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After a tough year, schools are axing virtual learning. Some families want to stay online.

USATODAY - Tech Top Stories

During the throes of the pandemic, many parents, weary of monitoring their children's online classes, yearned for schools to reopen. Then vaccines expanded, schools reopened in many cities, and teachers returned – but huge numbers of students didn't. Weeks passed; safety protocols became routine. President Joe Biden's administration urged in-person attendance. And still millions of students stayed remote, their parents concerned about the virus, not to mention bullying, racism, misbehavior, or child care.


Summer reading 2021

Science

A journalist probes the tech companies racing to entice consumers—and investors—with futuristic foods. An outsider documents his ascent in academia. A policy expert proposes a human-centered approach to solving society's problems. From an ode to azure to a deep dive into data, this year's summer reading picks—reviewed by alumni of the AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows program—offer readers fresh perspectives on timely scientific topics. Confront the biases that have long imperiled women's health, probe the mysteries of memory, celebrate a prescient economist, and more, with the books reviewed below. —Valerie Thompson Reviewed by Ming Ivory 1 Governance professor Beth Simone Noveck, who formerly served as the first White House deputy chief technology officer, believes that “public entrepreneurship” can counter the failures that have dominated public policy design in the United States since the 1960s. Her new book, Solving Public Problems , revisits the four stages of policy design—identifying problems, identifying solutions, designing for implementation, and evaluation and evolution—while identifying 20 crucial decisions that prioritize “human-centered public policies.” Experts often expend much effort on program design, but once these programs are created, there is usually little fine-tuning of the implementation and hardly any emphasis on measuring whether the desired outcomes are achieved. The US federal civil service, for example, first celebrated as a defense of the “public interest” for its structural insulation from shortsighted patronage and political corruption, has recently come to be viewed by some as a nonelected “deep state” that frustrates legitimate partisan power and private-sector freedom. Noveck fearlessly defends the existence of “public interests,” arguing that their complexity and ethical significance are distinct from academic theory, electoral politics, and private-sector capitalism. Noveck describes governance ideas that expand public policy designs in a variety of sectors, such as health care, transportation, housing, employment, justice, information, and education. She emphasizes participatory elements of the process that ensure that the communities most in need and those who will be most directly affected by proposed policies are consulted throughout the process, and she encourages training in quantitative and qualitative scientific techniques, such as data analysis, research design, artificial intelligence, survey construction, interviewing, crowdsourcing, budgeting, and program evaluation. She discusses what can be learned from administrative records and from the temporary suspension of regulations that encourage private-sector experimentation. Each chapter ends with exercises that, if conscientiously followed, could launch a community and its institutional partners on the path to practical policies that combat problems such as unemployment, information deficits, and housing discrimination. These exercises include checklists of tasks that must be accomplished to achieve the desired outcome, and they direct readers to an index full of organizations that could be sources of assistance. If there is a weakness to the guide, it is that there are an almost overwhelming number of examples, replete with management jargon, that must be waded through without a lot of information on their relative quality. A list synthesizing what Noveck considers the best of these programs—organized either by agency type or by the skill set supported—would have been useful. Overall, however, the book offers a wealth of information necessary to improve human-centered design in public policies. Reviewed by Anna Funk 2 The latest food tech to hit the mainstream may be plant-based burgers, but countless start-ups and research labs are gearing up to transform the way humans think about what we eat—or at least, so they hope. From giant tanks of protein-rich algae to petri dishes culturing animal cells, researchers are seeking ways to give consumers—and investors—products that will improve food's sustainability, healthiness, or preferably both (bonus points if they are accompanied by new, patentable technologies that will keep the cash coming). Some groups are trying to turn plants into meat, while others are trying to turn meat into more meat without killing more animals. Others still are trying to revolutionize parts of the production process, building artificial intelligence–laden greenhouses in cities, for example, or salvaging food waste and turning it into more food. In Technically Food , journalist Larissa Zimberoff explores eight of the latest tech trends in the food sector, giving readers an inside look at the progress that has been made in each, a thoughtful look at current shortcomings, and, whenever possible, a taste test. Zimberoff walks readers through the latest breakthroughs from groups working to turn algae, fungi, or peas into protein sources; the worlds of upcycling and vertical farming; laboratories culturing cell-based meat; and more-mainstream staples such as nondairy milks, nonchicken eggs, and plant-based burgers. The book wraps up with a surprisingly delightful medley of commentary from 19 experts on what they think will be on our plates in 20 years. (My personal favorite was from author and animal rights activist Paul Shapiro, who asks: What if local establishments could brew their own meat on-site like they would a craft IPA?) Unfortunately, interspersed throughout Zimberoff 's otherwise detailed reporting were more than a few technical flubs—mostly harmless in nature but certainly distracting to a careful reader. She mentions, for example, that ocean acidification occurs when pH levels