Author: Bryan Cooke

10+ Badass Women Who Changed The World We Live In Today

March 8 is International Women’s Day (US has its equivalent on the 26th of August) which celebrates the struggle for women’s rights. Throughout history, many strong women had to rise against the odds and fight for their dreams and passions, equality and solidarity among men. Their bravery contributed to shaping today’s world, and has to be remembered.

Bored Panda has made a list of badass women who did their part to make the world a better place. Scroll down to vote for your favorite heroes, and upload new ones if we missed them!

#96 Mother Teresa

http://www.boredpanda.com/badass-women-that-changed-history/

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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.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/betsy-devos-picked-as-presidentelect-donald-trumps-education-secretary/

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

If mathematics isnt 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.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/can-you-solve-math-problem-went-viral-japan

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Trump Just Personally Donated $100,000 To The Education Department While Trying To Cut $9 Billion From Its Budget

Last week, the US Department of Education announced that it received a gift of $100,000 from the President himself taken straight from his salary that will be used to help fund a summer camp for students focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The aim is to encourage students from a range of backgrounds to take up STEM subjects later in life as careers. Although no details of how this money would be spent were given, it is initially quite difficult to argue that this isnt on the face of it a nice gesture.

Context, however, is everything.

The Presidents budgets which so far have been continuously been shot down by Congress have called for historic and draconian cuts to federal science and education funding. In terms of cutting-edge scientific research, China is already on track to outcompete America within the next two or three years, and Trump only wishes to speed this up.

His scientific agencies, most notably the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are also pursuing major job cutting initiatives. They bully, censor, demote and fire scientific advisors like its going out of fashion. Record numbers of scientists are literally fleeing the country to others that are welcoming them with open arms.

On top of everything, this administration is infamous for spouting anti-scientific rhetoric left, right and center. Trump and his acolytes are happy to shore up the views of prominent anti-vaxxers, actively undermine the publics trust in the scientific method, and for the most part, cant seem to do their sums correctly.

Things are so dire that scientists are marching on Washington and even running for Congress. Do these sound like the actions of a man who cares about STEM fields and science in general?

Marches for science don’t normally have to happen, but hey – welcome to 2017. backdc/Shutterstock

The monetary gift is fine by itself, but its a drop of water facing up against a tidal wave of contradictory behavior and action.

If we want to talk about supporting science, why not look at lawmakers like Representative Jacky Rosen, whose Code Like A Girl bill aims to get the National Science Foundation to fully fund two grants that will help get more girls into computer science? Why not look at all those members of Congress that voted Trumps anti-science federal budget proposals down?

If we want to talk about donations into science from wealthy individuals, there are far better examples to focus on. Bill Gates may be an obvious choice, but his Foundations venture philanthropy is bordering on legendary: millions of people around the world are positively affected by his investments in STEM research.

In short, you cant donate $100,000 to the advancement of science at the same time you demand cuts of billions across the board and expect people not to notice the irony.

[H/T: ScienceMag]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/trump-just-personally-donated-100000-to-the-education-department-while-trying-to-cut-9-billion-from-its-budget/

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Czanne unmasked: the shattering portraits that blew Picasso and the Paris avant garde away

He painted his wife without lips. He painted his friend with a spinal deformity. And he painted himself as a ghost in a top hat. Paul Czannes unflinching portraits, coming to Britain this autumn, didnt just astonish Picasso and his disciples. They changed art for ever

In Paris at the dawn of the 20th century, a generation of young artists changed everything. They visited the dusty yet magical galleries of the Ethnography Museum in the rambling Trocadro and some started their own collections of African masks. This fascination with non-European art helped them break with hundreds of years of tradition. Pablo Picasso completed a portrait of his friend Gertrude Stein by giving her a mask instead of a face. He then painted Les Demoiselles dAvignon with its wildly cavorting masked prostitutes. Modern art was born in those bold years, in a glamorous atmosphere of absinthe, drugs (Picasso and his friends dabbled in opium) and sex in the red light district of Montmartre.

There is just one problem with this exhilarating story of the birth of modern art. It is not true.

My doubts began a couple of years ago in Londons National Gallery. I was looking at Paul Czannes Les Grandes Baigneuses, which he started in 1894. He was in his 50s then and did not complete it until 1905, one year before his death. Looking at the bold slashing lines of its landscape and the monumental abstracted nudes gathered under a crystalline sky, I realised something about the faces. Their eyes are dark sharp cuts. Their mouths, too. Their noses are like rigid blocks of wood. These are not faces. They are masks.

Yet they were painted by a man who, as far as anyone knows, had never looked at any African art. As for sex and drugs, he never went near them. The art of Czanne is the fruit of long, focused study by one man in front of an easel through long hot Provenal days. And this is the art that changed everything. This great 19th-century artist invented almost everything we attribute to Matisse, Picasso and Braque. Modernism is all there in paintings he executed as early as the 1880s. Czanne may be the single most revolutionary artist who ever lived.

