Month: August 2017

Collection of letters by codebreaker Alan Turing found in filing cabinet

The correspondence, dating from 1949 to 1954, was found by an academic in a storeroom at the University of Manchester

A lost collection of nearly 150 letters from the codebreaker Alan Turing has been uncovered in an old filing cabinet at the University of Manchester.

The correspondence, which has not seen the light of day for at least 30 years, contains very little about Turings tortured personal life. It does, however, give an intriguing insight into his views on America.

In response to an invitation to speak at a conference in the US in April 1953, Turing replied that he would rather not attend: I would not like the journey, and I detest America.

The letter, sent to Donald Mackay, a physicist at Kings College London, does not give any further explanation for Turings forthright views on America, nor do these views feature in any of the other 147 letters discovered earlier this year.

The correspondence, dating from early 1949 to Turings death in 1954, was found by chance when an academic cleared out an old filing cabinet in a storeroom at the University of Manchester. Turing was deputy director of the universitys computing laboratory from 1948, after his heroic wartime codebreaking at Bletchley Park.

Turing was a visionary mathematician and is regarded today as the father of modern computing who broke the Nazis second world war Enigma code. While his later life has been overshadowed by his conviction for gross indecency and his death aged 41 from cyanide poisoning, a posthumous pardon was granted by the Queen in 2013. His life was featured in the 2014 film the Imitation Game.

Prof Jim Miles, of the universitys school of computer science, said he was amazed to stumble upon the documents, contained in an ordinary-looking red paper file with Alan Turing scrawled on it.

When I first found it I initially thought: That cant be what I think it is, but a quick inspection showed it was a file of old letters and correspondence by Alan Turing, he said.

I was astonished such a thing had remained hidden out of sight for so long. No one who now works in the school or at the university knew they even existed. It really was an exciting find and it is mystery as to why they had been filed away.

The collection focuses mainly on Turings academic research, including his work on groundbreaking areas in AI, computing and mathematics, and invitations to lecture at some of Americas best-known universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It contains a single letter from GCHQ, for whom Turing worked during the war, asking the mathematician in 1952 if he could supply a photograph of himself for an official history of Bletchley Park that was being compiled by the American cryptographer William Friedman. In his reply to Eric Jones, GCHQs then director, Turing said he would send a picture for the American rogues gallery.

The collection also contains a handwritten draft BBC radio programme on artificial intelligence, titled Can machines think? from July 1951. The documents were sorted, catalogued and stored by the University of Manchester archivist James Peters and are now available to search online.

Peters said: This is a truly unique find. Archive material relating to Turing is extremely scarce, so having some of his academic correspondence is a welcome and important addition to our collection.

There is very little in the way of personal correspondence, and no letters from Turing family members. But this still gives us an extremely interesting account and insight into his working practices and academic life whilst he was at the University of Manchester.

He added: The letters mostly confirm what is already known about Turings work at Manchester, but they do add an extra dimension to our understanding of the man himself and his research.

As there is so little actual archive on this period of his life, this is a very important find in that context. There really is nothing else like it.

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What is new about this year’s A-levels? – BBC News

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Thousands of teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are receiving their A-and AS-level results. But, in England, there have been changes to this year’s A-level qualifications – the BBC News website sets out the changes.

What is different about this year’s A-levels in England?

Under the new system, students sit all A-level exams at the end of two years of study, instead of taking modular exams throughout the course.

AS-level results no longer count towards A-level grades. No subject will have more than a 20% coursework component and most courses will be assessed entirely through exams.

Resits will still be available, but January exams will be scrapped, so students will have to wait until May/June of the following year for a chance to improve their grades.

Why was this change brought in?

The change was brought in by the former Education Secretary Michael Gove with the intention of making the exams more “fit for purpose” – or harder.

The new AS- and A-levels syllabuses have been phased in across schools in England from September 2015.

The DfE says: “The content for the new A-levels has been reviewed and updated. Universities played a greater role in this for the new qualifications than they did previously.”

What is happening to AS-levels?

The AS-level is being decoupled from the A-level, which means it operates as a stand-alone qualification and the results do not count towards A-level grades – although in Wales and Northern Ireland, they will still count towards an overall A-level mark.