rise (it is the opposite), references COVID-19 when she means SARS-CoV-2, and refers to yeast as bacteria. I also could have done without the occasional implication that science is boring or hard to understand (“Have your eyes glazed over yet?”) and her take on Expo West, a huge natural products show, where she tasted and spat out the free food samples. (The displays, she writes, were “enough to torture anyone's waistline.”) Still, the reporting behind this book is masterful. I was constantly pulled along by ideas about the food system that I had never considered, from secondary plant compounds that might be beneficial to human health—and are only produced if you lay off the pesticides and let a plant get nibbled a little—to what the median age of the United States's traditional farmers (57.5 years in 2017) portends about the future of farming. Even the title proved to be a wink I did not expect—not just “technically” as in technical, technological, but also “technically” as in “well, technically, it's food.” The overarching question of whether high-tech food is actually an improvement or not is not answered by Zimberoff, but she leaves readers with plenty of food for thought. Reviewed by Stephani Sutherland 3 “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman,” declared abolitionist and suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1848 at a convention to address inequities faced by women. Although the sentiment may sound radical to some, cultural historian Elinor Cleghorn's new book suggests that Stanton's argument is not far off track. In Unwell Women , Cleghorn provides an extensive history of how feminine anatomy, physiology, and psychology have been studied and manipulated—mainly by men—and how they have often been used to oppress the female sex. The book is populated by meticulously researched and quoted historical figures—some famous, others simply captured in quotidian documentation. The cast of characters includes girls and women who suffered at the hands of men, as well as men who shaped history for pioneering medical techniques and theories under the frequently false guise of protecting, curing, and acting in women's best interests. Also present are the women who have been driving forces for change, pushing for the right to hold authority over one's own body and life. Unwell Women details a history in which women were tortured, burned, and hanged for “witchcraft”; enslaved for the purpose of gynecological experimentation; and clitoridectomized for the crime of masturbation. During Victorian times, we learn, women of certain social status were often prescribed a forced “rest cure” for hysteria, which entailed utter isolation and inactivity (with the exception of tooth cleaning) and a diet of four quarts of milk per day and raw beef soup. More recently, suffragists were physically assaulted, imprisoned, and force-fed, and many women have been sterilized on the grounds of “feeblemindedness” and “social inadequacy,” often with racial undercurrents. Despite the tremendous recent gains made in the rights of women—to vote, to work, to be educated, to control various facets of one's own life—still, the inequities are massive. Nowhere is that gap more evident and more harshly felt than in the medical realm, where, to this day, women are disbelieved, dismissed, and gaslighted by medical professionals, particularly when their conditions prove difficult to diagnose. One glaring example is the mysterious condition called myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). When ME/CFS was “discovered” in the 1980s, it was largely dismissed as a psychosomatic illness in wealthy white women who were perhaps “bored” with their lives—a sentiment not far from those used to explain “hysteria” in years past. Another recent example is the alleged hysterectomies being performed without consent on women at a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in 2020 in Georgia. Cleghorn brings her message home in the final chapter, aptly titled “Believe us.” She points out that the only path to change is for the medical profession to reckon with how it has used medicalization to control women for centuries and indeed still does. Although Unwell Women may not become required reading for medical professionals and students, Cleghorn's final message should be heard loud and clear: Believe women. Reviewed by Tamar L. Goulet 4 COVID-19 vaccines are a limited resource. Will some countries hoard them, exhibiting the selfish behavior that ecologist Garrett Hardin anticipated in his 1968 essay “The tragedy of the commons” ([ 1 ][1]), or will they share their extra doses with others who need them? The answer is currently unfolding, but promising signs suggest the latter, confirming predictions articulated by economist Elinor “Lin” Ostrom in her landmark 1990 book, Governing the Commons ([ 2 ][2]). Ostrom, who is profiled in Erik Nordman's new book, The Uncommon Knowledge of Elinor Ostrom , was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, securing the award in 2009 for her work on governing the commons and, according to Nordman, for her integration of theoretical foundations with fieldwork, anchoring economic concepts in real-world research. At first, the book's chapters do not seem to be connected. Studies about volunteerism are sandwiched between chapters on global climate change and space, and Ostrom's “eight design principles for managing a commons” appear for the first time in chapter four. Several pages into each chapter, however, Nordman presents the links that tie these themes together: Although resource use is key to Ostrom's principles, resources are not really the foci. Rather, managing “any common-pool resource,” as Nordman states, “is really about managing people.” Ostrom studied a myriad of “commons,” including one that is currently in the societal spotlight: the organization and efficiency of police departments, which are often run through a centralized bureaucracy. Communities with smaller-sized local police departments tend to exert control by engaging in more formal and informal communication with the police, she and her colleagues found, thereby building trust between the two entities. Police forces in larger cities that employ a mixture of centralized and decentralized components may ultimately have better outcomes, they concluded. As Nordman summarizes, “Public safety is a service that is coproduced by