Her
Her lips are made to vanish Madame Czanne in a Yellow Chair (1888/90). Photograph: Art Institute of Chicago

To be fair, Picasso never pretended otherwise. His adulation of Czanne was so great he bought an estate in the foothills of Mont Sainte-Victoire, the mountain in Provence that became a famous motif in some of Czannes greatest paintings. The Spanish artist is buried there. He and Braque saw their movement, cubism, as the direct continuation of Czannes work.

Why do we persist in attributing to the artists of the 1900s ideas they themselves confessed Czanne had come up with a quarter of a century earlier? It is partly because of the dismal cliche that impressionism, the movement with which Czanne was associated in the 1870s, is soft and gentle, even chocolate box. Yet it is also the fault of Czannes admirers.

For about 80 years after his death, the belief was held by critics that Czannes art leads directly towards the high abstraction of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. His painting was given almost mystical properties by theorists of modernism. It can do your head in trying to understand exactly why his apples lead to a flat picture surface, especially when those apples look so damned round. Then, in the 1980s, we entered the age of postmodern art and it no longer seemed essential for anyone to make that effort.

Yet I am still banging my head against those apples. My introduction to modern art was the classic Robert Hughes TV series The Shock of the New in which Czanne is as towering as his mountain. So I couldnt wait to see Czanne Portraits, which comes to the National Portrait Gallery this October. I had to see it at its earlier stop, at the Muse dOrsay in Paris. It turns out to be the exhibition Czanne deserves and needs: a powerful, even shocking revelation of his genius.

Lets begin with masks. My suspicion that Picasso did not get them from African or Oceanian art but saw them first in the paintings of Czanne is amply confirmed by the long row of portraits of his wife, Hortense Fiquet, that line a wall, like Easter Island statues overlooking a bleak ocean. In a portrait he began in 1886, his wifes face becomes a porcelain mask. It is almost perfectly oval, unlike any human face. It is also as pale as a china cup. Weirdest of all, the lips are in the process of vanishing. Czanne erases his wifes mouth in a blank blue-tinged nothingness. For the moment lets leave any psychological interpretation of that aside. The artist looks at this face as if he were an alien, making a digital simulation of a human being.

His art dealer Ambroise Vollard looks back at him in the same alienated way. In Czannes 1899 portrait, the dealers black eyes have no human light: they are like holes in a mask. Vollards face is made of patches of colour, interacting greens, reds and yellows. Its harmony is unreal. Thin eyebrows balance above a straight nose under an immense forehead.

Once you start looking for Czannes masks, they are everywhere in portraits of children, peasants, even of himself. In about 1882 he painted his face in an eerie masterpiece that has been lent by Moscows Pushkin Museum. The bald dome of his head in this self-portrait really does look like a dome, or an egg a perfectly rounded object, out of which bright sunlight carves the simple, stark features of his face culminating in grey and white slashes of beard hair. What a strange face, he thinks, as he looks in the mirror. Who is it?

Eyes
Eyes like holes in a mask Czannes art dealer, Ambroise Vollard (1899).

If you doubt the mask-like nature of these portraits, you only have to compare them with Picassos Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1905-6) to see how it develops its stony carved face directly from such paintings as Czannes Man with Folded Arms (1899). Yet if the modernist deconstruction of the human face is this far advanced in Czannes art, recognisable in the 1880s, where does he get it from? What was he looking at?

Just for one moment, scrutinising that porcelain portrait of Madame Czanne, did I wonder if he looked at non-European art for inspiration. The face almost resembles a Japanese theatre mask. Japan fascinated the French avant garde in the 19th century in Manets portrait of Czannes lifelong friend mile Zola, the radical novelist has the obligatory Japanese art in his study.

Yet, as the development of his portraiture in this superbly lucid exhibition suggests, Czanne did not need to look at works of art from Japan or anywhere else for ideas. He got his idea of the mask from looking at faces themselves, again and again, until he could see them as pure geometry.

In his portraits of his wife there is a terrible distance. When he makes her lips vanish he seems to be doing imaginary violence to her, applying the painterly equivalent of a scolds bridle. In other paintings it is clear he is idealising her turning her face into a perfect geometrical form like the egg that hangs by a thread in Piero della Francescas Renaissance masterpiece The Brera Madonna.

Like Piero, who wrote manuscripts on mathematics, Czanne searched for geometrical order in the visual world. He famously said art should treat nature like the sphere, the cylinder and cone. But Czannes portraits are about a lot more than symmetry; they are about the unease of the human condition.

