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Behavioral convergence in humans and animals


Over the 20th century, the social sciences developed without taking much notice of humans' nature as products of evolution. In the 1970s this attitude was challenged by behavioral biologists ([ 1 ][1], [ 2 ][2]) who asserted that general principles concerning the behavior of life forms must also be relevant to understanding human behavior. They argued that because human cognition and emotions had evolved by natural selection, these behavior-generating mechanisms should generally shape behavior so that it maximizes biological fitness. Not all social scientists agreed. Cultural anthropologists, in particular, were mostly aghast at the rigidly scientific and overtly biological nature of this perspective, viewing it as blatantly flawed ([ 3 ][3]). They claimed that differences between and within human societies were mainly due to variant cultural belief systems. On page 292 of this issue, Barsbai et al. ([ 4 ][4]) show that adaptation to local ecological conditions is an important determinant of variation in human behavior in traditional societies. The sample analyzed by Barsbai et al. consists of 339 hunter-gatherer societies that are most appropriate for comparison because their members' lives and livelihoods are intimately constrained by the natural world. The authors show that variation in hunter-gatherer patterns for 15 behavioral variables statistically converges on the same characteristics that are most common in birds and mammals in the same local regions of the world. These traits include diet composition, mobility patterns, paternal investment, divorce rates, social group size, and social stratification. In other words, in places where hunter-gatherers are more polygynous, there also tend to be more polygynous bird and mammal species. These patterns appear to be driven by ecological and habitat similarity, not by locational proximity per se. Not only are hunter-gatherers behaviorally similar in similar ecologies, but even mammals and birds in those ecologies tend to exhibit the same behavioral regularities as do the human populations. Hence, the study appears to validate the basic premise of the evolutionary perspective called “human behavioral ecology” ([ 5 ][5], [ 6 ][6]). However, it is a mistake to conclude from this that culture is unimportant. Beginning in the 1980s, researchers in human behavioral sciences developed a sophisticated, scientific, evolutionary theory accounting for the role of culture in human behavior ([ 7 ][7], [ 8 ][8]). These scientists provided both theoretical and empirical evidence that social learning was a prime determinant of human behavioral variation. The affective and cognitive mechanisms that underpin social learning are adaptations and are in large part responsible for our species' spectacular ecological success, but they also create historical patterns absent in other species and lead to outcomes not predicted by theories developed for noncultural creatures. Barsbai et al. show convincingly that ecological factors explain much variation in human behavior, but so too does cultural history. For example, Mathew and Perreault ([ 9 ][9]) studied the causes of variation among 172 native American groups in western North America. Like Barsbai et al. , they found that ecological factors explained a substantial amount of variation, particularly in behaviors related to subsistence and technology. But the variation in subsistence-related behaviors was equally well explained by the linguistic distance between groups, which proved to be an even better explanation than ecological factors for the variation in political organization, religious practice, and kinship organization. Moreover, the effect of cultural history seems to persist for hundreds or even thousands of years. Cultural evolution can also lead to outcomes not predicted by the evolutionary mechanisms applied to other species. Barsbai et al. show that variation in human residential group size has the same relationship to ecology as in other species. However, human foragers are much more cooperative than other primates ([ 10 ][10]), and sometimes they cooperate in groups numbering hundreds of individuals in communal foraging, construction of shared capital facilities, and warfare ([ 11 ][11]). No other vertebrate cooperates on these scales. Exactly why this is the case is controversial, but it seems likely that culturally transmitted social norms play an important role. Culture and genes are linked in a tight coevolutionary embrace, and this leads to complex patterns of genetic and cultural co adaptation. For example, Henrich has recently argued ([ 12 ][12]) that the extent to which people are embedded in networks of kin obligation is a function of both ecological factors (cooperative intensive agriculture) and cultural history (church edicts against kin marriage and collective property institutions), and that variations in the intensity of kin-network embeddedness ultimately transformed human psychology into that observed today in “WEIRD” (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) societies, where individualism is paramount, rather than the psychology of traditional societies, where collectivism and kin-group favoritism predominate. Experiments show that the cognitive, emotional, and psychological effects of these different cultural histories are profound, and imply that findings from Western modern societies may often be irrelevant to predicting behavior in non-Western and traditional societies. Likewise, the spread of monogamy in modern societies, despite increasing wealth stratification, appears to be a puzzle that requires both adaptive modeling ([ 13 ][13]) and a recognition that monogamous social norms substantially increased cooperation with societies, and this norm can spread by group competition and cultural imitation ([ 12 ][12]). Coevolution between genes and culture in different ecologies may lead to uniquely human patterns not anticipated by animal studies. These examples illustrate just how complex human behavioral studies will become when the social sciences fully integrate an adaptive evolutionary view with a view of human behavioral variation in terms of cultural social norms. So far, a complete theory that predicts when culture will override fitness maximizing ecological adaptation and vice versa is not available. That will be the challenge for the next generation of social scientists, as an “either/or” view is replaced with an integrated evolutionary theory of human behavior. 1. [↵][14]1. E. O. Wilson , Sociobiology (Harvard Univ. Press, 1976). 2. [↵][15]1. R. Alexander , Darwinism and Human Affairs (Univ. of Washington Press, 1979). 3. [↵][16]1. M. Sahlins , The Use and Abuse of Biology (Univ. of Michigan Press, 1976). 4. [↵][17]1. T. Barsbai, 2. D. Lukas, 3. A. Pondorfer , Science 371, 292 (2021). [OpenUrl][18][Abstract/FREE Full Text][19] 5. [↵][20]1. B. Winterhalder, 2. E. Smith , Evol. Anthropol. 9, 51 (2000). [OpenUrl][21][CrossRef][22][Web of Science][23] 6. [↵][24]1. M. Borgerhoff Mulder , Behav. Ecol. 24, 1042 (2013). [OpenUrl][25][CrossRef][26] 7. [↵][27]1. R. Boyd, 2. P. Richerson , Culture and the Evolutionary Process (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1985). 8. [↵][28]1. L. Cavalli-Sforza, 2. M. Feldman , Cultural Transmission and Evolution (Princeton Univ. Press, 1981). 9. [↵][29]1. S. Mathew, 2. C. Perreault , Proc. R. Soc. B 282, 20150061 (2015). [OpenUrl][30][CrossRef][31][PubMed][32] 10. [↵][33]1. K. Hill , Hum. Nat. 13, 105 (2002). [OpenUrl][34][CrossRef][35][Web of Science][36] 11. [↵][37]1. R. Boyd , A Different Kind of Animal (Princeton Univ. Press, 2018). 12. [↵][38]1. J. Henrich , The WEIRDest People in the World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020). 13. [↵][39]1. C. Ross et al ., J. R. Soc. Interface 15, 144 (2018). 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Play breeds better thinkers