Provisional figures from the Department for Education show that the number of entries for AS subjects has fallen by 42% this summer.

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton said it “sounded the death knell for AS-levels”.

“The great benefit of the old system was that it gave students a broader range of knowledge and allowed them to keep their options open for longer,” he said.

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“The decision to decouple these qualifications was an entirely unnecessary reform, which is narrowing the curriculum and reducing student choice.”

Which subjects are being phased in when?

This year, new A-level qualifications were taken in:

  • art and design
  • biology
  • business
  • chemistry
  • computer science
  • economics
  • English language
  • English language and literature
  • English literature
  • history
  • physics
  • psychology
  • sociology

Next summer, candidates will sit the new A-level qualifications in the following subjects:

ancient languages (classical Greek, Latin)

  • dance
  • drama and theatre
  • geography
  • modern foreign languages (French, German, Spanish)
  • music
  • physical education
  • religious studies

In the summer of 2019, new exams will be sat in:

  • accounting
  • ancient history
  • ancient languages (biblical Hebrew A-level only)
  • classical civilisation
  • design and technology
  • electronics
  • environmental science
  • film studies
  • further mathematics
  • geology
  • government and politics
  • history of art (A-level only)
  • law
  • mathematics
  • media studies
  • modern foreign languages (Arabic, Bengali, Gujarati, Greek, Japanese, modern Hebrew, Panjabi, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Turkish, Urdu)
  • modern foreign languages (Chinese, Italian, Russian)
  • music technology
  • philosophy
  • statistics

Hasn’t all this change been stressful for the teenagers involved?

Young people and teachers have told the BBC that preparing for the new qualification has been stressful, especially as there were no past papers to refer to and some text books were written before some of the syllabuses were finalised.

Rosamund McNeil, from the National Union of Teachers, said: “The upheaval of a hastily reformed curriculum and the changes leading to a reduction in much of the coursework elements, created unnecessary stress and concern for pupils and teachers alike.

“While results nationally may have remained in line with those in the previous year, some schools and colleges will no doubt see considerable variation.

“The volatility around results and the accountability measures which use them can have damaging and unfair consequences.”

What is happening elsewhere in the UK?

There have been no major changes in the other nations.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, AS-levels have remained as an integral part of studying for A-levels.

AS-levels contribute 40% of the total marks of the full A-level and can be taken at the end of the AS course or alongside A2.

In Scotland, students do not sit A-levels and AS-levels. Instead, they take Highers and Advanced Highers.

This year, the Higher pass rate dipped by 0.2%, but the total number of passes remained above 150,000 for a third successive year.

Reporting by BBC News education reporter Katherine Sellgren

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9 “Church-Approved” Sins

I was in an engineering class the first time I watched the tragic explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Even though I wasn’t alive when it happened, I caught a glimpse of the horror thousands must have felt as the events unfolded.

And, the first question everyone wanted to know was, “What happened?”

After months of investigation, here’s what the Rogers Commission (the group commissioned to investigate the explosion) discovered: An o-ring seal in the right solid rocket booster failed at take-off. I won’t bore you with the details, but an o-ring is a small device relative to the size of a space shuttle. Very small.

It wasn’t something huge, like a puncture in the rocket booster or a hole in the cabin, that caused this disaster. It was a small, seemingly insignificant, o-ring failure.

I think there’s a lesson here for the church. What if the big sins, you know the ones you try hardest to avoid, aren’t the greatest threat to your joy and the church’s mission?

Maybe it’s the sins lying underneath, the ones considered normal or acceptable, the ones going undetected, that are affecting the church the most. I want to address nine of these sins.

1.) FEAR

The phrases “do not fear” and “do not be afraid” appear 365 times in the Bible. Ironic? I think not. And here’s what I think the church misses about fear. Let me pose this as a question. What is the opposite of fear? Courage? Bravery? William Wallace?

Wrong. Wrong. And right, but you’re ruining my point.

The opposite of fear is…LOVE. Add to this the reality that God is love. So, according to the Transitive property of mathematics, the opposite of fear is…God.

If you’re a child of God, the one sin that shouldn’t plague you is…fear.