In Manets portrait of Zola, next to a Japanese print and behind Manets own Olympia, the author has pinned up a picture by the great Spanish painter of melancholic irony, Velzquez. One of Czannes first portraits in this exhibition is reminiscent of Velzquezs compassionate paintings of dwarves at the Spanish court. It is a portrait of his artist friend Achille Empraire, who was born with restricted growth and a spinal deformity. Instead of masking his physical frailty, Czanne emphasises it by sitting Empraire in an armchair with a very high back. Posing sadly, he has the clothes, beard and moustache of a romantic bohemian, yet his head massively outweighs his thin legs and emaciated hands.

This is Czannes first great painting. It dates from 18678 when he was still on a steep learning curve as an artist. Yet it transcends its technical crudeness: it is profound, speaking of the vulnerable isolation of all human beings. Enthroned like a king in his queer chair, Achille Emperaire is a tragicomic everyman. This is an unsettling and mighty image of the modern self.

Antony
Antony Valabrgue fashionable black clothes heighten the lightlessness of the space. Photograph: Getty

Even more than his abstracting of the human face, it is the sensitive intelligence with which Czanne diagnoses modern unease that makes him such a shattering portraitist. You see it in his 1866 portrait of his friend Antony Valabrgue staring fixedly into space as if in a state bordering on mental disarray. Czanne cunningly uses the black clothes of 19th-century male fashion to heighten the gloom, setting his subject against a lightless space. It makes you think of Dostoevsky, but perhaps a better fictional analogy is Zola, who also appears in an early portrait here.

Czanne and Zola were best friends at school in Aix before both becoming part of the Paris avant garde. Zola portrays his friend, sometimes cruelly, in his novels. He brought a new human rawness to fiction: there had never been anything like his stories of sex and violence. His 1867 masterpiece Thrse Raquin is still shocking in its bleak absurdism, the most relentless, unforgiving noir horror imaginable and utterly realist. Perhaps their closeness helps us to understand why, even in his first portraits, Czanne has such a terrifying eye for discomfort, neurosis, weakness.

He turned that eye most ruthlessly on himself. Czannes self-portraits are the emotional equivalent of his paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire endlessly questing miracles of scrutiny. What is he looking for? Himself. His true identity. Why does he keep coming back to his own image in the mirror? He cant find what he was looking for. He thinks he has caught it, but it slips away. He cannot ever be sure who he is.

In a beautiful pairing by the curators, Czanne in 1885-6 portrays himself in a tall bowler hat (in French its a chapeau melon) looking from the side, as if he has just turned round and spotted himself. He looks displeased. This painting has a strong, solid, almost sculptural finish. But then he thinks again. In a second painting he has the same pose and hat but the image is dappled, incomplete, vanishing. Did he really see what he thought he saw? Hes uncertain now. Another unsettling reperception of his own image is a painting from about 1885 based on a photograph taken in 1872. Can the Czanne who is painting it even be sure he is the same man he was 13 years earlier? He seems far from convinced. One eye in the portrait is almost closed. The figure is isolated in ghostly blue. Who was I, then?

Czanne not only anticipates Picasso but also Proust and Joyce as he meditates on the nature of the self. We are not continuous beings, his portraits suggest. We are mysteries to ourselves and others, divided and fragmentary behind our masks. He is the true inventor both of modern art and the modern soul.

  • Czanne Portraits is at Muse dOrsay, Paris, until 24 September and at the National Portrait Gallery, London WC2H, from 26 October until 11 February.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/aug/11/cezanne-unmasked-the-shattering-portraits-that-blew-picasso-paris-avant-garde-away

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Bees Are The First Insects Found To Understand The Concept Of Zero

For the first time ever, the humble bee with its tiny brain has been found to understand the concept of zero.

For most of us, the ideaof zero may seem like a fairly easy and unchallenging thing to get our head around. But in actual fact, the ability to accept the absence of something, which is what zero is after all, as a quantity is a hard fought accomplishment. Children will often learn other numbers before understanding the concept of zero, and even then it has been shown that they can find difficulty in identifying whether or not zero is higher or lower than one.

So it is little wonder that in the animal world, very few species are known to understand the concept of zero. Chimpanzeesand some monkeyscan be trained to comprehend the concept, but apart from these, very few animals are able to do it, and until now it wasnt thought that any insect at all was capable of mastering the notion.

But scientists from the RMIT University in Melbourne have presented their research at the current Behaviour 2017 meeting in Portugal, reporting that they have been able to demonstrate that bees treat zero just like another number.

To start with, the researchers set up two platforms with varying numbers of shapes on them. They then trained bees to associate the platform with the fewest number of shapes on it with a sweet reward, and the platform with the most number a horrible taste. After being certain the bees were responding to the number of shapes and nothing else, the researchers then tested the insects by offering them one platform with two or three shapes, and another with zero shapes. The insects most frequently chose the latter.

Finally, the researchers then trained the bees to decide whether or not to land on a platform with zero objects, one object, or six objects. They found that once again, most of the time the insects could correctly identify the platform with nothing on it, but took more time over the decision if they were having to choose between a platform that had nothing and another that had just one object.

