Largest prime number discovered with more than 23m digits

With nearly one million more digits than the previous record holder, the new largest prime number is the 50th rare Mersenne prime ever to be discovered

At more than 23m digits long, the number is something of a beast. But for mathematicians, the latest discovery from a global gang of enthusiasts is a thing of beauty: the largest prime number ever found.

Known simply as M77232917, the figure is arrived at by calculating two to the power of 77,232,917 and subtracting one, leaving a gargantuan string of 23,249,425 digits. The result is nearly one million digits longer than the previous record holder discovered in January 2016.

The number belongs to a rare group of so-called Mersenne prime numbers, named after the 17th century French monk Marin Mersenne. Like any prime number, a Mersenne prime is divisible only by itself and one, but is derived by multiplying twos together over and over before taking away one. The previous record-holding number was the 49th Mersenne prime ever found, making the new one the 50th.

Im very surprised it was found this quickly; we expected it to take longer, said Chris Caldwell, a professor of mathematics who runs a website on the largest prime numbers at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Its like finding dead cats on the road. You dont expect to find two so close to one another.

The new prime number was originally found on Boxing Day by the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (Gimps) collaboration which harnesses the number-crunching power of volunteers computers all over the world. In the days after, four more computers sporting different hardware and software were set the task of verifying the discovery. Those computers confirmed the result, taking between 34 and 82 hours each.

To find M77232917 in the first place took six full days of nonstop computing on a PC owned by Jonathan Pace, a 51-year old electrical engineer from Germantown, Tennessee. It is the first prime that Paces computer has churned out in 14 years on the Gimps project. He is now eligible for a $3,000 award.

When asked about mathematicians fascination with such mammoth numbers, Caldwell said: They are exciting to those of us who are interested in them. Its like asking why do you climb a mountain. He compares prime numbers to diamonds, with small ones finding uses in encryption and other applications, but large ones being more like showpieces. Thats what were talking about here: its a museum piece as opposed to something that industry would use, he said.

Curtis Cooper, a professor of mathematics at the University of Central Missouri, found the previous record-holding Mersenne prime in 2016, the fourth prime he has helped to find through the Gimps project in 20 years. He said he was a little sad at having lost the record so soon, but added: Im really happy for the whole organisation and the guy who found it. Hed been searching for 14 years, so hes worked as hard as I have.

Discovering new primes, which are things you can touch, its the realisation of my love for mathematics. Thats the appeal for me, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jan/04/largest-prime-number-discovered-with-more-than-23m-digits

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15 Paradoxes That Will Make Your Head Explode

“I know one thing,” Socrates famously said. “That I know nothing.”

It’s a crucial insight from one of the founders of Western philosophy: You should question everything you think you know. 

Indeed, the closer you look, the more you’ll start to recognize paradoxes all around you.

Read on to see our favorite Catch-22s from Wikipedia’s epic list of more than 200 types of paradoxes.

To go anywhere, you must go halfway first, and then you must go half of the remaining distance, and half of the remaining distance, and so forth to infinity: Thus, motion is impossible.

The dichotomy paradox has been attributed to ancient Greek philosopher Zeno, and it was supposedly created as a proof that the universe is singular and that change, including motion, is impossible (as posited by Zeno’s teacher, Parmenides).

People have intuitively rejected this paradox for years.

From a mathematical perspective, the solution — formalized in the 19th century — is to accept that one-half plus one-quarter plus one-eighth plus one-sixteenth and so on … adds up to one. This is similar to saying that 0.999… equals 1.

But this theoretical solution doesn’t actually answer how an object can reach its destination. The solution to that question is more complex and still murky, relying on 20th-century theories about matter, time, and space not being infinitely divisible.

Mark Ramsay/Flickr CC BY 2.0

In any instant, a moving object is indistinguishable from a nonmoving object: Thus motion is impossible.

This is called the arrow paradox, and it’s another of Zeno’s arguments against motion. The issue here is that in a single instant of time, zero seconds pass, and so zero motion happens. Zeno argued that if time were made up of instants, the fact that motion doesn’t happen in any particular instant would mean motion doesn’t happen.

As with the dichotomy paradox, the arrow paradox actually hints at modern understandings of quantum mechanics. In his book “Reflections on Relativity,” Kevin Brown notes that in the context of special relativity, an object in motion is different from an object at rest. Relativity requires that objects moving at different speeds will appear different to outside observers and will themselves have different perceptions of the world around them.

If you restored a ship by replacing each of its wooden parts, would it remain the same ship?

Another classic from ancient Greece, the Ship of Theseus paradox gets at the contradictions of identity. It was famously described by Plutarch:

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.

Can an omnipotent being create a rock too heavy for itself to lift?

While we’re at it, how can evil exist if God is omnipotent? And how can free will exist if God is omniscient?

These are a few of the many paradoxes that exist when you try to apply logic to definitions of God.

Some people might cite these paradoxes as reasons not to believe in a supreme being; however, others would say they are inconsequential or invalid.

Woodcut for “die Bibel in Bildern”, 1960 Wikimedia Commons

There’s an infinitely long “horn” that has a finite volume but an infinite surface area.

Moving ahead to a problem posed in the 17th century, we’ve got one of many paradoxes related to infinity and geometry.

“Gabriel’s Horn” is formed by taking the curve y = 1/x and rotating it around the horizontal axis, as shown in the picture. Using techniques from calculus that make it possible to calculate areas and volumes of shapes constructed this way, it’s possible to see that the infinitely long horn actually has a finite volume equal to π, but an infinite surface area.

