The study’s findings provide “one of the few pieces of evidence that siblings provide value,” acknowledged the researchers, Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, Douglas B. Downey and Joseph Merry. Research on the impact of siblings has largely found that only-children and those in smaller families fare better economically and in school. But with plummeting family sizes and an explosion of single-child families in industrialized democracies, researchers have begun focusing on the less tangible benefits of sharing a household with brothers and sisters. [more]
Researchers have long dreamed that stem cells might be used to repair or replace damaged tissue, an aspiration known as regenerative medicine. Embryonic stem cells, in particular, are “pluripotent”, meaning they are able to become any other type of cell. And it is now possible to induce pluripotency in cells that have not come from embryos, thus circumventing the ethical minefield previously associated with obtaining them.
Last year Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University won a Nobel prize for the invention of induced pluripotency. He had shown how four signal proteins can reprogram adult cells into a pluripotent state. Beside dealing with the ethical problems of embryonic cells, Dr Yamanaka’s induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells allow — at least in theory — a treatment to be created from a patient’s own body. This would have his own genetic make up and would thus not attract the attention of his immune system. Realising such treatments has been fiendishly difficult. But Dr Takebe’s paper in Nature is one of several signs that the Promethean dream is slowly coming to life. [more]
With more than 15 million downloads since its release last year, Vaughan’s creation has captured the attention of gamers and public health officials alike. The latter see Plague Inc. as a tool to raise awareness of real-world pandemic risks at a time when research is under pressure. “Right now there’s a dire funding crunch for science in the U.S.,” says W. Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity. The U.S. National Institutes of Health was required to cut 5 percent, or $1.55 billion, from its fiscal 2013 operating budget. “Games like this reach people who don’t think about the importance of science,” Lipkin says. [more]
The New York Times’ Room for Debate lets various knowledgeable contributors discuss news events and other timely issues. One recent debate covered: Making Low Wages Livable.
For the past year, fast-food and retail workers have made it clear that lousy pay should not be the cost for cheap meals and products. Many full-time workers receive food stamps. Thursday’s planned demonstrations are the latest in their drive for better pay and a doubling of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. President Obama has also pressed for a higher minimum wage.
What’s the best way to improve the living standards of workers at the bottom of the pay scale? [more]
Each year, Time magazine chooses what it considers to be the Best Inventions of the Year. Below are two of them along with a Time video that has another five.
Nest Protect Smoke Alarm
The Nest Protect is a highly evolved makeover of a dinosaur of an appliance, the humble smoke and carbon monoxide detector. It’s self-aware: if the “emergency” is just a little burning toast, you can silence the alarm simply by waving at it. It’s also sleekly designed and networked: all the Nest Protect units in your house talk to one another and to your smartphone, so they can text you when their batteries are running low.
Engineers at Deciwatt were asked to build a light for less than $10 to replace the dangerous and polluting kerosene lamps that are widely used in the developing world, especially where there’s no electricity. GravityLight produces 25 minutes of light from just the force exerted by the weight of a bag of stones, sand or water — anything heavy. [more]
Spending long hours staring at four computer monitors, he looks for signs of illicit trading hidden in psychedelic images of triangles dancing with dots. Each dot and triangle represents a trade or a quote to buy and sell U.S. stocks by the millisecond. To him the images provide evidence that high-frequency trading firms are exploiting market rules to turn a profit in a lawless environment. “You ever see Lord of the Flies or read that book?” he asks. “When you don’t have a parent around, things fall apart.” [more]
In The Week’s Book List, David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos lists his 6 favorite books:
The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald…. This is just a marvelous story — funny in a kind of awful way. I reread it last year and was surprised at how it mirrors the experience of a segment of today’s youth who have advanced degrees and, we’re told, don’t know what to do with themselves. Gloria and Anthony Patch, a New York couple, wait and wait and wait to come into an inheritance; that’s all they do. [more]
The subject of Braudy’s book is not his life but his place and time. Born in Philadelphia near the end of World War II to second-generation Jewish parents scarred by the Depression, he came of age during a period of unprecedented prosperity and the dawn of a sprawling popular culture dedicated to satisfying his generation’s every whim. That decade now feels like a collective American adolescence, forever frozen in the cultural memory as a theme park diorama of sock hops, malt shops, and “submarine races.”
But in Trying to be Cool, Braudy peels away those old, received caricatures of the 1950s to examine the living, pimply, human reality underneath, from the perspective of one particularly observant teenager — a perspective that is surprisingly, and resolutely, outward-looking. [more]
Over its 24-year history, Teach for America has won accolades for taking top college graduates and putting them to work in some of America’s toughest schools, creating what it regards as a national model of nonpartisan service in education.
But some former participants and academics, among others, have recently accused the Peace Corps-like organization of taking sides in the education policy wars. They criticize the nonprofit for aligning too closely with its largest private donors and high-profile alumni who have gone into politics. They say the group has diverged too far from a core mission: addressing a teacher shortage with top college grads primed to inject energy and success into low-income, urban campuses.
The key backers of Teach for America include foundations that support efforts to expand charter schools, limit teacher job protections, weaken union clout and evaluate instructors by using student test scores. [more]
In A climate of change, part of its special report on the Arab spring, The Economist reports that many in the Arab world are still yearning for change.
Those heady, hopeful days have long passed. The mood across the Arab world now is gloomy. Some say sourly that the Arab spring has turned into an Islamist winter. They fear that after losing power in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and kindred groups with strong religious leanings that did well in the Arab spring will may become even more combative. Many suspect that the Islamists have every intention of following the path set by Iran’s revolution three decades ago, and that to such people democracy is merely a vehicle for legitimising a new form of authoritarianism: “One man, one vote, one time.”
Yet Arab Islamists also lament the way things have evolved. Now in power in many countries after decades in opposition, they are learning hard lessons. [more]
In 1964, an ambitious young student at the University of Louisville made an impassioned plea to his classmates, urging them to march in solidarity with Martin Luther King Jr. At the time, Kentucky was no haven for race reformers — it was dominated by some of the same elements of the Democratic Party that vehemently rejected the very notion of civil rights. Nevertheless, this 20-year-old activist called for strong statutes, state and federal, to protect the dignity of minorities. “Property rights have always been, and will continue to be, an integral part of our heritage,” he wrote in the campus newspaper, “but this does not absolve the property holder of his obligation to help ensure the basic rights of all citizens.” The student’s name was Mitch McConnell.
Then, as now, McConnell was a dedicated Republican, but in his younger days, he was also a very high-minded one. [more]
Consumers keep sharing and disclosing lots of personal data — each time they shop, surf the Web, subscribe to magazines, or contribute to charities. Mounds of this data are being compiled and combined, creating so-called digital dossiers that outline much about who we are — or, at least, some approximation of who companies think we are, based on our consumer preferences. As our data gets resold, recombined, and repurposed, we often have little idea who has data about us, where a given company may have initially obtained that data, and what that data will be used for in the future. It feels as if we have no real control over our own data. This is the brave new world of big data.
To date, Congress has not yet addressed the challenges of big data. It has yet to pass new privacy legislation in the U.S., despite the launch of several bills, and a White House report recommending a privacy bill of rights for consumers. Just before Thanksgiving, the US General Accountability Office (GAO) published a report, Information Resellers (“the Report”) that calls for new federal privacy legislation. The Report focuses on the new challenges arising from data reselling and the new types of companies that are aggregating information from consumers at high rates. The Report finds that there are holes in the current privacy framework, which consists of a patchwork effort, with laws governing specific sectors including health information, financial information, and children’s data, but with much data also falling outside of the regulatory net. [more]