Yet, Christians are the most fearful people on earth. Even our salvation is rooted in fear. Does it bother anyone that the primary method of bringing people to Jesus has been to scare them away from hell?

That’s fear language, the antithesis of God. Look at what John says.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18

The church is scared to make decisions out of fear. Christians are hesitant to step into dangerous situations out of fear. The catalyst for our obedience is fear. Where’s the love?

Several weeks ago, I decided to remove the words “fear, scared and terrified” from my vocabulary. Maybe you should do the same. It could change how you see the world. And God.


Apathy’s best friends are passivity and entitlement. Together, they’re a vicious threesome.

There’s nothing mediocre or normal about God. His power is beyond comprehension. His beauty is beyond description. His love is beyond measure. The same God who created the universe and formed stars desires a relationship with you.

Yet, the attitude is often, “OK, God loves me. That’s great. What’s for lunch?” No. You don’t get it, bro. God loves you. And you’re content with, “That’s great.”


Our apathetic approach to God explains a lot about why people in America aren’t lining up to become Christians.

I mean, think about it. How many Christians have you met that left you thinking, “Wow, I want to be like them?” But this should be the norm, right? Am I way off here? Shouldn’t you be so transformed by God that people want to ask about your life, even if they hate God?

In Scripture, when men and women truly experience God, everything changes. Everything. So, that begs the question, “Have you experienced God?”


In my younger days, I would literally eat myself sick. I mean, if I ordered food, I ate all of it. Period. Naturally, this presented a problem when I ate buffets.

Looking back, I see that my attitude was gluttonous. And the gluttony wasn’t that I ate myself sick. It was that I used a gift God gave me on myself…in excess.

Gluttony is primarily about the heart. It’s a craving for excess. Gluttony says, “Those voids God is supposed to fill…don’t worry about that. I will fill them.” Gluttony happens when you lose your awe of God. You see, as long as your eyes are fixed on Jesus, your heart’s desire is for him.

Is the world not desperate for this message? As we gorge our stomachs with food and flood our houses with trinkets, our discontent only increases.

Where are the Jesus followers who will fix their eyes completely on him, throwing away anything that treads the line between want and need? Where are the Christians who will feast in excess on God?


The great philosopher Van Wilder once said, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” That’s right. But Van Wilder isn’t the only one who talked about worry. Jesus said you shouldn’t worry about anything (Matt. 6:25-34). But Jesus wasn’t serious was he? I mean, really Jesus? Anything?

He was serious. You see, worrying is symptomatic of a larger issue…lack of faith. And for followers of Jesus whose primary mission is to show the glory and nature of God to the world, worrying is a problem.

Recently, I asked a good friend why worry plagues the church, and he said something profound, “My greatest concern is that we don’t want to need God. We’re Americans. We’re independent.”

That’s hard-hitting stuff right there.

Americans will do anything to maintain the illusion of control and responsibility, so no wonder worry plagues us. Worry is the by-product of bearing a weight only God can bear.

Do you see the irony here? The more independence you desire, the more worry you will experience. So, why not give everything to God and let his peace reign over your life?


I erased this like five times, but God kept telling me to put it back. So, I did. With hesitancy. I love you, God.

I like performing. I always have. And while there’s nothing wrong with the spotlight, there’s a lot wrong with making yourself the center of it.

If your identity is tied to man’s praise, you’ll be eternally discontent. People are fickle. They’re here today and gone tomorrow. They’re for you one day, against you the next. They love you when you agree with them, dislike you when you don’t.

Yet, we love human praise, at least I do. Exhibit A: Instagram, SnapChat and Facebook. While I love social media, they’re also platforms that perpetuate flattery. You post pictures about your life hoping the world will “like” it. Who cares if it’s not the real you? You need the approval. So, even if you need 30 minutes to find that perfect selfie, it’s worth the time.

Jesus, however, didn’t need the praise and glory of men. He didn’t care what they thought. His only concern was doing the will of God. This attitude is what the world is desperate to see.

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to point people to Jesus if you need their approval.

And when you need the approval of others, your life will have more ups and downs than the Goliath at Six Flags in Atlanta.

I rode that beast. I know.


Comfort might be the patriarch of the “church approved” sins family. When the church becomes comfortable, Christianity starts to die.