As stated in the MathWorld article on the horn, this means that the horn could hold a finite volume of paint but would require an infinite amount of paint to cover its entire surface.

A heterological word is one that does not describe itself. Does “heterological” describe itself?

Here is one of many self-referential paradoxes that kept modern mathematicians and logicians up at night.

An example of a heterological word is “verb,” which is not a verb (as opposed to “noun,” which is itself a noun). Another example is “long,” which is not a long word (as opposed to “short,” which is a short word).

So is “heterological” a heterological word? If it were a word that didn’t describe itself, then it would describe itself; but if it did describe itself, then it would not be a word that described itself.

This is related to Russell’s Paradox, which asked if the set of things that don’t contain themselves contained itself. By creating self-destructing sets like these, Bertrand Russell and others showed the importance of establishing careful rules when creating sets, which would lay the groundwork for 20th-century mathematics.

Pilots can get out of combat duty if they are psychologically unfit, but anyone who tries to get out of combat duty proves he is sane.

Catch-22,” a satirical World War II novel by Joseph Heller, named the situation where someone is in need of something that can only be had by not being in need of it — which is a kind of self-referential paradox.

Protagonist Yossarian is introduced to the paradox with regard to pilot evaluation but eventually sees paradoxical (and oppressive) rules everywhere he looks.

S. Alexis/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

There is something interesting about every number.

After all, 1 is the first nonzero natural number; 2 is the smallest prime number; 3 is the first odd prime number; 4 is the smallest composite number; etc. And when you finally reach a number that seems not to have anything interesting about it, then that number is interesting by virtue of being the first number that is not interesting.

The Interesting Number Paradox relies on an imprecise definition of “interesting,” making this a somewhat sillier version of some of the other paradoxes, like the heterological paradox, that rely on contradictory self-references.

Quantum-computing researcher Nathaniel Johnston came up with a clever resolution of the paradox: Instead of relying on an intuitive notion of “interesting” as in the original paradox, he defined an interesting whole number as one appearing somewhere in the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, a collection of tens of thousands of mathematical sequences like the prime numbers, the Fibonacci numbers, or the Pythagorean triples.

Based on this definition, as of Johnston’s initial blog post in June 2009, the first uninteresting number — the smallest whole number that didn’t show up in any of the sequences — was 11,630. Since new sequences are added to the encyclopedia all the time, some of which include previously uninteresting numbers, as of Johnston’s most recent update in November 2013, the current smallest uninteresting number is 14,228.

In a bar, there is always at least one customer for whom it is true that if he is drinking, everyone is drinking.

Conditional statements in formal logic sometimes have counterintuitive interpretations, and the drinking paradox is a great example.

At first glance, the paradox suggests that one person is causing the rest of the bar to drink.

In fact, all it’s saying is that it would be impossible for everyone in the bar to be drinking unless every single customer were drinking. Therefore, there is at least one customer there (i.e., the last customer not drinking) who by drinking could make it so that everyone in the bar was drinking.

Employees Only/Facebook

A ball that can be cut into a finite number of pieces can be reassembled into two balls of the same size.

The Banach-Tarski paradox relies on a lot of the strange and counterintuitive properties of infinite sets and geometric rotations.

The pieces that the ball gets cut into are very strange-looking, and the paradox only works for an abstract, mathematical sphere: As nice as it would be to take an apple, cut it up, and reassemble the pieces so you have an extra apple for your friend, physical balls made of matter can’t be disassembled like a purely mathematical sphere.

A 100-gram potato is 99% water. If it dries to become 98% water, it will weigh only 50 grams.

Even when working with old-fashioned finite quantities, math can lead to strange results.

The key to the potato paradox is to closely look at the math behind the nonwater content of the potato. Since the potato is 99% water, the dry components are 1% of its mass. The potato starts at 100 grams, so that means that it contains 1 gram of dry material. When the dried-out potato is 98% water, that 1 gram of dry material now needs to account for 2% of the potato’s weight. One gram is 2% of 50 grams, so this must be the new weight of the potato.

If just 23 people are in a room, there’s a better-than-even chance at least two of them have the same birthday.

Another surprising math result, the birthday paradox comes from a careful analysis of the probabilities involved. If two people are in a room together, then there’s a 364/365 chance they do not have the same birthday (if we ignore leap years and assume that all birthdays are equally likely), since there are 364 days that are different from the first person’s birthday that can then be the second person’s birthday.

If there are three people in the room, then the probability that they all have different birthdays is 364/365 x 363/365: As above, once we know the first person’s birthday, there are 364 choices of a different birthday for the second person, and this leaves 363 choices for the third person’s birthday that are different from those two.

Continuing in this fashion, once you hit 23 people, the probability that all 23 have different birthdays drops below 50%, and so the probability that at least two have the same birthday is better than even.

Flickr / Les Roches International School of Hotel Management CC BY 2.0

Most people’s friends have more friends than they do.

This seems impossible but is true when you consider the math.

The friendship paradox is caused by how, in most social networks, most people have a few friends, while a handful of people have a large number of friends. Those social butterflies in the second group disproportionately show up as friends of people with smaller numbers of friends, and drag up the average number of friends-of-friends accordingly.

A physicist working on inventing the time machine is visited by an older version of himself. The older version gives him the plans for a time machine, and the younger version uses those plans to build the time machine, eventually going back in time as the older version of himself.

Time travel, if possible, could result in some extremely strange situations.

