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Education

Why America's Obsession With STEM Education Is Dangerous 297

Posted by timothy
from the fallacy-of-the-excluded-middle dept.
HughPickens.com writes According to an op-ed by Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post, if Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country's education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills, expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and math) and deemphasize the humanities. "It is the only way, we are told, to ensure that Americans survive in an age defined by technology and shaped by global competition. The stakes could not be higher." But according to Zakaria the dismissal of broad-based learning, however, comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future.

As Steve Jobs once explained "it's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing." Zakaria says that no matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think and even write and cites Jeff Bezos' insistence that writing a memo that makes sense is an even more important skill to master. "Full sentences are harder to write," says Bezos. "They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking." "This doesn't in any way detract from the need for training in technology," concludes Zakaria, "but it does suggest that as we work with computers (which is really the future of all work), the most valuable skills will be the ones that are uniquely human, that computers cannot quite figure out — yet. And for those jobs, and that life, you could not do better than to follow your passion, engage with a breadth of material in both science and the humanities, and perhaps above all, study the human condition."
United States

Obama To Announce $240M In New Pledges For STEM Education 149

Posted by samzenpus
from the throw-some-money-at-it dept.
An anonymous reader sends word that President Obama is expected to announce more that $240 million in pledges to boost STEM educations at the White House Science Fair today. "President Barack Obama is highlighting private-sector efforts to encourage more students from underrepresented groups to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and math. At the White House Science Fair on Monday, Obama will announce more than $240 million in pledges to boost the study of those fields, known as STEM. This year's fair is focused on diversity. Obama will say the new commitments have brought total financial and material support for these programs to $1 billion. The pledges the president is announcing include a $150 million philanthropic effort to encourage promising early-career scientists to stay on track and a $90 million campaign to expand STEM opportunities to underrepresented youth, such as minorities and girls."
Education

Arkansas Is Now the First State To Require That High Schools Teach Coding 211

Posted by timothy
from the unexpected-locale dept.
SternisheFan writes Arkansas will be implementing a new law that requires public high schools to offer classes in computer science starting in the 2015-16 school year. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed the bill, believes it will provide "a workforce that's sure to attract businesses and jobs" to the state. $5 million of the governor's proposed budget will go towards this new program. For the districts incapable of of administering these classes due to lack of space or qualified teachers, the law has provisions for online courses to be offered through Virtual Arkansas. Although students will not be required to take computer science classes, the governor's goal is to give students the opportunity if they "want to take it." Presently, only one in 10 schools nationwide offer computer science classes. Not only will Arkansas teach these classes in every public high school and charter school serving upper grades, the courses will count towards the state's math graduation requirement as a further incentive for students. Training programs for teacher preparation will be available, but with the majority of the infrastructure already primed, the execution of this new law should hopefully be painless and seamless.
Math

Pi Day Extraordinaire 107

Posted by samzenpus
from the pecan-apple-or-cherry? dept.
First time accepted submitter DrTJ writes Today is Pi day. This year is a bit more extraordinary as it is 3/14/15 (in American date format). To celebrate, USA Today has posted a number of videos of kids reciting Pi, one of them to 8,784 digits. The Washington Post highlights the story of a couple who decided to make it their special day. "Donahue, 33, a Legal Aid attorney, fell for Karmel’s geeky side as soon as they met. On a beach vacation with her friends in 2012, a psychic told her, 'You are about to meet your soulmate.' Three days later, she walked into Kostume Karaoke night at Solly’s Tavern along the U Street corridor and saw a man onstage croaking out the Backstreet Boys’s 'I Want It That Way.' By the end of the night, he would be serenading her with Cake’s 'The Distance' — the song the DJ will play when they cut the pie."
Space

Strange Stars Pulse To the Golden Mean 157

Posted by Soulskill
from the math-is-beautiful dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from an article at Quanta Magazine: What struck John Learned about the blinking of KIC 5520878, a bluish-white star 16,000 light-years away, was how artificial it seemed. Learned, a neutrino physicist at the University of Hawaii, Mnoa, has a pet theory that super-advanced alien civilizations might send messages by tickling stars with neutrino beams, eliciting Morse code-like pulses. "It's the sort of thing tenured senior professors can get away with," he said. The pulsations of KIC 5520878, recorded recently by NASA's Kepler telescope, suggested that the star might be so employed.