Christians must be extremely intentional with their thoughts and actions to avoid comfort. If not, you become resistant to change. You start making secondary issues primary. You begin to see the mission as catering to insiders rather than reaching outsiders.

And here’s the thing about the sin of comfort. Once it shows up, it’s extremely difficult to remove. When you challenge comfort, people don’t just get angry. They get fightin’ mad. Comfort will even tell you to crucify an innocent man.

The church can’t be missional and comfortable at the same time. It’s time to make a decision.


I grew up watching Sesame Street. My favorite character?…Cookie Monster. I felt like we were the same person. And what I mean is we both loved cookies. I would often go around the house saying, “Gimme da cookies.”

It never worked.

Many Christians are like Cookie Monster. Their mantra is, “Gimme more…well anything. Just give me more. More. More. More.”

The essence of this sin is a false understanding of God, that God is a taker. But nothing could be further from the truth. God is a giver. He’s the Giver. And, as a man or woman created in his image, you should be a giver.

So, what are you creating? What are you giving back to the world? What are giving back to others?


Cue the nasty emails. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t picture Jesus waving an American flag while showing off his “I love ‘Merica” tattoo. Jesus wasn’t against the government. In fact, if you’re a Jesus follower, the Bible calls you to pray for your nation and for your leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-4). But Jesus was very clear about how God’s name would become famous throughout the world…the church. Not the government. Not a nation. The church.

When your allegiance is torn between your country and your God, American ideals begin to shape your faith more than God. And you transpose American values onto God, believing God would be an American and think like an American.

Celebrate American values. That’s great. But, at the end of the day, your citizenship is not with America. It’s in heaven.


If gluttony is the elephant in the room everyone sees, but no one talks about, lying is the elephant in the room no one sees. Lying is so socially acceptable, even in Christian circles, that it often goes undetected. We’re desensitized to it.

And here’s why this is dangerous for Christians.

There’s a rarely-discussed passage in Matthew 5:33-37 where Jesus confronts the Pharisees about oaths. Most Americans only hear the word oath when a celebrity lies in court (under oath). But Jesus isn’t talking about oaths in this passage.

He’s talking about INTEGRITY.

Here’s what Jesus is saying. You should live with such high integrity that your word doesn’t need attachments to make it legitimate. So, typical phrases like, “I promise,” “I swear” and “I put it on my mom’s grave” should never come from your mouth.

“Frank, c’mon on man. Are you interpreting that correctly? Say you promise.”

These words are a kick in the pants, right? If you’re like me, you say things all the time and never follow through. You lie to make yourself sound better. You lie to stay out of trouble. You lie to get ahead. Sometimes you lie just to lie.

Jesus says there’s no place for that if you’re a Christian. Your word matters. If you say something, God expects you to do it. It’s better to tell the truth and lose your job than lie and keep it.

How serious is this? Jesus says anything more than our word is from the evil one, Satan. That’s real.


Sometimes the undetected sins are the most toxic. My hope is you will see this as an opportunity to grow. I also realize there are some “church approved” sins I didn’t mention. It’s your turn.

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Symptoms Of Legalism: It Irritates Me When Others Get Grace

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “legalism”?

The Pharisees? Those old folks in your church who hate rock n’ roll and cards? Your weird, Fundamentalist uncle? Westboro Baptist Church?

I tend to think of legalism in pretty black and white terms: Legalism is trying to earn God’s forgiveness and acceptance through my obedience rather than through the finished work of Christ.

Bam. Problem solved, legalism identified, on to the next.

And while that may be the technical, dictionary definition, I’m beginning to learn that legalism is much slimier and more slippery. It shows up in odd places, unexpected and unwelcome. It slides into the nooks and crannies of my heart. It’s an expert con man, pretending to be my friend and convincing me to give up the free grace of God for a much heavier burden.

But legalism always carries with it certain symptoms. It’s like a disease. It may not be easily detectable, but if you know what to look for, you can usually spot it and root it out.

One of those primary symptoms? Becoming irritable and frustrated at God’s grace poured out to others.