police departments and citizens.” Ostrom's observations from the 1970s are worth revisiting half a century later as the United States questions police structure and the role of communities. The work of managing commons reveals much about the complexities of life, illustrating what happens when these entities fail to fit into neat bins, when consequences are not binary, when outcomes seemingly defy logic, and when interconnectedness is key and collaboration is necessary and a strength. As Nordman asserts, “Ostrom left us with the tools to address these global challenges, but the work is up to us.” Reviewed by Max Kozlov 5 Every cat GIF shared on social media, credit card swiped, video watched on a streaming platform, and website visited add more data to the mind-bending 2.5 quintillion bytes of information that humans produce every single day. All of that information has a cost: Data centers alone consume about 47 billion watts, equivalent to the resting metabolism of more than a tenth of all the humans on the planet. In The Ascent of Information: Books, Bits, Genes, Machines, and Life's Unending Algorithm , astrobiologist Caleb Scharf probes this deluge of data, which he terms the “dataome,” to examine how it is changing us just as quickly as we are changing it. Masterfully weaving together anecdotes and thought experiments from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, theoretical physics, astrobiology, and information theory, Scharf investigates how our relationship with the dataome has fundamentally altered our lives and how it will continue to do so. Scharf begins by invoking William Shakespeare, whose legacy permeates the public consciousness more than four centuries after his death, to show just how powerful the dataome can be. On the basis of the average physical weight of one of his plays, “it is possible that altogether the simple act of human arms raising and lowering copies of Shakespeare's writings has expended over 4 trillion joules of energy,” he writes. These calculations do not even account for the energy expended as the neurons in our brains fire to make sense of the Bard's language. Zooming out as the book progresses, Scharf weaves in his own area of expertise—exoplanets—to dissect the argument of whether life exists beyond the confines of our planet. As a result of the same thermodynamic imperatives that gave rise to living systems on this planet, other dataomes, he maintains, are all but an inevitability. The dataome has been around since long before us, and it will persist long after we are gone, Scharf writes, tracing the flow of information and energy back to the birth of the Universe. He compares the rise of information to the rise of oxygen on Earth; both, he argues, involve the reconfiguration of matter and energy flow in very specific ways. Unlike atmospheric oxygen, however, humans have contributed to growing the dataome at unparalleled rates. Some estimate that by 2040, the world's computer chips will demand more electricity than is expected to be produced globally. Scharf ends with a sharply worded warning: All of these data represent a vastly different reality than anything biology has equipped us to deal with. How then, he asks, can we simultaneously preserve and support both our dataome and our planet? We must treat information as a natural resource, Scharf argues, one that cannot be extracted, refined, or used without cost or repercussions. “Information really isn't ‘free,’ nor has it ever been so,” he concludes. Reviewed by Elizabeth Gamillo 6 A Quantum Life: My Unlikely Journey from the Street to the Stars is the autobiography of astrophysicist and science communicator Hakeem Oluseyi, told as a journey from the author's challenging youth to the beginning of his career as a scientist. The book is split into four sections, each documenting pivotal parts of his life, including vivid accounts of his early childhood in an unstable home and his struggles with racism and classism as a Black doctoral student at Stanford University. Oluseyi, born James Plummer Jr., draws readers in with his candid and personable writing style. As I read, it felt as if he was sitting in front of me telling me his life story. Oluseyi sought refuge in books early on in his life and recounts the transformative moment he learned about Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity as a child. “[R]ight away I felt connected to Einstein,” he writes. “I could tell from his photo with that wild hair that he was weird, like me.” As the chapters progress, Oluseyi describes his difficult journey to find acceptance; he is too academically inclined for most of his peers but has trouble fitting in easily in academia. As a graduate student, he is pressured to leave Stanford University after failing his qualifying exam and resents the “privileged snobs” who make up most of the student body, with whom he finds little common ground. Oluseyi's supervisor, solar physicist Art Walker—the only Black faculty member in the physics department—plays a critical role in helping Oluseyi find his footing, highlighting the critical role of scientific mentorship. “Congratulations, Doctor,” Walker tells his young mentee in the book's closing pages, acknowledging Oluseyi's successful dissertation defense. “Art's handshake, and the hug that followed, was all the affirmation I could ask for,” writes Oluseyi. In the book's epilogue, Oluseyi describes his efforts to inspire the next generation of research physicists and details the importance of having culturally relevant role models. Here, he reflects on his experience tutoring Black and Latino high school students in the US and the mentoring program he created for Black astronomy students in South Africa, revealing how he uses his own struggles to relate to and motivate them. I found Oluseyi's perseverance inspiring. His story serves as a reminder that barriers are meant to be broken and that there is no one right way to be a scientist. We need more such stories if we truly wish to increase diversity within the scientific enterprise. Reviewed by Daniel Ackerman 7 Pope Julius II spared no expense in commissioning the Sistine Chapel's ceiling frescoes. He fetched Italy's top artistic talent—Michelangelo—for the job and demanded that the artist render the sky a brilliant celestial blue with a particular pigment: ultramarine. Derived from lapis lazuli stone quarried in present-day Afghanistan, ultramarine was worth more than its weight in gold. Science journalist Kai Kupferschmidt shares Julius II's obsession with blue, and he indulges it in an ambitious new biography of the color. Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color dutifully answers all the expected scientific questions—why is the sky blue?—but it shines brightest when Kupferschmidt blends the physical and the philosophical, asking, for example, is the sky a social phenomenon? Over 200 pages, Kupferschmidt sketches a comprehensive history of the color blue. He deftly bridges mineralogy, botany, and art history to explore humanity's quest for the perfect blue pigment. With equal ease, he describes Picasso's Blue Period palette and the microstructures that blue jays use to “cheat” their way to a dazzling cerulean. The book's most fascinating chapters, “Seeing” and “Speaking,” dwell on how we perceive and communicate color. “Blue light is not actually blue,” writes Kupferschmidt. Light is merely electromagnetic radiation—photons with particular wavelengths. It becomes “blue” only through a dance with the eye, the brain, and our shared understanding of the world. Here, readers learn about the evolution of the eye and follow along as Kupferschmidt ponders whether the ancient Greek poet Homer, who described both the ocean and oxen as “wine-dark,” might have perceived the color blue differently than we do today. Language structures our view of the colorful world, notes Kupferschmidt in this section, revealing that Russian speakers are faster than English speakers in distinguishing shades of blue. (The language splits light and dark blue into different categories, just as English separates green from yellow.) In his effort to see blue from every possible angle, Kupferschmidt's narrative thread occasionally frays—some sections read more like a collection of essays than a unified whole. Yet his lively writing and ability to wrangle disparate disciplines are more than enough to keep the curious reader aboard. And like the very best science writers, Kupferschmidt paints a radical vision of material that would feel mundane in the hands of a less-capable author. Reviewed by Barbara Gastel 8 Mysterious illnesses can serve as starting points for both medical science and popular science writing. They can lead physicians and scientists to identify previously unknown syndromes, better understand the body's functioning, and ultimately improve the prevention and treatment of diseases. For science writers, such cases supply scaffolding for narrative, allow easy integration of human interest, and offer chances to portray not only the products but also the process of science. Such cases are at the core of The Memory Thief and the Secrets Behind How We Remember by science journalist Lauren Aguirre. Early in the book, a young neurologist named Jed Barash views an MRI scan of the brain of a patient acting strangely after a drug overdose. Barash is taken aback: The patient's hippocampus—crucial to memory—is severely damaged, but the rest of his brain is intact. Upon examination, the patient shows profound memory difficulty, akin to the deficits seen in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Barash embarks on a search for other such cases, leading to the identification of what is now called opioid-associated amnestic syndrome. Along the way, he enlists other physicians and researchers to try to gain a sense of how common this syndrome might be, how it arises, what it might imply more broadly about the effects of opiate use, and whether it might offer insights into other memory impairments. Threaded throughout this narrative are accounts of well-known cases in which surgical injury or viral infection ravaged an individual's hippocampus, resulting in permanent memory impairment; descriptions of rodent studies that have helped researchers identify the roles of hippocampal neurons in memory formation; and more information about the effects of opioids on memory. Aguirre discusses the possible origins of Alzheimer's disease as well as factors that contribute to healthy aging of the human brain. Aguirre also recounts the story of Owen Rivers, a bright young man who has been all but unable to form new memories since overdosing on fentanyl in 2018. The book's prologue tells Rivers's story from shortly before to shortly after the overdose, and segments interspersed throughout the main text trace his history and follow his experiences and reflections since the incident. The epilogue includes an engaging essay in which Rivers presents his own perspective on his memory loss, offering readers a firsthand account of the experience. “Without Calendar notifications, task organization apps (huge shoutout to Trello), alarms, and meticulous preplanning each day, navigating everyday life on my own would be unfeasible,” he writes. The Memory Thief is extensively researched, and Aguirre writes clearly, concisely, and often cinematically. Some of the book's denser sections might bog down nonscientists, while experts might lose patience with some of the more informal storytelling. However, the book ultimately succeeds in providing an accessible yet substantive look at memory science and offering glimpses of the often-challenging process of biomedical investigation. 1. [↵][3]1. G. Hardin , Science 162, 1243 (1968). [OpenUrl][4][Abstract/FREE Full Text][5] 2. [↵][6]1. E. Ostrom , Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990). [1]: #ref-1 [2]: #ref-2 [3]: #xref-ref-1-1 "View reference 1 in text" [4]: {openurl}?query=rft.jtitle%253DScience%26rft.stitle%253DScience%26rft.aulast%253DHardin%26rft.auinit1%253DG.%26rft.volume%253D162%26rft.issue%253D3859%26rft.spage%253D1243%26rft.epage%253D1248%26rft.atitle%253DThe%2BTragedy%2Bof%2Bthe%2BCommons%26rft_id%253Dinfo%253Adoi%252F10.1126%252Fscience.162.3859.1243%26rft_id%253Dinfo%253Apmid%252F5699198%26rft.genre%253Darticle%26rft_val_fmt%253Dinfo%253Aofi%252Ffmt%253Akev%253Amtx%253Ajournal%26ctx_ver%253DZ39.88-2004%26url_ver%253DZ39.88-2004%26url_ctx_fmt%253Dinfo%253Aofi%252Ffmt%253Akev%253Amtx%253Actx [5]: /lookup/ijlink/YTozOntzOjQ6InBhdGgiO3M6MTQ6Ii9sb29rdXAvaWpsaW5rIjtzOjU6InF1ZXJ5IjthOjQ6e3M6ODoibGlua1R5cGUiO3M6NDoiQUJTVCI7czoxMToiam91cm5hbENvZGUiO3M6Mzoic2NpIjtzOjU6InJlc2lkIjtzOjEzOiIxNjIvMzg1OS8xMjQzIjtzOjQ6ImF0b20iO3M6MjM6Ii9zY2kvMzcyLzY1NDYvMTAzMC5hdG9tIjt9czo4OiJmcmFnbWVudCI7czowOiIiO30= [6]: #xref-ref-2-1 "View reference 2 in text"