A "variable" star, KIC 5520878 brightens and dims in a six-hour cycle, seesawing between cool-and-clear and hot-and-opaque. Overlaying this rhythm is a second, subtler variation of unknown origin; this frequency interplays with the first to make some of the star's pulses brighter than others. In the fluctuations, Learned had identified interesting and, he thought, possibly intelligent sequences, such as prime numbers (which have been floated as a conceivable basis of extraterrestrial communication). He then found hints that the star's pulses were chaotic. But when Learned mentioned his investigations to a colleague, William Ditto, last summer, Ditto was struck by the ratio of the two frequencies driving the star's pulsations. "I said, 'Wait a minute, that's the golden mean.'"
Math

Number of Legal 18x18 Go Positions Computed; 19x19 On the Horizon 186

Posted by timothy
from the now-we'll-call-it-gone dept.
johntromp writes It took about 50,000 CPU hours and 4PB of disk IO, but now we know the exact number of legal 18x18 Go positions. Seeking computing power for the ultimate 19x19 count. And it's not a heat-death-of-the-universe kind of question, either, they say: "Thanks to the Chinese Remainder Theorem, the work of computing L(19,19) can be split up into 9 jobs that each compute 64 bits of the 566-bit result. Allowing for some redundancy, we need from 10 to 13 servers, each with at least 8 cores, 512GB RAM, and ample disk space (10-15TB), running for about 5-9 months."
Math

Statistical Mechanics Finds Best Places To Hide During Zombie Apocalypse 247

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-we-wanna-do-is-eat-your-brains dept.
HughPickens.com writes Eric Mack reports at Cnet that a team of researchers at Cornell University, inspired by the book "World War Z" by Max Brooks, have used statistical-mechanics to model how an actual zombie outbreak might unfold and determined the best long-term strategy for surviving the walking dead: Head for the hills. Specifically, you should probably get familiar now with the general location of Glacier National Park so that when it all goes down, you can start heading in that direction. The project started with differential equations to model a fully connected population, then moved on to lattice-based models, and ended with a full US-scale simulation of an outbreak across the continental US. "At their heart, the simulations are akin to modeling chemical reactions taking place between different elements and, in this case, we have four states a person can be in--human," says Alex Alemi, "infected, zombie, or dead zombie--with approximately 300 million people."

Alemi believes cities would succumb to the zombie scourge quickly, but the infection rate would slow down significantly in more sparsely populated areas and could take months to reach places like the Northern Rockies and Glacier National Park. "Given the dynamics of the disease, once the zombies invade more sparsely populated areas, the whole outbreak slows down--there are fewer humans to bite, so you start creating zombies at a slower rate," Alemi says. Once you hit Montana and Idaho, you might as well keep heading farther north into the Canadian Rockies and all the way up to Alaska where data analysis shows you're most likely to survive the zombie apocalypse. The state with the lowest survival rate? — New Jersey. Unfortunately a full scale simulation of an outbreak in the United States shows that for `realistic' parameters, we are largely doomed.
Music

Genetic Data Analysis Tools Reveal How US Pop Music Evolved 57

Posted by Soulskill
from the anatomy-of-a-train-wreck dept.
KentuckyFC writes: The history of pop music is rich in anecdotes, folklore and controversy. But despite the keen interest, there is little in the form of hard evidence to back up most claims about the evolution of music. Now a group of researchers have used data analysis tools developed for genomic number crunching to study the evolution of U.S. pop music. The team studied 30-second segments of more than 17,000 songs that appeared on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 between 1960 and 2010. Their tools categorized the songs according to harmonic features such as chord changes as well as the quality of timbre such as whether guitar-based, piano-based orchestra-based and so on. They then used a standard algorithm for discovering clusters within networks of data to group the songs into 13 different types, which turned out to correspond with well known genres such as rap, rock, country and so on. Finally, they plotted the change in popularity of these musical types over time.

The results show a clear decline in the popularity of jazz and blues since 1960. During the same period, rock-related music has ebbed and flowed in popularity. By contrast, rap was rare before 1980 before becoming the dominant musical style for 30 years until declining in the late 2000s. The work answers several important question about the evolution of pop music, such as whether music industry practices have led to a decline in the cultural variety of new music, and whether British bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones triggered the 1964 American music revolution [spoiler: no in both cases].
Math