Legalism In The Vineyard

Remember the story Jesus told of the workers in the vineyard? Some worked all day, busting their backs in the hot sun after being told they would receive a day’s wages. Others worked half a day, some worked a quarter day, and a few only worked an hour.

At the end of the day, they all received the same wages. The men who worked all day were seriously ticked off:

Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house… (Matthew 20:10-11)

The workers thought they deserved more because they worked more. It was simple mathematics and economics to them.

They were angry at the master for being gracious to those who worked for only an hour. Even though they got a completely fair wage, they were furious that those who worked less got more than a fair share.

When they saw grace, it grated against them.

Legalism At The Party

After the Prodigal Son came home, his father threw a massive party to celebrate his return. A fattened calf was slaughtered, a ring was given, and everyone danced for joy. I like to imagine some karaoke as well.

Everyone was ecstatic except the elder brother (typical first born).

He griped at his dad:

Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ (Lk 15:29–30)

The older brother was angry because the younger brother didn’t get what he deserved. He got grace. He got mercy. He got a party. He got a happy reception and a calf and a ring, even though he had wasted his entire inheritance on loose women, booze, and being the life of the party.

The older, obedient brother had never gotten a party, and that really bugged him. He had always followed his father’s commands to the letter, and yet here was his dad running to celebrate the younger brother.

Something was backward about that.

Legalism Turns Us Into Terrible Accountants

The weird thing about legalism is that it tends to make us really bad at math.

What do I mean by that?

Legalism turns us into blessing accountants. We see the blessings God has given others, and we feel that an accounting mistake has been made by God. That somehow God has forgotten to give us the wages we deserve. That our obedience has earned a specific amount from God and that God hasn’t delivered on that amount.

We weigh our obedience against our blessings and come to the conclusion that our obedience outweighs what we’ve received.

God! I’ve done the obeying, yet they’ve received the children/ministry/house/spouse/any other blessing! This is patently UNFAIR! Where is my blessing? Where is my reward?

This is the insanity of legalism. It leads me to forget absolutely everything God has done for me and given me and instead obsess over what God has given someone else.

Legalism springs out of gospel forgetfulness.

Gospel math says I deserve nothing yet have received everything.

Legalist math says I deserve everything yet have received nothing.

I can’t think of anything more insulting to God. Essentially we’re saying, “God you’ve screwed me! You haven’t given me what I deserve!”

To which God gently replies, “You’re right. I haven’t given you what you deserve. I gave my Son what you deserve and I’ve given you what he deserves.”

Being Continually Astonished

The Valley of Vision puts things in a helpful perspective:

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference
between my receivings and my deservings,
between the state I am now in and my past
between the heaven I am bound for and
the hell I merit.

I fight against legalism by constantly remembering the difference between my “receivings” and my “deservings”.

When I remember the heaven I’m bound for and the hell I merit, legalism is astonished out of me.

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Does the world need polymaths? – BBC News

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Two hundred years ago, it was still possible for one person to be a leader in several different fields of inquiry. Today that is no longer the case. So is there a role in today’s world for the polymath – someone who knows a lot about a lot of things?

“The winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, which British X-Ray crystallographer was instrumental in…”

“Man produces evil as a bee produces honey. These are the words of which Nobel laureate, born in Cornwall in 1911, his novels include Pincher Martin, the Inheritors and Rites of…”

Obviously you don’t need to hear the rest of these questions to know the answers. At least, not if you’re Eric Monkman or Bobby Seagull. Seagull’s fist-pumping and natty dressing, and Monkman’s furrowed brow, flashing teeth, contorted facial expressions and vocal delivery – like a fog horn with a hangover – made these two young men the stars of the last University Challenge competition.

“Wolfson, Monkman” and “Emmanuel, Seagull” became familiar phrases, Monkmania became a hashtag. They squared off as opposing captains in the semi-finals (though in the final itself, the team from Balliol College, Oxford triumphed).

At Cambridge, Monkman and Seagull forged a most unlikely friendship. The Canadian, Eric Monkman, is the middle-class son of two doctors. Bobby Seagull’s family originate in Kerala, India, and he was raised in a working-class part of east London, before gaining a scholarship to Britain’s most elite private school, Eton. “If I got married tomorrow, I’d ask Eric to be my best man,” says Seagull.