In a digital, global world where information is projected to double every 12 hours ([ 1 ][1]), the memorization of facts will become less of a commodity than the ability to think, find patterns, and generate new ideas from old parts ([ 2 ][2], [ 3 ][3]). Thus, a cradle-to-career approach to educating children must be mindful of how children learn to learn, not just what they learn ([ 4 ][4]). Combining insight, scientific acumen, and exquisite narrative, The Intellectual Lives of Children allows readers to peer into the minds of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers as they explore and learn in everyday moments, emphasizing what constitutes real learning. Children are bursting with playful curiosity. By age 3, they ask questions about everything they see—Why does a tree have leaves? Why does the Sun come up each day?—and by age 5, they pose even deeper questions, about God and morals. These questions not only provide fodder for knowledge, they help children discover the causal relationships among things—all with adult mentors by their side. Children also need time to explore. One child might collect dead things like worms and slugs, and another, assorted leaves of different shapes and colors. These collections, Engel argues, become treasured resources for the discovery of patterns, and they invite even more inquisitiveness. Indeed, the adults who guide this exploration by asking questions themselves reinforce curiosity and innovation. Hidden in these playful encounters are rich opportunities for learning. Yet explorations take time—the time to meander and discover, the unscheduled time to be bored. As Engel writes, “when children are allowed to dive into a topic thoroughly, they…connect isolated facts in order to generate new ideas.” They learn grit and they learn to have agency over their own learning. As such, the real mental work for children takes place in plain sight as they play—when a child builds a platform of chairs and pillows to retrieve cookies from an out-of-reach cookie jar and when she uses kitchen utensils to fish for the toy that is lodged under the couch. As adults, we often overlook the fact that learning is happening during periods of unstructured play, or we dismiss these intervals as unproductive. Hurried parents often lack the ability to carve out that time, fearing that their children might be late for their next scheduled activity. “Watch and listen for twenty minutes in almost any school in the United States and it becomes clear that the educational system does not concern itself with children's intellectual lives,” admonishes Engel in the opening pages of the book. Instead, she hopes to reenvision schools as “idea factories” built on inspiring curiosity and problem solving: “Imagine assessing students' progress under some new headings: poses interesting questions, speculates,…articulates important problems and spends time solving them.” In one lovely example, Engel describes a teacher who challenged her students to construct a record-breaking straw chain that would eventually measure 3.8 miles. “Winning the record would be fun, but the enduring benefit would be coming to grips with vast quantities,” explains the teacher, whose goal was to help the children to better understand the sheer depth of the Mariana Trench. The puzzles and problems that captivate children and the ways they set about solving them are reminiscent of how philosophers Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn conceptualized the thinking of scientists ([ 5 ][5], [ 6 ][6]). Both children and scientists bring the tools in their respective arsenals to bear on things that matter to them. Their learning is not linear and is certainly not funneled through flashcards ([ 7 ][7]). In the past few decades, developmental science has made great strides in understanding the mental richness of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Engel's book helps parents and educators see what scientists have learned, offering tips for how to make the learning even more apparent. For example, she encourages parents to see children as active thinkers and suggests that by asking open-ended questions and letting them explore, children will be better prepared to thrive in a complex and ever-changing world. 1. [↵][8]1. S. Sorkin , “Thriving in a world of ‘knowledge half-life’,” Enterprising Insights, 5 April 2019. 2. [↵][9]1. R. M. Golinkoff, 2. K. Hirsh-Pasek , Becoming Brilliant (APA Press, 2016). 3. [↵][10]1. D. H. Pink , A Whole New Mind (Penguin, 2006). 4. [↵][11]1. K. Hirsh-Pasek, 2. H. S. Hadani, 3. E. Blinkoff, 4. R. M. Golinkoff , “A new path to education reform: Playful learning promotes 21st-century skills in schools and beyond,” The Brookings Institution: Big Ideas Policy Report, 28 October 2020. 5. [↵][12]1. K. Popper , The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Hutchinson, 1959). 6. [↵][13]1. T. S. Kuhn , The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962). 7. [↵][14]1. A. Gopnik, 2. A. N. Meltzoff, 3. P. K. Kuhl , The Scientist in the Crib (William Morrow, 1999). [1]: #ref-1 [2]: #ref-2 [3]: #ref-3 [4]: #ref-4 [5]: #ref-5 [6]: #ref-6 [7]: #ref-7 [8]: #xref-ref-1-1 "View reference 1 in text" [9]: #xref-ref-2-1 "View reference 2 in text" [10]: #xref-ref-3-1 "View reference 3 in text" [11]: #xref-ref-4-1 "View reference 4 in text" [12]: #xref-ref-5-1 "View reference 5 in text" [13]: #xref-ref-6-1 "View reference 6 in text" [14]: #xref-ref-7-1 "View reference 7 in text"