The bootstrap paradox is the opposite of the classic grandfather paradox: Rather than going back in time and preventing oneself from going back in time, some information or object is brought back in time, becoming a “younger” version of itself, and enabling itself later to travel back in time. One then has to ask: How did that information or object come into being in the first place?

The bootstrap paradox is common in science fiction and takes its name from a short story by Robert Heinlein

The Hubble eXtreme Deep Field (HXDF) taken in 2012/NASA Wikimedia Commons

If there’s nothing particularly unique about Earth, then there should be lots of alien civilizations in our galaxy. However, we’ve found no evidence of other intelligent life in the universe.

Finally, some see the silence of our universe as a paradox.

One of the underlying assumptions in astronomy is that Earth is a pretty common planet in a pretty common solar system in a pretty common galaxy, and that there is nothing cosmically unique about us. NASA’s Kepler satellite has found evidence that there are probably 11 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Given this, life somewhat like us should have evolved somewhere not overly far away from us (at least on a cosmic scale).

But despite developing ever-more-powerful telescopes, we have had no evidence of technological civilizations anywhere else in the universe. Civilizations are noisy: Humanity broadcasts TV and radio signals that are unmistakably artificial. A civilization like ours should leave evidence that we would find.

Furthermore, a civilization that evolved millions of years ago (pretty recent from a cosmic perspective) would have had plenty of time to at least begin colonizing the galaxy, meaning there should be even more evidence of their existence. Indeed, given enough time, a colonizing civilization would be able to colonize the entire galaxy over the course of millions of years.

The physicist Enrico Fermi, for whom this paradox was named, simply asked, “Where are they?” in the middle of a lunchtime discussion with his colleagues. One resolution of the paradox challenges the above idea that Earth is common and posits instead that complex life is extremely rare in the universe. Another posits that technological civilizations inevitably wipe themselves out through nuclear war or ecological devastation.

A more optimistic solution is the idea that the aliens are intentionally hiding themselves from us until we become more socially and technologically mature. Yet another idea is that alien technology is so advanced that we wouldn’t even be able to recognize it.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/15-paradoxes-that-will-make-your-head-explode/

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The ‘imminent mini ice age’ myth is back, and it’s still wrong | Dana Nuccitelli

Dana Nuccitellil: We cant accurately predict solar activity, and a quiet solar cycle would have a small impact on Earths climate anyway

Roughly every two years were treated to headlines repeating the myth that Earth is headed for an imminent mini ice age. It happened in 2013, 2015, and again just recently at the tail end of 2017.

This time around, the myth appears to have been sparked by a Sky News interview with Northumbria University mathematics professor Valentina Zharkova. The story was quickly echoed by the Daily Mail, International Business Times, Sputnik News, Metro, Tru News, and others. Zharkova was also behind the mini ice age stories in 2015, based on her research predicting that the sun will soon enter a quiet phase.

The most important takeaway point is that the scientific research is clear were one to occur, a grand solar minimum would temporarily reduce global temperatures by less than 0.3C, while humans are already causing 0.2C warming per decade.

The
The global mean temperature difference is shown for the time period 1900 to 2100 for the IPCC A2 emissions scenario. The red line shows predicted temperature change for the current level of solar activity, the blue line shows predicted temperature change for solar activity at the much lower level of the Maunder Minimum, and the black line shows observed temperatures through 2010. Illustration: Adapted from Feulner & Rahmstorf (2010) in Geophysical Research Letters by SkepticalScience.com

So the sun could only offset at most 15 years worth of human-caused global warming, and once its quiet phase ended, the sun would then help accelerate global warming once again.

The mini ice age misnomer

The myth ultimately stems from a period climate scientists have coined The Little Ice Age (LIA). This was a modestly cool period running from about the year 1300 to 1850. It was particularly cold in the UK, where the River Thames sometimes froze over, and frost fairs were held.

A team led by University of Reading physicist and solar expert Mike Lockwood wrote a paper reviewing the science behind frost fairs, sunspots, and the LIA. It included the figure below showing northern hemisphere temperatures along with sunspot number and the level of volcanic particles in the atmosphere over the past millennium:

Sunspot
Sunspot number, northern hemisphere temperatures, and volcanic aerosol optical depth (AOD) around the time of the Little Ice Age. Illustration: Lockwood et al. (2017), News & Reviews in Astronomy & Geophysics

During full blown ice ages, temperatures have generally been 48C colder than in modern times. As this figure shows, during the LIA, temperatures were at most only about 0.5C cooler than the early 20th century. Thus, Lockwood calls the Little Ice Age a total misnomer. As the authors put it:

Compared to the changes in the proper ice ages, the so-called Little Ice Age (LIA) is a very short-lived and puny climate and social perturbation.

For comparison, temperatures have risen by a full 1C over the past 120 years, and 0.7C over just the past 40 years.

The minimal solar minima influence on the climate

The Maunder Minimum was a period of quiet solar activity between about 1645 and 1715. Its often referred to interchangeably with Little Ice Age, but the latter lasted centuries longer. In fact, three separate solar minima occurred during the LIA, which also included periods of relatively higher solar activity. Other factors like volcanic eruptions and human activities also contributed to the cool temperatures. In fact, a 2017 paper led by the University of Readings Mathew Owens concluded:

Climate model simulations suggest multiple factors, particularly volcanic activity, were crucial for causing the cooler temperatures in the northern hemisphere during the LIA. A reduction in total solar irradiance likely contributed to the LIA at a level comparable to changing land use [by humans].