The fact that it took the bees longer to decide which one was zero when the numbers were numerically closer, suggests that the insects do indeed see the absence of objects as a number, the authors argue.

This would imply that the insects ability to count is similar to that of humans and some primates, and is strangely advanced for the animal world, not just for insects. The reason why bees should have such highly developed cognitive capability in the realm of mathematics, however, is a little tricky to deduce.

[H/T:New Scientist]

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/bees-are-the-first-insects-found-to-understand-the-concept-of-zero/

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Gene Drives Could Wipe Out Whole Populations of Pests in One Fell Swoop

The Conversation

What if there was a humane, targeted way to wipe out alien pest species such as mice, rats and rabbits, by turning their own genes on themselves so they can no longer reproduce and their population collapses?

Gene drives a technique that involves deliberately spreading a faulty gene throughout a population promises to do exactly that.

Conservationists are understandably excited about the possibility of using gene drives to clear islands of invasive species and allow native species to flourish.

Hype surrounding the technique continues to build, despite serious biosecurity, regulatory and ethical questions surrounding this emerging technology.

Our study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that under certain circumstances, genome editing could work.

The penguins on Antipodes Island currently live alongside a 200,000-strong invasive mouse population. Public Domain

Good and bad genes

The simplest way to construct a gene drive aimed at suppressing a pest population is to identify a gene that is essential for the pest species reproduction or embryonic development. A new DNA sequence the gene-drive cassette is then inserted into that gene to disrupt its function, creating a faulty version (or allele) of that gene.

Typically, faulty alleles would not spread through populations, because the evolutionary fitness of individuals carrying them is reduced, meaning they will be less likely than non-faulty alleles to be passed on to the next generation. But the newly developed CRISPR gene-editing technology can cheat natural selection by creating gene-drive sequences that are much more likely to be passed on to the next generation.

Heres how the trick works. The gene-drive cassette contains the genetic information to make two new products: an enzyme that cuts DNA, and a molecule called a guide RNA. These products act together as a tiny pair of molecular scissors that cuts the second (normal) copy of the target gene.

To fix the cut, the cell uses the gene drive sequence as a repair template. This results in a copy of the gene drive (and therefore the faulty gene) on both chromosomes.

This process is called homing and, when switched on in the egg- or sperm-producing cells of an animal, it should guarantee that almost all of their offspring inherit the gene-drive sequence.

As the gene-drive sequence spreads, mating between carriers becomes more likely, producing offspring that possess two faulty alleles and are therefore sterile or fail to develop past the embryonic stage.

Will it work?

Initial attempts to develop suppression drives will likely focus on invasive species with rapid life cycles that allow gene drives to spread rapidly. House mice are an obvious candidate because they have lots of offspring, they have been studied in great detail by biologists, and have colonised vast areas of the world, including islands.

In our study we developed a mathematical model to predict whether gene drives can realistically be used to eradicate invasive mice from islands.

Our results show that this strategy can work. We predict that a single introduction of just 100 mice carrying a gene drive could eradicate a population of 50,000 mice within four to five years.

But it will only work if the process of genetic homing which acts to overcome natural selection functions as planned.

Evolution fights back

Just as European rabbits in Australia have developed resistance to the viruses introduced to control them, evolution could thwart attempts to use gene drives for biocontrol.

Experiments with non-vertebrate species show that homing can fail in some circumstances. For example, the DNA break can be repaired by an alternative mechanism that stitches the broken DNA sequence back together without copying the gene-drive template. This also destroys the DNA sequence targeted by the guide RNA, producing a resistance allele that can never receive the gene drive.

A recent study in mosquitos estimated that resistance alleles were formed in at least 2% of homing attempts. Our simulation experiments for mice confirm this presents a serious problem.

After accounting for low failure rates during homing, the creation and spread of resistance alleles allowed the modelled populations to rebound after an initial decline in abundance. Imperfect homing therefore threatens the ability of gene drives to eradicate or even suppress pest populations.

One potential solution to this problem is to encode multiple guide RNAs within the gene-drive cassette, each targeting a different DNA sequence. This should reduce homing failure rates by allowing multiple shots on goal, and avoiding the creation of resistance alleles in more cases.

To wipe out a population of 200,000 mice living on an island, we calculate that the gene-drive sequences would need to contain at least three different guide RNA sequences, to avoid the mice ultimately getting the better of our attempts to eradicate them.

From hype to reality

Are gene drives a hyperdrive to pest control, or just hype? Part of the answer will come from experiments with gene drives on laboratory mice (with appropriate containment). That will help to provide crucial data to inform the debate about their possible deployment.