How 'Bugsnax' studio Young Horses stays sustainable and deeply strange


If you ran into Philip Tibitoski in a coffee shop or brushed past him in the street, you'd never know he helped create some of the silliest video games of the past decade. He's calm and self-possessed, and he thinks before he speaks in a low tenor. In actuality, Tibitoski is the co-founder and president of Young Horses, the Chicago studio responsible for Octodad: Dadliest Catch and Bugsnax. Both of these games are ridiculous in their own special ways: Octodad is a 2014 title about an octopus masquerading as a typical human father, while Bugsnax is a PlayStation 5 launch game set in a cartoonish world of food-animal hybrids. They're both also deeper than they seem at first glance.

Ones we've lost


Scientists, too, died in the pandemic. COVID-19 has made 2020 a cruel year for us all. As Science went to press, the global toll of the pandemic had already exceeded 1.6 million, a tragic number that includes scientists of all specialties, ages, and backgrounds. Behind the mind-numbing total are individuals, each a spark of ingenuity, imagination, and creative spirit. Because we can't do justice to every life lost, we've chosen only a few. In remembering them, we mourn the much larger losses for the scientific community—and the world. ### Li Wenliang Li Wenliang did not set out to be a hero. On 30 December 2019, the 33-year-old Wuhan Central Hospital ophthalmologist warned a small group of colleagues that cases of a severe acute respiratory syndrome–like illness had been confirmed in area hospitals. “Don't spread the word, let your family members take precautions,” he wrote in a brief message. Someone did spread the word, which went viral. Four days later, Li was called to a meeting with local police, who forced him to confess to spreading rumors. When the young doctor fell ill with COVID-19 less than 1 week later, he took to the microblogging website Sina Weibo to tell his story. Citizens were outraged at the officials' tactics. As Li's condition deteriorated in the early hours of 7 February, millions followed media updates on his condition. When his hospital confirmed his death shortly before 3 a.m., thousands of locked-down Wuhan citizens came to their high-rise windows, calling his name and grieving. He became “the face of COVID-19 in China,” independent social media expert Manya Koetse wrote on her What's on Weibo website. The outrage forced an investigation, and in March, officials formally exonerated Li and apologized to his family. Although his death shook a nation, Li was a modest man dedicated to his work. In one social media post, he apologized to his patients for being irritable, then added that he enjoyed his fried chicken dinner after “thinking about it all day.” Ten months after his death, more than 1.5 million people still follow Li's Weibo page. His final post, in which he finally reported testing positive for the COVID-19 virus weeks after infection, has drawn more than 1 million comments, with dozens more posted every day. Writers address Li as if he's an old friend, sharing their daily troubles and future hopes, calling him an inspiration, and sending birthday wishes. Many sent congratulations when his wife gave birth to their second son, about 4 months after Li died. In early February, Li was “a symbol of public anger against the failure of the Chinese system to address the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Steve Tsang, a political scientist who focuses on China at the SOAS University of London. As China brought the outbreak under control, that anger has largely dissipated. But in the eyes of the public, Li remains the hero he never set out to be. — Dennis Normile and Bian Huihui ### Gita Ramjee After finishing her Ph.D., epidemiologist Gita Ramjee made a decision that would change the course of her life—and many others. She paused her work on childhood kidney disease to explore whether vaginal microbicides could protect South African women from contracting HIV. It was 1994, and the world was at the height of the AIDS crisis: Few treatments were available, and no end was in sight. And women, especially sex workers, were being hit increasingly hard. The largely overlooked plight of these women “sparked her passion,” says Gavin Churchyard, CEO of the Aurum Institute, the HIV and tuberculosis prevention nonprofit where Ramjee was chief scientific officer. “She wouldn't just sit back and allow things to happen,” Churchyard says. “She would make them happen.” Ramjee, a fierce advocate for women's health, devoted the rest of her life to searching for ways to prevent HIV infection and providing them to the communities that needed them most. She held herself and colleagues to high standards, Churchyard says, pushing for excellence in an area of research that often had disappointing results. “She was a persevering and dedicated person,” says social scientist Neetha Morar, whom Ramjee mentored at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC). “Every time a negative result came through, she would get up and continue on.” Ramjee's commitment to work was matched only by her devotion to her family, Morar says. When her two sons still lived at home, she would prepare a full meal—with handmade bread—every day before work, to make sure her family ate dinner