Simulated
Simulated northern hemisphere temperature changes resulting from individual climate factors, as compared to the observed changes in the top panel. The bottom panel shows a simulation with no changes to climatological factors, to illustrate the level of natural variability in the climate. Illustration: Owens et al. (2017), Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate

Several studies have investigated the potential climate impact of a future grand solar minimum. In every case, they have concluded that such a quiet solar period would cause less than 0.3C cooling, which as previously noted, would temporarily offset no more than a decade and a halfs worth of human-caused global warming. These model-based estimates are consistent with the amount of cooling that occurred during the solar minima in the LIA.

Is another grand solar minimum imminent?

Although it would have a relatively small impact on the climate, its still an interesting question to ask whether were headed for another quiet solar period. Zharkova thinks so. Her team created a model that tries to predict solar activity, and suggests another solar minimum will occur from 2020 to 2055. However, other solar scientists have criticized the model as being too simple, created based on just 35 years of data, and failing to accurately reproduce past solar activity.

Ilya Usoskin, head of the Oulu Cosmic Ray Station and Vice-Director of the ReSoLVE Center of Excellence in Research, published a critique of Zharkovas solar model making those points. Most importantly, the model fails in reproducing past known solar activity because Zharkovas team treats the sun as a simple, predictable system like a pendulum. In reality, the sun has more random and unpredictable (in scientific terms, stochastic) behavior:

For example, a perfect pendulum if you saw a few cycles of the pendulum, you can predict its behavior. However, solar activity is known to be non-stationary process, which principally cannot be predicted (the prediction horizon for solar activity is known to be 10-15 years). Deterministic prediction cannot be made because of the essential stochastic component.

Just imagine a very turbulent flow of water in a river rapid, and you throw a small wooden stick into water and trace it. Then you do it second time and third time … each time the stick will end up in very different positions after the same time period. Its movement is unpredictable because of the turbulent stochastic component. This is exactly the situation with solar activity.

Lockwood agrees that we dont yet have a proven predictive theory of solar behavior. He has published research examining the range of possible solar evolutions based on past periods when the Sun was in a similar state to today, but as he puts it, that is the best that I think we can do at the present time!

Solar physicist Paul Charbonneau at the University of Montreal also concurred with Usoskin. He told me that while scientists are working to simulate solar activity, including using simplified models like Zharkovas,

on the standards of contemporary dynamo models theirs is extremely simple in fact borderlining simplistic … To extrapolate such a model outside its calibration window, you need an extra, very strong hypothesis: that the physical systems underlying the magnetic field generation retain their coherence (Phase, amplitude, etc.). As my colleague Ilya Usoskin has already explained, this is very unlikely to be the case in the case of the solar activity cycle.

Why wont this myth die?

Zharkova believes her solar model is correct, but at best it can only try to predict when the next quiet solar period will occur. Its influence on Earths climate is outside her expertise, and the peer-reviewed research is clear that it would be a minimal impact.

Zharkova disagrees I contacted her, and she told me that she believes a grand solar minimum would have a much bigger cooling effect. However, she also referenced long-debunked myths about global warming on Mars and Jupiter, and made a comment about the preachers of global warming. Shes clearly passionate about her research, and has the credibility that comes with publishing peer-reviewed studies on solar activity. Perhaps these factors motivate journalists to write these frequent mini ice age stories.

But Zharkovas climate science beliefs are irrelevant. While she has created a model predicting an imminent period of quiet solar activity, other scientists have identified serious flaws in the model, and in any case, research has shown that another solar minimum would only have a small and temporary impact on Earths climate.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jan/09/the-imminent-mini-ice-age-myth-is-back-and-its-still-wrong

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19-Year-Old Student Hides Spy Camera In His Clothing To Take Secret Street Photos In The 1890s

Carl Størmer (1872-1957) enjoyed a hobby that was very, very unusual at the time. He walked around Oslo, Norway in the 1890s with his spy camera and secretly took everyday pictures of people. The subjects in Størmer’s pictures appear in their natural state. It extremely differs from the grave and strict posing trends that dominated in photography during those years.

Carl got his C.P. Stirn Concealed Vest Spy Camera in 1893 when he was studying mathematics at the Royal Frederick University (now, University of Oslo). “It was a round flat canister hidden under the vest with the lens sticking out through a buttonhole,” he told St. Hallvard Journal from in 1942. “Under my clothes I had a string down through a hole in my trouser pocket, and when I pulled the string the camera took a photo.”

Norway’s first paparazzi usually photographed people at the exact time they were greeting him on the street. “I strolled down Carl Johan, found me a victim, greeted, got a gentle smile and pulled. Six images at a time and then I went home to switch [the] plate.” In total, Størmer took a total of about 500 secret images.

His candid photos aside, Størmer was also fascinated with science. He was a mathematician and physicist, known both for his work in number theory and studying the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).

http://www.boredpanda.com/spy-camera-secret-street-photography-carl-stormer-norway/

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Heretics welcome! Economics needs a new Reformation | Larry Elliott

Neoclassical economics has become an unquestioned belief system and treats those challenging the creed as dangerous

In October 1517, an unknown Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther changed the world when he grabbed a hammer and nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The Reformation started there.

The tale of how the 95 theses were posted is almost certainly false. Luther never mentioned the incident and the first account of it didnt surface until after his death. But it makes a better story than Luther writing a letter (which is what probably happened), and thats why the economist Steve Keen, dressed in a monks habit and wielding a blow up hammer, could be found outside the London School of Economics last week.