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They’re still recognised in the street. “People often ask me, do you intimidate people with your knowledge,” says Monkman. “But the opposite is the case. I have wide knowledge but no deep expertise. I am intimidated by experts.” Seagull, like Monkman, feels an intense pressure to specialise. They regard themselves as Jacks-of-all-Trades, without being master of one. “When I was young what I really wanted to do was know a lot about a lot,” says Monkman. “Now I feel that if I want to make a novel contribution to society I need to know a great deal about one tiny thing.”

The belief that researchers need to specialise goes back at least two centuries. From the beginning of the 19th Century, research has primarily been the preserve of universities. Ever since, says Stefan Collini, Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge University, researchers have labels attached to them. “They’re professor of this or that, and you get a much more self-conscious sense of the institutional divides between domains of knowledge.”

Before then, there were some polymaths who made original contributions in multiple areas. The word polymath stems from the Greek, polus, meaning “much” or “many” and mathe, meaning “learning”. The first use of the word has been traced to the 17th Century. From the Renaissance, people such as Leonardo da Vinci – painter, sculptor, architect, physicist, anatomist, philosopher, geologist and biologist – gave rise to a synonym of polymath, the “Renaissance man”.

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Image caption Leonardo da Vinci designed an aeroplane and a helicopter-like “helical air screw”

One polymath/Renaissance Man was Thomas Young (1773-1829), the subject of a biography by Andrew Robinson entitled The Last Man Who Knew Everything. Young was a physician and physicist, whose achievements were breathtaking. He established the wave theory of light, undertook pioneering work in optics and studied 400 languages, helped decode the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone – and much, much more. And to confound any notion that he was a sort of 19th Century uber-geek, he was also an accomplished dancer and gymnast.

These days, any ambition to contribute to many disciplines is probably unrealistic. It takes years of immersion just to reach the boundary of our current knowledge in any one area. Today’s polymaths might share the same personal qualities as Thomas Young – an abundance of grey matter, of course, combined with relentless curiosity and a tendency to workaholicism (Young barely slept) – but they are repositories of scholarship rather than contributors to it.

Monkman and Seagull’s selected polymaths

Eric’s choice:

Stephen Leacock (1869-1944): Anglo-Canadian political scientist and economist famous in Canada today for his collections of humorous essays and stories. The subjects of his comedy include academia, mathematics, life in rural Canada and the “leisure classes” described by his mentor Thorstein Veblen. When browsing a bookshelf in Canada, I always hope to find an early Stephen Leacock collection.

Joseph Needham (1900-1995): British biochemist, sinologist and historian. As a biochemist, Needham studied chemical embryology. As a sinologist, he was one of the first Westerners to realise the depth of Chinese accomplishments in science. This led him to pose the “Needham Question”, asking why modern science arose in Europe but not in China. I find this an intriguing mystery.

Bobby’s choice:

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179): This German Benedictine abbess was a theologian, writer, poet, composer, artist, linguist, medical researcher and botanist. She is regarded as the founder of scientific natural history in Germany and is one of the first historically identifiable composers in Western music. I was taught about her during my years at St Bonaventure’s Catholic secondary school.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941): The Calcutta-born “Bard of Bengal” was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1913). India chose one of his musical compositions for its national anthem, while Bangladesh chose one of his poems. He was also a painter, and founded the renowned Visva-Bharati University. My father, who studied Bengali literature at university, introduced me to Tagore at a young age.

So is there still a useful role for today’s clever-clog – besides ringer in the pub quiz team?

Stefan Collini says that in many Western societies “there is a populist hostility to expertise in public life”. It may be that polymaths, with their broader gaze, have an important role in communicating specialist fields. What’s more, with ever narrowing specialism there is a need for generalists to synthesise information, to make connections between the discipline silos.

A contemporary polymath, the American academic Jared Diamond, drew on his interest in geography, evolution, anthropology, history and botany, to develop a theory explaining how it was that Eurasian and North African civilisations came to conquer others. It was turned into a best-selling book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.