together in the evening. After her sons left home, Morar says, she kept up the ritual with her husband. She was ecstatic at the birth of her first grandchild and often brought pictures to the office to show colleagues, Churchyard remembers. Ramjee died on 31 March at age 63. Even months after her passing, her life's labor is still bearing fruit, says Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiologist at Columbia University and longtime collaborator. While at SAMRC, Ramjee oversaw on-site trials for a long-acting antiviral injection recently found to be more effective than a daily pill at preventing HIV in women. “She would have been thrilled,” El-Sadr says. “It's very bittersweet to have this amazing victory and she's not around to celebrate.” — Lucy Hicks ### Lynika Strozier Lynika Strozier lay in a hospital bed dying of COVID-19 as Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets of Chicago in June. The 35-year-old geneticist was a gifted laboratory scientist, a passionate teacher, and a mentor to scores of students, many from underrepresented backgrounds. “Science was her baby,” says her grandmother, Sharon Wright, who raised Strozier from birth. Her path wasn't easy. Strozier was diagnosed early in life with a learning disability, and she had to study harder than her peers, Wright says. But she was a natural when it came to lab work, discovering her talent in college when she landed an internship taking care of cell lines at Truman College. “Most of us would have given up—and she always persevered,” says Matt von Konrat, a botanist at the Field Museum who watched Strozier move from intern to research assistant to collections associate at the museum's Pritzker DNA Laboratory, where she studied evolution in liverworts, birds, and other organisms. By 2018, Strozier had completed two master's degrees, one in biology and one in science education, before starting a job teaching ecology and evolution in January at Malcolm X College. “We had hoped that that would be just the beginning of her success story,” says Sushma Reddy, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who was Strozier's graduate adviser at Loyola University Chicago. She was an inspiring teacher, Reddy says, and she was also someone her students could aspire to be. “She was literally the first Black scientist I ever met,” says Heaven Wade, a biochemistry undergraduate at Denison University whom Strozier mentored during an internship at the Field Museum. “We all loved her.” Wade, who is also Black, credits Strozier with keeping her in science: When she considered switching her major because she wasn't feeling “very welcome” in her program, Strozier persuaded her to stay. “She was so encouraging … it really inspired me to keep going.” Even now, Strozier continues to inspire young scientists. Her colleagues came up with the idea of creating an internship in her name, to help women of color gain research experience at the Field Museum. The fund is halfway to its $100,000 goal. “That's what Lynika would have wanted,” Reddy says. — Katie Langin ### John Houghton John Houghton loved a good country walk. So when the British climate scientist, instrumental to sounding the global alarm on climate change, found himself with a free afternoon at the National Center for Atmospheric Research's Mesa Laboratory near Boulder, Colorado, he headed straight out the back door—and into the Rocky Mountains. He even convinced a handful of fellow visitors, in inappropriate shoes, to join him as the sunlight waned. That spirit of exploration was fundamental to Houghton, who began his career in the 1960s developing space-based sensors that used the radiation emitted by carbon dioxide to take the atmosphere's temperature. Those measurements soon helped make clear that the burning of fossil fuels could, in a few generations, deeply alter the planet. In time, Houghton found himself in a position to make a difference, directing the United Kingdom's Met Office and helping lead the first three reports from the United Nations's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Houghton was widely regarded as brilliant, but it was his emotional intelligence that made him so effective, says Robert Watson, a former IPCC chairman. “He showed respect for people,” Watson says. During the summit of the third IPCC assessment, published in 2001, government representatives spent the entire first day squabbling over a sentence that explained who was preparing the report. Fellow panelist David Griggs despaired of getting more controversial language approved. “Everyone wants to hear their own voice,” Houghton told him. “If I allow them to take control now, they'll allow me more flexibility later.” And sure enough, by the third day, the IPCC scientists were willing to include a sentence that is now seen as a turning point in climate science: “Most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” Like many who led the charge on climate change, Houghton, who died in April at age 88, did not live to see the world mount a credible response. But he never lost faith in humanity, Griggs says. “He always felt, in the end, people would respond and act on climate change.” That optimism may have stemmed in part from Houghton's deep Christian faith, which led him to engage with climate change skeptics—and sometimes