Keen and those supporting him (full disclosure: I was one of them) were making a simple point as he used Blu Tack to stick their 33 theses to one of the worlds leading universities: economics needs its own Reformation just as the Catholic church did 500 years ago. Like the medieval church, orthodox economics thinks it has all the answers. Complex mathematics is used to mystify economics, just as congregations in Luthers time were deliberately left in the dark by services conducted in Latin. Neoclassical economics has become an unquestioned belief system and treats anybody who challenges the creed of self-righting markets and rational consumers as dangerous heretics.

Keen was one of those heretics. He was one of the economists who knew there was big trouble brewing in the years leading up to the financial crisis of a decade ago but whose warnings were ignored. The reason Keen was proved right was that he paid no heed to the equilibrium models favoured by mainstream economics. He looked at what was actually happening rather than having a preconceived view of what ought to be happening.

Somewhat depressingly, nothing much has happened, even though it was a crisis neoclassical economics said could not happen. There was a brief dalliance with unorthodox remedies when things were really bleak in the winter of 2008-09, but by late 2009 and early 2010, there was a return to business as normal.

The intellectual monopoly is something of an irony given how central the idea of competition is to orthodox thinking, but it is a sad fact as the preamble to the 33 theses notes that the neoclassical perspective overwhelmingly dominates teaching, research, advice to policy, and public debate.

Many other perspectives that could provide valuable insights are marginalised and excluded. This is not about one theory being better than another, but the notion that scientific advance only moves ahead with a debate. Within economics, this debate has died.

That debate needs to be rekindled. A more pluralist approach would take account of the complexity of markets, the constraints imposed by nature and rising inequality. So what needs to be done?

Firstly, listen to consumers, because it is pretty obvious that they are unimpressed with what they are getting. The failure of the economics establishment to predict the crisis and its insistence that austerity is the right response to the events of a decade ago has meant the profession has rarely been less trusted.

Of course, there were economists who got it right and some of them Paul Krugman, for example wielded real influence. But it should have come as little surprise that when it came to the Brexit referendum, voters took the warnings from the UK Treasury, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of England with a very large pinch of salt. After all, not one of these august bodies armed as they were with their general equilibrium models saw the deepest recession since the second world war coming, even when it was already under way.

It is welcome news that discontent is bubbling up from below on university campuses. True, the prestigious academic journals remain in the hands of the old order and in economics faculties there is strong resistance to change but increasingly students are showing their frustration at being told to learn and regurgitate economics that is not just narrow and of little relevance, but also plain wrong. Of the 33 theses pinned to the LSE, five involved the teaching of economics, with demands to be taught history and economic thought, and for the monopoly of the status quo to be broken.

One of the theses demands that economics must do more to encourage critical thinking, and not simply reward memorisation of theories and implementation of models. Students must be encouraged to compare, contrast, and combine theories, and critically apply them to in-depth studies of the real world. The fact that students feel the need to say this is a terrible indictment of the way economics is being taught, and their discontent negates the idea that this is just whingeing from aggrieved Keynesians.

Secondly, we should stop treating economics as a science because it is nothing of the sort. A proper science involves testing a hypothesis against the available evidence. If the evidence doesnt support the theory, a physicist or a biologist will discard the theory and try to come up one that does work empirically.

Economics doesnt work like that. Theories can be shown to work only by making a series of highly questionable assumptions such as that humans always behave predictably and rationally. When there is hard evidence that disputes the validity of the theory, there is no question of ditching the theory.

Thirdly, economics needs to be prepared to learn from other disciplines because when it does the results are worthwhile. One example is the way in which auto-enrolment has increased pension coverage. If humans were truly economically rational, it would make no difference whether their employers automatically enrolled them into pension schemes: they would decide whether to join schemes on the basis of whether they deemed it worth deferring consumption until they had retired. Yet, basic psychology says this is not the way people actually act. They are far less likely to opt out of something than they are to opt into something.

Fourthly, economics needs to be demystified. One of the big battles between Catholics and Protestants in mid-16th century England was over whether the bible should be in Latin or English, a recognition that language matters. The easy part of an economic Reformation is to attack the current establishment; the difficult part is to present a compelling story without resorting to jargon. Control of the narrative as George Osborne realised when he criticised Labour for failing to mend the roof while the sun was shining is crucial.

At the launch of the 33 theses last week, Victoria Chick, emeritus professor of economics at University College London, put it this way: The economics mainstream has the hallmarks of certain religions. They think they have the truth. But read for yourself and think for yourself. Change has occurred before and it can occur again. Shes right. It can.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/dec/17/heretics-welcome-economics-needs-a-new-reformation

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See how your primary school is doing

Image copyright Getty Images

Pupils with special educational needs (SEN) in England are dropping further behind their classmates in national primary school tests, statistics show.

The gap between SEN pupils and their peers has risen from 48 percentage points in 2016 to 52 this year.

The figures are revealed in school league tables, published by the Department for Education (DfE), showing the results of about 16,000 primaries.

Head teachers say special-needs education funding is in crisis.

English primary school tables

Department for Education website

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The government statistics show 18% of children with SEN reached the expected level in reading, writing and mathematics, compared with 70% of their peers without special needs.

Although SEN pupils’ results edged upwards on last year, when 14% made the grade, their non-SEN peers boosted their results more dramatically from 62% to 70%.

Teachers have been warning that pupils with special needs, such as mild autism or dyslexia, would struggle in the tougher tests introduced last year.

A National Association of Head Teachers’ spokesman said it was “one of those situations where money is the solution and schools need the government’s help”.

