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Topics - Agrul

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153
Don't believe everything you read.

While there are several excellent open-access journals out there — ones that aim to bring scientific papers to the public quickly, and without charging subscription fees — some of them are scams. And for $150, one of them will seemingly publish any paper that gets sent in. Even if that paper is actually just the same profanity-laden sentence repeated over and over again. Plus one flow chart and a clever graph.

The manuscript was created in 2005 as a joke, and the creators would send it as a reply whenever they got spammed with press releases or conference invites. That's how it made its way to the e-mail inboxes of the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology. But for once, the submitting author was horrified to see his research get accepted.

Traditionally, a scientific paper is examined by unrelated experts in the field — a process called peer review — to make sure it isn't total bunk. Only after completing this process is it presented to the greater public with the journal's stamp of approval. But while this joke paper supposedly went through peer review (and was given a rating of "excellent," no less), that claim seems a little suspect.

The researcher who submitted the paper wasn't expecting to reveal this journal's issues, but other scientists have purposefully sent in bad work to do just that. From Vox.com:

"Last April, for instance, a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen named Tom Spears wrote an entirely incoherent paper on soils, cancer treatment, and Mars, and submitted it to 18 online, for-profit journals. Eight of them quickly accepted it, asking for $1,000 to $5,000 in exchange for publication."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2014/11/24/shoddy-scientific-journal-accepts-paper-titled-get-me-off-your-fking-mailing-list/?tid=sm_fb

154
With government budgets for space exploration under strain, a UK consortium has embarked on a project to raise money for a robotic Moon mission by offering the public the chance to stash their memories and even a hair sample on the Moon.

The aim of Lunar Mission One is to put a lander on the Moon's south pole within the next decade. The robotic probe would to drill 20–100 meters into the surface, seeking insights about the origins of the Earth and the Moon, and paving the way for establishing a lunar base.

To fund the $1-billion enterprise, parent company Lunar Missions plans to turn the borehole into a time capsule and personal repository for paying customers. Its backers started soliciting contributions on November 19, and had collected almost £90,000 (about $140,000) within the first 12 hours from its launch.

Skeptics doubt that there is enough interest to raise that much cash. But David Iron, who founded Lunar Missions and works on financing space projects at the consulting firm CGI, believes there is no harm in finding out. The consortium plans to raise an initial $1 million on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter by December 17, to see there is enough interest to push ahead with the plans, he says. A second major fundraising push would go ahead in 2019, he says. “If the first phase fails, it implies there isn’t the interest. There isn’t really a plan B,” he says.

While NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have shelved lunar exploration plans in the past three years, Russia, China and Japan have planned lander missions to the Moon — and China successfully put its first rover there, called Chang’e 3, at the end of 2013. Iron hopes that crowdsourcing will open a new vein of financing for space exploration. Everywhere except in China, “the 'boldly go' stuff is feeling the squeeze”, says Iron.

Lunar Mission One has gathered support from a range of UK partners, including RAL Space, part of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, based near Oxford; University College London; and the Open University in Milton Keynes. The high-profile announcement also comes with the endorsement of dozens of UK scientists — including TV celebrity Brian Cox of the University of Manchester — and of two former UK science ministers, Ian Taylor and David Willetts. Iron says that he hopes to involve international partners later.

“This looks like something real, if they can raise the money,” says Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He contrasts the clout of science expertise in the line-up, which includes Ian Crawford, planetary scientist at Birkbeck University of London and the ESA Rosetta mission's Monica Grady, with most of the teams competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, whose aims are "light on the science side" and are working to a less realistic timetable of putting a lander on the Moon by the end of 2015 (see Moon shots stuck on Earth).

Other Kickstarter projects have raised more than $1 million. The record stands at $13.3 million, pledged to a company making multi-gadgeted cooling boxes. The pledges, made online, are collected only if a project reaches its target. For Lunar Mission One, $1 million would allow the founders to establish management and legal arrangements and begin procurement. A detailed design would begin in 2017, and the main fundraising and sales drive would launch in 2019.

Sceptics doubt the shift from $1 million to $1 billion will be easy. "I know that this mission is only asking for a few hundred thousand [pounds], but just like many other crowd funded missions I see no realistic plan to actually raise enough to launch," says Chris Lintott, an astrophysicist at the University of Oxford.

“Market research tells us we can get the billion,” says Iron. That is if, as the company's market research predicts, 1% of the people who can afford to invest — themselves a small fraction of the global population — each put in a few hundred dollars. If their predictions are correct, the drive would raise around $3 billion, which would cover the creation of a non-profit trust to fund future space missions, including one to bring a lunar sample back to Earth, he adds.

Donors gain membership to the ‘Lunar Missions Club’, become part of an online community and are invited to events. Those who donate at least £3,000 ($4,700) will have their name inscribed on the lunar landing module. The main product will be a ‘digital memory box’ that will go into the lunar borehole. Donors can record family trees or photographs in the box, and they may even be able to archive a strand of their hair, says Iron. The time capsule would also include a record of human history and a database of living species, developed with help from the public.

Adrian Sargeant, director of the center for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University, UK, says that crowdfunding is such a recent phenomenon that solid evidence about when it works and when it fails has yet to emerge. “Whether they succeed or not will depend on the extent to which they capture the public’s imagination, he says.

This high $1 billion target will be achievable only if the project manages to find and tap a fairly niche global community, says Elizabeth Ngonzi, a digital-engagement expert at the New York University Heyman Center for Fundraising and Philanthropy. “The types of people who would support this are not obvious to find,” she says.

The mission appeals to lunar scientists. The Moon's south pole is thought to contain ice in its permanently shaded craters. Drilling in this little-explored region — and gaining access to pristine ancient rock — builds on ideas that the research community has proposed in the past, says Bernard Foing, a lunar scientist at ESA in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, who is not involved with the project. The technical challenge of drilling to such depths is high, he says. But the results could give insight into the impact history of the Moon and reveal organic molecules that could have been deposited by asteroids. “There is a strong science case,” adds Foing. Because of its potential water reserves, the south pole is also where space-faring nations are most likely to establish a base in the coming century, says Iron.

No governments or space agencies are involved in the project at present, but Iron says that will probably change if the venture takes off. Although Lunar Mission One would use private contractors, the project will need to act under a government authority to avoid the legal complications that could come with a private venture drilling on the Moon, he adds.

(go through link for video)

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/crowdfunded-moon-mission-is-serious-about-science-video/?WT.mc_id=SA_Facebook

155
General Discussion / PE Teacher drags Student into Pool; Charged
« on: November 22, 2014, 09:25:51 PM »
A disturbing 90-second video caught by a student shows one of their peers being forcefully dragged into a swimming pool by Denny Peterson, a P.E teacher of 10 years.

Numerous times during the incident, the girl can be heard screaming that her bikini top was coming off, but Peterson replies by saying “that’s alright” as he continues to pull her.

According to the student’s family’s lawyer, Gilbert Somera, they are considering filing a lawsuit.

“Regardless of her participation, it should disgust you how this man put his hands on a 14-year-old girl. She said multiple times, ‘my top is falling down.’”

”No means no and stop means stop. This isn’t a situation where she’s attacking a teacher and he’s defending himself. When a woman or a 14-year-old girl says no, it means no.”


The teenage girl recently got her hair done, which is why she didn’t want to ruin it by getting in the water. Despite her reason, in no way should the situation have escalated to such an extreme level for the teacher to become physical.

According to KXTV-TV, the school district made a final statement that they “acted appropriately,” but they were unwilling to elaborate further.

http://www.ijreview.com/2014/11/206264-p-e-teacher-violently-dragging-teen-pool-just-prove-lesson/

Video behind the link.

156
General Discussion / Neuronal "Superhub" Might Generate Consciousness
« on: November 22, 2014, 07:58:07 PM »
Point to any one organ in the body, and doctors can tell you something about what it does and what happens if that organ is injured by accident or disease or is removed by surgery—whether it be the pituitary gland, the kidney or the inner ear. Yet like the blank spots on maps of Central Africa from the mid-19th century, there are structures whose functions remain unknown despite whole-brain imaging, electroencephalographic recordings that monitor the brain's cacophony of electrical signals and other advanced tools of the 21st century.

Consider the claustrum. It is a thin, irregular sheet of cells, tucked below the neocortex, the gray matter that allows us to see, hear, reason, think and remember. It is surrounded on all sides by white matter—the tracts, or wire bundles, that interconnect cortical regions with one another and with other brain regions. The claustra—for there are two of them, one on the left side of the brain and one on the right—lie below the general region of the insular cortex, underneath the temples, just above the ears. They assume a long, thin wisp of a shape that is easily overlooked when inspecting the topography of a brain image.

Advanced brain-imaging techniques that look at the white matter fibers coursing to and from the claustrum reveal that it is a neural Grand Central Station. Almost every region of the cortex sends fibers to the claustrum. These connections are reciprocated by other fibers that extend back from the claustrum to the originating cortical region. Neuroanatomical studies in mice and rats reveal a unique asymmetry—each claustrum receives input from both cortical hemispheres but only projects back to the overlying cortex on the same side. Whether or not this is true in people is not known. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would have said.

Unlike most other parts of the brain, there are no reliable case studies of patients with selective destruction of one or both claustra from stroke, viral infection or other calamity. Lesioning the structure in laboratory animals is challenging given its thin and elongated nature. For the same reason, brain imaging has not been very useful: the smallest spatial features distinguishable through positron-emission tomography or functional MRI, two of the most widely used imaging techniques, are two to three millimeters across, bigger than the claustrum's width. And because it is embedded within white matter and sandwiched between two very active neuronal tissues—below the neocortex and above the putamen, part of a larger region, the basal ganglia, lodged deep within the brain—it is problematic to unambiguously pinpoint changes in blood flow to the claustrum and not to these nearby, large structures.

Enter the Dragon
In biology, a reliable guide to understanding function is to study structure. Francis Crick and James Watson proved this idea spectacularly in 1953. They inferred the key function of DNA, the molecule of heredity—that is to say, storing and copying genetic information— from its double-helical chemical structure. Half a century later Crick, by then biology's most respected sage, tried his hand at the same game, linking a structure—the claustrum—to a function—the emergence of integrated, conscious experience.

Whereas scholars of consciousness disagree about many aspects of this most mysterious phenomenon, virtually all agree that one of the defining properties of any subjective experience is that it is unified. No experience can be reduced to independent components. Every experience is irreducible. When I look at my wife's face, I do not see two eyes in a black-and-white picture with a disembodied layer of blue superimposed on top. No, I perceive her blue eyes as one integral and seamless whole. Nor do I experience my Bernese mountain dog doing funny things with her snout while a loud noise fills the room; no, I hear her bark. The experience of seeing the word “honeymoon” is not reducible to the experience of seeing “honey” on the left and “moon” on the right.

We know that different groups of neurons become active in response to such commonly encountered features as colors and motion, faces and dogs, words, sounds, and so on. These cells are dispersed among the 16 billion neurons making up the cerebral cortex. Together the active and inactive cells give rise to a conscious experience. Furthermore, we know from introspection that what we are conscious of is in constant flux.

Distracted by the sight of a passing motorboat on the lake outside my house, I am about to turn back to writing my article when I suddenly recall that I promised to pick up dog food, and then my attention shifts without warning to Richard Wagner's “Liebestod” playing on the radio. Each of these sights, sounds, memories or thoughts requires that the underlying electrical and chemical activity of a privileged set of neurons is rapidly bound to give rise to an integrated conscious experience that lasts but a fleeting moment until the next neuronal assembly comes into being and a new experience supersedes the old one.

Looking at the far-flung two-way connections between the claustrum and the cortex, Crick and I—for at that time in 2004, I was working closely with him and had been for 16 years—hypothesized that this superhub of neuronal activity could be pivotal for consciousness. Because every region of cortex projected to its associated claustral target area, and this neural communications hub reciprocated the connection, the claustrum could serve as an integrator for crisscrossing electrical signals, provided that all of this information could be freely admixed within the structure. We endlessly discussed various neuroanatomical and biophysical means for the claustrum to achieve this integration and wrote a manuscript.

Francis knew that he only had a limited amount of time left; he had end-stage colon cancer. He called me on the way to the hospital, calmly telling me not to worry about the manuscript following our last brainstorming session because he was going to make corrections to it (which he did, dictating them to his secretary from the clinic). Two days later, on his deathbed, Francis hallucinated a debate with me about the role of the claustrum's connection to consciousness, a scientist to the very end. The paper was published a year later in the world's oldest scientific journal, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Enter the Electrodes
In the intervening years, a handful of studies further delineated the molecular neuroanatomy of the claustrum in rodents and a crude map of its connections in people. One investigation focused on the role of the claustrum in integrating visual and auditory stimuli. Using microelectrodes that recorded the electrical activity in awake monkeys, the investigators confirmed that part of the claustrum tended to respond more to visual stimuli, whereas one of its nearby regions was sensitive to tones. But no individual neurons responded to both visual and auditory events, arguing against a multisensory role for the claustrum, thereby leaving it bereft of any obvious function.

This seeming impasse may have changed with a single dramatic case report. A 54-year-old woman who had uncontrollable epileptic seizures had electrodes implanted deep within her brain to help pinpoint the exact origin of her seizures. During this procedure, electrodes can triangulate the focal area where the seizure originates so that it can be surgically removed. They can also inject electric current to help map the brain, identifying areas responsible for important functions such as speech or movement and thus sparing them during the surgery.

Led by Mohamad Z. Koubeissi, an associate professor in the department of neurology at George Washington University, the clinical team made a remarkable observation: electrically stimulating a single site with a fairly large current abruptly impaired consciousness in 10 out of 10 trials—the patient stared blankly ahead, became unresponsive to commands and stopped reading. As soon as the stimulation stopped, consciousness returned, without the patient recalling any events during the period when she was out. Note that she did not become unconscious in the usual sense, because she could still continue to carry out simple behaviors for a few seconds if these were initiated before the stimulation started—behaviors such as making repetitive tongue or hand movements or repeating a word. Koubeissi was careful to monitor electrical activity throughout her brain to confirm that episodes of loss of consciousness did not accompany a seizure.

Two aspects of this patient's case had never been seen before. First, no abrupt and specific cessation and resumption of consciousness have previously been reported, despite decades of electrically stimulating the forebrain of awake patients in the operating room. Depending on the location of the stimulating electrode, patients usually do not feel anything in particular. Less frequently, a patient may report flashes of light, smells or some difficult-to-verbalize body feelings, or perhaps even a specific memory from long ago that the electric current evokes. Or the patient will twitch a finger or a muscle. But this case was different. Here consciousness as a whole appeared to be turned off and then on again. Second, it happened only at a single place, in the white matter close to the claustrum and the cortex. Because electrical stimulation of the nearby insula is not known to elicit a loss of consciousness, the researchers implicated the claustrum.

It is difficult to be confident of the actual causal mechanisms—the stimulation may have triggered electrical discharges from neurons' wirelike extensions to exert effects at another site. Unfortunately, this tantalizing case report cannot easily be followed up with more experiments, because the patient's electrodes were subsequently removed.

We do not have the luxury of waiting for an analogous finding, perhaps as long as a century hence, so it is important to devise experiments to confirm the existence and properties of any claustrum on/off switch. The most promising idea would take advantage of proteins specifically expressed in cells in the claustrum but not in other brain structures. Knowledge of these cells' molecular zip code can then be exploited by tools of molecular biology to quickly and transiently turn the electrical activity of neurons in the claustrum off and on with beams of colored light and to observe the effects on the behavior of lab mice.

If the claustrum truly plays a critical role in generating conscious experiences, we will find out and take another small step toward the ultimate goal of identifying the footprints of consciousness in highly excitable matter. Per claustra ad astra!

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/neuronal-superhub-might-generate-consciousness/?WT.mc_id=SA_Facebook

157
It may be the timeliest -- and most troubling -- idea in climate science.

Back in 2012, two researchers with a particular interest in the Arctic, Rutgers' Jennifer Francis and the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Stephen Vavrus, published a paper called "Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes." In it, they suggested that the fact that the Arctic is warming so rapidly is leading to an unexpected but profound effect on the weather where the vast majority of us live -- a change that, if their theory is correct, may have something to do with the extreme winter weather the U.S. has seen lately.

In their paper, Francis and Vavrus suggested that a rapidly warming Arctic should interfere with the jet stream, the river of air high above us that flows eastward around the northern hemisphere and brings with it our weather. Sometimes, the jet stream flows relatively directly from west to east; but other times, it takes long, wavy loops, as in the image above. And according to Francis and Vavrus, Arctic warming should make the jet stream more wavy and loopy on average – some have called it “drunk” -- with dramatic weather consequences.