convince them, Watson says. The hikers who set off from the Mesa Lab that afternoon never made it to the summit, says Griggs, who was among them. A pitch-black night fell, and they were ready to bed down outside—but Houghton believed they'd find the road back. They did. — Paul Voosen ### Lungile Pepeta When the breadwinner of a Xhosa family dies, mourners say umthi omkhulu uwile , a mighty tree has fallen. That's what family, friends, and colleagues felt when Lungile Pepeta, a leading South African pediatric cardiologist and dean of health sciences at Nelson Mandela University, lost his life to COVID-19 at age 46, says Samkelo Jiyana, a pediatric cardiologist who trained under Pepeta, a tireless champion of rural and child health care. “He was an incredible person,” says pediatric cardiologist Adèle Greyling, who also trained under Pepeta. “It was a devastating loss for us all.” Pepeta, who grew up in Eastern Cape province, never forgot his roots. After his training in Johannesburg, he returned to the Eastern Cape, where he founded the poverty-stricken province's first pediatric cardiology unit and began to train others to follow in his footsteps. Before his arrival, children with serious heart conditions were forced to travel hundreds of kilometers—often by bus or even hitchhiking—to medical centers in major cities. Pepeta's research at Nelson Mandela University, in the Eastern Cape, focused on congenital heart conditions and rheumatic heart disease, which often arises from untreated streptococcal throat infections. It is a “disease of the poor,” says Jiyana, who now works at Netcare Greenacres Hospital in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. But when the pandemic reached the Eastern Cape, Pepeta launched a public information battle through social media and TV interviews in which he urged social distancing and the isolation of anyone who might be infected. He also called for coordination between the region's public and private health care systems and advised the provincial government on its pandemic response. Pepeta did not live to see the achievement of one of his most ambitious dreams: the opening of South Africa's 10th medical school, at his university. He deliberately located the school on the Missionvale campus—once an apartheid-era university built for Black people—to fulfill its mission of delivering “proper healthcare for all our communities,” he wrote last year. On his birthday on 16 July, Pepeta was in the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms when he received news that the medical school's accreditation application had been approved. Soon after, when he was already on high-flow oxygen and within days of being admitted to the intensive care unit, he submitted his final paper to a medical journal. He died on 7 August. “He did the work of two or three other people in his lifetime,” Greyling says. “I don't think we'll ever meet anyone like him again.” — Cathleen O'Grady ### Maria de Sousa When Portuguese immunologist Maria de Sousa was teaching at the University of Porto in the 1990s, she would take her students to the city's famous art museum, in a former 18th century palace. She would tell them to describe a painting, then take a second look. “She wanted to teach people how to see, because people miss what's there,” says Rui Costa, a neuroscientist at Columbia University and former student. De Sousa herself looked beyond the obvious in a career that took her to top research centers in the United Kingdom and New York City, then back to her home country. Her discoveries, and her tireless devotion to Portuguese science, earned her the status of a revered hero in the research community. She died in Lisbon, Portugal, on 14 April at age 80. De Sousa's work in immunology began in the 1960s, when a dictator ruled Portugal and most young women had no choice but to become homemakers. After earning a medical degree, de Sousa left at age 25 for graduate studies in London and Glasgow, U.K. There, she examined mice from which the thymus—an organ whose role in the immune system was just coming to light—had been removed soon after birth. A whole class of immune cells produced by the thymus was missing from the animals' lymph nodes. She realized that the cells, now called T cells, must migrate from the thymus to specific areas in the lymph nodes, where they stand ready to fight pathogenic invaders. The discovery soon became part of standard immunology textbooks. De Sousa moved to New York City in 1975 and later established a cell ecology lab at what is now Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. But she was drawn back to Portugal in 1984 to study hemochromatosis, an inherited disease common in the northern part of the country that causes a harmful overload of iron in the blood. De Sousa also had a second mission: to bring scientific rigor to Portugal's then-weak research institutions. She worked with the country's science minister to establish outside reviews of university research programs. And de Sousa pushed for Portugal's first graduate programs in biomedical science, including a highly regarded Ph.D. program that she led at the University of Porto. “She spearheaded a revolution in Portuguese science,” Costa says. De Sousa was not only a creative scientist and demanding mentor; she was also a poet, pianist, and