The ConversationWe also need more sophisticated computer modelling to predict the impacts on non-target populations if introduced gene drives were to spread beyond the populations targeted for management. Using simulation, it will be possible to test the performance and safety of different gene-drive strategies, including strategies that involve multiple drives operating on multiple genes.

Thomas Prowse, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Adelaide; Joshua Ross, Associate Professor in Applied Mathematics, University of Adelaide; Paul Thomas, , University of Adelaide, and Phill Cassey, Assoc Prof in Invasion Biogeography and Biosecurity, University of Adelaide

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

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/gene-drives-could-wipe-out-whole-populations-of-pests-in-one-fell-swoop/

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Why are there so few women in tech? The truth behind the Google memo

An engineer at the company has suggested male domination of Silicon Valley is down to biological differences between the sexes. But the root causes are much more complicated

It is time to be open about the science of human nature. This was the assertion of software engineer James Damore to his colleagues at Google, in an internal memo that has since led to his sacking. Im simply stating, Damore wrote, that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we dont see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. He went on to imply that womens stronger interest in people and neuroticism might make them less naturally suited to being coders at Google.

The companys leadership viewed the matter differently, firing Damore and sparing his female colleagues the need to prove their biological aptitude for working with computers.

Sacking one errant employee doesnt alter an awkward fact, though. Only 20% of Google engineers are women a statistic that is matched roughly across big tech companies. So, does Damore have a point? Is there an underlying biological explanation for why so few women work at a company that prides itself on its progressive ideals and family-friendly ethos?

There are countless scientific studies that claim to identify differences between male and female cognitive aptitudes and, in the UK, far fewer girls choose to study computer science at GCSE level (20% of the total number of students), at degree level (16%) and beyond. There is something seductive about the idea that professional success springs from our innate abilities, rather than the degree to which society tips the odds in our favour.

After the contents of the memo became public, through a leak to tech site Gizmodo, the scientific argument for innate biological differences quickly found favour with some tech insiders, albeit those writing anonymously on sites such as Hacker News and the gossip app Blind.

Students
Students at the Indian Institute of Management Lucknow. Far more women study computing in India than in the UK. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Getty Images

On Blind which requires users to prove who they work for before posting one Google employee wrote: Can we go back to the time when Silicon Valley were [sic] about nerds and geeks, thats why I applied [to] Google and came to the US. I mean this industry used to be a safe place for people like us, why so fking complicated now. I used to dislike conservatives until I started working in tech, wrote another. Now I sympathise with them due to the hostility and groupthink, as well as the fact that they are the only ones standing up for classical liberal values.

While the biological hypothesis seems to appeal to some tech workers, the notion that Silicon Valleys gender gap can be explained away by such factors is questionable. Prof Dame Wendy Hall, a director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton, points to the wide variation in gender ratios in computing internationally, which she argues would not be seen if there were a universal biological difference in ability between the sexes. While only 16% of computer science undergraduates in the UK and a similar proportion in the US are female, the balance is different in India, Malaysia and Nigeria.

I walk into a classroom in India and its more than 50% girls, the same in Malaysia, says Hall. They are so passionate about coding, Lots of women love coding. There just arent these gender differences there.

In fact, in the west, female participation in computer science has plunged since the mid-80s, while female participation in medicine and other scientific fields has increased steadily.

Over the past decade, even with a number of initiatives being set up to boost girls participation in coding and computer science, the proportion of female computer science undergraduates has continued to fall 10 years ago, the proportion was 19% of the UK total.

Hall believes that the gender gap and the male computer geek stereotype can be dated back to the advent of the home computer in the early 80s, when the machines were marketed heavily as gaming systems for men. She suspects this might be more culpable for womens low participation than men having evolved a mindset better suited to writing lines of code.

Women were turned off computing in the 80s, she says. Computers were sold as toys for the boys. Somehow that cultural stigma has stuck in the west in a way that we cant get rid of and its just getting worse. The skills gap is going to get huge.

Jane Margolis, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees. Margolis interviewed hundreds of computer science students in the 90s at Carnegie Mellon University, which had one of the top programmes in the country at the time.

Many of the women at Carnegie Mellon talked about computers being in [their brothers] bedroom and there were a lot of father-son internships around the computer that werent happening with the girls, she says. There was a cultural assumption that the norms of being in computer science were that you would do it 24/7, were obsessed with it, wanted nothing in your life but computers and that was very much associated with male adolescents, she added. It was very much based around a male norm. Females were made to think that, if they didnt dream in code and if it wasnt their full obsession, they didnt belong or were not capable of being in the field.

Former
Former Tinder vice-president Whitney Wolfe, who sued the company over atrocious misogyny in 2014. Photograph: Jeff Wilson for the Observer

Prof Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist at Aston University in Birmingham, has studied extensively cognitive differences between men and women. She says that, while Damore pointed to scientific evidence for men and women having different aptitudes and personality traits, he seemed to miss the point that, even if there were well-established sex differences at any level, theyre always very tiny. Certainly not enough to explain the gender ratios of Google programmers even if you didnt want to get into the nitty-gritty of arguing about the science.