Here's the atmospheric physics behind the idea: Warm air expands, and naturally there is much more warm air at the equator than at the poles. Thus, the atmosphere is thicker at the equator, and the jet stream's motion is driven by the decline in atmospheric thickness as one moves in a poleward direction -- in effect, its atmospheric river flows "downhill," in Francis’s words. However, if the Arctic is warming faster than the mid-latitudes, then the difference in thickness as you move in a poleward direction should decrease. And this should slow the jet stream, leading to more loops and turns -- and consequently, weather of all types getting stuck in place for longer. There's a nice video explanation of this by Francis here:


Rutgers University's Jennifer Francis, who published a paper linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes, explained her theory that may have something to do with extreme winter, like what we’ve seen this week. (StormCenter Communications)
According to Francis, the extreme U.S. winter of last year and now, the extremes at the beginning of this season, fit her theory. "This winter looks a whole lot like last winter, it’s a very amplified jet stream pattern," she says. "We know that when we get these patterns, it tends to be very persistent. And it is definitely the type of pattern that we expect to see more often as the Artic continues to warm so fast."

To be sure, Francis acknowledges that our recent bout of extreme cold was kickstarted most directly by Typhoon Nuri, which swerved up into the mid-latitudes and exploded into an atmospheric bomb over the Bering Sea. "That had the downstream effect of basically taking the jet stream and giving it a whip, whipping a wave into it," says Francis. But she also suspects that the jet stream is more susceptible to these kinds of dramatic influences because it is weaker now. In general, her theory does not say global warming caused any particular weather event, only that it is shifting the overall pattern of jet stream behavior, making certain kinds of persistent weather extremes more likely to occur.

Francis isn't the only one to suggest this. The widely read weather blogger Jeff Masters mused yesterday on whether the extreme snowfall in western New York this week might be due to "jet stream weirdness." "We've seen an unusual number of extreme jet stream patterns like this in the past fifteen years, which happens to coincide with the period of time we've been observing record loss of summertime Arctic sea ice and record retreat of springtime snow cover in the Arctic," noted Masters -- although he refrained from fully embracing the theory, noting that it still has its detractors. Capital Weather Gang's Jason Samenow also just discussed the evidence behind Francis's idea, which he calls "controversial."

Francis argues, however, that the evidence in her favor is mounting -- she cites no fewer than five (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) scientific papers published in the last year or so that she considers supportive, and hints that more are coming. "We’ve got 5 papers that all look at that particular mechanism in different ways -- different analysis, different data sets, observation and models -- and they all come to the same conclusion and they all identify this mechanism independently," she says.

You can't call Francis's idea fully established. You can't say there's a "scientific consensus" on it. And you can't say that the august U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change embraces it. Not yet. But it's certainly a very serious idea and one of the most discussed theories in climate science. Call it a contender. And if it's right, well...then we all know, already, what global warming feels like.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/11/20/theres-growing-evidence-that-global-warming-is-driving-crazy-winters/?tid=sm_fb

158
ipping from a plastic cup, Jackie grimaced, then discreetly spilled her spiked punch onto the sludgy fraternity-house floor. The University of Virginia freshman wasn't a drinker, but she didn't want to seem like a goody-goody at her very first frat party – and she especially wanted to impress her date, the handsome Phi Kappa Psi brother who'd brought her here. Jackie was sober but giddy with discovery as she looked around the room crammed with rowdy strangers guzzling beer and dancing to loud music. She smiled at her date, whom we'll call Drew, a good-looking junior – or in UVA parlance, a third-year – and he smiled enticingly back.

Related sexual assault  protest
The Campus Rape Epidemic
"Want to go upstairs, where it's quieter?" Drew shouted into her ear, and Jackie's heart quickened. She took his hand as he threaded them out of the crowded room and up a staircase.

Four weeks into UVA's 2012 school year, 18-year-old Jackie was crushing it at college. A chatty, straight-A achiever from a rural Virginia town, she'd initially been intimidated by UVA's aura of preppy success, where throngs of toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blond students fanned across a landscape of neoclassical brick buildings, hurrying to classes, clubs, sports, internships, part-time jobs, volunteer work and parties; Jackie's orientation leader had warned her that UVA students' schedules were so packed that "no one has time to date – people just hook up." But despite her reservations, Jackie had flung herself into campus life, attending events, joining clubs, making friends and, now, being asked on an actual date. She and Drew had met while working lifeguard shifts together at the university pool, and Jackie had been floored by Drew's invitation to dinner, followed by a "date function" at his fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. The "upper tier" frat had a reputation of tremendous wealth, and its imposingly large house overlooked a vast manicured field, giving "Phi Psi" the undisputed best real estate along UVA's fraternity row known as Rugby Road.

Rape on Campus
Phi Kappa Psi House
Jackie had taken three hours getting ready, straightening her long, dark, wavy hair. She'd congratulated herself on her choice of a tasteful red dress with a high neckline. Now, climbing the frat-house stairs with Drew, Jackie felt excited. Drew ushered Jackie into a bedroom, shutting the door behind them. The room was pitch-black inside. Jackie blindly turned toward Drew, uttering his name. At that same moment, she says, she detected movement in the room – and felt someone bump into her. Jackie began to scream.

"Shut up," she heard a man's voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face. The men surrounding her began to laugh. For a hopeful moment Jackie wondered if this wasn't some collegiate prank. Perhaps at any second someone would flick on the lights and they'd return to the party.

"Grab its motherfucking leg," she heard a voice say. And that's when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.

She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more – her date, Drew, and another man – gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men's heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.

As the last man sank onto her, Jackie was startled to recognize him: He attended her tiny anthropology discussion group. He looked like he was going to cry or puke as he told the crowd he couldn't get it up. "Pussy!" the other men jeered. "What, she's not hot enough for you?" Then they egged him on: "Don't you want to be a brother?" "We all had to do it, so you do, too." Someone handed her classmate a beer bottle. Jackie stared at the young man, silently begging him not to go through with it. And as he shoved the bottle into her, Jackie fell into a stupor, mentally untethering from the brutal tableau, her mind leaving behind the bleeding body under assault on the floor.

When Jackie came to, she was alone. It was after 3 a.m. She painfully rose from the floor and ran shoeless from the room. She emerged to discover the Phi Psi party still surreally under way, but if anyone noticed the barefoot, disheveled girl hurrying down a side staircase, face beaten, dress spattered with blood, they said nothing. Disoriented, Jackie burst out a side door, realized she was lost, and dialed a friend, screaming, "Something bad happened. I need you to come and find me!" Minutes later, her three best friends on campus – two boys and a girl (whose names are changed) – arrived to find Jackie on a nearby street corner, shaking. "What did they do to you? What did they make you do?" Jackie recalls her friend Randall demanding. Jackie shook her head and began to cry. The group looked at one another in a panic. They all knew about Jackie's date; the Phi Kappa Psi house loomed behind them. "We have to get her to the hospital," Randall said.

Their other two friends, however, weren't convinced. "Is that such a good idea?" she recalls Cindy asking. "Her reputation will be shot for the next four years." Andy seconded the opinion, adding that since he and Randall both planned to rush fraternities, they ought to think this through. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie's rape, while Jackie stood beside them, mute in her bloody dress, wishing only to go back to her dorm room and fall into a deep, forgetful sleep. Detached, Jackie listened as Cindy prevailed over the group: "She's gonna be the girl who cried 'rape,' and we'll never be allowed into any frat party again."

Two years later, Jackie, now a third-year, is worried about what might happen to her once this article comes out. Greek life is huge at UVA, with nearly one-third of undergrads belonging to a fraternity or sorority, so Jackie fears the backlash could be big – a "shitshow" predicted by her now-former friend Randall, who, citing his loyalty to his own frat, declined to be interviewed. But her concerns go beyond taking on her alleged assailants and their fraternity. Lots of people have discouraged her from sharing her story, Jackie tells me with a pained look, including the trusted UVA dean to whom Jackie reported her gang-rape allegations more than a year ago. On this deeply loyal campus, even some of Jackie's closest friends see her going public as tantamount to betrayal.

Related
Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth's Hazing Abuses
"One of my roommates said, 'Do you want to be responsible for something that's gonna paint UVA in a bad light?' " says Jackie, poking at a vegan burger at a restaurant on the Corner, UVA's popular retail strip. "But I said, 'UVA has flown under the radar for so long, someone has to say something about it, or else it's gonna be this system that keeps perpetuating!' " Jackie frowns. "My friend just said, 'You have to remember where your loyalty lies.'"

From reading headlines today, one might think colleges have suddenly become hotbeds of protest by celebrated anti-rape activists. But like most colleges across America, genteel University of Virginia has no radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy. There are no red-tape-wearing protests like at Harvard, no "sex-positive" clubs promoting the female orgasm like at Yale, no mattress-hauling performance artists like at Columbia, and certainly no SlutWalks. UVA isn't an edgy or progressive campus by any stretch. The pinnacle of its polite activism is its annual Take Back the Night vigil, which on this campus of 21,000 students attracts an audience of less than 500 souls. But the dearth of attention isn't because rape doesn't happen in Charlottesville. It's because at UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal. Some UVA women, so sickened by the university's culture of hidden sexual violence, have taken to calling it "UVrApe."

"University of Virginia thinks they're above the law," says UVA grad and victims-rights advocate Liz Seccuro. "They go to such lengths to protect themselves. There's a national conversation about sexual assault, but nothing at UVA is changing."


Liz Seccuro with her husband, Mike in front of the Charlottesville District Court in Charlottesville, Va., Thursday, March 15th, 2007. (Photo: Steve Helber/AP)
S. Daniel Carter, who as former director of public policy for the advocacy group Clery Center for Security on Campus is a national expert on college safety, points out that UVA's sexual assault problems are not much worse than other schools; if anything, he says, the depressing reality is that UVA's situation is likely the norm. Decades of awareness programming haven't budged the prevalence of campus rape: One in five women is sexually assaulted in college, though only about 12 percent report it to police. Spurred by a wave of activism, the Obama administration has stepped up pressure on colleges, announcing Title IX investigations of 86 schools suspected of denying students their equal right to education by inadequately handling sexual-violence complaints; if found in violation, each school runs the risk of financial penalties, including the nuclear option (which has never been deployed) of having its federal funding revoked.

The University of Virginia is one of the 86 schools now under federal investigation, but it has more reason to worry than most of its peers. Because, unlike most schools under scrutiny, where complaints are at issue, UVA is one of only 12 schools under a sweeping investigation known as "compliance review": a proactive probe launched by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights itself, triggered by concerns about deep-rooted issues. "They are targeted efforts to go after very serious concerns," says Office of Civil Rights assistant secretary Catherine Lhamon. "We don't open compliance reviews unless we have something that we think merits it."

UVA says it has been complying fully with the investigation. But Carter notes that UVA and other elite schools tend not to respond well to criticism and sanctify tradition above all else. "That's common to more prestigious institutions," Carter says.

Prestige is at the core of UVA's identity. Although a public school, its grounds of red-brick, white-columned buildings designed by founder Thomas Jefferson radiate old-money privilege, footnoted by the graffiti of UVA's many secret societies, whose insignias are neatly painted everywhere. At $10,000 a year, in-state tuition is a quarter the cost of the Ivies, but UVA tends to attract affluent students, and through aggressive fundraising boasts an endowment of $5 billion, on par with Cornell. "Wealthy parents are the norm," says former UVA dean John Foubert. On top of all that, UVA enjoys a reputation as one of the best schools in the country, not to mention a campus so brimming with fun that in 2012 – the year of Jackie's rape – Playboy crowned it the nation's number-one party school. Students hold themselves up to that standard: studious by day, wild by night. "The most impressive person at UVA is the person who gets straight A's and goes to all the parties," explains fourth-year student Brian Head. Partying traditions fuse the decorum of the Southern aristocracy with binge drinking: At Cavalier football tailgates, the dress code is "girls in pearls, guys in ties" while students guzzle handles of vodka. Not for nothing is a UVA student nicknamed a Wahoo, as undergrads like to explain; though derived from a long-ago yell from Cavalier fans, a wahoo is also a fish that can drink twice its own body weight.

Rape on Campus
University of Virginia campus (Photo: Lance King/Getty)
Wahoos are enthralled to be at UVA and can't wait to tell you the reasons why, beginning, surprisingly, with Thomas Jefferson, whose lore is so powerfully woven into everyday UVA life that you practically expect to glimpse the man still walking the grounds in his waistcoat and pantaloons. Nearly every student I interviewed found a way to mention "TJ," speaking with zeal about their founding father's vision for an "academical village" in the idyllic setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They burble about UVA's honor code, a solemn pledge not to lie, cheat or steal; students are expected to snitch on violators, who are expelled. UVA's emphasis on honor is so pronounced that since 1998, 183 people have been expelled for honor-code violations such as cheating on exams. And yet paradoxically, not a single student at UVA has ever been expelled for sexual assault.

"Think about it," says Susan Russell, whose UVA daughter's sexual-assault report helped trigger a previous federal investigation. "In what world do you get kicked out for cheating, but if you rape someone, you can stay?"

Attorney Wendy Murphy, who has filed Title IX complaints and lawsuits against schools including UVA, argues that in matters of sexual violence, Ivy League and Division I schools' fixation with prestige is their downfall. "These schools love to pretend they protect the children as if they were their own, but that's not true: They're interested in money," Murphy says. "In these situations, the one who gets the most protection is either a wealthy kid, a legacy kid or an athlete. The more privileged he is, the more likely the woman has to die before he's held accountable." Indeed, UVA is the same campus where the volatile relationship of lacrosse star George Huguely V and his girlfriend Yeardley Love was seen as unremarkable – his jealous rages, fanned by over-the-top drinking – until the 2010 day he kicked open her door and beat her to death.

UVA president Teresa Sullivan denies the administration sweeps sexual assault under the rug. "If we're trying to hide the issue, we're not doing a very good job of it," she says, noting that this past February UVA hosted the first-ever sexual-assault summit for college administrators. It's true that recently, while under close government scrutiny, the school has made some encouraging changes, including designating most UVA authority figures as mandatory reporters of sexual assault and teaming up with student activists to create a bystander-intervention campaign. Students praise UVA's deans as caring folks who answer late-night calls from victims and even make emergency-room visits.

Rape on Campus
University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan (Photo: AP)
And yet the UVA public-relations team seemed unenthused about this article, canceling my interview with the head of UVA's Sexual Misconduct Board, and forbidding other administrators from cooperating; even students seemed infected by their anxiety about how members of the administration might appear. And when President Sullivan was at last made available for an interview, her most frequently invoked answer to my specific questions about sexual-assault handling at UVA – while two other UVA staffers sat in on the recorded call – was "I don't know."

All you girls from Mary Washington
and RMWC, never let a Cavalier an inch above your knee.
He'll take you to his fraternity house and fill you full of beer.
And soon you'll be the mother  of a bastard Cavalier!
"Rugby Road"

Two weeks after Jackie's rape, she ran into Drew during her lifeguard shift at the UVA pool. "Hey, Jackie," Drew said, startling her. "Are you ignoring me?" She'd switched her shift in the hopes of never seeing him again. Since the Phi Kappa Psi party, she'd barely left her dorm room, fearful of glimpsing one of her attackers. Jackie stared at Drew, unable to speak. "I wanted to thank you for the other night," Drew said. "I had a great time."

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Jackie left her shift early, saying she wasn't feeling well. Then she walked back to her dorm and crawled under the covers. She didn't go to classes for the rest of the week, and soon quit her lifeguarding job – the first time she could remember quitting anything. She would never again return to the Anthropology course she shared with one of her assailants. She was constantly on the edge of panic, plagued by flashbacks – and disgusted by her own naiveté. She obsessed over what easy prey she'd been, as the attention-starved freshman who for weeks drank up Drew's flirtations. "I still grapple with 'Did I do something that could have been construed as that's what I wanted?' " she says.

Before Jackie left for college, her parents – a Vietnam vet and retired military contractor, and a stay-at-home mom – had lectured her about avoiding the perils of the social scene, stressing the importance of her studies, since Jackie hoped to get into medical school. Jackie had a strained relationship with her father, in whose eyes she'd never felt good enough, and always responded by exceeding expectations – honor roll, swim team, first-chair violin – becoming the role model for her two younger brothers. Jackie had been looking forward to college as an escape – a place to, even, defy her parents' wishes and go to a frat party. "And I guess they were right," she says bitterly.

She was having an especially difficult time figuring out how to process that awful night, because her small social circle seemed so underwhelmed. For the first month of school, Jackie had latched onto a crew of lighthearted social strivers, and her pals were now impatient for Jackie to rejoin the merriment. "You're still upset about that?" Andy asked one Friday night when Jackie was crying. Cindy, a self-declared hookup queen, said she didn't see why Jackie was so bent out of shape. "Why didn't you have fun with it?" Cindy asked. "A bunch of hot Phi Psi guys?" One of Jackie's friends told her, unconcerned, "Andy said you had a bad experience at a frat, and you've been a baby ever since."