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Image caption Jared Diamond: One of Stephen Fry’s favourite polymaths

Diamond is one of Stephen Fry’s favourite polymaths. Fry – actor, comedian, writer and general egghead – is himself on the polymathic spectrum. He says he shares a personality trait with other polymaths – inquisitiveness. “If you know a lot, it’s because you’re curious,” he says. “You have this impulse to know and, therefore, things stick to you. You put on, as it were, epistemological weight. I have always been fantastically greedy to know things.”

Monkman and Seagull love knowing a lot of stuff. You might find them reading about the French Revolution one day, and about genetics or astronomy the next. Despite their anxiety about spreading themselves too thin, they share Fry’s appetite to know. It’s an overwhelming craving, likely to frustrate any countervailing drive to master one topic.

By the way. The answer to those two questions. Dorothy Hodgkin was the crystallographer, and William Golding the novelist. But you knew that anyway.

David Edmonds (@DavidEdmonds100) is the producer of Monkman and Seagull’s Polymathic Adventure, on Radio 4 at 20:30 on 21 August.

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NASA Is Now Accepting Applications For New Astronauts

Its time to dust off your space boots. NASA hasopened the application processfor new astronauts, meaning you could one day soon join the hundreds who have ventured beyond Earths atmosphere to date. And, if selected, you could be among the people who take the first steps towards or on Mars.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world, only U.S. citizens are allowed to apply. Submissions must be made on USAJobs.govby February 18, 2016, while a Reddit AMA today at 4 p.m. EST (9 p.m. GMT) by NASA will seek to answer questions anyone might have.

If you think you dont have what it takes to become an astronaut, fret not. The requirements are not as strict as you might think. First, you need to have a bachelors degree preferably an advanced degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics.

Next, youll need to be of an average height, and youll also need to be able to pass a NASA physical. Youll also need 1,000 hoursof experience either as a pilot, or three years of work in a relevant field.

NASA said that 3 million U.S. citizens on LinkedIn met its criteria to be an astronaut.They aren’t clear on what the age limit is, though.

Astronauts selected in this batch will be picked in mid-2017, and will be chosen to fly on any of four U.S. vehicles: the International Space Station (ISS), NASAs Orion capsule, or two commercial crew spacecraft, SpaceXs Dragon and Boeings CST-100 Starliner.

NASA is on an ambitious journey to Mars and were looking for talented men and women from diverse backgrounds and every walk of life to help get us there, said NASA Administrator and former astronaut Charles Bolden in a statement.

Today, we opened the application process for our next class of astronauts, extraordinary Americans who will take the next giant leap in exploration. This group will launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft and blaze the trail on our journey to the Red Planet.

So, what are you waiting for? Apply now, and one day you too could join the prestigious and exclusive club of people who have left this planet behind.

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Ivy League Academic Removed From Plane And Questioned After Passenger Spotted His Equations

Finally, the world is safe from Italian economists doing mathematics on a plane.

Alarm bells were rung last Thursday on a flight from Philadelphia to Ontario, after a passenger saw aman suspiciously writing down a complicated looking formula on a piece of paper and notified cabin crew. The passenger told flight attendants she was feeling ill, causing the flight to turnaround on the runway.

After some confusion, the mysterious mathematicsenthusiastwas taken off the flight and questioned by security agents.

Fortunately for international security, the man was actually Guido Menzio, an Italian-born associate professor in Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, who also happened to be a young, dark-haired, bearded, and slightly tanned male with a foreign accent on a plane.

Menzio told theAssociated Press: “I thought they were trying to get clues about her illness. Instead, they tell me that the woman was concerned that I was a terrorist because I was writing strange things on a pad of paper.”

His scrawlings were actually some last minute work on a differential equation that he was preparing for a lecture on Search Theory in Canada.

Aftertwo hours of questioning,Menzio,who said he was treated with respect,was able to explain himself to the security officials andwas allowed back onto the flight. The passenger who complained, however, did not return to the flight.

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Maryam Mirzakhani, only woman to take math’s highest award, dies at 40

(CNN)Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who became the only woman to receive the highest honor in mathematics, died Saturday after a long battle with cancer, the school said.