AAAS makes science relatable through diverse efforts

Science

When the constitution of the American Association for the Advancement of Science was revised in 1946, its statement of objectives contained new language: “…to increase public understanding and appreciation of the importance and promise of the methods of science in human progress.” The association has since fulfilled that charge in diverse sectors, including policy, education, and public engagement, to make science more relatable and relevant to the public. Making science relatable also requires a variety of engagement strategies, including facilitating in-depth discussions with local policy leaders, translating technical language into digestible summaries for the classroom, and promoting science role models. In the case of the AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues or EPI Center, for instance, a successful part of bringing clear and actionable scientific advice to policy-makers has been encouraging discussions among a broad group of experts and policy peers. During meetings organized by the EPI Center this year, city council members, mayors, water engineers, and local utility managers joined scientists to discuss perand polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, synthetic chemicals found in drinking water systems. At least two PFAS have been associated with increased rates of some cancers and thyroid disease. The EPI Center provides nontechnical syntheses of topics for policy-makers, “but one thing we have seen is that examples from their peers that have implemented and used the scientific evidence are much more valuable and easier to understand,” said Kathryn McGrath, communications director for the center. Whether the focus is clean water or voting technology or hydraulic fracturing, the EPI Center strives to make the science of these topics relatable by talking with the public and policy-makers to find out exactly what information would be helpful for them. The discussions allow city council members, for instance, “to ask the science experts what they need to know to go back to their communities and regions and take action on some of these issues,” McGrath said. AAAS's Local Science Engagement Network, a grassroots platform that nurtures local and state science advocates for climate and energy policy, has also found success with local partnerships. In Colorado, Missouri, and Georgia, LSENs work with organizations in each state that “have a good sense of policy landscapes as well as the cultural and scientific landscapes in those areas,” said Daniel Barry, local and state advocacy director and head of LSEN at AAAS. LSENs offer an avenue for engagement and advocacy that AAAS members have been asking for, by connecting scientists with their own elected representatives on the local, state, and federal levels. As both constituents and neutral, honest brokers of scientific information, LSEN participants can be a key resource when legislatures grapple with the more local implications of climate change, such as modernizing the state power grid, said Barry. “They can step up and say, ‘Science, that's what I do, and I live here in this community. I know how to get you the science you need.’” LSEN members also condense technical research into locally relevant analyses in plain English for business leaders and citizens. So far in 2021, Missouri LSEN partner MOST Policy Initiative has produced more than 80 such “science notes” about pending state legislation. Among AAAS's numerous education efforts to make science more relevant is Science in the Classroom, an initiative that annotates and provides additional resources to accompany research papers from the Science family of journals. The goal is to make scientific papers more accessible to high school, community college, and undergraduate students, while putting a face on the papers' authors in communities with little exposure to working scientists, said program director Suzanne Thurston. The popular resource had more than 1 million page views in the past 3 years, and the hunger for accessible scientific content during a pandemic year led to a 50% increase in total site visits in 2020 compared to 2019. The program also offers professional development workshops to educators, researchers, and annotators. By showcasing a range of authors and annotators, Science in the Classroom helps “to expose students to diversity within STEM and demonstrates what ‘actual living scientists’ look like,” said Thurston, who serves as a program director in AAAS's Inclusive STEM Ecosystems for Equity and Diversity (ISEED). The IF/THEN Ambassador program, led by AAAS's Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, was another recent effort to show off the diverse faces of science, by highlighting 125 women in STEM as role models for middle school girls. Lyda Hill Philanthropies, which funds the IF/THEN initiative, wanted to work with AAAS on the ambassador program after the association's success with other public engagement initiatives such as the AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship and the Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement with Science, said Emily Therese Cloyd, director of the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. The ambassador program was distinguished by its emphasis on increasing visibility for women in STEM who demonstrate how science is involved in everyday careers beyond the traditional lab, said Cloyd. “We're moving beyond scientists who work at an academic institution and thinking about the ways that a video game designer or a fashion designer might be using STEM every day.” AAAS is committed to making science relatable and relevant for everyone from policy-makers to educators to students. It is at the core of the organization's mission and will continue to be a top priority for years to come.