art lover. “She was the quintessential intellectual,” Costa says. After her death, Portugal's president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, remembered her as “an unmatched figure in Portuguese science.” — Jocelyn Kaiser ### Mishik Kazaryan and Arpik Asratyan In 1980, at the tender age of 32, experimental physicist Mishik Kazaryan won the Soviet Union's top science prize for his pioneering work on metal vapor lasers. At the same time, his wife—epidemiologist Arpik Asratyan—was making her own mark as a scientist, crisscrossing the vast nation and probing disease outbreaks. The high-achieving couple, who mentored scores of scientists, persevered through the Soviet collapse and the subsequent privations visited on Russian research. But within days of celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, they succumbed to COVID-19: Asratyan first, on 27 March, and Kazaryan 10 days later. The couple ran a science-first household: Their daughter, Serine Kazaryan, is a gynecologist with the Global Medical System Clinic in Moscow, and their son, Airazat Kazaryan, is a gastrointestinal surgeon at the Østfold Hospital Trust in Grålum, Norway. Talk at the dinner table often revolved around research, and daughter, father, and mother published several papers together. Mishik Kazaryan, born in Armenia, spent his entire working life at one of Russia's scientific powerhouses, the P. N. Lebedev Physical Institute. His research spanned areas including high-power tunable lasers, laser isotope separation, and laser medicine; he collaborated with Alexander Prokhorov, who shared the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of the laser. Mishik Kazaryan's “major contribution,” Serine Kazaryan says, was a self-heating copper vapor laser—the brightest pulsed visible-light laser—that found wide use in the precision machining of semiconductors and other materials. Asratyan, also born in Armenia, first studied Mycoplasma hominis , a then–little-known bacterium linked to pelvic inflammatory disease, vaginosis, and respiratory ailments. She became a leading figure in the diagnosis of hepatitis B and C at the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, and she spent much of her career working with vulnerable individuals: drug addicts and those with psychiatric afflictions or HIV. “I don't remember my parents to complain of anything,” says Serine Kazaryan, who lived with her son, daughter, and parents in an apartment in Moscow. They all took ill in mid-March. Serine Kazaryan and her children recovered. Her parents did not. Right up until his last days, Mishik Kazaryan was wrapping up a book about the laser cutting of glass. It was “very touching,” Serine Kazaryan says, when an old friend and co-author, Valery Revenko of the JSC Scientific Research Institute of Technical Glass, vowed to complete it. — Richard Stone ### Ricardo Valderrama Fernández Peruvian scientist and politician Ricardo Valderrama Fernández was first in many things. In the 1970s, he was among the first anthropologists to make contact with the Kugapakori, an Indigenous group living in the Peruvian Amazon. He co-founded the first research institute for Andean studies in Cusco in 1974. And in 1977, he wrote a “revolutionary” work on Indigenous, Quechua-speaking laborers, in which—breaking with anthropological traditions of the time—their testimony took center stage. The book, one of the first works on contemporary Andean culture, “broke the barrier” between anthropology and politics, says César Aguilar León, an anthropologist at the National University of San Marcos. Gregorio Condori Mamani: An Autobiography documented the poverty, discrimination, and mistreatment faced by those left behind in a society grappling with the legacy of Spanish colonialism. “We wanted to be the voice of those who are not heard, to write the words of those who cannot read and write,” says Valderrama Fernández's co-author and wife, anthropologist Carmen Escalante Gutiérrez. The couple always worked together and published four more books and dozens of articles on the legends and customs of the Andean people. They immersed themselves in remote communities and lived alongside Indigenous people for months. Valderrama Fernández's fluency in abstract Quechua, which included theological and philosophical concepts and terms, helped him speak freely with Andean elders and understand how they adapted their ancient cosmology to the present. His love of the language, which he learned from his grandmother, never diminished. “That's what made him special,” Escalante Gutiérrez says. Valderrama Fernández taught for 30 years at his alma mater, the National University of Saint Anthony the Abad in Cusco. In his final years, he embarked on a second career in politics, advocating for the region's Indigenous people. In 2006, he was elected to the municipal council of his hometown; in December 2019, he became interim mayor of Cusco, after his predecessor left office under a cloud of corruption charges. In his new role, Valderrama Fernández led the COVID-19 response in Cusco, visiting markets and other areas of the city to enforce health measures. He caught the virus on one of those visits, and died on 30 August at 75 years old. Jan Szemiński, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says the world has lost a great anthropologist—and someone who embodied the Incan ideal of reciprocity, or ayni : the idea that you should give to others today—knowing that tomorrow, you will receive. — Rodrigo Pérez Ortega ### John Horton Conway John Horton Conway liked to have fun. The U.K.