"SOME OF MY HALLMATES WERE SKEPTICAL," SAYS ONE SURVIVOR OF RAPE. "THEY WERE SILENT AND AVOIDED ME AFTERWARDS. IT MADE ME DOUBT MYSELF."
That reaction of dismissal, downgrading and doubt is a common theme UVA rape survivors hear, including from women. "Some of my hallmates were skeptical," recalls recent grad Emily Renda, who says that weeks into her first year she was raped after a party. "They were silent and avoided me afterwards. It made me doubt myself." Other students encounter more overt hostility, as when a first-year student confided her assault to a friend. "She said she thought I was just looking for attention," says the undergrad. Shrugging off a rape or pointing fingers at the victim can be a self-protective maneuver for women, a form of wishful thinking to reassure themselves they could never be so vulnerable to violence. For men, skepticism is a form of self-protection too. For much of their lives, they've looked forward to the hedonistic fun of college, bearing every expectation of booze and no-strings sex. A rape heralds the uncomfortable idea that all that harmless mayhem may not be so harmless after all. Easier, then, to assume the girl is lying, even though studies indicate that false rape reports account for, at most, eight percent of reports.


Emily Renda (Photo: Courtesy of Emily Renda)
And so at UVA, where social status is paramount, outing oneself as a rape victim can be a form of social suicide. "I don't know many people who are engrossed in the party scene and have spoken out about their sexual assaults," says third-year student Sara Surface. After all, no one climbs the social ladder only to cast themselves back down. Emily Renda, for one, quickly figured out that few classmates were sympathetic to her plight, and instead channeled her despair into hard partying. "My drinking didn't stand out," says Renda, who often ended her nights passed out on a bathroom floor. "It does make you wonder how many others are doing what I did: drinking to self-medicate."

By the middle of her first semester, Jackie's alarm would ring and ring in her dorm room until one of her five suitemates would pad down the hall to turn it off. Jackie would barely stir in her bed. "That was when we realized she was even there," remembers suitemate Rachel Soltis. "At the beginning of the year, she seemed like a normal, happy girl, always with friends. Then her door was closed all the time. We just figured she was out." Long since abandoned by her original crew, Jackie had slept through half a semester's worth of classes and had bought a length of rope with which to hang herself. Instead, as the semester crawled to an end, she called her mother. "Come and get me," Jackie told her, crying. "I need your help."

The first weeks of freshman year are when students are most vulnerable to sexual assault. Spend a Friday night in mid-September walking along Rugby Road at UVA, and you can begin to see why. Hundreds of women in crop tops and men in khaki shorts stagger between handsome fraternity houses, against a call-and-response soundtrack of "Whoo!" and breaking glass. "Do you know where Delta Sig is?" a girl slurs, sloshed. Behind her, one of her dozen or so friends stumbles into the street, sending a beer bottle shattering. ("Whoo!" calls a far-away voice.)

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"These are all first-years," narrates one of my small group of upperclasswomen guides. We walk the curving length of tree-lined Rugby Road as they explain the scene. The women rattle off which one is known as the "roofie frat," where supposedly four girls have been drugged and raped, and at which house a friend had a recent "bad experience," the Wahoo euphemism for sexual assault. Studies have shown that fraternity men are three times as likely to commit rape, and a spate of recent high-profile cases illustrates the dangers that can lurk at frat parties, like a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee frat accused of using color-coded hand stamps as a signal to roofie their guests, and this fall's suspension of Brown University's chapter of Phi Kappa Psi – of all fraternities – after a partygoer tested positive for the date-rape drug GHB. Presumably, the UVA freshmen wobbling around us are oblivious to any specific hazards along Rugby Road; having just arrived on campus, they can hardly tell one fraternity from another. As we pass another frat house, one of my guides offers, "I know a girl who got assaulted there."

Rape on Campus
Phi Kappa Psi House
"I do too!" says her friend in mock-excitement. "That makes two! Yay!"

Frats are often the sole option for an underage drinker looking to party, since bars are off-limits, sororities are dry and first-year students don't get many invites to apartment soirees. Instead, the kids crowd the walkways of the big, anonymous frat houses, vying for entry. "Hot girls who are drunk always get in – it's a good idea to act drunker than you really are," says third-year Alexandria Pinkleton, expertly clad in the UVA-after-dark uniform of a midriff-baring sleeveless top and shorts. "Also? You have to seem very innocent and vulnerable. That's why they love first-year girls."

Once successfully inside the frat house, women play the role of grateful guests in unfamiliar territory where men control the variables. In dark, loud basements, girls accept drinks, are pulled onto dance floors to be ground and groped and, later, often having lost sight of their friends, led into bathrooms or up the stairs for privacy. Most of that hooking up is consensual. But against that backdrop, as psychologist David Lisak discovered, lurk undetected predators. Lisak's 2002 groundbreaking study of more than 1,800 college men found that roughly nine out of 10 rapes are committed by serial offenders, who are responsible for an astonishing average of six rapes each. None of the offenders in Lisak's study had ever been reported. Lisak's findings upended general presumptions about campus sexual assault: It implied that most incidents are not bumbling, he-said-she-said miscommunications, but rather deliberate crimes by serial sex offenders.

In his study, Lisak's subjects described the ways in which they used the camouflage of college as fruitful rape-hunting grounds. They told Lisak they target freshmen for being the most naïve and the least-experienced drinkers. One offender described how his party-hearty friends would help incapacitate his victims: "We always had some kind of punch. . . . We'd make it with a real sweet juice. It was really powerful stuff. The girls wouldn't know what hit them." Presumably, the friends mixing the drinks did so without realizing the offender's plot, just as when they probably high-fived him the next morning, they didn't realize the behavior they'd just endorsed. That's because the serial rapist's behavior can look ordinary at college. "They're not acting in a vacuum," observes Lisak of predators. "They're echoing that message and that culture that's around them: the objectification and degradation of women."

One need only glance around at some recent college hijinks to see spectacular examples of the way the abasement of women has broken through to no-holds-barred misogyny: a Dartmouth student's how-to-rape guide posted online this past January; Yale pledges chanting "No means yes! Yes means anal!" And despite its air of mannered civility, UVA has been in on the naughty fun for at least 70 years with its jolly fight song "Rugby Road," which celebrates the sexual triumphs of UVA fraternity men, named for the very same street where my guides and I are now enveloped in a thickening crowd of wasted first-years. Through the decades, the song has expanded to 35 verses, with the more recent, student-penned stanzas shedding the song's winking tone in favor of something more jarringly explicit:

A hundred Delta Gammas, a thousand AZDs
Ten thousand Pi Phi bitches who get down on their knees
But the ones that we hold true, the ones that we hold dear
Are the ones who stay up late at night, and take it in the rear.

In 2010, "Rugby Road" was banned from football games – despite a petition calling it "an integral part" of UVA culture. But Wahoos fearing the loss of tradition can take heart that "Rugby Road" verses are still performed on campus by UVA's oldest a cappella group, the Virginia Gentlemen.

At the end of her freshman year, Jackie found herself in the Peabody Hall office of Dean Nicole Eramo, head of UVA's Sexual Misconduct Board. This was a big step for Jackie. She still hadn't even managed to tell her own mother exactly what had happened at Phi Kappa Psi. Upon returning to school for her second semester, Jackie had tried to put on a brave face and simply move forward, but instead continued falling apart. Though a psychiatrist had put Jackie on Wellbutrin, she had remained depressed, couldn't concentrate, and spent the semester so frightened and withdrawn that her academic dean finally called her in to discuss why she'd failed three classes. In his office, with her mother beside her, she'd burst into tears, and her mother explained she'd had a "bad experience" at a party. He'd blanched and given Jackie the e-mail for Dean Eramo.

If Dean Eramo was surprised at Jackie's story of gang rape, it didn't show. A short woman with curly dark hair and a no-nonsense demeanor, Eramo surely has among the most difficult jobs at UVA. As the intake person on behalf of the university for all sexual-assault complaints since 2006, it's her job to deal with a parade of sobbing students trekking in and out of her office. (UVA declined to make Eramo available for comment.) A UVA alum herself, Eramo is beloved by survivors, who consider her a friend and confidante – even though, as only a few students are aware, her office isn't a confidential space at all. Each time a new complaint comes through Eramo's office, it activates a review by UVA's Title IX officer, is included in UVA's tally of federally mandated Clery Act crime statistics, and Eramo may, at her discretion, reveal details of her conversation with the student to other administrators. (Jackie was mortified to learn later that Eramo had shared her identity with another UVA administrator.) After all, a dean's foremost priority is the overall safety of the campus.

JACKIE SAYS WHEN SHE ASKED WHY UVA'S RAPE STATS WERE HARD TO FIND, THE DEAN SAID, "BECAUSE NOBODY WANTS TO SEND THEIR DAUGHTER TO THE RAPE SCHOOL."
When Jackie finished talking, Eramo comforted her, then calmly laid out her options. If Jackie wished, she could file a criminal complaint with police. Or, if Jackie preferred to keep the matter within the university, she had two choices. She could file a complaint with the school's Sexual Misconduct Board, to be decided in a "formal resolution" with a jury of students and faculty, and a dean as judge. Or Jackie could choose an "informal resolution," in which Jackie could simply face her attackers in Eramo's presence and tell them how she felt; Eramo could then issue a directive to the men, such as suggesting counseling. Eramo presented each option to Jackie neutrally, giving each equal weight. She assured Jackie there was no pressure – whatever happened next was entirely her choice.

Like many schools, UVA has taken to emphasizing that in matters of sexual assault, it caters to victim choice. "If students feel that we are forcing them into a criminal or disciplinary process that they don't want to be part of, frankly, we'd be concerned that we would get fewer reports," says associate VP for student affairs Susan Davis. Which in theory makes sense: Being forced into an unwanted choice is a sensitive point for the victims. But in practice, that utter lack of guidance can be counterproductive to a 19-year-old so traumatized as Jackie was that she was contemplating suicide. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of a school offering to handle the investigation and adjudication of a felony sex crime – something Title IX requires, but which no university on Earth is equipped to do – the sheer menu of choices, paired with the reassurance that any choice is the right one, often has the end result of coddling the victim into doing nothing.

"This is an alarming trend that I'm seeing on campuses," says Laura Dunn of the advocacy group SurvJustice. "Schools are assigning people to victims who are pretending, or even thinking, they're on the victim's side, when they're actually discouraging and silencing them. Advocates who survivors love are part of the system that is failing to address sexual violence."

Rape on Campus
Phi Kappa Psi House (Photo: Illustration by John Ritter)
Absent much guidance, Jackie would eventually wonder how other student victims handled her situation. But when she clicked around on UVA's website, she found no answers. All she found were the UVA police's crime logs, which the university makes available online, but are mostly a list of bike theft, vandalism and public-drunkenness complaints. That's because only a fraction of UVA students who report sex crimes turn to campus police. The rest go to Dean Eramo's office, to Charlottesville police or the county sheriff's office. Yet when RS asked UVA for its statistics, the press office repeatedly referred us to the UVA police crime logs. UVA parent Susan Russell believes that misdirection is deliberate. "When a parent goes to the campus crime log, and they don't see sexual assault, they think the school is safe," Russell says, adding that her daughter's 2004 sexual assault once appeared in the log mislabeled "Suspicious Circumstances."

Eventually, UVA furnished Rolling Stone with some of its most recent tally: In the last academic year, 38 students went to Eramo about a sexual assault, up from about 20 students three years ago. However, of those 38, only nine resulted in "complaints"; the other 29 students evaporated. Of those nine complaints, four resulted in Sexual Misconduct Board hearings. UVA wasn't willing to disclose their outcomes, citing privacy. Like most colleges, sexual-assault proceedings at UVA unfold in total secrecy. Asked why UVA doesn't publish all its data, President Sullivan explains that it might not be in keeping with "best practices" and thus may inadvertently discourage reporting. Jackie got a different explanation when she'd eventually asked Dean Eramo the same question. She says Eramo answered wryly, "Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school."

For now, however, Jackie left her first meeting with Eramo feeling better for having unburdened herself, and with the dean's assurance that nothing would be done without her say-so. Eramo e-mailed a follow-up note thanking Jackie for sharing, saying, "I could tell that was very difficult for you," and restating that while she respected Jackie's wish not to file a report, she'd be happy to assist "if you decide that you would like to hold these men accountable." In the meantime, having presumably judged there to be no threat to public safety, the UVA administration took no action to warn the campus that an allegation of gang rape had been made against an active fraternity.

All the first-year women are morally uptight.
They'll never do a single thing unless they know it's right.
But then they come to Rugby Road and soon they've seen the light.
And you never know how many men they'll bring home every night.
"Rugby Road"

You can trace UVA's cycle of sexual violence and institutional indifference back at least 30 years – and incredibly, the trail leads back to Phi Psi. In October 1984, Liz Seccuro was a 17-year-old virgin when she went to a party at the frat and was handed a mixed drink. "They called it the house special," she remembers. Things became spotty after Seccuro had a few sips. But etched in pain was a clear memory of a stranger raping her on a bed. She woke up wrapped in a bloody sheet; by rifling through the boy's mail before fleeing, she discovered his name was Will Beebe. Incredibly, 21 years later, Beebe wrote Seccuro a letter, saying he wanted to make amends as part of his 12-step program. Seccuro took the correspondence to Charlottesville police. And in the midst of the 2006 prosecution that followed, where Beebe would eventually plead guilty to aggravated sexual battery, investigators made a startling discovery: That while at Phi Psi that night, Seccuro had been assaulted not by one man, but by three. "I had been gang-raped," says Seccuro, who detailed her ordeal in a 2011 memoir.

Rape on Campus
William N. Beebe out of the Charlottesville, Va. Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Tuesday, Jan. 17th, 2006. (Photo: Brady Wolfe/Daily Progress/AP)
That it took two decades for Seccuro to achieve some justice is even more disgraceful, since she reported her rape to the UVA administration after leaving the Phi Psi house on that 1984 morning. "I went to the dean covered in scabs and with broken ribs," she remembers. "And he said, 'Do you think it was just regrettable sex?' " Seccuro wanted to call police, but she was incorrectly told Charlottesville police lacked jurisdiction over fraternity houses.

If Seccuro's story of administrative cover-up and apathy sounds outrageous, it's actually in keeping with the stories told by other UVA survivors. After one alumna was abducted from a dark, wooded section of campus and raped in 1993, she says she asked a UVA administrator for better lighting. "They told me it would ruin Jefferson's vision of what the university was supposed to look like," the alum says. "As if Thomas Jefferson even knew about electric lights!" In 2002 and 2004, two female students, including Susan Russell's daughter, were unhappy with their sexual-misconduct hearings, which each felt didn't hold their alleged perpetrators accountable – and each was admonished by UVA administrators to never speak publicly about the proceedings or else they could face expulsion for violating the honor code. For issuing that directive, in 2008 UVA was found in violation of the Clery Act.

"UVA is more egregious than most," says John Foubert, a UVA dean from 1998 to 2002, and founder of the national male sex-assault peer education group One in Four. "I've worked for five or six colleges, and the stuff I saw happen during my time there definitely stands out." For example, Foubert recalls, in one rare case in which the university applied a harsh penalty, an undergrad was suspended after stalking five students. Heated discussion ensued over whether the boy should be allowed back after his suspension. Though the counseling center wanted him to stay gone, Foubert says, the then-dean of students argued in favor of his return, saying, "We can pick our lawsuit from a potential sixth victim, or from him, for denying him access to an education."

The few stories leaking out of UVA's present-day justice system aren't much better. One student, whose Title IX complaint against UVA is currently under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights, said that in December 2011, another student raped her while she was blackout drunk, possibly drugged. As she wrote in a student publication, evidence emerged that the man had previously been accused of drugging others, but the information was rejected as "prejudicial." The Sexual Misconduct Board told the young woman it found her "compelling and believable," but found the man not guilty. "I had never felt so betrayed and let down in my life," wrote the woman. "They said that they believed me. They said that UVA was my home and that it loved me. Yet, how could they believe me and let him go completely unpunished?"

