinese textbooks women only accounted for around 20% of the historical characters, and appeared dull and lifeless in comparison with the more vibrant males.

    In India, meanwhile, only 6% of the illustrations in primary English, Hindi, mathematics, science and social studies textbooks showed only females, while more than half showed only males, according to the report. Not a single woman was shown as an executive, engineer, shopkeeper or merchant in six mathematics books used in Indian primary schools, said the analysis from the Global Education Monitoring Report at Unesco, with men dominat[ing] activities representing commercial, occupational and marketing situations.

    The GEM report pointed to research from the late 2000s into maths textbooks in Cameroon, Cte dIvoire, Togo and Tunisia that found the proportion of female to male characters was 30% in each country, with each gender shown in highly stereotyped roles. Women were portrayed as accommodating, nurturing household workers and girls as passive conformists, while boys and men were engaged in almost all the impressive, noble, exciting and fun things, and almost none of the caregiving roles, it said.

    Despite attempts to provide greater gender balance recent studies show that bias in textbooks remains pervasive in many countries, including Georgia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan and some high income countries such as Australia, said the GEM report.

    It cited a 2015 Pakistan study, which found no change in the negative portrayal of women in Pakistani textbooks since 2004, as well as the finding in Iran in 2012 that men made up 80% of characters in books designed by the ministry of education, and a 2009 Australian study, which discovered that 57% of characters in Australian textbooks were men, with double the amount of men portrayed in law and order roles, and four times as many depicting characters engaged in politics and government.


    A page from the textbook Bangladesh English for Today. Photograph: Global Education Monitoring Report at UNESCO

    Unfortunately, however measured in lines of text, proportions of named characters, mentions in titles, citations in indexes girls and women are under-represented in textbooks and curricula, said the report, warning policymakers on International Womens Day that until this is addressed, girls motivation, participation and achievement in school will continue to be undermined, affecting their future life chances.

    The UN agency did point to some positive change in countries including Jordan, where women have been depicted in textbooks as prime ministers, as fighters and pilots, and in Palestine, where they are shown as street demonstrators, and voting.

    Some Indian and Malawian textbooks challenge students to identify gender bias in accompanying illustrations and urge them to discuss these stereotypes with their peers. Sweden, likewise, is also complimented for its egalitarian approach to gender in its textbooks, said Unesco, which as it widens its investigations into the topic is asking students and parents to share examples of textbooks that perpetuate gender bias online, using the hashtag #betweenthelines, as well as those that push for gender equality.

    It is no longer just about how many children are in school, which is important, but also what is actually happening in the classroom. Thats very difficult [to measure], but textbooks are a good entry point, said Manos Antoninis, senior policy analyst at GEM.

    Teachers who in some cases may not have been sufficiently trained at the very least need tools to convey an accurate depiction of men and women, girls and boys, tools that provide the right background for equitable behaviour. If textbooks are filled with discriminatory moments, thats not a good entry point, Antoninis added. Were launching this call for people to join us and share images of textbooks because this is information we need to see more of.

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    Can you solve it? New Year, new number, new equation

    Complete the countdown conundrum 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 = 2017 and win a prize

    Hello guzzlers,

    Here in Numberland, we always knew that 2016 was going to be a bad one, since:

    2016 = 666 + 666 + 666 + 6 + 6 + 6

    But thats last years news. Whats the story about 2017, arithmetically speaking?

    Well, 2017 is a prime number – the first since 2011, and the last until 2027. (Prime numbers are those numbers that are only divisible by themselves and 1.)

    More notably, 2017 is the smallest whole number whose cube root begins with ten distinct digits:

    20171/3 = 12.63480759….

    Wowza! At this time of year, many mathematically curious folk spend time looking for satisfying number patterns like this one involving the new date. (Please add your favourites in the comments below.)

    Just so you are not left out the fun, todays puzzle is to fill the blanks in the following equation, so that it makes arithmetical sense:

    10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 = 2017

    You can use any of the basic mathematical operations, +, , x, , and as many brackets as you like. So, an answer might look something like (10 + 9 + 8) x (7 6 5)/(4 + 3 + 2 + 1) = 2017, although not this one since this is incorrect.

    I do this countdown equation every year. Because 2017 is prime, it is a little bit more difficult that last years equation where the numbers had to equal 2016. In fact, there are only 652 solutions this year, compared with 890 solutions for last year, according to my computer programmer pal Zefram. (Many of these solutions are similar).

    Got that? Now lets raise the stakes. Can you do the same to this equation, which is the same as above but with the 10 deleted:

    9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 = 2017

    There are only 107 solutions to this one.

    Now you have a taste for this puzzle, fill in the equation with the 9 deleted too:

    8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 = 2017.

    This one only has 13 solutions. Its interesting that each time we remove a number the solution space shrinks by a factor of about seven.

    We have to end there, since there are no solutions when only seven digits are left.

    I stipulated above that you must use only the four basic mathematical operations. But of course, if you want to show off, you can use whatever arcane or complicated mathematical operations you want.

    I will send a copy of my puzzle book Can You Solve My Problems? to the person who comes up with the solution to any of the three above puzzles that I consider to be the most beautiful, creative or wacky. This could be one with, say, the least number of brackets required, or with the most ambitious use of mathematical symbology. My decision is final!

    To enter either tweet your answer with the hashtag #MondayPuzzle or email me. Ill be back with answers and results at the end of the day.


    Photograph: Guardian Faber

    I set a puzzle here every two weeks on a Monday. Im always on the look-out for great puzzles. If you would like to suggest one, email me.

    My new book Can You Solve My Problems? A Casebook of Ingenious, Perplexing and Totally Satisfying Puzzles is available from the Guardian Bookshop and other retailers. My childrens book Football School: Where Football Explains The World was recently shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award 2017.

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