-born mathematician cut a broad path, making important contributions to geometry, group theory, and topology. But unlike some great mathematicians who grind away on inscrutable problems in jealously guarded isolation, Conway—who worked at the University of Cambridge and Princeton University—was gregarious, talkative, and, above all, playful, often drawing deep insights from mathematical games. In the 1970s, while musing about the end stage of the board game Go, Conway expanded the concept of real numbers into something called “surreal numbers,” which are smaller or larger than any positive number. In 1985, he and four colleagues essentially wrapped up an entire subfield of math by identifying all groups with a finite number of elements. (A group is a closed set of elements and a rule akin to addition or multiplication for combining them—for example, all rotations that leave the image of a featureless cube the same.) Most famously, in 1970 Conway invented something he called the game of life. Imagine a grid of squares, some colored black for “living,” others colored white for “dead,” with rules for changing a square's color that depend on those of its neighbors. The simple system can produce a shocking variety of moving patterns depending on its initial configuration, and the game became popular as computers made their way into everyday life. Conway showed the squares could also be configured to do computations. As impressive as Conway's genius was his generosity of spirit, says Marjorie Senechal, a mathematician at Smith College. In the 1990s, she helped organize summer geometry institutes to build bridges among professional mathematicians, math teachers, and students. The first few summers, the pros simply lectured the others, Senechal says. Then she invited Conway, and everything clicked. “He didn't see these as separate communities,” she says. “He was like the Pied Piper. He'd go to get a coffee and a hundred people would follow him.” Conway, who died in April at age 82, would prowl the Princeton math department at night, chatting with anyone he could find about his latest interest, recalls Timothy Hsu, a mathematician at San Jose State University who earned his doctorate with Conway in 1995. Unkempt and funny, Conway studiously ignored his mail, but could be reached by phone—in the department common room. “Towards the end of my graduate career, he told me that because math is such a forbidding subject, it helps to make yourself slightly ridiculous,” Hsu says. Conway then teased, “That seems to come naturally to you.” — Adrian Cho ### Donald Kennedy Neurobiologist Donald Kennedy brought a towering intellect, insatiable curiosity, and abiding interest in both the concerns of individuals and the fate of society to everything he did. The longtime faculty member and former president of Stanford University “could talk to people about science without condescending to them,” says research advocate Thomas Grumbly, a friend and colleague. “And he could stand toe to toe with the best scientists in the world.” Kennedy, who died on 21 April at age 88, relished his role as a scientist, educator, public servant, and communicator—even when his views did not prevail. After Congress refused to embrace his proposed ban on the artificial sweetener saccharine while he was commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the late 1970s, he questioned its logic. The body had “established a principle,” Kennedy said. “You shouldn't have cancer-causing substances in the food supply, unless people like them a lot.” That dry wit did him no favors in a subsequent fight with a congressional panel investigating Stanford's questionable use of federal research funds during his tenure as president. The fallout from that grueling inquiry led him to step down from the presidency in 1991. In 2000, Kennedy became editor-in-chief of Science . He used the platform to prod climate researchers to work harder on public outreach, condemn politicians who bent—or ignored—scientific findings to serve their own purposes, and publish the best research on the planet, including the first sequence of the human genome. Kennedy had been a larger-than-life figure at Stanford, whether dashing around campus on his bike or posing bare-chested with the championship swim team. He brought that enthusiasm to the journal, where he also liked to shine a light on the personal side of science. One of his editorials accompanied a 2005 paper describing a sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker, long thought to be extinct. Kennedy recounted how, at age 7, he wrote a “fan letter” to famed Cornell University ornithologist Arthur Allen about Allen's pursuit of the fabled bird. The letter, signed “Love, Donny,” prompted a reply that ended “Love, Arthur.” The woodpecker sighting didn't hold up to scrutiny. But Kennedy's point did: that an encouraging word from a senior scientist could have a lasting impact on a curious child. In fact, one could say Kennedy spent his entire career paying forward that kindness. — Jeffrey Mervis