Rippons work suggests that, in many cases, the differences between male and female performance, if present, are very small, can disappear with training and are not consistent across cultures.

In one study, Rippon found that British men performed significantly better on a spatial rotation task than women. However, when the experiment was repeated with Chinese participants, there was no difference between the male and female participants. Other similar studies have found that gender differences in spatial rotation tasks disappeared when the researchers controlled for video game experience. Rippon points to another study, which showed that differences in personality traits between men and women varied wildly across countries, depending on the status of women in that society.

So, Damores suggestion that women are more prone to anxiety does not imply that this difference is a function of hormones or hardwiring of the brain. Plus, there is compelling evidence that unconscious biases have a powerful effect on what people expect themselves to be good at and how they perform. For instance, girls tend to score worse on a test if they are told their maths skills are being assessed than when they are told they are taking part in a study investigating how people solve problems.

Even assuming that there are fundamental differences between male and female cognition and personality, there is no clear, logical line between such findings in a laboratory setting and performance in the workplace.

Priya Guha, the UK lead of tech incubator RocketSpace and a former UK consul general in San Francisco, argues that, even by its own arguments, Damores memo missed the point. The description of an engineer as somebody who has their head down, focused on developing the next line of code, is the sort of engineer that wont be adding value, she says. We need engineers out there who are both very strong developers, but also people who understand the world around them and are comfortable interacting with society. So, by that description, women would be better engineers even by the stereotypes he proposes.

Unfortunately, many such multiskilled people are likely to be deterred by the perception of hostility engendered by claims like Damores. We have a historical challenge to encourage girls, let alone women, into careers such as engineering, which then creates an imbalance in the people who enter tech industries overall, says Guha. Tech has a particular problem in this area. Wherever there are instances of people creating a hostile environment, companies need to stamp that out quickly. His dismissal sends a really powerful message: the environment in these companies needs to be thought about to ensure that it improves day by day.

But Eileen Burbidge, a partner at venture capital firm Passion Capital, argues that tech does not have a significantly worse gender gap than other high-pressure industries such as finance or the media. I think it comes down to cultural norms and female representation in general, Burbidge says. It is what affects the rest of the business world: its around the same time that women start thinking about having families that they think about the opportunity cost of staying in a work environment, and if its not positive or they get negative influences its going to affect their decisions.

She argues that, in many ways, tech is better placed than most large industries to tackle its gender gaps. I dont think theres anything specific that needs to be done for technology: I think the tech sector is more introspective and likes to think of itself as more progressive, so remedies that work for other sectors will help here, too, she says.

In Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] in particular, were seeing the tech industry trying to be more proactive about outreach. The industry is trying to have this discussion a lot companies dont always follow what they say, but they say it, at least.

Computer
Computing is too important to be left to men … the late computer scientist Karen Sprck Jones. Photograph: Cambridge University

Peter Daly, an associate in the employment team at the law firm Bindmans, agrees with Burbidge. The clients Ive had from the tech world are pretty evenly split by gender, he says. But, because it encourages risk-taking, tech doesnt fit well with maternity and pregnancy, so that can be a source of a lot of friction. You see people in the industry who see pregnancy as a genuine problem. That, he says, is the main cause of gender-specific issues in technology at least, those that reach the stage of requiring a legal recourse.

Internal documents such as Damores are the soft end of the sort of hostile working environment female employees can face at overwhelmingly male tech firms. At the extreme end, as companies such as Uber and Tinder have learned, this environment can result in claims of sexual harassment and illegal discrimination.

At Uber, where 85% of technical employees are male, one engineer, Susan Fowler, wrote a tell-all blogpost that revealed a workplace where managers proposition female employees for sex and human resources does little to stop the issue. Tinder faced a similar scandal when former VP Whitney Wolfe sued the company over atrocious misogyny in 2014, entering into evidence abusive texts allegedly sent by Tinders chairman, Sean Rad.

Beyond the egregious cases, the wider culture of even the most diverse Silicon Valley firms can still end up being offputting to would-be employees: the campus-style culture, which encourages workers to be on site from dawn till dusk, renders it hard for any primary caregiver to be part of the team, while in some companies an antipathy for part-time work or on-site creches can also limit flexibility.

Addressing the gender gap isnt only an issue of perception. Companies with homogenous workforces make worse products and earn less money, argues Guha. We know large numbers of women are struggling to get funding. A female founder is 86% less likely to be funded than a man, she says. Thats crazy when we know the return on investment is higher; it is about 34% higher for companies with a gender diverse leadership. Its not about corporate social responsibility: a diverse range of thinking will bring better value for the company.