News at a glance

Science

SCI COMMUN### Planetary science China's Zhurong rover rolled off the Tianwen-1 Mars mission's lander last week to start its explorations, leaving tracks in the Red Planet's dust. Zhurong's sensors will provide an up-close look at Mars's subsurface strata, minerals, and weather and atmosphere. Researchers expect 90 days of operations but hope for more. Meanwhile, the mission's orbiter will continue to gather data on Mars's topography and ionosphere. The flawless 15 May landing and subsequent smooth deployment of the rover (which photographed the lander in the photo above) may encourage China in its ambitions for planetary exploration. After bringing rocks back from the Moon in December 2020, China is considering a landing site for a planned, second sample return mission to the Moon's far side in 2023 or 2024. > “I frequently vomit before going to the lab.” > > Anonymous scientist, in a survey conducted by the antibullying Academic Parity Movement and posted as a preprint. Many of the 2000 self-selected respondents said they had been bullied but didn't report it to their institution, fearing retaliation. Most who did said they found the process unfair. ### History of science A picture may be worth 1000 words, but a letter containing a single equation written in Albert Einstein's shaky hand sold last week for a whopping $1.2 million, Boston-based RR Auction reported. Penned on 26 October 1946, when the famous theorist was 67, the letter contains one of four extant instances of Einstein's famous equation E=mc2 in his own hand. The equation implies that a small amount of mass (m) equals a huge amount of energy (E) because the speed of light (c) is enormous. The letter's recipient, Polish-American physicist Ludwik Silberstein, wrote one of the first English-language textbooks on relativity—a theory that encompasses both the special theory of relativity that Einstein published in 1905 and the general theory, published in 1915, which explains the origins of gravity. Silberstein had doubts about general relativity and engaged Einstein in public debate—which Silberstein lost as the theory became a cornerstone of modern physics. ### Evolution With more than 350,000 species, flowering plants feed, fuel, and adorn the world. Now, researchers have taken a big step toward understanding the origin of traits that distinguish them from an older group of plants, the gymnosperms, which today includes pine trees and ginkgoes. Among the differences, the flowering plants or “angiosperms,” which evolved about 125 million years ago, produce more sophisticated seeds, with two outer protective coats instead of just one. In 2017 in an open-pit coal mine in Inner Mongolia, palaeobotanists discovered evidence of an evolutionary link between these two major groups of plants: a treasure trove of exquisitely preserved, extinct gymnosperms with double-coated seeds. The outer coat or “cupule” most likely gave rise to the outer coat, the integument, of angiosperm seeds, palaeobotanist Gongle Shi of the Chinese Academy of Sciences's Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology and colleagues write this week in Nature . Modern gymnosperms lack cupules. The ancient plants, which no longer exist, also had specialized leaves or other tissues that may have been the forerunners of the female angiosperm reproductive structures called carpels. ### Gene therapy A blind man who received a gene for a light-sensing algal protein in one eye can now see objects with the help of special goggles, researchers report this week in Nature Medicine . It is the first published case of using optogenetics, a method of controlling neurons, to treat a disease in people. The 58-year-old French man was a participant in a clinical trial of the technique. He has an inherited disease called retinitis pigmentosa that destroys the eye's light-sensing photoreceptor cells; he could sense light but not discern shapes. Researchers used a virus to insert the algal gene into the man's retinal ganglion cells, which carried signals from the light-sensing protein to the brain. Months later, while wearing goggles that focused light on his retina, he could find and touch a notebook and count glass tumblers. If the treatment helps others, it may offer advantages over alternative technologies such as retinal implants. ### Science education The latest results from a quadrennial national test have disappointed U.S. science educators. The scores of fourth grade students in science showed a significant drop of three points on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) between 2015 and 2019, while the scores of eighth and 12th grade students stayed flat. Key metrics for measuring how science is taught are also discouraging. For example, just 30% of fourth grade students engage in inquiry-based activities—a teaching method that studies have validated as more effective than others—only once or twice a year, and only 18% as often as twice a month. “Far too many elementary teachers have told us that science is not a priority in their schools and is perceived as less important than math and English language arts,” says Erika Shugart, executive director of the National Science Teaching Association. Until that attitude changes, Shugart says, “we can anticipate that lackluster NAEP scores will continue.” ### Climate policy President Joe Biden's administration last week reinstated the past director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which coordinates climate science across 13 federal agencies and oversees a periodic and influential review, the National Climate Assessment. In November 2020, the Trump administration reassigned Michael Kuperberg, a climate scientist who had run USGCRP for 6 years, to the Department of Energy and replaced him with a climate change denier. Trump subordinates had criticized the 2018 installment of the climate assessment, which, like previous ones, predicted calamitous, costly effects from climate change. In restoring Kuperberg to his old post, the White House also