Infrastructure for Artificial Intelligence, Quantum and High Performance Computing Artificial Intelligence

William Gropp (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Sujata Banerjee (VMware Research) and Ian Foster (University of Chicago) High Performance Computing (HPC), Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML), and Quantum Computing (QC) and communications offer immense opportunities for innovation and impact on society. Researchers in these areas depend on access to computing infrastructure, but these resources are in short supply and are typically siloed in support of their research communities, making it more difficult to pursue convergent and interdisciplinary research. Such research increasingly depends on complex workflows that require different resources for each stage. This paper argues that a more-holistic approach to computing infrastructure, one that recognizes both the convergence of some capabilities and the complementary capabilities from new computing approaches, be it commercial cloud to Quantum Computing, is needed to support computer science research. The types of infrastructure needed to support HPC and AI/ML share many features; GPU systems originally developed for HPC have become essential for ML, and those systems have further been optimized for ML, with features now being applied to HPC simulations.

Aquatic robot inspired by sea creatures walks, rolls, transports cargo


Soft material behaves like a robot, moving with precision and agility without complex hardware, hydraulics or electricity Embedded nickel skeleton enables robot to respond to external magnetic fields Life-like robotic materials could someday be used as'smart' microscopic systems for production of fuels and drugs, environmental cleanup or transformative medical procedures EVANSTON, Ill. It can walk at human speed, pick up and transport cargo to a new location, climb up hills and even break-dance to release a particle. Instead, it is activated by light and walks in the direction of an external rotating magnetic field. The researchers imagine customizing the movements of miniature robots to help catalyze different chemical reactions and then pump out the valuable products. The robots also could be molecularly designed to recognize and actively remove unwanted particles in specific environments, or to use their mechanical movements and locomotion to precisely deliver bio-therapeutics or cells to specific tissues.

GAEA: Graph Augmentation for Equitable Access via Reinforcement Learning Artificial Intelligence

Disparate access to resources by different subpopulations is a prevalent issue in societal and sociotechnical networks. For example, urban infrastructure networks may enable certain racial groups to more easily access resources such as high-quality schools, grocery stores, and polling places. Similarly, social networks within universities and organizations may enable certain groups to more easily access people with valuable information or influence. Here we introduce a new class of problems, Graph Augmentation for Equitable Access (GAEA), to enhance equity in networked systems by editing graph edges under budget constraints. We prove such problems are NP-hard, and cannot be approximated within a factor of $(1-\tfrac{1}{3e})$. We develop a principled, sample- and time- efficient Markov Reward Process (MRP)-based mechanism design framework for GAEA. Our algorithm outperforms baselines on a diverse set of synthetic graphs. We further demonstrate the method on real-world networks, by merging public census, school, and transportation datasets for the city of Chicago and applying our algorithm to find human-interpretable edits to the bus network that enhance equitable access to high-quality schools across racial groups. Further experiments on Facebook networks of universities yield sets of new social connections that would increase equitable access to certain attributed nodes across gender groups.

Medical imaging, AI, and the cloud: what's next? - Microsoft Industry Blogs


Today marks the start of RSNA 2020, the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. I participated in my first RSNA 35 years ago and I am super excited--as I am every year--to reconnect with my radiology colleagues and friends and learn about the latest medical and scientific advances in our field. Of course, RSNA will be very different this year. Instead of traveling to Chicago to attend sessions and presentations, and wander the exhibits, I'll experience it all online. While I will miss the fun, excitement, and opportunities to connect that come with being there in person, I am amazed by what a rich and comprehensive conference the organizers of RSNA 2020 have put together using the advanced digital tools that we have at hand now.

Facebook Will Pay $650 Million to Illinois Residents - Legal Reader


Facebook allegedly violated Illinois state law by using consumers' facial features to improve its photo-tagging software. Nearly one and a half million Illinois residents have filed claims to part of a $650 million privacy settlement offered by Facebook. According to NBC Chicago, the law firm responsible for the social media lawsuit said that 1.42 million Illinois residents have already filed claims. Eligible claimants could receive awards ranging between $200 and $400. The lawsuit, says NBC, alleged that Facebook broke Illinois' "strict biometric privacy law."

Artificial Intelligence and Human Lives: Looking forwards 2025-2070


In the darkest days of a dark year it's good to think about our possible futures together. This talk is about wealth, power, and intelligence, and how we are communicating these due to the digital transformation. Is there a chance for a positive digital future, and if so what would it look like? Joanna Bryson is Professor of Ethics and Technology at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany. She holds degrees in psychology and artificial intelligence from the University of Chicago (BA), the University of Edinburgh (MSc and MPhil), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (PhD).