Rolling Stone has discovered that this past spring a UVA first-year student, whom we'll call Stacy, filed a report stating that while vomiting up too much whiskey into a male friend's toilet one night, he groped her, plunged his hands down her sweatpants and then, after carrying her semi-conscious to his bed, digitally penetrated her. When the Charlottesville DA's office declined to file charges, she says, Stacy asked for a hearing with the Sexual Misconduct Board, and was surprised when UVA authority figures tried to talk her out of it. "My counselors, members of the Dean of Students office, everyone said the trial process would be way too hard on me," says Stacy. "They were like, 'You need to focus on your healing.' " Stacy insisted upon moving forward anyway, even when the wealthy family of the accused kicked up a fuss. "They threatened to sue deans individually, they threatened to sue me," she recalls. But Stacy remained stalwart, because she had additional motivation: She'd been shaken to discover two other women with stories of assault by the same man. "One was days after mine, at a rush function at his frat house," says Stacy. "So I was like, 'I have to do something before someone else is hurt.' " Her determination redoubled after the Dean of Students office informed her that multiple assaults by a student would be grounds for his expulsion – a mantra that Eramo repeated at a Take Back the Night event in April.

JACKIE CAME ACROSS SOMETHING DISTURBING: TWO OTHER YOUNG WOMEN CONFIDED THAT THEY, TOO, HAD BEEN VICTIMS OF PHI KAPPA PSI GANG RAPES.
Bearing her deans' words in mind, at her nine-hour formal hearing in June, Stacy took pains to present not only her own case, but also the other two allegations, submitting witness statements that were allowed in as "pattern evidence." The board pronounced the man guilty for sexual misconduct against Stacy, making him only the 14th guilty person in UVA's history. Stacy was relieved at the verdict. "I was like, 'He's gone!' 'Cause he's a multiple assailant, I'd been told so many times that that was grounds for expulsion!" So she was stunned when she learned his actual penalty: a one-year suspension. (Citing privacy laws, UVA would not comment on this or any case.)

Turns out, when UVA personnel speak of expulsion for "multiple assaults," they mean multiple complaints that are filed with the Sexual Misconduct Board, and then adjudicated guilty. Under that more precise definition, the two other cases introduced in Stacy's case didn't count toward his penalty. Stacy feels offended by the outcome and misled by the deans. "After two rapes and an assault, to let him back on grounds is an insult to the honor system that UVA brags about," she says. "UVA doesn't want to expel. They were too afraid of getting negative publicity or the pants sued
off them."


She's a helluva twat from Agnes Scott, she'll fuck for 50 cents.
She'll lay her ass upon the grass, her panties on the fence.
You supply the liquor, and she'll supply the lay.
And if you can't get it up, you sunuva bitch, you're not from UVA.
"Rugby Road"

When did it happen to you?" Emily Renda asked Jackie as they sat for coffee at the outdoor Downtown Mall in the fall of 2013.

"September 28th," Jackie whispered.

"October 7th, 2010," Emily responded, not breaking her gaze, and Jackie knew she'd found a friend. As Jackie had begun her second year at UVA, she'd continued struggling. Dean Eramo had connected her with Emily, a fourth-year who'd become active in One Less, a student-run sexual-assault education organization that doubles as a support group. Sitting with Emily, Jackie poured out her story, wiping her eyes with napkins as she confided to Emily that she felt like a broken person. "You're not broken," Emily told her. "They're the ones who are fucked up, and what happened to you wasn't your fault." Jackie was flooded with gratitude, desperate to hear those words at last – and from someone who knew. Emily invited her to a meeting of One Less, thus introducing her to UVA's true secret society.

Campus Rape
Photo: Illustration by John Ritter: Photo of Nicole Eramo in Illustration by Jenna Truong/Cavalier Daily
In its weekly meetings, the 45-member group would discuss how to foster dialogue on campus. Afterward they'd splinter off and share stories of sexual assault, each tale different and yet very much the same. Many took place on tipsy nights with men who refused to stop; some were of sex while blackout drunk; rarer stories involved violence, though none so extreme as Jackie's. But no matter the circumstances, their peers' reactions were largely the same: Assaults were brushed off, with attackers defended ("He'd never do anything like that"), the victim questioned ("Are you sure?"). After feeling isolated for more than a year, Jackie was astonished at how much she and this sisterhood had in common, including the fact that a surprising number hadn't pursued any form of complaint. Although many had contacted Dean Eramo, whom they laud as their best advocate and den mother – Jackie repeatedly calls her "an asset to the community" – few ever filed reports with UVA or with police. Instead, basking in the safety of one another's company, the members of One Less applauded the brave few who chose to take action, but mostly affirmed each other's choices not to report, in an echo of their university's approach. So profound was the students' faith in its administration that although they were appalled by Jackie's story, no one voiced questions about UVA's strategy of doing nothing to warn the campus of gang-rape allegations against a fraternity that still held parties and was rushing a new pledge class.

Some of these women are disturbed by the contradiction. "It's easy to cover up a rape at a university if no one is reporting," admits Jackie's friend Alex Pinkleton. And privately, some of Jackie's confidantes were outraged. "The university ignores the problem to make itself look better," says recent grad Rachel Soltis, Jackie's former roommate. "They should have done something in Jackie's case. Me and several other people know exactly who did this to her. But they want to protect even the people who are doing these horrible things."

But no such doubts shadowed the meetings of One Less, which was fine by Jackie. One Less held seminars for student groups on bystander intervention and how to be supportive of survivors. Jackie dove into her new roles as peer adviser and Take Back the Night committee member and began to discover just how wide her secret UVA survivor network was – because the more she shared her story, the more girls sought her out, waylaying her after presentations or after classes, even calling in the middle of the night with a crisis. Jackie has been approached by so many survivors that she wonders whether the one-in-five statistic may not apply in Charlottesville. "I feel like it's one in three at UVA," she says.

But payback for being so public on a campus accustomed to silence was swift. This past spring, in separate incidents, both Emily Renda and Jackie were harassed outside bars on the Corner by men who recognized them from presentations and called them "cunt" and "feminazi bitch." One flung a bottle at Jackie that broke on the side of her face, leaving a blood-red bruise around her eye.

She e-mailed Eramo so they could discuss the attack – and discuss another matter, too, which was troubling Jackie a great deal. Through her ever expanding network, Jackie had come across something deeply disturbing: two other young women who, she says, confided that they, too, had recently been Phi Kappa Psi gang-rape victims.

A bruise still mottling her face, Jackie sat in Eramo's office in May 2014 and told her about the two others. One, she says, is a 2013 graduate, who'd told Jackie that she'd been gang-raped as a freshman at the Phi Psi house. The other was a first-year whose worried friends had called Jackie after the girl had come home wearing no pants. Jackie said the girl told her she'd been assaulted by four men in a Phi Psi bathroom while a fifth watched. (Neither woman was willing to talk to RS.)

As Jackie wrapped up her story, she was disappointed by Eramo's nonreaction. She'd expected shock, disgust, horror. For months, Jackie had been assuaging her despair by throwing herself into peer education, but there was no denying her helplessness when she thought about Phi Psi, or about her own alleged assailants still walking the grounds. She'd recently been aghast to bump into Drew, who greeted her with friendly nonchalance. "For a whole year, I thought about how he had ruined my life, and how he is the worst human being ever," Jackie says. "And then I saw him and I couldn't say anything."

"You look different," Drew told Jackie while she stared back at him in fear, and he was right: Since arriving at UVA, Jackie had gained 25 pounds from antidepressants and lack of exercise. That interaction would render her too depressed to leave her room for days. Of all her assailants, Drew was the one she wanted to see held accountable – but with Drew about to graduate, he was going to get away with it. Because, as she miserably reminded Eramo in her office, she didn't feel ready to file a complaint. Eramo, as always, understood.

Given the swirl of gang-rape allegations Eramo had now heard against one of UVA's oldest and most powerful fraternities – founded in 1853, its distinguished chapter members have included President Woodrow Wilson – the school may have wondered about its responsibilities to the rest of the campus. Experts apprised of the situation by RS agreed that despite the absence of an official report, Jackie's passing along two other allegations should compel the school to take action out of regard for campus safety. "The fact that they already had that first victim, they should have been taking action," says SurvJustice's Laura Dunn. "That school could really be sued."

If the UVA administration was roiled by such concerns, however, it wasn't apparent this past September, as it hosted a trustees meeting. Two full hours had been set aside to discuss campus sexual assault, an amount of time that, as many around the conference table pointed out, underscored the depth of UVA's commitment. Those two hours, however, were devoted entirely to upbeat explanations of UVA's new prevention and response strategies, and to self-congratulations to UVA for being a "model" among schools in this arena. Only once did the room darken with concern, when a trustee in UVA colors – blue sport coat, orange bow tie – interrupted to ask, "Are we under any federal investigation with regard to sexual assault?"

Dean of students Allen Groves, in a blue suit and orange necktie of his own, swooped in with a smooth answer. He affirmed that while like many of its peers UVA was under investigation, it was merely a "standard compliance review." He mentioned that a student's complaint from the 2010-11 academic year had been folded into that "routine compliance review." Having downplayed the significance of a Title IX compliance review – which is neither routine nor standard – he then elaborated upon the lengths to which UVA has cooperated with the Office of Civil Rights' investigation, his tone and manner so reassuring that the room relaxed.

Told of the meeting, Office of Civil Rights' Catherine Lhamon calls Groves' mischaracterization "deliberate and irresponsible." "Nothing annoys me more than a school not taking seriously their review from the federal government about their civil rights obligations," she says.

Within days of the board meeting, having learned of Rolling Stone's probe into Jackie's story, UVA at last placed Phi Kappa Psi under investigation. Or rather, as President Sullivan carefully answered my question about allegations of gang rape at Phi Psi, "We do have a fraternity under investigation." Phi Kappa Psi national executive director Shawn Collinsworth says that UVA indeed notified him of sexual assault allegations; he immediately dispatched a representative to meet with the chapter. UVA chapter president Stephen Scipione recalls being only told of a vague, anonymous "fourth-hand" allegation of a sexual assault during a party. "We were not told that it was rape, but rather that something of a sexual nature took place," he wrote to RS in an e-mail. Either way, Collinsworth says, given the paucity of information, "we have no evidence to substantiate the alleged assaults."

"Under investigation," President Sullivan insists when I ask her to elaborate on how the university is handling the case. "I don't know how else to spell that out for you." But Jackie may have gotten a glimpse into the extent of the investigation when, in the days following my visit to campus, she was called into Eramo's office, bringing along her friend Alex for moral support. According to both women, Eramo revealed that she'd learned "through the grapevine" that "all the boys involved have graduated." Both girls were mystified. Not only had Jackie just seen one of the boys riding his bike on grounds but, as Alex pointed out, "Doesn't that mean they're admitting something happened?" No warning has yet been issued to the campus.

With a pocketknife and pepper spray tucked into her handbag, and a rape whistle hanging from her key chain, Jackie is prepared for a Friday night at UVA. In a restaurant on the Corner, Jackie sips water through a straw as the first of the night's "Whoo!"s reverberate from the sidewalk outside. "It makes me really depressed, almost," says Jackie with a sad chuckle. "There's always gonna be another Friday night, and another fraternity party, and another girl."

Across the table, Alex sighs. "I know," she says. Bartenders and bouncers all along the Corner are wearing T-shirts advertising the new "Hoos Got Your Back" bystander-intervention campaign, which all seems very hopeful. But this week, the third week of September, has been a difficult one. Charlottesville police received their first sexual-assault report of the academic year; Jackie and Alex were also each approached by someone seeking help about an assault. And as this weekend progresses, things will get far worse at UVA: Two more sexual assaults will be reported to police, and, in every parent's worst fears come true, an 18-year-old student on her way to a party will vanish; her body will be discovered five weeks later.

Suspect Jesse Matthew Jr., a 32-year-old UVA hospital worker, will be charged with Hannah Graham's "abduction with intent to defile," and a chilling portrait will emerge of an alleged predator who got his start, a decade ago, as a campus rapist. Back in 2002, and again in 2003, Matthew was accused of sexual assault at two different Virginia colleges where he was enrolled, but was never prosecuted. In 2005, according to the new police indictment, Matthew sexually assaulted a 26-year-old and tried to kill her. DNA has also reportedly linked Matthew to the 2009 death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who disappeared after a Metallica concert in Charlottesville. The grisly dossier of which Matthew has been accused underscores the premise that campus rape should be seen not through the schema of a dubious party foul, but as a violent crime – and that victims should be encouraged to come forward as an act of civic good that could potentially spare future victims.

Jackie is hoping she will get there someday. She badly wants to muster the courage to file criminal charges or even a civil case. But she's paralyzed. "It's like I'm in my own personal prison," she says. "I'm so terrified this is going to be the rest of my life." She still cries a lot, and she has been more frightened than usual to be alone or to walk in the dark. When Jackie talks about her assault, she fixates on the moment before Drew picked her up for their date: "I remember looking at the mirror and putting on mascara and being like, 'I feel really pretty,' " Jackie recalls. "I didn't know it would be the last time I wouldn't see an empty shell of a person."

Jackie tells me of a recurring nightmare she's been having, in which she's watching herself climb those Phi Kappa Psi stairs. She frantically calls to herself to stop, but knows it's too late: That in real life, she's already gone up those stairs and into that terrible room, and things will never be the same. It bothers Jackie to know that Drew and the rest get to walk away as if nothing happened, but that she still walks toward that room every night – and blames herself for it during the day.

"Everything bad in my life now is built around that one bad decision that I made," she says. "All because I went to that stupid party."

http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/a-rape-on-campus-20141119

159
If you want to understand how little urgency there is among the American public about climate change, consider this:

A new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute asked people about the severity of recent natural disasters. About six in 10 (62 percent) said climate change is at least partly to blame.  About half -- 49 percent -- cited the biblical end times (as in, the apocalypse) for the recent natural disasters. That latter number is up five points from 2011.

(People were allowed to volunteer more than one cause.)



Michelle Boorstein has the big run-down of all the numbers from the survey, and we would urge folks to check out her story. The end-times view is held by especially large numbers of white evangelical Christians (77 percent) and black Protestants (74 percent).

The fact that half of Americans cite the end times as a cause of recent severe weather events suggests a kind of fatalism that would certainly lead to less urgency when it comes to issues like climate change. Even many of those who believe in climate change -- and about one-quarter of Americans don't, per the survey -- seem to think natural disasters are part of something that is preordained.

In addition, 39 percent of Americans say God would not allow humans to destroy the Earth (53 percent disagree). So, apparently, most of those who believe we're in the end times also believe God would intervene. Basically at least four in 10 Americans see little reason for a human response -- or, at least, doubt things will wind up being catastrophic.

It should be no surprise, then, that of all the issues tested by PRRI's poll, climate change is viewed as the least important. Just 5 percent rate it as the No. 1 issue, behind things like immigration, education and the wealth gap.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/11/21/a-big-reason-climate-change-isnt-a-priority-the-apocalypse/?tid=sm_fb

160
Since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson this summer, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has been running a provocative series on the lingering barriers blacks face in America. The title of the series: "When Whites Just Don't Get It."

Each column has data on the wealth gap between blacks and whites, the disparate rates at which black boys are expelled and black men imprisoned, the historic discrimination that helped drive widely diverging rates of black and white homeownership today.

And each column has been met with, well, deep resistance to the very idea that modern racial inequality is about anything more than differences between people willing to work hard and those who won't. To Kristof's credit, he keeps coming back with more data, more counter-arguments.

 Nicholas Kristof (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post))
Nicholas Kristof (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post))
He's taken on a particularly unpopular task: trying to convince whites who've often inherited opportunity that America has just as systematically passed on disadvantage to blacks.

"One element of white privilege today," Kristof wrote this weekend, "is obliviousness to privilege, including a blithe disregard of the way past subjugation shapes present disadvantage."

Curious how that uncomfortable idea has gone over, I spoke with Kristof this week about the series, which was a reaction to a column suggesting that even well-meaning people may experience some unconscious racism.

"I was struck by the reaction to that: How many whites were very indignant at the idea that there is a problem even with unconscious racism in America in 2014," Kristof says in our conversation. "The tone of the responses really struck me. That led to the first one, 'when whites just don’t get it.' And the response to each one led to the next."

Below is a slightly condensed transcript.

EB: Part of what people don’t seem to get is not just their own unconscious bias, but chapters of history. They’re unaware, for example, of the history of federal policy explicitly discriminating against blacks in mortgage lending, and what that has to do with wealth today.

NK: People think they know about black history if they know about Martin Luther King. There is a celebratory tone to the way whites understand African-America history, which is of amazing, breathtaking progress. That is truly real, that is to be celebrated. But I think whites tend to be less aware of the degree to which past discrimination shapes present inequity, and also the degree to which in some spheres, African-Americans — and probably, especially young black men — face continuing bias in law enforcement and the justice system and employment and many other areas.

Among all the e-mails and tweets and Facebook comments you’ve been getting, do you have any sense that you’re changing minds, at least among some people?

I wish I could say that yes, it’s having an effect. I honestly don’t know. In general, I think that we in journalism tend to change people’s minds quite rarely on issues that they have thought of. We tend to have an impact most as shapers of the agenda. But where there’s an issue already on the agenda, like race, I think it’s pretty unusual that we manage to change people’s minds. The people who respond to the series, I would say they don’t show much sign of having changed their minds, whichever side they may be on. But it’s also true that those people may be more passionate, more informed, and perhaps less likely to have their views changed.