The tables also showed disadvantaged pupils still perform far worse than all other pupils in England, with around half passing the tests, compared to nearly two-thirds of non-disadvantaged.

The gap between the two groups of pupils is now as wide as it was in 2012 at about 20 percentage points.

However, there does appear to be a small catch-up (one percentage point) in poorer pupils’ attainment on 2016 when the tougher tests were introduced and results for all pupils dipped significantly.

‘Phonics’

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “This data is a useful indication of school performance but it is not the whole story. One thing it does do, though, is confirm what NAHT has been saying for a long time about social mobility.

“Raising the Key Stage 2 standard (Sats test) was not going to help close the gap. The issues that underpin inequality reach far beyond the school gates and exist throughout the communities that schools serve.”

But Schools Minister Nick Gibb hailed the achievements of pupils and teachers, saying they had responded well to the more rigorous curriculum.

This set of pupils was the first to benefit from the government’s new approach to phonics, he said.

“Pupils are now leaving primary school better prepared for the rigours of secondary school and for future success in their education,” Mr Gibb added.

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Overall, pupils have scored better in their Sats results than last year, which was the first year of the new tests.

The DfE said this was partly because of “increased familiarity” with the new tests.

There was a nine percentage point increase in the proportion of black pupils passing the tests, to 60% – just one percentage point behind the national average and white pupils.

The top five local authorities were all London boroughs, with Richmond upon Thames at the top, Kensington and Chelsea coming second and Bromley third.

The inner city boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham and Hackney have claimed the fourth and fifth spots.

In 1999, Hackney, which had been one of the worst performing boroughs, became the first local education authority to be taken out of council control.

In this year’s tests across England, local authority schools slightly outperformed academies and free schools, with 62% of their schools reaching the expected standard compared with 61% of academies and free schools.

In all, 511 schools – 4% of the total – have fallen beneath the government’s expectations or “floor standard”, where fewer than 65% of pupils met the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics and the school did not achieve sufficient progress scores in all three subjects.

This is an improvement on last year, where 665 – 5% – primaries were found wanting.

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Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42353456

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3 tips on how to shop for gender-inclusive toys this holiday season

My favorite Christmas gift I ever received was a computer game—”Secret of the Scarlet Hand,” the sixth mystery in the Nancy Drew PC series. Playing the game, my friends, sister, and I would huddle around our bulky family Dell computer for hours on end. With one person controlling the mouse, the rest of us would watch earnestly, eyes glued to the screen, or peeping through spaces between fingers that nervously covered our faces.

Playing as the famed girl detective herself, we’d open forbidden passages and interview suspects around a museum exhibit of ancient Mayan artifacts. We completed cultural-, literary-, and science-based challenges, eventually losing our minds when Nancy became trapped inside a monolith with a mummy. I credit that game with the launch of my Nancy Drew obsession, and my interest in journalism that followed.

Perhaps the best part of the gift was that there wasn’t anything inherently masculine or feminine about the way the game looked or felt. I don’t remember feeling like Nancy had to “think like a man,” or that she was ever told she was smart “for a girl” to solve the mystery. It was a game that followed a female protagonist, not a game specifically made for girls—the kind of toy I’d hope to purchase for a niece or nephew to give them an opportunity to explore their interests.

There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with gender-specific toys—I was a huge “Barbie girl” growing up, too—but according to toy experts, we run into trouble when we limit children’s play to toys marketed to a specific gender, perhaps limiting children in their understanding of what they find interesting as a consequence.

It might seem daunting to purchase gender-inclusive toys for the kids in your life, especially if you may not necessarily know what the child likes. However, toy experts and advocates from Global Toy Experts, STEMToyExpert.com, and Let Toys Be Toys, break down how to shop with gender-inclusivity in mind this holiday season.

1) Steer clear of gendered packaging and stereotypical choices.

Richard Gottlieb, founder of toy consulting company Global Toy Experts, told the Daily Dot that this notion that pink is “for girls” and blue is “for boys” didn’t begin until the 1930s, when department stores began gendering baby clothes to sell more products. While stores in New York and Philadelphia were initially split on which color was “for girls,” pink eventually won out, its feminine connotation brought into the mainstream with the success of the Barbie doll.

Most obviously, this marketed packaging manifests itself into toy aisles and onto the boxes themselves. Gottlieb used the example of the original Battleship game, the exterior of which showed a father and son playing the game, with a mother and daughter doing dishes in the background.

Even representation in toy catalogs matter. Tessa Trabue, a campaigner with the United Kingdom-based gender-inclusion toy campaign Let Toys Be Toys, told the Daily Dot that it’s important for advertising and catalogs to show boys and girls playing with all toys—as opposed to seeing two girls play with dolls, or two boys play with building blocks. When children see this kind of representation, they better understand that these toys aren’t just for a specific gender, and are also for them.

“If basing on a gender, it’s going to be based on stereotypes, and that’s not the best way to shop for a child,” Trabue said. “ that when people buy presents and they don’t know their children very well, they just end up with, say, a sea of Barbies for a girl, and the girl doesn’t even like Barbies. Do you really want to waste your money on a toy the child doesn’t even want?”

2) While toy brands might be introducing girls to STEM, gendered STEM toys are still gendered.

Let Toys Be Toys, which has helped push for gender-inclusivity in toys for about five years, doesn’t endorse certain toys or toy brands, Trabue said. However, she said that even when toy companies make toys such as engineering-based kits, home repair tools, or chemistry sets specifically for girls, these products are still gendered. In being gendered, these toys continue to send the message that girls are different and need a special way to get into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.