directed USGCRP to accelerate its work on two fronts: advancing climate science on socially relevant topics and ensuring that knowledge is more easily accessible to the public. The next climate assessment is now due by the end of 2023. ### Energy The United Kingdom's rebooted fusion reactor, MAST-Upgrade, has successfully demonstrated a novel exhaust system for superhot waste gases, key to making future commercial devices smaller and cheaper, researchers announced this week. Such reactors generate energy by fusing hydrogen isotopes in gas heated to more than 100 million degrees Celsius and confined with powerful magnets. As waste gases are expelled, they must touch a reactor surface, and not many materials can stand the heat for long. MAST-Upgrade was built with extra chambers and magnets, known as a super-X diverter, to lead the waste gases on a winding 20-meter path, during which they have time to cool. In tests since the reactor was fired up in October, researchers showed that this reduced the heat load 10-fold at the final contact surface. “This will make a big change in the amount of downtime in a future power plant,” says lead scientist Andrew Kirk of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. ### COVID-19 India is suffering an epidemic within the pandemic. Nearly 9000 COVID-19 patients have also contracted mucormycosis, a rare disease also called black fungus, for its discolored lesions on the nose and inside the mouth. Spread by spores in the environment, mucormycosis has a mortality rate of more than 50%. Healthy people easily stave off infection, but those with weakened immune systems are vulnerable. In India, the disease is appearing mostly in COVID-19 patients given steroids to suppress an overactive immune response and in those who also suffer from diabetes. The surge in mucormycosis is causing a shortage of amphotericin B, the drug used to treat the disease. Last week, India's health ministry urged the country's 36 states and territories to declare mucormycosis epidemic, a step that leads to closer tracking of cases. ### COVID-19 Belgian authorities have hunted for more than a week for a heavily armed former soldier who they said threatened a prominent virologist, Marc Van Ranst of KU Leuven, over his support of COVID-19 lockdowns. Police took Van Ranst, a member of two expert panels advising the government, and his family to a safe house on 18 May. The fugitive, far-right former military shooting instructor Jürgen Conings, is on the Belgian list of terrorism suspects and “very dangerous,” Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said in a 21 May TV interview. He added that Conings spent 2 hours on 17 May near a “target,” identified as Van Ranst by Belgian media. Van Ranst had been receiving police protection since July 2020 because he received pandemic-related threats regularly. Tweeting from his hideout last week, he said the threats “don't impress me at all.” ### Publishing Who voices more anxiety about peer reviews: researchers whose manuscripts have been accepted or rejected? The answer: It's a tie. That's one of the counterintuitive findings of a study of researchers' emotional and cognitive reactions to peer reviews, as revealed in more than 3600 comments posted by researchers on SciRev.org. The website allows authors to rate the quality of reviews at each of more than 3500 journals by name. The 16 May paper in Scientometrics unpacked the SciRev.org comments using language-analysis software. Although authors of rejected papers were not more likely to report anxiety than authors of accepted papers, they were more prone to say they were saddened by the decision. Also surprising, authors who waited longer for review decisions were no more likely to make negative comments about peer review. “Possibly, slow peer review processes have become so prevalent in academia [that] most authors did not bother to criticize it,” wrote the study's author, Shan Jiang of the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Further research about psychological reactions to peer review could help improve the process, the paper suggests. ### Genetics After the last ice age, the population of modern humans in northern East Asia may have undergone a major turnover, a study this week in Cell suggests. Researchers analyzed DNA from across the genomes of 25 ancient hunter-gatherers. It shows that the earliest known modern humans in the north China Plain, which stretches from Mongolia to the Amur Peninsula of Russia, who lived there 33,000 to 40,000 years ago, belonged to one widespread population. But by the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 19,000 years ago, they had been replaced by another population of people related to living East Asians and ancient Siberians. The first group may have died out during the ice age, the research team writes, noting that frigid temperatures in Europe may have driven a similar ancient population turnover. ### Space science Future robotic and crewed missions to the Moon could find their way on its surface more easily under a plan proposed by the European Space Agency (ESA) to establish a fleet of navigation satellites—a lunar version of GPS. The agency last week announced €2 million contracts to each of two industrial consortia to devise plans. Space agencies and companies hope to dispatch dozens of lunar probes this decade, but they must carry heavy radio gear to stay in contact with large dishes on Earth that guide them. Instead, ESA proposes that three or four satellites in lunar orbit and surface beacons could provide GPS-like signals so future missions could make do with a simple, less costly, lightweight receiver. The system would improve navigational accuracy, fixing position to within 100 meters compared with the current 500 meters at best. 8023 —Depth in meters where the deepest ocean bed core was drilled. The sample, for earthquake research, was taken this month in the Japan Trench, near the epicenter of the 2011 quake that caused a tsunami and knocked out the Fukushima nuclear power plant.