My hope is that I’m reaching people, especially young people who don’t know a lot about these issues, and haven’t particularly thought about them. Perhaps to some degree, I can at the margin affect their view a little bit.

How often do you hear the response that “we have a black president, so how can there be a problem”?

That has been a fairly common theme. That goes into the triumphalist narrative of black history that I often hear from whites. There’s obviously something to that, it’s an incredible milestone. But it can’t be used to obscure the fact that there’s still enormous inequity facing so many other people.

Do you ever feel like that one fact that people can point to — "the president is black!" — makes it harder to have this larger conversation about racial inequality?

I’ve wondered about that, whether that actually becomes an impediment to having a serious conversation about racial inequity. I do think humans have an incredible ability to self-select facts that will fit their narrative. Even if that had not happened, then people would say "well, the reason we haven’t had many black officials is just that too many blacks don’t show personal responsibility, and that’s the source of the problem." I’m just not sure it would really be that different if we didn’t have a black president. But certainly one hears that all the time, as "this is the end of the argument. There’s no point in looking backward now. A black guy who really tries will be treated so fairly by white people in American today that he’ll be elected president."

You just touched on one of the themes you raise repeatedly in these columns — personal responsibility. You write about the idea that it’s a lot easier for many people to say "blacks should take more personal responsibility" than to say "whites have some responsibility here, too."

That surprised me a little bit just how much of the critical reaction that I got was based on the "personal responsibility" narrative. That was overwhelmingly the most common perspective that I got.

—that people who don’t succeed in life don’t succeed for lack of their own responsibility?

Exactly. That just comes up over and over and over. And it’s something that resonates with me a little bit because I grew up in rural Oregon, in a blue-collar area that has been very hard hit by meth, by family breakdown, by unemployment. And a lot of my friends and classmates have been struggling with all these issues. There is a real issue of personal responsibility and self-destructive behaviors — this is real. But it also arises from a context of hopelessness, a context in which people feel that there’s no escape, and then they self-medicate. And then that hopelessness becomes self-fulfilling. And that’s true of whites, and that’s true of blacks.

You've cited a lot of data in these columns that seems pretty powerful and hard to argue with.

People were very taken aback by the figure in particular that the wealth gap between whites and blacks today in America is greater than the black-white wealth gap was in Apartheid South Africa. That was a factoid that clearly shocked a lot of people. But then the lesson that a lot of people drew from it was "well, boy, that just underscores how irresponsible so many African-Americans are," which is precisely the opposite of the point I was trying to make. I think people were shocked by some of the data that I cited, but I don’t know that they were persuaded by it.

You use this phrase, which I’m sure a lot of people have reacted to, that whites have a “capacity for delusion” when it comes to thinking about their own role in racial inequality.

I wonder whether that was impolitic of me, whether it just made people defensive. As a journalist, I see delusion all over, in all kinds of categories of people. So I’m kind of used to the idea that all kinds of people are deluded about themselves and about others. There are white delusions, and black delusions and Asian delusions, and wealthy-people delusions, and poor-people delusions. I probably didn’t intend to pack as much umph into the phrase as it was received with.

But I think that there’s no doubt that successful people have this narrative that "I succeeded because I worked hard, studied hard, obeyed the law, and that just shows that anybody in this country can succeed if they will just behave themselves." I think about my friends growing up, who were in many cases, just as smart and hard-working as anybody else, but didn’t have a family that pushed them. So if they made the decision to drop out of school, that was a decisions that really haunted them. I think it’s really hard for people who were born on third base, and whose friends were born on third base, and who assume kind of a third-base context, it’s really hard to understand the enormous obstacles that face those who in early life encountered a much less rosy environment. It’s so easy to hit a home run from third base and say "boy, this is pretty easy, why can’t everyone else do this?"

Has writing about all of this made you think about advantages that you inherited, or ways that you were helped in your own life?

Absolutely. One of the things that we talk about in our new book ‘A Path Appears’ — that I had really been unaware of until we were going through the research — is just how much early childhood matters. Your mom not drinking or taking drugs during pregnancy. And in West Virginia, 20 percent of kids are born with drugs in their system. That’s just a totally different world. So I think that we tend to have the wrong metrics of poverty, and we tend to measure poverty in terms of income per person, or in terms of wealth per person. I truly think the better metrics of poverty would be how often a child is read to, how often a child is hugged, the kind of support a child is getting in the first five years or so of life.

I wonder if liberals like myself overuse the word "inequality" because that tends to connote inequality of outcomes, which conservatives are much less worried about. And we should use the word "inequality" less and the word "opportunity" more.

Do you think our ability to come up with policy solutions to racial inequality is dependent on convincing more people of these ideas that you say whites often don’t get?

I think there are two kinds of arguments one can make for the policy solutions that matter. One are these kinds of equity or social-justice arguments.

We should do this because it’s the right thing to do.

Exactly. "It’s fair, it’s right." For those arguments to succeed, one really does have to persuade people that these are real issues, and that it’s not just about responsibility. But there’s another kind of argument that I think one can make for the same kinds of policy solutions, which is that it saves money. It gets you bang for your buck.

It’s more cost-effective to invest in early childhood than to pay for welfare once that kid grows up.

Right. James Heckman argues that to get the same increment of reduced crime, we can spend money on more policemen, or you can spend one-fifth the amount of money on early education for at-risk kids. Oklahoma, which has been a pioneer in some of these early interventions, has done so in part because it saves money. It’s a sensible thing.

I go back and forth in the arguments that I use, and I do think that it helps that we’re getting better data and better research. While liberals have always made some of these arguments, frankly, often the research wasn’t robust. Now, more and more it’s coming from randomized control trials, long-term follow-ups, really pretty solid evidence that it’s hard to argue about.

One of the great improvements in social justice in the last few years has been chipping away at mass incarceration, and the reason that mass incarceration is on the decline is not to do with social justice at all. It’s because it’s expensive. So, I’ll use any argument that I think may help advance the cause.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/11/20/nicholas-kristof-on-what-whites-just-dont-get-about-racial-inequality/?tid=sm_fb

161
General Discussion / Alexander Grothendieck down
« on: November 20, 2014, 10:51:24 PM »
Alexander Grothendieck, whose gift for deep abstraction excavated new ground in the field known as algebraic geometry and supplied a theoretical foundation for the solving of some of the most vexing conundrums of modern mathematics, died on Thursday in Ariège, in the French Pyrenees. He was 86.

A vexing character himself, Mr. Grothendieck (pronounced GROAT-en-deek) turned away from mathematics at the height of his powers in the early 1970s and had lived in seclusion since the early 1990s. His death was widely reported in France, where the newspaper Le Monde described him as “the greatest mathematician of the 20th century.” In a statement on Friday, President François Hollande praised him as “one of our greatest mathematicians” and “an out-of-the-ordinary personality in the philosophy of life.”

Algebraic geometry is a field of pure mathematics that studies the relationships between equations and geometric spaces. Mr. Grothendieck was able to answer concrete questions about these relationships by finding universal mathematical principles that could shed unexpected light on them. Applications of his work are evident in fields as diverse as genetics, cryptography and robotics.

“He had an extremely powerful, almost otherworldly ability of abstraction that allowed him to see problems in a highly general context, and he used this ability with exquisite precision,” Allyn Jackson wrote in a 2004 biographical essay about Mr. Grothendieck for Notices of the AMS, a journal of the American Mathematical Society. “Indeed, the trend toward increased generality and abstraction, which can be seen across the whole field since the middle of the 20th century, is due in no small part to Grothendieck’s influence.”

His background and early life were tangled and harrowing. His father, whose name is usually reported as Alexander Schapiro, was a Jewish anarchist who fought against the Russian czarist government. He was captured by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution and eventually escaped to Western Europe. Along the way he lost an arm.

Schapiro made a living as a street photographer and met Johanna Grothendieck, known as Hanka, an aspiring writer who was married to a man named Alf Raddatz, in Berlin, in the mid-1920s. By then Schapiro had changed his name to Alexander Tanaroff, according to Mr. Grothendieck’s biographer, Winfried Scharlau. Introducing himself to Raddatz, Tanaroff said, “I will steal your wife,” and proceeded to do so.

Alexander Grothendieck, who for an unknown reason was named Raddatz at birth (not Schapiro, Tanaroff or Grothendieck), was born in Berlin on March 28, 1928.

Young Alexander’s parents left Germany as the Nazis took power — they participated in the Spanish Civil War — leaving him in the care of foster parents in Hamburg, where he first went to school. In 1939, he reunited with his mother and father in France, but his father was arrested, sent to an internment camp at Le Vernet and eventually moved to Auschwitz, where he died in 1942.

With his mother, Alexander lived in Le Chambon, where he finished primary school, and after the war attended college in Montpellier and later in Nancy, beginning his mathematical education in earnest. By the late 1940s he had entered the society of elite European mathematicians.

During the 1950s he taught in São Paulo, Brazil, and at the University of Kansas and lectured at Harvard. In 1958 he joined the faculty of the fledgling Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHES), which became a leading institute for the support of advanced research in mathematics and physics. (It is now in Bures-sur-Yvette, south of Paris.)

In 1966, Mr. Grothendieck was given the Fields Medal, an international award considered among the highest in mathematics.

He is widely credited for advances that made possible long-sought proofs for befuddling problems, including Fermat’s Last Theorem, the 17th-century conjecture by the French mathematician Pierre de Fermat that no three positive integers — a, b and c — exist that will satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than 2. The first successful proof was published by an Englishman, Andrew Wiles, in the 1990s.

Mr. Grothendieck’s work was also a steppingstone to solutions of other enigmas famous among mathematicians, but far more arcane. He was instrumental in proving an especially thorny set of hypotheses known as the Weil conjectures. But characteristically he did not attack the problem directly. Instead, he built a superstructure of theory around the problem. The solution then emerged easily and naturally, in a way that made mathematicians see how the conjectures had to be true.

He avoided clever tricks that proved the theorem but did not develop insight. He likened his approach to softening a walnut in water so that, as he wrote, it can be peeled open “like a perfectly ripened avocado.”

“If there is one thing in mathematics that fascinates me more than anything else (and doubtless always has), it is neither ‘number’ nor ‘size,’ but always form,” he wrote in a long memoir in the 1980s, “Reapings and Sowings.” “And among the thousand-and-one faces whereby form chooses to reveal itself to us, the one that fascinates me more than any other and continues to fascinate me, is the structure hidden in mathematical things.”

Mr. Grothendieck had long held pacifist views, and by the late 1960s he had also become consumed by environmentalism. In 1966, he refused to travel to Moscow to receive the Fields Medal as a protest against the imprisonment of Soviet writers. He traveled to Hanoi at the height of the Vietnam War and lectured in Paris about the trip. He resigned from IHES, at least in part because some of its funding came from the French Defense Ministry, though he was also feuding with the institute’s founder. And he helped found an organization, Survivre, that promoted environmental activism and opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He studied Buddhism and mysticism.

Over the next two decades, though he taught mathematics for a time at the University of Montpellier, he gradually withdrew from society and, according to his biographer, began devoting himself obsessively to writing what he called his “meditations.”

Mr. Grothendieck was married at least once, to Mireille Dufour. They had three children. He had two other sons with other women. Information about his survivors was not available.

Correction: November 17, 2014
An earlier version of this obituary referred incorrectly in one instance to the influence of Mr. Grothendieck’s work. While it was a steppingstone to solving several arcane problems well known in mathematics, it was not a steppingstone to proof of the Poincaré conjecture. The obituary also described imprecisely Mr. Grothendieck’s contribution to proving a set of hypotheses posed by André Weil. Mr. Grothendieck proved two of the four hypotheses and developed a new proof of a third; his former student Pierre Deligne proved the fourth. Mr. Grothendieck and Mr. Deligne were not “working together.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/world/europe/alexander-grothendieck-math-enigma-dies-at-86.html?_r=0

strange genius with a strange family

163
General Discussion / obama / china climate change deal
« on: November 13, 2014, 04:56:56 AM »
No threads on this yet?

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/13/world/asia/in-climate-deal-with-china-obama-may-set-theme-for-2016.html?emc=edit_th_20141113&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=68995827

Kind've a detail-light article from the NYT. If anyone has one with more detail on the deal itself, that'd be cool.

164
Tech Heads / Good Multi-GPU Mobos?
« on: November 05, 2014, 10:41:34 PM »
Anyone have any suggestions for a solid, reasonably priced mobo that can support 2-4 GPUs at once? Think I'm gonna build a new desktop in the next month or two and stuffing as many AMD GPUs into it as I can is a priority for work.

Doing a little bit of research on the issue now, but there's a lot've information to absorb out there. From what I gather so far, I'm best off going AMD for software reasons, and it'd be ideal for me to pick up a mobo with as many PCIe x16 slots as possible to maximize bandwidth per GPU.

Figure I'll be spending no more than $1k on the whole rig initially, although buying the multiple video cards may shunt me above that figure eventually.

166
Americans might think they know how bad inequality is, but it turns out they actually have no idea.

A new study conducted at Harvard Business School found that Americans believe CEOs make roughly 30 times what the average worker makes in the U.S., when in actuality they are making more than 350 times the average worker. "Americans drastically underestimated the gap in actual incomes between CEOs and unskilled workers," the study says.

But that underestimation isn't merely drastic—it is also unmatched in the world. The gap between Americans' perception and reality is the most among any of the 16 countries for which the researchers measured both the perceived and actual pay inequality.

Part of that stems from Americans’ comparatively modest estimation. The citizens of four countries—South Korea, Australia, Chile, and Taiwan—estimate a higher pay gap between CEOs and low level workers. In South Korea, the perception is that CEOs make 42 times more than the average worker; in Australia, it’s just over 41; in Taiwan, it’s roughly 34; and in Chile, it’s about 33.



But the reason Americans are so bad at guessing how much CEOs make may also be tied to the fact that American CEOs are significantly better paid than those from just about anywhere else

The average Fortune 500 CEO in the United States makes more than $12 million per year, which is nearly five million dollars more than the amount for top CEOs in Switzerland, where the second highest paid CEOs live, more than twice that for those in Germany, where the third highest paid CEOs live, and more than twenty one times that for those in Poland.



While a handful of countries might perceive larger pay gaps than the United States, none of the ones surveyed have an actual pay gap anywhere nearly as large. In Switzerland, the country with the second largest CEO-to-worker pay gap, chief executives make 148 times the average worker; in Germany, the country with the third largest gap, CEOs make 147 times the average worker; and in Spain, the country with the fourth largest gap, the ratio is 127 to one.



Look no further than a few of America's largest corporations for evidence of the country's exceptionally large pay gap. An analysis from last year estimated that it takes the typical worker at both McDonald's and Starbucks more than six months to earn what each company's CEO makes in a single hour.

What Americans share with the rest of the world is a collective disdain for pay inequality. People of all ages, education levels, and income brackets, the study found, believe that low-skilled workers are getting paid too little and high-skilled workers are getting paid too much. "The consensus that income gaps between skilled and unskilled workers should be smaller holds in all subgroups of respondents regardless of their age, education, socioeconomic status, political affiliation and opinions on inequality and pay," the study says.

One can only imagine what that disappointment would look like if everyone had a better sense of how great the pay gap actually is.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/09/25/the-pay-gap-between-ceos-and-workers-is-much-worse-than-you-realize/

167
On June 28, 2009, the world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking threw a party at the University of Cambridge, complete with balloons, hors d'oeuvres and iced champagne. Everyone was invited but no one showed up. Hawking had expected as much, because he only sent out invitations after his party had concluded. It was, he said, "a welcome reception for future time travelers," a tongue-in-cheek experiment to reinforce his 1992 conjecture that travel into the past is effectively impossible.

But Hawking may be on the wrong side of history. Recent experiments offer tentative support for time travel's feasibility—at least from a mathematical perspective. The study cuts to the core of our understanding of the universe, and the resolution of the possibility of time travel, far from being a topic worthy only of science fiction, would have profound implications for fundamental physics as well as for practical applications such as quantum cryptography and computing.

Closed timelike curves
The source of time travel speculation lies in the fact that our best physical theories seem to contain no prohibitions on traveling backward through time. The feat should be possible based on Einstein's theory of general relativity, which describes gravity as the warping of spacetime by energy and matter. An extremely powerful gravitational field, such as that produced by a spinning black hole, could in principle profoundly warp the fabric of existence so that spacetime bends back on itself. This would create a "closed timelike curve," or CTC, a loop that could be traversed to travel back in time.