Will Asbury, owner of STEMToyExpert.com, told the Daily Dot that the organization too holds mixed opinions. However, this seemingly reinforced gender bias doesn’t mean these STEM-specific toys for girls don’t serve a purpose.

“Whilst we agree that toys can play an important role in encouraging girls into STEM, it does seem counterintuitive that we are designing toys specifically aimed at girls in an effort to reduce gender bias!” Asbury wrote in an email. “That said, if STEM toys for girls do encourage more girls to enter STEM fields, then we do not see the harm in it.”

STEMToyExpert.com’s list of the top STEM toys for girls includes several of these gendered options, including the popular GoldieBlox interactive toys, and a roller coaster and amusement park building kit from Lego Friends. To find STEM-related toys that don’t enforce a gender bias, however, Trabue suggested gift shops within museums and science centers. She also suggested looking into independent toy stores, which may have a greater selection gender-inclusive toys but might be on the pricier side than big box stores.

Of course, these options may not be available to people who don’t live in cities with such centers, so it never hurts to do a little online shopping, too. Asbury, whose website specializes in discussing STEM toys, told the Daily Dot that adults may be interested in looking into Lego Boost, a robot coding and building set, and Anki Cozmo, an artificial intelligence-based robot, which are both gender-inclusive.

3) Don’t forget about toys that emphasize caring activities for boys.

Gottlieb said that this push for gender-inclusive toys should, above all, make it so that children don’t feel there’s a “no-go zone” in the toy department—this goes for boys as well. Trabue said Let Toys Be Toys specifically uses the Twitter hashtag #caringboys to promote and encourage the practice of boys using caring toys, such as dolls and strollers, play kitchen sets, and cleaning toys.

However, because many of these kinds of toys are pink, boys are still resistant to choose and play with such toys. Going back to the point of gender-inclusive packaging and advertising, Trabue emphasized the discouraging nature of caring toys as a reason to advocate for companies to dismantle gendered toy aisles and catalogs altogether.

“We think it’s very important that boys are allowed the chance to play with caring dolls and explore these activities…It’s nice on the packaging if they could see a boy playing with the doll,” Trabue said. “It’s strange. Why wouldn’t you want to give boys the chance to explore caring play? Even if they don’t become fathers, don’t want them to be caring human beings?”

In the U.K. this is already happening—the Let Toys Be Toys campaign has helped remove gendered signage from toy aisles in major U.K. retailers, such as the Entertainer and Boots, and has also seen a 70 percent drop of online retailers ending the use of gendered denotations on catalogs. The campaign also gives out “Toymark” awards to book and toy businesses that market their products gender-inclusively.

Gottlieb’s company, too, has also helped lead toy companies toward more inclusive products, and assisted in removing gender categories from the annual Toy of The Year awards. But in the United States, one look at the Toys-R-Us website in their segregated toys for boys’ and girls’ outdoor play, as pointed out by Trabue, shows how much further mainstream toy companies need to go to achieve gender-inclusivity.

However, consumers in doubt about what to purchase their niece or nephew don’t need to shell the out big bucks for the perfect toy. After all, it’s the thought behind the toy that counts—literally.

“Think in more terms of the interest of the child, or your interest—there are two ways to give a gift,” Gottlieb said.

Read more: https://www.dailydot.com/irl/gender-inclusive-toys/

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Scholarship for Muslim women honors pioneering scientist

When it came to pursuing a scientific career, Tasneem Essader encountered forces pulling her in and pushing her away: She drew inspiration from her mother’s work in chemistry, but initial discouragement from her engineer father, who thought she should do something else. She was inspired by women engineers she met, but found few girls around her in advanced high school science classes.

Essader, who feels strongly connected to her Muslim faith, also struggled to find the right fit among an array of identity-based scholarships as she looked to help ease the financial burden of college.

Then, an uncle informed her about the Adawia Alousi Scholars program, and the obstacles started to fall away. She found that fit, and a kinship with the scholarship program’s namesake.

“After reading about Dr. Alousi’s life, I felt like the struggles I faced because of who I am in the field I want to pursue have been validated,” Essader wrote in her essay application, “that someone who has gone through the same struggles as I have and has something about it to make it easier for future generations.”

The scholarship, established at the Dearborn, Michigan-based Center for Arab American Philanthropy with money from Alousi’s family trust, is believed to be the first of its kind for Muslim-American women studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Essader is in the inaugural class of 11 recipients of the scholarship, named after a scientist who helped develop a pioneering drug treatment for congestive heart failure in the 1980s.

Alousi, who died in 2010, was an Iraq-born Muslim who had to fight to earn recognition in a male-dominated field. She wanted money from her trust to go toward charity.

“We reflected upon who my aunt was, what she would want. She was most passionate about her science and Islam — the scholarship reflects those passions,” said nephew Amin Alousi, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Alousi said his aunt’s pharmacological research was the backbone for a new class of drugs for congestive heart failure — and she and her colleagues were the first to bring such drugs to market. Still, he added, she faced discrimination being “a foreign-born woman.”

“She really did have to be vocal,” Alousi said. “On all the scientific papers, she insisted on being recognized as a lead author.”

Alousi said the scholarship includes grade requirements but he added, “We want people with a compelling story,” including “overcoming hardships.”