Opinion: Regulations and common sense must pace machine learning

#artificialintelligence

The first Industrial Revolution used steam and water to mechanize production. The second, the Technological Revolution, offered standardization and industrialization. The third capitalized on electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a fourth Industrial Revolution, our modern Digital Age, is building on the third; expanding exponentially, it is disrupting and transforming our lives, while evolving too fast for governance, ethics and management to keep pace. Most high school graduates have been exposed to information technology through personal computers, word processing software and their phones. Nonetheless, the digital divide separates the tech savvy from the tech illiterate, driven by disparities in access to technology for pre-K to 12 students based on where they live and socioeconomic realities.


USC, Amazon Partner to Launch Machine Learning Research Center

#artificialintelligence

The University of Southern California and Amazon have joined forces to establish the Center for Secure and Trusted Machine Learning. Housed at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering, the center will provide support to researchers who will focus on developing innovative approaches to privacy-preserving machine learning solutions. This university-industry partnership symbolizes both organizations' shared commitment to "advancing understanding and developing solutions," said USC Provost Charles F. Zukoski in the university's announcement of the partnership. Plans call for the center to leverage talent from both entities in a cooperative effort to unearth new research in this controversial area of study. In USC's announcement, Prem Natarajan, Alexa AI vice president of natural understanding, added, "We are delighted to bring together top talent at Amazon and USC in a joint mission to drive ground-breaking advances in privacy and security preserving machine learning--advances that enable us to continue to safely and securely deliver experiences that enrich and delight our customers worldwide."


Why some high school students aren't ready to go back to school, despite the isolation

Los Angeles Times

High school senior Isabell Diaz has a routine. She rolls out of bed half an hour before her 9 a.m. On breaks, she steps away from the screen to eat breakfast or complete chores. She has learned how to navigate online assignments and virtual club meetings. So when she learned that her school would open in late April, she had mixed emotions.


For 50 Years, Tech Companies Have Tried to Increase Diversity by Fixing People Instead of the System

Slate

In February, Google announced that it was committing to training 100,000 Black women in digital skills. This announcement arrived as a PR Hail Mary amid the ever-growing industry and academic outcry over Google's firing of prominent, brilliant, respected A.I. researcher Timnit Gebru and recruiter April Christina Curley, both Black women and both exceptional contributors at the company. The backlash occurred during a year of widespread protest against the centuries-old violence of racism and racialized capitalism in the United States. This is not the first time that a prominent tech organization has attempted to "train up" Black Americans. From 1968 to 1972, at least 18 programs to provide computing skills training to Black and brown Americans were established in the United States. They were located in East Coast and California cities, with one in St. Louis, Missouri.


100 Women of Color Remember Their First Encounter With Racism--And How They Overcame It

#artificialintelligence

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. This was a mantra I picked up on the playground at elementary school--something I repeated over and over again anytime I came face to face with racism. It was a coping mechanism meant to guard my heart from the cacophony of discriminatory comments that shaped me as a young Korean American girl growing up in predominantly white spaces. But now that I'm well into adulthood, I think about the girls of color who are also being taught to pretend that words don't hurt--and the people this way of thinking actually protects. It's hard to escape the unrelenting consequences of racism: In the past year alone, we lost Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and the six women of Asian descent murdered in Atlanta (Xiaojie "Emily" Tan, Daoyou Feng, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant) at the hands of this insidious disease--and those are just the names that were in the headlines. If we don't acknowledge ...


COVID crushed math grades. There's an app for that

USATODAY - Tech Top Stories

It's been a full year now since Covid-19 shut down schools across America. Whether your kids are back to in-person classes, remote learning, or doing some hybrid of both – there's still a ton of school work that has to get done at home – and math in particular has taken a huge hit. Two national testing programs used widely by U.S. public schools show major declines in math performance, especially for middle-schoolers. Education analysts predict U.S. students could learn half – or up to a full year – less math during the pandemic school year. And according to a recent poll, 56% – more than half of parents in America – struggle to help kids with math homework. "A lot of parents are not ready to be their kids' teacher or math tutor," Jennifer Lee, VP Strategy/Growth of top math app Photomath tells me over Zoom.