Hawking and many other physicists find CTCs abhorrent, because any macroscopic object traveling through one would inevitably create paradoxes where cause and effect break down. In a model proposed by the theorist David Deutsch in 1991, however, the paradoxes created by CTCs could be avoided at the quantum scale because of the behavior of fundamental particles, which follow only the fuzzy rules of probability rather than strict determinism. "It's intriguing that you've got general relativity predicting these paradoxes, but then you consider them in quantum mechanical terms and the paradoxes go away," says University of Queensland physicist Tim Ralph. "It makes you wonder whether this is important in terms of formulating a theory that unifies general relativity with quantum mechanics."

Experimenting with a curve
Recently Ralph and his PhD student Martin Ringbauer led a team that experimentally simulated Deutsch's model of CTCs for the very first time, testing and confirming many aspects of the two-decades-old theory. Their findings are published in Nature Communications. Much of their simulation revolved around investigating how Deutsch's model deals with the “grandfather paradox,” a hypothetical scenario in which someone uses a CTC to travel back through time to murder her own grandfather, thus preventing her own later birth. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

Deutsch's quantum solution to the grandfather paradox works something like this:

Instead of a human being traversing a CTC to kill her ancestor, imagine that a fundamental particle goes back in time to flip a switch on the particle-generating machine that created it. If the particle flips the switch, the machine emits a particle—the particle—back into the CTC; if the switch isn't flipped, the machine emits nothing. In this scenario there is no a priori deterministic certainty to the particle's emission, only a distribution of probabilities. Deutsch's insight was to postulate self-consistency in the quantum realm, to insist that any particle entering one end of a CTC must emerge at the other end with identical properties. Therefore, a particle emitted by the machine with a probability of one half would enter the CTC and come out the other end to flip the switch with a probability of one half, imbuing itself at birth with a probability of one half of going back to flip the switch. If the particle were a person, she would be born with a one-half probability of killing her grandfather, giving her grandfather a one-half probability of escaping death at her hands—good enough in probabilistic terms to close the causative loop and escape the paradox. Strange though it may be, this solution is in keeping with the known laws of quantum mechanics.

In their new simulation Ralph, Ringbauer and their colleagues studied Deutsch's model using interactions between pairs of polarized photons within a quantum system that they argue is mathematically equivalent to a single photon traversing a CTC. "We encode their polarization so that the second one acts as kind of a past incarnation of the first,” Ringbauer says. So instead of sending a person through a time loop, they created a stunt double of the person and ran him through a time-loop simulator to see if the doppelganger emerging from a CTC exactly resembled the original person as he was in that moment in the past.

By measuring the polarization states of the second photon after its interaction with the first, across multiple trials the team successfully demonstrated Deutsch's self-consistency in action. "The state we got at our output, the second photon at the simulated exit of the CTC, was the same as that of our input, the first encoded photon at the CTC entrance," Ralph says. "Of course, we're not really sending anything back in time but [the simulation] allows us to study weird evolutions normally not allowed in quantum mechanics."

Those "weird evolutions" enabled by a CTC, Ringbauer notes, would have remarkable practical applications, such as breaking quantum-based cryptography through the cloning of the quantum states of fundamental particles. "If you can clone quantum states,” he says, “you can violate the Heisenberg uncertainty principle,” which comes in handy in quantum cryptography because the principle forbids simultaneously accurate measurements of certain kinds of paired variables, such as position and momentum. "But if you clone that system, you can measure one quantity in the first and the other quantity in the second, allowing you to decrypt an encoded message."

"In the presence of CTCs, quantum mechanics allows one to perform very powerful information-processing tasks, much more than we believe classical or even normal quantum computers could do," says Todd Brun, a physicist at the University of Southern California who was not involved with the team's experiment. "If the Deutsch model is correct, then this experiment faithfully simulates what could be done with an actual CTC. But this experiment cannot test the Deutsch model itself; that could only be done with access to an actual CTC."

Alternative reasoning
Deutsch's model isn’t the only one around, however. In 2009 Seth Lloyd, a theorist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, proposed an alternative, less radical model of CTCs that resolves the grandfather paradox using quantum teleportation and a technique called post-selection, rather than Deutsch's quantum self-consistency. With Canadian collaborators, Lloyd went on to perform successful laboratory simulations of his model in 2011. "Deutsch's theory has a weird effect of destroying correlations," Lloyd says. "That is, a time traveler who emerges from a Deutschian CTC enters a universe that has nothing to do with the one she exited in the future. By contrast, post-selected CTCs preserve correlations, so that the time traveler returns to the same universe that she remembers in the past."

This property of Lloyd's model would make CTCs much less powerful for information processing, although still far superior to what computers could achieve in typical regions of spacetime. "The classes of problems our CTCs could help solve are roughly equivalent to finding needles in haystacks," Lloyd says. "But a computer in a Deutschian CTC could solve why haystacks exist in the first place.”

Lloyd, though, readily admits the speculative nature of CTCs. “I have no idea which model is really right. Probably both of them are wrong,” he says. Of course, he adds, the other possibility is that Hawking is correct, “that CTCs simply don't and cannot exist." Time-travel party planners should save the champagne for themselves—their hoped-for future guests seem unlikely to arrive.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/time-travel-simulation-resolves-grandfather-paradox/?WT.mc_id=SA_Facebook

168
General Discussion / Introverts are all Pokemon Nerds
« on: August 18, 2014, 12:16:30 PM »
Do our Facebook posts reflect our true personalities? Incrementally, probably not. But in aggregate, the things we say on social media paint a fairly accurate portrait of our inner selves. A team of University of Pennsylvania scientists is using Facebook status updates to find commonalities in the words used by different ages, genders, and even psyches.

The so-called “World Well-Being Project” started as an effort to gauge happiness across various states and communities.

“Governments have an increased interest in measuring not just economic outcomes but other aspects of well-being,” said Andrew Schwartz, a UPenn computer scientist who works on the project. “But it's very difficult to study well-being at a large scale. It costs a lot of money to administer surveys to see how people are doing in certain areas. Social media can help with that.”

For the studies, Schwartz and his co-authors asked people to download a Facebook app called “My Personality.” The app asks users to take a personality test and indicate their age and gender, and then it tracks their Facebook updates. So far, 75,000 people have participated in the experiment.

Then, through a process called differential language analysis, they isolate the words that are most strongly correlated with a certain gender, age, trait, or place. The resulting word clouds reveal which words are most distinguishing of, say, a woman. Or a neurotic person.

In the six studies they’ve published so far, they’ve found that, for example, introverts make heavy use of emoticons and words related to anime, but extroverts say “party,” “baby,” and “ya.”

Words Used by Introverts (top) vs. Extroverts





Schwartz and his colleagues have also tracked “openness,” which is “characterized by traits such as being intelligent, analytical, reflective, curious, imaginative, creative, and sophisticated.” Open people talk about “dreams” and the “universe,” apparently, while people with “low openness”—“characterized by traits such as being unintelligent, unanalytical, unreflective, uninquisitive, unimaginative, uncreative, and unsophisticated”—use contractions, misspellings ... and misspelled contractions.

Openness (top) and Non-Openness Word Correlations





They’ve also analyzed how our use of certain words changes as we age. People are much less likely to be “bored” at 60 than at 13, it turns out, but much more likely to feel proud. Twenty-five year olds tend to mention “drunk,” but 55-year-olds talk about “wine.”

In one of the first studies, the team correlated past Gallup research on life satisfaction with tweets from various counties.

Happy communities, they found, talk about exercise—fitness, Zumba, and the gym—while the sadder ones felt “bored” or “tired.” The more upbeat locales were also more likely to donate money and volunteer, but also to go to meetings. The hidden socio-economic variable is clear: Having money allows you to go rock-climbing, give to charity, and it makes you happier, too.

So far, many of the findings have been rather predictable—which isn’t a bad thing, when it comes to social science.

“Subjects living in high elevations talk about the mountains,” they write. “Neurotic people disproportionately use the phrase ‘sick of’ and the word ‘depressed.’”

But some have shed light on a strange connections between who we are, how we live our lives, and the words we choose to present to the world. For example, “an active life implies emotional stability,” they note. And, “males use the possessive ‘my’ when mentioning their wife or girlfriend more often than females use ‘my’ with ‘husband’ or ‘boyfriend.’”

“It is a very unbiased view of humanity,” Schwartz said of the lab’s work so far. “The data tells the story, and it tells it about people.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/what-an-introvert-sounds-like/378624/

169
General Discussion / Bypassing Bankers: P2P Lending Companies
« on: August 17, 2014, 04:51:15 PM »
One of the more hopeful consequences of the 2008 financial crisis has been the growth of a group of small companies dedicated to upending the status quo on Wall Street. Bearing cute, Silicon Valley–esque names such as Kabbage, Zopa, Kiva, and Prosper, these precocious upstarts are tiny by banking standards, and pose no near-term threat to behemoths like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, or Citigroup—banks that between them control much of the world’s capital flow. But there is no question that these young companies have smartly exploited the too-big-to-fail banks’ failure to cater to the credit needs of consumers and small businesses, and will likely do so more noticeably in the years ahead.

At the forefront of the group is Lending Club, a San Francisco–based company founded in 2007 by Renaud Laplanche, a serial entrepreneur and former Wall Street attorney. Laplanche, 43, grew up in a small town in France and, as a teenager, worked every day for three hours before school in his father’s grocery store. He also won two national sailing championships in France, in 1988 and 1990. Now an American citizen, he created Lending Club after being astonished at the high cost of consumer credit in the United States. Lending Club uses the Internet to match investors with individual borrowers, most of whom are looking to refinance their credit-card debt or other personal loans. The result is a sort of eHarmony for borrowers and lenders. Lending Club has facilitated more than $4 billion in loans and is the largest company performing this sort of service, by a factor of four.

The matching of individual lenders with borrowers on Lending Club’s Web site takes place anonymously (lenders can see would-be borrowers’ relevant characteristics, just not their name), but each party gets what it wants. Many borrowers can shave a few percentage points off the interest rate on the debt they refinance, and lock in the lower rate for three to five years. But that interest rate is still more than the lenders could earn on a three-year Treasury security (about 1 percent), or a typical “high yield” or “junk” bond (averaging about 5 percent). Lending Club claims that its loans have so far yielded an annual net return to lenders of about 8 percent, after fees and accounting for losses. It’s worth noting, however, that what lenders gain in yield, they lose in safety: the loans are unsecured, so if a borrower does not pay his debts—and each year, between 3 and 4 percent of Lending Club borrowers do not—the lender can do little about it except absorb the loss and move on. The average consumer loan on Lending Club is about $14,000; many lenders make several loans at once to hedge against the risk of any single loan going bad.

Lending Club’s astute initial investors, including the venture-capital firms Norwest Venture Partners, Canaan Partners, and Foundation Capital, also get what they want: no liability for the loans being made, no oversight from persnickety bank regulators (Lending Club is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission), none of the costs associated with the typical bank-branch network, and, best of all, a plethora of fees, collected from both the borrower and the lender, totaling about 5 percent of the loan amount, on average.

Compared with Wall Street firms, Lending Club is a flea on an elephant’s tail.
In the first quarter of 2014, it helped arrange 56,557 loans totaling $791 million; JPMorgan Chase made $47 billion in what it classifies as consumer loans during the same period. But the company is growing quickly. In 2013, its revenue—the fees it charges for the loans it helps arrange—tripled, to $98 million. There is talk of an IPO later this year. In April, the company was valued at $3.75 billion—38 times its 2013 revenue and more than 520,000 times its net income—when it raised $65 million in additional equity from a new group of high-powered institutional investors, including BlackRock and T. Rowe Price. Lending Club used the cash to help it acquire Springstone Financial, which provides financing for school loans and some elective medical procedures.

In other words, Lending Club is backed by quite a few smart-money players, eager to buy its equity at nosebleed valuations in return for the chance to get in on the micro-loan market—and perhaps to change the way consumers and small businesses get credit. “It’s a value proposition that really comes from the fact that we operate at a lower cost, and then pass on the cost savings to both borrowers and investors,” Laplanche told me. “We give each side a better deal than they could get elsewhere.” That’s certainly true: Lending Club doesn’t have physical branches, or several other layers of costs that weigh down traditional banks. But Lending Club also seems to exploit a market inefficiency that is really quite shocking, given the supposed sophistication of the big Wall Street firms. When it comes to interest rates, the major credit-card issuers—among them JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup—do not differentiate greatly among the many people who borrow money on their credit cards. They charge just about all of them similarly usurious rates. While a dizzying array of credit cards offer a plethora of introductory interest rates and benefits—cash back, for instance—regular interest rates on cards issued by the big players to consumers with average credit scores typically range between 13 and 23 percent. Lending Club’s business strategy, in part, is simply to differentiate more finely among borrowers, particularly those with good credit histories.

Lending Club screens loan applicants—only 10 to 20 percent of people seeking loans get approved to use the marketplace. The company then places each approved borrower into one of 35 credit categories, using many factors, including Fico score. Those with the highest credit ranking can borrow money at about 7 percent interest.
As of the first quarter of 2014, the largest category of Lending Club loans charged borrowers an interest rate of about 13 percent, well below the rate charged by the typical credit-card company, which in early June was almost 16 percent.

It’s quite possible, of course, that Lending Club is merely mispricing the credit risk posed by these small borrowers. After all, Lending Club isn’t making the loans; it bears no liability if, say, default rates rise when another recession hits. So far, however, Lending Club’s loan-default rates appear no worse than the industry average.

Another possibility is that the six largest credit-card issuers in the United States—Chase, Bank of America, American Express, Citigroup, CapitalOne, and Discover—which together control about two-thirds of the domestic consumer-credit-card market, have been acting like a cartel, keeping lending rates higher than they would be in a truly competitive market, and reaping huge profits. In the first quarter of 2014, Chase’s credit-card business—which also includes auto loans and merchant services—had a net income of $1.1 billion and a profit margin of nearly 25 percent. Few businesses on Wall Street provide the same level of consistent profitability as does the consumer-credit-card business. If a few crumbs fall off the table to the likes of Lending Club or Prosper, so be it.

Renaud Laplanche is a firm believer in transparency, and Lending Club’s Web site and public filings are filled with statistics about borrowers. In contrast to the practice of the big banks, the company makes details about each loan available publicly. It recently announced a partnership with San Francisco–based Union Bank, which has $107 billion in assets, to offer the bank’s customers access to its borrowing marketplace.

At a conference in May in San Francisco, where more than 900 peer-to-peer-banking enthusiasts gathered to hear about the latest trends in the industry, Charles Moldow, a general partner at Foundation Capital—one of Lending Club’s largest investors—reportedly created a stir when he discussed a white paper titled “A Trillion Dollar Market by the People, for the People.” In his talk, Moldow spoke about how marketplace lending would change banking in much the same way Amazon has changed retail. He went on to cite Bill Gates’s observation two decades ago that banking is necessary, but bricks-and-mortar banks are not. “Marketplace lending is now poised to demonstrate how accurate that observation was,” Moldow concluded.

That’s probably too exuberant. Whether or not bank branches themselves are necessary, applying for individual peer-to-peer loans will always be more of a hassle than swiping a piece of plastic: inertia is a powerful force. And as his company’s alliance with Union Bank demonstrates, Laplanche is not hell-bent on blowing up the old banking model: he wants to work with established banks. To that end, he has invited onto Lending Club’s board of directors John Mack, the former CEO of Morgan Stanley and a stalwart of the Wall Street status quo. Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary, is also on the board. “In order to transform the banking system, it’s useful to have people on board who have participated in building it,” Laplanche explained. “We essentially combine that experience and brainpower with more of a Silicon Valley mind-set of using technology to shake things up for the benefit of the consumer.”

One can only hope that it works out that way. For all of Big Finance’s innovation in recent decades, ordinary people haven’t seen much obvious benefit. Perhaps if Lending Club continues to win away some of the credit-card business’s best customers—those with persistent balances but solid credit ratings, for whom it is worth the effort to refinance their personal debt through the marketplace—the big banks might begin to treat borrowers more subtly and equitably. If that were to happen—and I wouldn’t hold my breath—then the cost of credit could be lowered for more people, and Wall Street could take a step toward meeting whatever obligation it feels it may have to repair its tattered relationship with Main Street.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/09/bypassing-the-bankers/375068/?single_page=true

170
Several years ago, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency got wind of a technique called transcranial direct-current stimulation, or tDCS, which promised something extraordinary: a way to increase people’s performance in various capacities, from motor skills (in the case of recovering stroke patients) to language learning, all by stimulating their brains with electrical current. The simplest tDCS rigs are little more than nine-volt batteries hooked up to sponges embedded with metal and taped to a person’s scalp.

It’s only a short logical jump from the preceding applications to other potential uses of tDCS. What if, say, soldiers could be trained faster by hooking their heads up to a battery?