Essader, a freshman at the University of North Carolina, wants to “carry forward Dr. Alousi’s spirit by breaking the stereotypes surrounding people who look like me.” Essader says her father has grown more encouraging as he sees her passion for her intended career in biomedical engineering.

Another recipient, Teeba Jihad, said her “family was under attack” in her native Iraq as members of the Shiite sect of Islam during wartime. After coming to the U.S. at age 11, she faced name-calling and criticism for her modest clothing. Jihad, who had a cancer scare in 2013, is studying biomolecular science at New York University and has worked in a lab to develop breast cancer treatments using magnetic, nanoscale particles. The scholarship, she wrote, allows her to “continue to create a positive image of young Muslim females.”

Alousi hopes the recipients’ achievements help dispel misconceptions.

“The bigger narrative of how often people in the West or in the United States wrongly assume Muslim women are uneducated, not successful, or not outspoken — I think that’s the bigger story that we hope to overcome with this scholarship and the young women it supports,” he said.

___

Karoub is a member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity Team, and frequently writes about religion. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jeffkaroub and find more of his work at https://apnews.com/search/jeff%20karoub . Sign up for the AP’s weekly newsletter showcasing our best reporting from the Midwest and Texas: http://apne.ws/2u1RMfv .

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/12/10/scholarship-for-muslim-women-honors-pioneering-scientist.html

Researchers share $22m Breakthrough prize as science gets rock star treatment

Glitzy ceremony honours work including that on mapping post-big bang primordial light, cell biology, plant science and neurodegenerative diseases

The most glitzy event on the scientific calendar took place on Sunday night when the Breakthrough Foundation gave away $22m (16.3m) in prizes to dozens of physicists, biologists and mathematicians at a ceremony in Silicon Valley.

The winners this year include five researchers who won $3m (2.2m) each for their work on cell biology, plant science and neurodegenerative diseases, two mathematicians, and a team of 27 physicists who mapped the primordial light that warmed the universe moments after the big bang 13.8 billion years ago.

Now in their sixth year, the Breakthrough prizes are backed by Yuri Milner, a Silicon Valley tech investor, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki from the DNA testing company 23andMe, and Googles Sergey Brin. Launched by Milner in 2012, the awards aim to make rock stars of scientists and raise their profile in the public consciousness.

The annual ceremony at Nasas Ames Research Center in California provides a rare opportunity for some of the worlds leading minds to rub shoulders with celebrities, who this year included Morgan Freeman as host, fellow actors Kerry Washington and Mila Kunis, and Miss USA 2017 Kra McCullough. When Joe Polchinski at the University of California in Santa Barbara shared the physics prize last year, he conceded his nieces and nephews would know more about the A-list attendees than he would.

Oxford University geneticist Kim Nasmyth won for his work on chromosomes but said he had not worked out what to do with the windfall. Its a wonderful bonus, but not something you expect, he said. Its a huge amount of money, I havent had time to think it through. On being recognised for what amounts to his lifes work, he added: You have to do science because you want to know, not because you want to get recognition. If you do what it takes to please other people, youll lose your moral compass. Nasmyth has won lucrative awards before and channelled some of his winnings into Gregor Mendels former monastery in Brno.

Another life sciences prizewinner, Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute in San Diego, was honoured for three decades of painstaking research into the genetic programs that flip into action when plants find themselves plunged into shade. Her work revealed that plants can sense when a nearby competitor is about to steal their light, sparking a growth spurt in response. The plants detect threatening neighbours by sensing a surge in the particular wavelengths of red light that are given off by vegetation.

Chory now has ambitious plans to breed plants that can suck vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a bid to combat climate change. She believes that crops could be selected to absorb 20 times more of the greenhouse gas than they do today, and convert it into suberin, a waxy material found in roots and bark that breaks down incredibly slowly in soil. If we can do this on 5% of the landmass people are growing crops on, we can take out 50% of global human emissions, she said.

Three other life sciences prizes went to Kazutoshi Mori at Kyoto University and Peter Walter for their work on quality control mechanisms that keep cells healthy, and to Don Cleveland at the University of California, San Diego, for his research on motor neurone disease.

The $3m Breakthrough prize in mathematics was shared by two British-born mathematicians, Christopher Hacon at the University of Utah and James McKernan at the University of California in San Diego. The pair made major contributions to a field of mathematics known as birational algebraic geometry, which sets the rules for projecting abstract objects with more than 1,000 dimensions onto lower-dimensional surfaces. It gets very technical, very quickly, said McKernan.

Speaking before the ceremony, Hacon was feeling a little unnerved. Its really not a mathematician kind of thing, but Ill probably survive, he said. Ive got a tux ready, but Im not keen on wearing it. Asked what he might do with his share of the winnings, Hacon was nothing if not realistic. Ill start by paying taxes, he said. And I have six kids, so the rest will evaporate.

Chuck Bennett, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, led a Nasa mission known as the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) to map the faint afterglow of the big bangs radiation that now permeates the universe. The achievement, now more than a decade old, won the 27-strong science team the $3m Breakthrough prize in fundamental physics. When we made our first maps of the sky, I thought these are beautiful, Bennett told the Guardian. It is still absolutely amazing to me. We can look directly back in time.

Bennett believes that the prizes may help raise the profile of science at a time when it is sorely needed. The point is not to make rock stars of us, but of the science itself, he said. I dont think people realise how big a role science plays in their lives. In everything you do, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, theres something about what youre doing that involves scientific advances. I dont think people think about that at all.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/dec/04/researchers-share-22m-breakthrough-prize-as-science-gets-rock-star-treatment

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