She was 40.
The Iran native thrived in study of curved surfaces such as doughnut shapes and amoebas — to a degree that other bright minds in the field dared not explore, her colleagues have said.
In 2014, she became the first woman to receive the Fields Medal, the highest honor in mathematics and equivalent in reputation to a Nobel Prize.
The International Mathematical Union established the award in 1936 and has presented it to at least two people every four years since 1950. All 52 recipients before Mirazkhani were men.
“Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science,” Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said.

Like finding a way out of a jungle

When she won in 2014, the IMU called Mirzakhani’s accomplishments in complex geometric forms such as Riemann surfaces and moduli spaces “stunning.”
“Because of its complexities and inhomogeneity, moduli space has often seemed impossible to work on directly,” the IMU said. “But not to Mirzakhani.”
She was happy to take it on.
“It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out,” she said once.
Her work could help advance understanding in physics, quantum mechanics and areas outside math, Stanford said in an online news article about her death.
She said the 2014 award was a great honor.
“I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani said at the time.

From Iran to California

Mirzakhani was drawn to mathematics while in high school in Iran’s capital, Tehran, where she grew up.
As a teenager, she gained international attention when she won gold medals in two International Mathematical Olympiads, achieving a perfect score in one.
Mirzakhani got her undergraduate degree at Sharif University of Technology, then moved to the United States, where she went to work on her doctorate at Harvard University.
She was an assistant professor at Princeton University before moving to Stanford.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saluted Mirzakhani in a message in Farsi, posted to Twitter.
“Maryam Mirzakhani was a creative scientist and a gracious human being who lifted Iran’s name in the global scientific community,” Rouhani’s account reads. “May she Rest In Peace.”

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Betsy DeVos Picked As President-Elect Donald Trump’s Education Secretary

After a few weeks of speculation, it looks like President-electTrump has finally picked the education secretary for his incoming administration: Betsy DeVos.

Two weeks ago, bets were on Dr Ben Carsonto be picked, a highly qualified neurosurgeon who simultaneously believedthe Earth was no older than 10,000 years old. He also once said the Biblical figure Joseph built the Egyptian pyramids to store grain.As you can imagine, the scientific community was pretty stressed about the idea of this guy setting education policy.

However, it looks like he’s been trumped. This week its been officially announced the lesser-known figure of Betsy DeVoshas taken the post.

Whoever is in the hot seat for the Education Secretary plays a very important role for scientific education and science as a whole, as they have a strong say in what schools receive funding and which subjects receive attention. This can also have a subtle effect of setting the climate where science can either thrive or shrink away.

For a bit of background, DeVos is a billionaire philanthropist, known to be a generous donor to the Republican Party. She has served onnumerous education philanthropy boards, although she has never professionally worked in the public education system.

She grew up as a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and was educated at Calvin College, the educational institution of the same church.

This is a protestant denomination that believes that all scientific theories be subject to Scripture and the confessions. It also claims that humanity is created in the image of God; all theorizing that minimizes this fact and all theories of evolution that deny the creative activity of God are rejected.

Most commentators say she is not expected to apply hardline religious beliefs to the curriculum, according to Washington Post.

It would be a mistake to put her in the Religious Right camp. Thats not who she is, Doug Koopman, a political scientist at Calvin College, told Washington Post.

Nevertheless, she is well known for her philanthropic efforts in Christian causes. Along with her hardenedbelief in the free-market, this has led people to believe she will favor privately owned and religious schools over public schools.

The US National Education Association released a statement in response to the appointment, saying:

Her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students. She has lobbied for failed schemes, like vouchers which take away funding and local control from our public schools to fund private schools at taxpayers expense. These schemes do nothing to help our most vulnerable students while they ignore or exacerbate glaring opportunity gaps. She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education.”

Much of Trumps stance on education during his campaign was rallying to abolish the Common Core, the educational guidelines of mathematics and reading adopted by most states. DeVos previously riled conservatives because of her ties to groups that supported these guidelines, although she has since claimed she is not a supporter of Common Core.

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Can You Solve This Math Problem That Went Viral In Japan?


If mathematics isn’t your strong suit, this equation that went viral in Japan may just trip you up. According to the YouTube channel MindYourDecisions, a study found that only 60 percent of individuals in their 20s could get the right answer. This is significantly lower than the 90 percent success rate in the 1980s.

To learn which common mistake people are making, check out the video below.

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