As we move into a future in which algorithms have greater influence on our lives from communication to healthcare, transport to the law the gender balance in tech companies goes beyond what is fair for their employees. The result of male domination of tech has led to the development of, for example, voice recognition technologies that, trained and tested solely by men, struggle to understand female voices. It has resulted in virtual reality technologies that disproportionally impose motion sickness on women. At this early moment in its history, the tech industry is already littered with products that have gender bias effectively programmed into them.

The most objectionable point about that memo was the notion that there are biological differences that make women less capable, said Burbidge. Obviously, I have an issue with that and I think its fundamentally incorrect. The thing I cant answer is how, in 2017, do you stop people thinking that? I dont know how you change peoples minds.

As we go into the world of AI, when people are designing algorithms that help us live our lives, it will be very bad if thats all done by men, says Hall. Social care, looking after kids, so many aspects of our lives. We really need as many people as possible doing this. Its really important and its going to get more important.

Hall invokes her late mentor Karen Sprck Jones, a pioneering British computer scientist who campaigned hard to encourage more women into the field. As she used to say: Computing is too important to be left to men.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/08/why-are-there-so-few-women-in-tech-the-truth-behind-the-google-memo

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Neutrinos Continue To Show A Preference For Matter And This Has Big Consequences

The international T2K neutrino experiment has found more evidence that neutrino oscillations appear to violate the symmetry between matter and antimatter. While its still too early to claim this as a discovery, the research strengthens the hints that had already been seen with the experiment last year.

The preliminary analysis presented at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) in Tsukuba, Japan, revealed the teamfrom theTokai to Kamioka (T2K) neutrino experiment a particle physicsexperiment collaboration between several countries obtained twice the neutrino detections compared to the previous results.

This new research has a 95 percent confidence level in rejecting the so called charge-parity (CP) symmetry hypothesis that neutrinos and antineutrinos behave in the same way. While 95 might seem good, a discovery is only accepted when researchers have a 99.99994 percent confidence from the data.

“By doubling our neutrino mode data and making analysis improvements, T2K has made the most sensitive search for CP violation in neutrino oscillations yet, Professor Mark Hartz from the University of Tokyo Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, said in a statement.

This data shows an intriguing hint of CP violation. To make a definitive measurement, T2K will need to collect additional neutrino mode and antineutrino mode data.

This new data goes towards supporting other interesting violations of CP, like the discovery of a newpear-shaped atom. Researchers are at looking at these types of violation to explain why theres more matter than antimatter in the universe. The charge-parity symmetry requires that if we switch every particle for its antiparticle, and mirrored the set-up of the space, physics is expected to behave in the same way. But if it doesnt then we can justify why the universe is made of matter.

And in the T2K experiment antimatter is not behaving as it should. The experiment has detected 89 electron neutrinos when about 67 were detected with no CP violation, and detected seven electron neutrinos were theories stated nine should have been observed. Neutrinos are tiny and they hardly interact so even such a small number of detection is important. Every neutrino counts.

As a T2K collaborator, I am excited to continue our long-term program to search for CP violation in neutrino oscillations and make precision neutrino oscillation parameter measurements,” Professor Hartz, who presented the new data, added.

The T2K experiment has a curious setup compared to other standard labs. The neutrinos are shot from a research center in Tokai to the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector 295 kilometers (183 miles) away, hence the name T2K. It will continue to look for potential violations of CP symmetry and maybe soon it will have enough evidence to confirm it.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/physics/neutrinos-continue-to-show-a-preference-for-matter-and-this-has-big-consequences/

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India media storm over 10-year-old pregnant rape victim – BBC News

Image copyright iStock

A 10-year-old girl who is pregnant and has been refused an abortion is at the centre of a media storm in India. The BBC’s Geeta Pandey travelled to the northern city of Chandigarh to piece together her story.

“We have seen lots of cases of teenage pregnancies involving 14 to 15-year-olds, but this is the first ever case that I have seen of a 10-year-old,” said Mahavir Singh, of the Chandigarh State Legal Services Authority.

Mr Singh has been involved in a case which has shocked Chandigarh and the rest of India, that of a 10-year-old girl who became pregnant after allegedly being repeatedly raped by a relative.

That relative is now in jail, pending trial.

The girl in question has been described as a happy child who smiles easily. She’s shy and not very talkative. English and mathematics are the favourite subjects of this class six student. She loves to draw and is pretty good at it. She can’t get enough of her favourite cartoon shows Chhoti Anandi (Little Anandi) and Shin Chan. She loves chicken and fish – and ice-cream.

But on 28 July, India’s Supreme Court rejected a petition – filed on her behalf – to allow her to abort, on the grounds that at 32 weeks, she is too far into her pregnancy. A doctors’ panel had advised the court that a termination at this stage would be “too risky” for the girl, and that the foetus was “doing well”.

The court order was a huge disappointment for the girl’s family.