Ancient and Modern People Followed Same Mathematical Rule To Build Cities 81

Posted by samzenpus
from the using-the-same-template dept.
An anonymous reader writes with news of a study that shows similarities in how cities are built throughout time. "A study of archeological data from ancient Mexican settlements reveals remarkable similarities between pre-Colombian cities and modern ones, lending support to the idea that urban spaces are shaped by universal social behaviors. Sure, each city has its own local quirks, architecture, language and cuisine. But recently, some theoretical scientists have started to find there are universal laws that shape all urban spaces. And a new study suggests the same mathematical rules might apply to ancient settlements, too. Using archaeological data from the ruins of Tenochtitlan and thousands of other sites around it in Mexico, researchers found that private houses and public monuments were built in predictable ways."
Education

Carnegie-Mellon Sends Hundreds of Acceptance Letters By Mistake 131

Posted by timothy
from the about-that dept.
An anonymous reader writes As reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Carnegie-Mellon University mistakenly sent 800 acceptances for its Master of Science in Computer Science program. They're not saying "computer error," but what are the other explanations? High irony all around. The program accepts fewer than nine percent of more than 1,200 applicants, which places the acceptance level at about a hundred, so they're bad at math, too.
Math

Interviews: Ask Stephen Wolfram a Question 210

Posted by samzenpus
from the go-ahead-and-ask dept.
Stephen Wolfram's accomplishments and contributions to science and computing are numerous. He earned a PhD in particle physics from Caltech at 20, and has been cited by over 30,000 research publications. Wolfram is the the author of A New Kind of Science, creator of Mathematica, the creator of Wolfram Alpha, and the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research. He developed Wolfram Language, a general multi-paradigm programming language, in 2014. Stephen has graciously agreed to answer any questions you may have for him. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.
Science

Game Theory Calls Cooperation Into Question 249

Posted by Soulskill
from the can't-we-all-just-get-along dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from Quanta Magazine: The physicist Freeman Dyson and the computer scientist William Press, both highly accomplished in their fields, have found a new solution to a famous, decades-old game theory scenario called the prisoner's dilemma, in which players must decide whether to cheat or cooperate with a partner. The prisoner's dilemma has long been used to help explain how cooperation might endure in nature. After all, natural selection is ruled by the survival of the fittest, so one might expect that selfish strategies benefiting the individual would be most likely to persist. But careful study of the prisoner's dilemma revealed that organisms could act entirely in their own self-interest and still create a cooperative community.

Press and Dyson's new solution to the problem, however, threw that rosy perspective into question (abstract). It suggested the best strategies were selfish ones that led to extortion, not cooperation.

[Theoretical biologist Joshua] Plotkin found the duo's math remarkable in its elegance. But the outcome troubled him. Nature includes numerous examples of cooperative behavior. For example, vampire bats donate some of their blood meal to community members that fail to find prey. Some species of birds and social insects routinely help raise another's brood. Even bacteria can cooperate, sticking to each other so that some may survive poison. If extortion reigns, what drives these and other acts of selflessness?"
Science

What Does It Mean To Be a Data Scientist? 94

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-day-in-the-life dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes What is a data scientist? "To be honest, I often don't tell people I am a data scientist," writes Simon Hughes, chief data scientist of the Dice Data Science Team. "It's not that I don't enjoy my job (I do!) nor that I'm not proud of what we've achieved (I am); it's just that most people don't really understand what you mean when you say you're a data scientist, or they assume it's some fancy jargon for something else." So how do Simon and his team define "data scientist"? In this blog posting, he breaks it down along several lines: solid programming skills, a scientific mindset, and the ability to use tools are just for starters. A data scientist also needs to be a polymath with strong math skills. "All good scientists are skeptics at heart; they require strong empirical evidence to be convinced about a theory," he writes. "Likewise, as a data scientist, I've learned to be suspicious of models that are too accurate, or individual variables that are too predictive." His points are good to keep in mind right now, with everybody throwing around buzzwords like "Big Data" without fully realizing what they mean.
Math

The Mathematical Case For Buying a Powerball Ticket 480

Posted by samzenpus
from the pie-in-the-sky dept.
HughPickens.com writes Neil Irwin writes at the NYT that financially literate people like to complain that buying lottery tickets is among the silliest decisions a person could make but there are a couple of dimensions that these tut-tutted warnings miss, perhaps fueled by a class divide between those who commonly buy lottery tickets and those who choose to throw away money on other things like expensive wine or mansions. According to Irwin, as long as you think about the purchase of lottery tickets the right way — purely a consumption good, not an investment — it can be a completely rational decision. "Fantasizing about what you would do if you suddenly encountered great wealth is fun, and it is more fun if there some chance, however minuscule, that it could happen," says Irwin. "The $2 price for a ticket is a relatively small one to pay for the enjoyment of thinking through how you might organize your life differently if you had all those millions."