This is the kind of question DARPA was created to ask. So the agency awarded a grant to researchers at the University of New Mexico to test the hypothesis. They took a virtual-reality combat-training environment called Darwars Ambush—basically, a video game the military uses to train soldiers to respond to various situations—and captured still images. Then they Photoshopped in pictures of suspicious characters and partially concealed bombs. Subjects were shown the resulting tableaus, and were asked to decide very quickly whether each scene included signs of danger. The first round of participants did all this inside an fMRI machine, which identified roughly the parts of their brains that were working hardest as they looked for threats. Then the researchers repeated the exercise with 100 new subjects, this time sticking electrodes over the areas of the brain that had been identified in the fMRI experiment, and ran two milliamps of current (nothing dangerous) to half of the subjects as they examined the images. The remaining subjects—the control group—got only a minuscule amount of current. Under certain conditions, subjects receiving the full dose of current outperformed the others by a factor of two. And they performed especially well on tests administered an hour after training, indicating that what they’d learned was sticking. Simply put, running positive electrical current to the scalp was making people learn faster.

Dozens of other studies have turned up additional evidence that brain stimulation can improve performance on specific tasks. In some cases, the gains are small—maybe 10 or 20 percent—and in others they are large, as in the DARPA study. Vince Clark, a University of New Mexico psychology professor who was involved with the DARPA work, told me that he’d tried every data-crunching tactic he could think of to explain away the effect of tDCS. “But it’s all there. It’s all real,” Clark said. “I keep trying to get rid of it, and it doesn’t go away.”

Now the intelligence-agency version of DARPA, known as IARPA, has created a program that will look at whether brain stimulation might be combined with exercise, nutrition, and games to even more dramatically enhance human performance. As Raja Parasuraman, a George Mason University psychology professor who is advising an IARPA team, puts it, “The end goal is to improve fluid intelligence—that is, to make people smarter.”

Whether or not IARPA finds a way to make spies smarter, the field of brain stimulation stands to shift our understanding of the neural structures and processes that underpin intelligence. Here, based on conversations with several neuroscientists on the cutting edge of the field, are four guesses about where all this might be headed.

1. Brain stimulation will expand our understanding of the brain-mind connection.
The neural mechanisms of brain stimulation are just beginning to be understood, through work by Michael A. Nitsche and Walter Paulus at the University of Göttingen and by Marom Bikson at the City College of New York. Their findings suggest that adding current to the brain increases the plasticity of neurons, making it easier for them to form new connections. We don’t imagine our brains being so mechanistic. To fix a heart with simple plumbing techniques or to reset a bone is one thing. But you’re not supposed to literally flip an electrical switch and get better at spotting Waldo or learning Swahili, are you? And if flipping a switch does work, how will that affect our ideas about intelligence and selfhood?

Even if juicing the brain doesn’t magically increase IQ scores, it may temporarily and substantially improve performance on certain constituent tasks of intelligence, like memory retrieval and cognitive control. This in itself will pose significant ethical challenges, some of which echo dilemmas already being raised by “neuroenhancement” drugs like Provigil. Workers doing cognitively demanding tasks—air-traffic controllers, physicists, live-radio hosts—could find themselves in the same position as cyclists, weight lifters, and baseball players. They’ll either be surpassed by those willing to augment their natural abilities, or they’ll have to augment themselves.

2. DIY brain stimulation will be popular—and risky.
As word of research findings has spread, do-it-yourselfers on Reddit and elsewhere have traded tips on building simple rigs and where to place electrodes for particular effects. Researchers like the Wright State neuroscientist Michael Weisend have in turn gone on DIY podcasts to warn them off. There’s so much we don’t know. Is neurostimulation safe over long periods of time? Will we become addicted to it? Some scientists, like Stanford’s Teresa Iuculano and Oxford’s Roi Cohen Kadosh, warn that cognitive enhancement through electrical stimulation may “occur at the expense of other cognitive functions.” For example, when Iuculano and Kadosh applied electrical stimulation to subjects who were learning a code that paired various numbers with symbols, the test group memorized the symbols faster than the control group did. But they were slower when it came time to actually use the symbols to do arithmetic. Maybe thinking will prove to be a zero-sum game: we cannot add to our mental powers without also subtracting from them.

3. Electrical stimulation is just the beginning.
Scientists across the country are becoming interested in how other types of electromagnetic radiation might affect the brain. Some are looking at using alternating current at different frequencies, magnetic energy, ultrasound, even different types of sonic noise. There appear to be many ways of exciting the brain’s circuitry with various energetic technologies, but basic research is only in its infancy. “It’s so early,” Clark told me. “It’s very empirical now—see an effect and play with it.”

As we learn more about our neurons’ wiring, through efforts like President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative—a huge, multiagency attempt to map the brain—we may become better able to deliver energy to exactly the right spots, as opposed to bathing big portions of the brain in current or ultrasound. Early research suggests that such targeting could mean the difference between modest improvements and the startling DARPA results. It’s not hard to imagine a plethora of treatments tailored to specific types of learning, cognition, or mood—a bit of current here to boost working memory, some there to help with linguistic fluency, a dash of ultrasound to improve one’s sense of well-being.

4. The most important application may be clinical treatment.
City College’s Bikson worries that an emphasis on cognitive enhancement could overshadow therapies for the sick, which he sees as the more promising application of this technology. In his view, do-it-yourself tDCS is a sideshow—clinical tDCS could be used to treat people suffering from epilepsy, migraines, stroke damage, and depression. “The science and early medical trials suggest tDCS can have as large an impact as drugs and specifically treat those who have failed to respond to drugs,” he told me. “tDCS researchers go to work every day knowing the long-term goal is to reduce human suffering on a transformative scale.” To that end, many of them would like to see clinical trials test tDCS against leading drug therapies. “Hopefully the National Institutes of Health will do that,” Parasuraman, the George Mason professor, said. “I’d like to see straightforward, side-by-side competition between tDCS and antidepressants. May the best thing win.”

A Brief Chronicle of Cognitive Enhancement
500 b.c.: Ancient Greek scholars wear rosemary in their hair, believing it to boost memory.

1886: John Pemberton formulates the original Coca-Cola, with cocaine and caffeine. It’s advertised as a “brain tonic.”

1955: The FDA licenses methylphenidate—a k a Ritalin—for treating “hyperactivity.”

1997: Julie Aigner-Clark launches Baby Einstein, a line of products claiming to “facilitate the development of the brain in infants.”

1998: Provigil hits the U.S. market.

2005: Lumosity, a San Francisco company devoted to online “brain training,” is founded.

2020: A tDCS company starts an SAT-prep service for high-school students.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/09/prepare-to-be-shocked/375072/

171
In recent weeks, the managers, employees, and customers of a New England chain of supermarkets called "Market Basket" have joined together to oppose the board of director's decision earlier in the year to oust the chain's popular chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas.

Their demonstrations and boycotts have emptied most of the chain's seventy stores.

What was so special about Arthur T., as he's known? Mainly, his business model. He kept prices lower than his competitors, paid his employees more, and gave them and his managers more authority.

Late last year he offered customers an additional 4 percent discount, arguing they could use the money more than the shareholders.

In other words, Arthur T. viewed the company as a joint enterprise from which everyone should benefit, not just shareholders. Which is why the board fired him.

It's far from clear who will win this battle. But, interestingly, we're beginning to see the Arthur T. business model pop up all over the place.

Patagonia, a large apparel manufacturer based in Ventura, California, has organized itself as a "B-corporation." That's a for-profit company whose articles of incorporation require it to take into account the interests of workers, the community, and the environment, as well as shareholders.

The performance of B-corporations according to this measure is regularly reviewed and certified by a nonprofit entity called B Lab.

To date, over 500 companies in sixty industries have been certified as B-corporations, including the household products firm "Seventh Generation."

In addition, 27 states have passed laws allowing companies to incorporate as "benefit corporations." This gives directors legal protection to consider the interests of all stakeholders rather than just the shareholders who elected them.

We may be witnessing the beginning of a return to a form of capitalism that was taken for granted in America sixty years ago.

Then, most CEOs assumed they were responsible for all their stakeholders.

"The job of management," proclaimed Frank Abrams, chairman of Standard Oil of New Jersey, in 1951, "is to maintain an equitable and working balance among the claims of the various directly interested groups ... stockholders, employees, customers, and the public at large."

Johnson & Johnson publicly stated that its "first responsibility" was to patients, doctors, and nurses, and not to investors.

What changed? In the 1980s, corporate raiders began mounting unfriendly takeovers of companies that could deliver higher returns to their shareholders - if they abandoned their other stakeholders.

The raiders figured profits would be higher if the companies fought unions, cut workers' pay or fired them, automated as many jobs as possible or moved jobs abroad, shuttered factories, abandoned their communities, and squeezed their customers.

Although the law didn't require companies to maximize shareholder value, shareholders had the legal right to replace directors. The raiders pushed them to vote out directors who wouldn't make these changes and vote in directors who would (or else sell their shares to the raiders, who'd do the dirty work).

Since then, shareholder capitalism has replaced stakeholder capitalism. Corporate raiders have morphed into private equity managers, and unfriendly takeovers are rare. But it's now assumed corporations exist only to maximize shareholder returns.

Are we better off? Some argue shareholder capitalism has proven more efficient. It has moved economic resources to where they're most productive, and thereby enabled the economy to grow faster.

By this view, stakeholder capitalism locked up resources in unproductive ways. CEOs were too complacent. Companies were too fat. They employed workers they didn't need, and paid them too much. They were too tied to their communities.

But maybe, in retrospect, shareholder capitalism wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Look at the flat or declining wages of most Americans, their growing economic insecurity, and the abandoned communities that litter the nation.

Then look at the record corporate profits, CEO pay that's soared into the stratosphere, and Wall Street's financial casino (along with its near meltdown in 2008 that imposed collateral damage on most Americans).

You might conclude we went a bit overboard with shareholder capitalism.


The directors of "Market Basket" are now considering selling the company. Arthur T. has made a bid [3], but other bidders have offered more.

Reportedly, some prospective bidders think they can squeeze more profits out of the company than Arthur T. did.

But Arthur T. knew may have known something about how to run a business that made it successful in a larger sense.

Only some of us are corporate shareholders, and shareholders have won big in America over the last three decades.

But we're all stakeholders in the American economy, and many stakeholders have done miserably.

Maybe a bit more stakeholder capitalism is in order.

172
At age 13, jazz great Thelonious Monk ran into trouble at Harlem's Apollo Theater. The reason: he was too good. The famously precocious pianist was, as they say, a “natural,” and by that point had won the Apollo’s amateur competition so many times that he was barred from re-entering. To be sure, Monk practiced, a lot actually. But two new studies, and the fact that he taught himself to read music as a child before taking a single lesson, suggest that he likely had plenty of help from his genes.

The question of what accounts for the vast variability in people’s aptitudes for skilled and creative pursuits goes way back — are experts born with their skill, or do they acquire it? Victorian polymath Sir Francis Galton — coiner of the phrase "nature and nurture" and founder of the “eugenics” movement through which he hoped to improve the biological make-up of the human species through selective coupling — held the former view, noting that certain talents run in families.

Other thinkers, perhaps more ethically palatable than Galton, have argued that mastering nearly any skill can be achieved through rote repetition — through practice.

A 1993 study by Ericsson and colleagues helped popularize the idea that we can all practice our way to tuba greatness if we so choose. The authors found that by age 20 elite musicians had practiced for an average of 10,000 hours, concluding that differences in skill are not “due to innate talent.” Author Malcolm Gladwell lent this idea some weight in his 2008 book “Outliers.” Gladwell writes that greatness requires an enormous time investment and cites the “10,000-Hour Rule” as a major key to success in various pursuits from music (The Beatles) to software supremacy (Bill Gates).

However, new research led by Michigan State University psychology professor David Z. Hambrick suggests that, unfortunately for many of us, success isn’t exclusively a product of determination — that despite even the most hermitic practice routine, our genes might still leave greatness out of reach.

Hambrick and his colleague Elliot Tucker-Drob, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas, set out to investigate the genetic influences on musical accomplishment using data from a study of 850 same-sex twin pairs from the 1960s. Participants where originally queried on their musical successes and how often they practiced, both of which Hambrick found to have a genetic component. One quarter of the genetic influence on musical accomplishment appears related to the act of practicing itself. Certain genes and genotypes presumably confer qualities that drive some kids to hole up in their basement and, at the expense of their family’s sanity, perfect that drum fill — traits like musical aptitude, musical enjoyment and motivation, that in turn could draw reinforcement from parents and teachers, leading to even more desire to practice. Hambrick's findings don't reveal what accounts for the remaining majority of genetic influence on musical accomplishment, though he assumes it's innate differences in faculties that would logically contribute to musical ability, such as sound processing and motor coordination.

But it gets more complicated. The new findings suggest that it's the way our genes and environment interact that is most crucial to musical accomplishment. Not only do genetically-influenced qualities contribute to whether people are likely to practice, Hambrick’s data show that the genetic influence on musical success was far larger in those who practiced more. It was previously thought that people might start out with a genetic leg up for a particular activity, but that skill derived through practice could eventually surpass any genetic predilections. “Our results suggest that it’s the other way around,” explains Hambrick, “that genes become more, not less important in differentiating people as they practice…genetic potentials for skilled performance are most fully expressed and fostered by practice."
In other words, people have various genetically determined basic abilities, or talents, that render them better or worse at certain skills, but that can be nurtured through environmental influences. Hence Hambrick is far from down on dedication: “If you want to be a better musician, practice! If you want to be a better golfer, practice!”

A similar study forthcoming in Psychological Science by Miriam A. Mosing of Stockholm's Karolinska Institute leans even heavier on the role of genes in musicality. Mosing and colleagues looked at the association between music practice and specific musical abilities like rhythm, melody and pitch discrimination in over 10,000 identical Swedish twins. They reported that the propensity to practice was between 40% and 70% heritable and that there was no difference in musical ability between twins with varying amounts of cumulative practice. "Music practice,” they conclude, “may not causally influence musical ability and … genetic variation among individuals affects both ability and inclination to practice."

Though both new studies focused on musicality, the findings can in theory be extrapolated to other skilled and creative activities. Similar data exist suggesting a genetic component to chess mastery, and Hambrick is currently analyzing the same twin data set to assess the genetics of scientific accomplishment. Not to get overly reductionist, but it could be assumed that nearly all of our talents and cognitive characteristics are least partly influenced by our respective strings of nucleotides. Complex pursuits, whether creative or technical, involve numerous communicating regions from all over the brain (in contrast to the overly simplistic and now debunked "left brain/right brain" assignments for analytical vs creative types). These structures and the brain’s general blueprint are shaped by our genetic code throughout development; also genes encode for the proteins that run our bodies and brains while plenty of data link specific genetic profiles with varying cognitive abilities.

Like all studies, Hambrick’s has its limitations. The assessments of musical practice and accomplishment were “fairly coarse” and the study subjects were primarily high-achieving students, though not specifically selected for elite musical ability. And while beyond the scope of both Hambrick’s and Mosing’s investigations, their work evokes the question of what it is to be “good” at something — how to reconcile the murky, often contentious divide between technical proficiency and creativity or artistic worth. Virtuosity can come across cold while three sloppy guitar chords can register in deep, mind-altering, meaningful ways. “No one would argue that the Sex Pistols or The Ramones — or even The Beatles or The Rolling Stones — were the most technically proficient musicians,” says Hambrick, “but they created something that, for whatever reason, resonated with people. I think it would be interesting to measure both creativity and expertise in the same sample. My guess is they are both are influenced by genes, but by different genes.”

It’s potentially unsettling that our abilities are so influenced by a genetic crapshoot. Some people people will always be maddeningly proficient at shredding through guitar solos, or blowing tubas, or winning amateur competitions at the Apollo Theater. But Hambrick sees his findings as constructive. If practicing our way to being just pretty good at something isn’t enough, we can better seek our strengths. More importantly we can avoid setting up unrealistic expectations for children: “I think it’s important to let kids try a lot of different things…and find out what they’re good at, which is probably also what they’ll enjoy. But the idea that anyone can become an expert at most anything isn't scientifically defensible, and pretending otherwise is harmful to society and individuals.”

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-do-great-musicians-have-in-common-dna/?WT.mc_id=SA_Facebook

173
Raymond Burse hasn't held a minimum-wage job since his high school and college years, when he worked side jobs on golf courses and paving crews. Yet this summer, the interim president at Kentucky State University made a large gesture to his school's lowest-paid employees. Burse announced that he would take a 25 percent salary cut to boost their wages.

The 24 school employees making less than $10.25 an hour, who mostly serve as custodial staff, groundskeepers and lower-end clerical workers, will see their pay rise to that new baseline. Some had been making as little as $7.25, the current federal minimum. Burse, who assumed the role of interim president in June, says he asked the school's chief financial officer how much such an increase would cost. The amount: $90,125.