‘She has no idea what happened’

Indian law does not allow terminations after 20 weeks unless doctors certify that the mother’s life is in danger.

But in recent years, the courts have received several petitions, many from child rape survivors, seeking to terminate pregnancies after 20 weeks. In most cases, these pregnancies are discovered late because the children are not aware of their condition.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In India, a child under 16 is raped every 155 minutes, a child under 10 every 13 hours

In the case of this 10-year-old too, the pregnancy was discovered only three weeks ago when she complained of pain in her lower abdomen and her mother took her to a doctor.

Someone who interacts with the girl on a regular basis says: “She’s very innocent and has no idea what’s happened to her.”

Her parents also missed the telltale signs, perhaps because she’s “a healthy, chubby child”. Besides, they couldn’t imagine even in their wildest nightmares that their daughter could be pregnant at 10.

The child has still not been told about her pregnancy and, for those dealing with her, talking to her is like treading on eggshells. She has been told that she has a big stone in her stomach and the bulge is because of that.

She’s been put on a special diet of eggs, milk, fruit, fish and chicken and she seems to be enjoying the extra attention.

But in recent days, police, social workers and counsellors have been in and out of her house, and a media circus has grown up outside her home.

“She might not understand the exact problem, the gravity of the situation, but I think she has some idea now,” a senior official told the BBC.

Her parents are struggling to deal with the situation. The family is poor and lives in a cramped one-room flat. Her father is a government employee and the mother works as a domestic helper.

Policewoman Pratibha Kumari, who has investigated the case, describes them as a “very nice family, who are so simple that they didn’t even realise what this man was doing to their daughter”.

The parents, she says, are understandably distraught. “Her mother has never talked to me without crying. The father says he feels like his daughter has been murdered.”


The scale of abuse in India

Image copyright AFP
  • A child under 16 is raped every 155 minutes, a child under 10 every 13 hours
  • More than 10,000 children were raped in 2015
  • 240 million women living in India were married before they turned 18
  • 53.22% of children who participated in a government study reported some form of sexual abuse
  • 50% of abusers are known to the child or are “persons in trust and care-givers”

Sources: Indian government, Unicef


What has made their situation worse is that, ever since the news of the rape and pregnancy hit the headlines, they have been hounded by journalists.

“When the girl’s father came to see me, he told me his biggest problem was the press. He said there were reporters outside his home all the time and his privacy was being infringed upon,” Neil Roberts, chair of the Child Welfare Committee, told the BBC.

The media attention has meant the girl is likely to get the best medical care and is entitled to claim financial compensation from the government.

But the unwanted publicity is causing the family immense grief. Many of the reporters went to their house when the father was at work and gained entry claiming to be child workers.

Since the alleged rapist was the mother’s cousin, some even questioned if she was aware of the abuse and, maybe, even approved of it. “How come she didn’t know that her daughter was pregnant for seven months?” they asked.

This has been very troubling for the family, and the girl’s father is angry and bitter.

“I want him to be severely punished. He should get the death penalty or be locked away for the rest of his life in prison. He has admitted to the crime. But he has never said sorry to us,” he tells me in a brief phone conversation.

Before hanging up on me, he asks: “Why are you advertising my daughter’s case? The press have turned this into a business enterprise.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Campaigners say 50% of abusers are known to the child or are “persons in trust and care-givers”

His anger is justified – even though there are laws that expressly forbid journalists from revealing identities of rape survivors and child victims of crimes, many people have been able to join the dots and identify the family because the alleged rapist’s name was extensively reported in the Indian press. Now their neighbours and his work colleagues know. Possibly the child’s school friends know too.

A local journalist, who met the family in the early days, says the parents are worried sick about the girl’s future and the stigma she will face when she grows up. The father has also spoken of his worries over her health.

Medical tests so far show that her health is “good” though she suffers from “mild anaemia”.

But there are other concerns. The girl was born with a hole in her heart, which was plugged in 2013. Although doctors say it’s unlikely to interfere with her pregnancy, the fact remains that she is way too young to give birth.

Every year, 45,000 adult women die during childbirth in India. The risk of pregnant girls under the age of 15 years dying is two-and-a-half times higher than that for women above 20. Doctors say the risk is even higher for someone who is only 10.

It’s a concern the Supreme Court took on board, but the judges still ruled that the pregnancy could continue.

So what will happen next?

Those in the know say the baby is due by the middle of September and the doctors have decided that it will be a Caesarean delivery. In case of any complications, the birth could be earlier.

Since the girl’s family have said they want nothing to do with the baby, the newborn will be looked after by the child welfare committee until it is put up for adoption.

Medical experts say the 10-year-old is bound to suffer from mental trauma and will need years of counselling from a child psychologist.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed for her,” said a child rights worker. “Can a 10-year-old deliver a child? Could it be life threatening for her? We are praying that nothing bad happens to her.”

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Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-40823438

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