Right now the Multi-State Lottery Association estimates the chances of winning the grand prize at about 1 in 175 million, and the cash value of the prize at $337.8 million. The simplest math points to that $2 ticket having an expected value of about $1.93 so while you are still throwing away money when buying a lottery ticket, you are throwing away less in strictly economic terms when you buy into an unusually large Powerball jackpot. "I am the type of financial decision-maker who tracks bond and currency markets and builds elaborate spreadsheets to simulate outcomes of various retirement savings strategies," says Irwin. "I can easily afford to spend a few dollars on a Powerball ticket. Time to head to the convenience store and do just that."
Education

Will Elementary School Teachers Take the Rap For Tech's Diversity Problem? 493

Posted by timothy
from the would-blame-middle-school-teachers-myself dept.
theodp (442580) writes "Citing a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (free to Federal employees), the NY Times reports on how elementary school teachers' pro-boy biases can discourage girls from math and science. "The pipeline for women to enter math and science occupations narrows at many points between kindergarten and a career choice," writes Claire Cain Miller, "but elementary school seems to be a critical juncture. Reversing bias among teachers could increase the number of women who enter fields like computer science and engineering, which are some of the fastest growing and highest paying. 'It goes a long way to showing it's not the students or the home, but the classroom teacher's behavior that explains part of the differences over time between boys and girls,' said Victor Lavy, an economist at University of Warwick in England and a co-author of the paper." Although the study took place in Israel, Lavy said that similar research had been conducted in several European countries and that he expected the results were applicable in the United States."
Education

Can Students Have Too Much Tech? 198

Posted by Soulskill
from the maybe-4th-graders-don't-need-weaponized-roombas dept.
theodp writes: In a NY Times Op Ed, developmental psychologist Susan Pinker goes against the conventional White House wisdom about the importance of Internet connectivity for schoolchildren and instead argues that students can have too much tech. "More technology in the classroom has long been a policy-making panacea," Pinker writes. "But mounting evidence shows that showering students, especially those from struggling families, with networked devices will not shrink the class divide in education. If anything, it will widen it." Tech can help the progress of children, Pinker acknowledges, but proper use is the rub. As a cautionary tale, Pinker cites a study by Duke economists that tracked the academic progress of nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students against the dates they were given networked computers. The news was not good. "Students who gain access to a home computer between the 5th and 8th grades tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math scores," the economists wrote, adding that license to surf the Internet was also linked to lower grades in younger children.
Math

There Is No "You" In a Parallel Universe 226

Posted by timothy
from the speak-for-yourself-singleton dept.
StartsWithABang (3485481) writes "Ever since quantum mechanics first came along, we've recognized how tenuous our perception of reality is, and how — in many ways — what we perceive is just a very small subset of what's going on at the quantum level in our Universe. Then, along came cosmic inflation, teaching us that our observable Universe is just a tiny, tiny fraction of the matter-and-radiation filled space out there, with possibilities including Universes with different fundamental laws and constants, differing quantum outcomes existing in disconnected regions of space, and even the fantastic one of parallel Universes and alternate versions of you and me. But is that last one really admissible? The best modern evidence teaches us that even with all the Universes that inflation creates, it's still a finite number, and an insufficiently large number to contain all the possibilities that a 13.8 billion year old Universe with 10^90 particles admits."
Math

Mathematicians Uncomfortable With Ties To NSA, But Not Pulling Back 181

Posted by Soulskill
from the goose-that-lays-the-golden-ovoid dept.
An anonymous reader writes: When we talk about how the NSA operates, it's typically about the policymakers and what the agency should or should not do. It's worth remembering that the NSA is built upon the backs of world-class mathematicians, whom they aggressively recruit to make all their underlying surveillance technology work. A new piece in Science discusses how the relationship between mathematicians and the NSA has changed following the Snowden leaks (PDF). But as Peter Woit points out, these ethical conundrums are not actually spurring any change. This is perhaps due to the NSA's generous funding of mathematics-related research.

The article talks about the American Mathematical Society, which until recently was led by David Vogan: "...after all was said and done, no action was taken. Vogan describes a meeting about the matter last year with an AMS governing committee as 'terrible,' revealing little interest among the rest of the society's leadership in making a public statement about NSA's ethics, let alone cutting ties. Ordinary AMS members, by and large, feel the same way, adds Vogan, who this week is handing over the presidency to Robert Bryant, a mathematician at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. For now, U.S. mathematicians aren't willing to disown their shadowy but steadfast benefactor."