"I figured it was easier for me to forgo that amount, rather than adding an additional burden on the institution," Burse says. "I had been thinking about it almost since the day they started talking to me about being interim president."

Burse announced his decision to take the funds out of his salary in a board meeting at the end of July, and the school ratified his employment contract on the spot — decreasing it from $349,869 to $259,744. He has pledged to take further salary cuts any time new minimum-wage employees are hired on his watch, to bring their hourly rate to $10.25.

This isn't Burse's first time leading KSU. He served as president from 1982 to 1989, before joining a law firm in Louisville, Ken., and then becoming a vice president and general counsel at GE. He will hold the school's interim leadership role for at least a year, or longer if they need more time to find a permanent replacement.

Burse describes himself as someone who believes in raising wages, and who also has high expectations and demands for his staff. "I thought that if I'm going to ask them to really be committed and give this institution their all, I should be doing something in return," Burse says. "I thought it was important."

Earlier this year, the Kentucky House passed a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 by July  2016, but the bill failed to pass the state's Senate. There have been a few recent instances of colleges boosting their minimum wage on campus, such as at Hampton University in Virginia, where the president made a personal donation to increase workers' salaries. Yet at most organizations that have made news for their decisions to increase pay, like IKEA and GAP, the funding isn't tied to deductions in leaders' salaries.

"I didn’t have any examples of it having been done out there and I didn’t do it to be an example to anyone else," Burse says. "I did it to do right by the employees here."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-leadership/wp/2014/08/05/kentucky-state-president-to-share-his-salary-with-schools-lowest-paid-workers/?tid=sm_fb

174
"Practically every food you buy in a store for consumption by humans is genetically modified food. There are no wild, seedless watermelons. There's no wild cows." — Neil deGrasse Tyson


Cosmos star Neil deGrasse Tyson is known for defending climate science and the science of evolution. And now, in a video recently posted on YouTube (the actual date when it was recorded is unclear), he takes a strong stand on another hot-button scientific topic: Genetically modified foods.

In the video, Tyson can be seen answering a question posed in French about "des plantes transgenetiques"—responding with one of his characteristic, slowly-building rants.

"Practically every food you buy in a store for consumption by humans is genetically modified food," asserts Tyson. "There are no wild, seedless watermelons. There's no wild cows...You list all the fruit, and all the vegetables, and ask yourself, is there a wild counterpart to this? If there is, it's not as large, it's not as sweet, it's not as juicy, and it has way more seeds in it. We have systematically genetically modified all the foods, the vegetables and animals that we have eaten ever since we cultivated them. It's called artificial selection." You can watch the full video above.

In fairness, critics of GM foods make a variety of arguments that go beyond the simple question of whether the foods we eat were modified prior to the onset of modern biotechnology. They also draw a distinction between modifying plants and animals through traditional breeding and genetic modification that requires the use of biotechnology, and involves techniques such as inserting genes from different species.

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/07/neil-degrasse-tyson-on-gmo

175
General Discussion / If minimum wages, why not maximum wages?
« on: July 29, 2014, 09:09:02 AM »
I was in a gathering of academics the other day, and we were discussing minimum wages. The debate moved on to increasing inequality, and the difficulty of doing anything about it. I said why not have a maximum wage? To say that the idea was greeted with incredulity would be an understatement. So you want to bring back price controls was once response. How could you possibly decide on what a maximum wage should be was another.

So why the asymmetry? Why is the idea of setting a maximum wage considered outlandish among economists?

The problem is clear enough. All the evidence, in the US and UK, points to the income of the top 1% rising much faster than the average. Although the share of income going to the top 1% in the UK fell sharply in 2010, the more up to date evidence from the US suggests this may be a temporary blip caused by the recession. The latest report from the High Pay Centre in the UK says:



“Typical annual pay for a FTSE 100 CEO has risen from around £100-£200,000 in the early 1980s to just over £1 million at the turn of the 21st century to £4.3 million in 2012. This represented a leap from around 20 times the pay of the average UK worker in the 1980s to 60 times in 1998, to 160 times in 2012 (the most recent year for which full figures are available).”

I find the attempts of some economists and journalists to divert attention away from this problem very revealing. The most common tactic is to talk about some other measure of inequality, whereas what is really extraordinary and what worries many people is the rise in incomes at the very top. The suggestion that we should not worry about national inequality because global inequality has fallen is even more bizarre.

What lies behind this huge increase in inequality at the top? The problem with the argument that it just represents higher productivity of CEOs and the like is that this increase in inequality is much more noticeable in the UK and US than in other countries, yet there is no evidence that CEOs in UK and US based firms have been substantially outperforming their overseas rivals. I discussed in this post a paper by Piketty, Saez and Stantcheva which set out a bargaining model, where the CEO can put more or less effort into exploiting their monopoly power within a company. According to this model, CEOs in the UK and US have since 1980 been putting more bargaining effort than their overseas counterparts. Why? According to Piketty et al, one answer may be that top tax rates fell in the 1980s in both countries, making the returns to effort much greater.

If you believe this particular story, then one solution is to put top tax rates back up again. Even if you do not buy this story, the suspicion must be that this increase in inequality represents some form of market failure. Even David Cameron agrees. The solution the UK government has tried is to give more power to the shareholders of the firm. The High Pay Centre notes that: “Thus far, shareholders have not used their new powers to vote down executive pay proposals at a single FTSE 100 company.”, although as the FT report shareholder ‘revolts’ are becoming more common. My colleague Brian Bell and John Van Reenen do note in a recent study “that firms with a large institutional investor base provide a symmetric pay-performance schedule while those with weak institutional ownership protect pay on the downside.” However they also note that “a specific group of workers that account for the majority of the gains at the top over the last decade [are] financial sector workers .. [and] .. the financial crisis and Great Recession have left bankers largely unaffected.”

So increasing shareholder power may only have a small effect on the problem. So why not consider a maximum wage? One possibility is to cap top pay as some multiple of the lowest paid, as a recent Swiss referendum proposed. That referendum was quite draconian, suggesting a multiple of 12, yet it received a large measure of popular support (35% in favour, 65% against). The Swiss did vote to ban ‘golden hellos and goodbyes’. One neat idea is to link the maximum wage to the minimum wage, which would give CEOs an incentive to argue for higher minimum wages! Note that these proposals would have no disincentive effect on the self-employed entrepreneur.

If economists have examined these various possibilities, I have missed it. One possible reason why many economists seem to baulk at this idea is that it reminds them too much of the ‘bad old days’ of incomes policies and attempts by governments to fix ‘fair wages’. But this is an overreaction, as a maximum wage would just be the counterpart to the minimum wage. I would be interested in any other thoughts about why the idea of a maximum wage seems not to be part of economists’ Overton window.

from economist Simon Wren Lewis's blog

176
Germany is the global leader in energy efficiency, and the U.S., with its ingrained car culture, is among the least energy efficient of the world’s largest economies.

That’s the conclusion of a new report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, which ranks the world’s 16 largest economies based on 31 different measurements of efficiency, including national energy savings targets, fuel economy standards for vehicles, efficiency standards for appliances, average vehicle mpg, and energy consumed per square foot of floor space in residential buildings, among other metrics.

The ACEEE report ranked the U.S. 13th overall, with Germany, Italy, smaller European Union nations, France and China making up the top five most energy efficient economies in the world.

Using energy more efficiently is a critical step countries can take to reduce their fossil fuels consumption and its related climate change-driving carbon dioxide and methane emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency used state energy efficiency standards to help set CO2 emissions reductions goals for each state in the agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, announced in June.

The U.S. was the 9th most energy-efficient economy in the ACEEE’s 2012 ranking, which criticized the country for focusing more on road construction than expanding public transportation.

Since then, the U.S. has made very little progress toward using energy more efficiently, the 2014 report says.This year, the U.S. took a major hit for its lack of a national energy savings plan or national greenhouse gas reduction plan, and its ongoing resistance to public transit.

Americans drive more than 9,300 miles per year, more than citizens in any other major world economy, according to the report. Australians, ranking second-to-last for annual per-capita vehicle miles traveled, drive 6,368 miles per year. India tops the list, driving 85 miles per year per capita, followed by China with 513 miles per year.

Americans also ranked last for the percentage of their travel accomplished using public transit — 10 percent, tying with Canada. Residents of China use transit 72 percent of the time, followed by Indians, who use transit 65 percent of the time.

The U.S. scored well for its energy efficiency tax credit and loan programs. And, it scored well for efficient ovens and refrigerators.

“We’re a leader in appliance and equipment standards,” said the report’s lead author, ACEEE national policy research analyst Rachel Young.The report called EnergyGuide appliance labels and Energy Star labels “best practices” for voluntary appliance and equipment standards.

The ACEEE gave the U.S. credit for energy efficiency standards included in residential and commercial building codes in many states, but criticized the country for not having adequate national building standards in place.

Young said the U.S. may improve in the energy efficiency rankings if the Clean Power Plan is finalized because a state may be able to increase the efficiency of its power plants and buildings as ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

“The rule could spur greater investment in energy efficiency throughout the country,” she said.

By contrast, Germany scored well in nearly every category in the survey, including spending on energy efficiency measures, aggressive building codes, and the country’s tax credit and loan programs.

Germany has set a national target of a 20 percent reduction in primary energy consumption below 2008 levels by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050.

The U.S. is one of only two countries in the survey with no national energy savings plan or greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan.



http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/u-s-gets-lackluster-energy-efficiency-rating/?WT.mc_id=SA_Facebook

177
General Discussion / AZ takes nearly 2 hours to execute prisoner...
« on: July 25, 2014, 01:10:39 PM »
In January the state of Ohio executed the convicted rapist and murderer Dennis McGuire. As in the other 31 U.S. states with the death penalty, Ohio used an intravenously injected drug cocktail to end the inmate's life. Yet Ohio had a problem. The state had run out of its stockpile of sodium thiopental, a once common general anesthetic and one of the key drugs in the executioner's lethal brew. Three years ago the only U.S. supplier of sodium thiopental stopped manufacturing the drug. A few labs in the European Union still make it, but the E.U. prohibits the export of any drugs if they are to be used in an execution.

Ohio's stockpile of pentobarbital, its backup drug, expired in 2009, and so the state turned to an experimental cocktail containing the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. But the executioner was flying blind. Execution drugs are not tested before use, and this experiment went badly. The priest who gave McGuire his last rites reported that McGuire struggled and gasped for air for 11 minutes, his strained breaths fading into small puffs that made him appear “like a fish lying along the shore puffing for that one gasp of air.” He was pronounced dead 26 minutes after the injection.

There is a simple reason why the drug cocktail was not tested before it was used: executions are not medical procedures. Indeed, the idea of testing how to most effectively kill a healthy person runs contrary to the spirit and practice of medicine. Doctors and nurses are taught to first “do no harm”; physicians are banned by professional ethics codes from participating in executions. Scientific protocols for executions cannot be established, because killing animal subjects for no reason other than to see what kills them best would clearly be unethical. Although lethal injections appear to be medical procedures, the similarities are just so much theater.

Yet even if executions are not medical, they can affect medicine. Supplies of propofol, a widely used anesthetic, came close to being choked off as a result of Missouri's plan to use the drug for executions. The state corrections department placed an order for propofol from the U.S. distributor of a German drug manufacturer. The distributor sent 20 vials of the drug in violation of its agreement with the manufacturer, a mistake that the distributor quickly caught. As the company tried in vain to get the state to return the drug, the manufacturer suspended new orders. The manufacturer feared that if the drug was used for lethal injection, E.U. regulators would ban all exports of propofol to the U.S. “Please, Please, Please HELP,” wrote a vice president at the distributor to the director of the Missouri corrections department. “This system failure—a mistake—1 carton of 20 vials—is going to affect thousands of Americans.”

This was a vast underestimate. Propofol is the most popular anesthetic in the U.S. It is used in some 50 million cases a year—everything from colonoscopies to cesareans to open-heart surgeries—and nearly 90 percent of the propofol used in the U.S. comes from the E.U. After 11 months, Missouri relented and agreed to return the drug.

Such incidents illustrate how the death penalty can harm ordinary citizens. Supporters of the death penalty counter that its potential to discourage violent crime confers a net social good. Yet no sound science supports that position. In 2012 the National Academies' research council concluded that research into any deterrent effect that the death penalty might provide is inherently flawed. Valid studies would need to compare homicide rates in the same states at the same time, but both with and without capital punishment—an impossible experiment. And it is clear that the penal system does not always get it right when meting out justice. Since 1973 the U.S. has released 144 prisoners from death row because they were found to be innocent of their crimes.

Concerns about drug shortages for executions have led some states to propose reinstituting the electric chair or the gas chamber—methods previously dismissed by the courts as cruel and unusual. In one sense, these desperate states are on to something. Strip off its clinical facade, and death by intravenous injection is no less barbarous.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/lete28099s-stop-pretending-the-death-penalty-is-a-medical-procedure-editorial/

178
Spamalot / hey AD
« on: July 24, 2014, 12:04:47 AM »
pyopencl & mpmath were waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay easier to install in ubuntu than windows

suuuuuuuck it bro

although i still have no idea what made pyopencl finally start working. the 'easier' install still took 7 hours, woo

179
General Discussion / 10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On
« on: July 23, 2014, 12:13:04 PM »
By 2017, millennials will have more buying power than any other generation. But so far, they're not spending like their parents did.

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Millennials are often maligned for their lack of financial literacy, but there is one money skill the younger generation has in spades: saving. After growing up during the Great Recession, millennials want to keep every cent they can. (If you don’t believe us, just check out this Reddit Frugal thread inspired by our recent post on millennial retirement super-saving.)

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This generation may be way ahead of where their parents were at the same age when it comes to preparing for retirement, but the frugality doesn’t end there. Kids these days also aren’t making the same buying decisions our parents made. Here are 10 things that a disproportionate number of today’s young adults won’t shell out for.

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1. Pay TV
The average American still consumes 71% of his or her media on television, but for people age 14-24, it’s only 46%—with the lion’s share being consumed on phone, tablet, or PC. Many young people aren’t getting a TV at all. Nielsen found that most “Zero-TV” households tended toward the younger set, with adults under 35 making up 44% of all television teetotalers.

Millennials aren’t the only ones tuning out the tube. In 2013, Nielsen reported aggregate TV watching time shrank for the first time in four years.

2. Investments
By all accounts, young people should be investing in equities. Those just entering the work force have plenty of time before retirement to ride out market blips, and experts recommend younger investors place 75% to 90% of their portfolio in stocks or stock funds.

Unfortunately, after growing up in the Great Recession, millennials would rather put their money in a sock drawer than on Wall Street. When Wells Fargo surveyed roughly 1,500 adults between 22 and 32 years of age, 52% stated they were “not very” or “not at all” confident in the stock market as a place to invest for retirement.

Of those surveyed, only 32% said they had the majority of their savings in stocks or mutual funds. (Too be fair, an equal number admitted to having no clue what they were invested in, so hopefully their trust fund advisors are making good decisions.)

3. Mass-Market Beer
Bud. Coors. Miller. When parents want a drink, they reach for the classics. Maybe a Heineken for a little extra adventure. Millennials? Not so much. When Generation Now (thank god that moniker didn’t catch on) wants to get boozy, the data says we prefer indie brews.

According to one recent study, 43% of millennials say craft beer tastes better than mainstream beers, while only 32% of baby boomers said the same. And 50% of millennials have consumed craft brew, versus 35% of the overall population. Even Pete Coors, CEO of guess-which-brand, blames pesky kids for his beer’s declining sales.

4. Cars
Back when the Beach Boys wrote Little Deuce Coupe in 1963, there was a whole genre called “Car Songs.” Nowadays you’d be hard pressed to find someone under 35 who knows what a “competition clutch with the four on the floor” even means.

The sad fact is that American car culture is dying a slow death. Yahoo Finance reports the percentage of 16-to-24-year-olds with a driver’s license has plummeted since 1997 and is now below 70% for the first time since Little Deuce Coupe’s release. According to the Atlantic, “In 2010, adults between the ages of 21 and 34 bought just 27 percent of all new vehicles sold in America, down from the peak of 38 percent in 1985.”

5. Homes
It’s not that millennials don’t want to own homes—nine in ten young people do—it’s that they can’t afford them. Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that homeownership rate among adults younger than 35 fell by 12 percent between 2006 and 2011, and 2 million more were living with Mom and Dad.

It’s going to be a while before young people start purchasing homes again. The economic downturn set this generation’s finances back years, and reforms like the Dodd-Frank Act have made it even more difficult for the newly employed to get credit. Now that unemployment is decreasing, working millennials are still renting before they buy.

6. Bulk Warehouse Club Goods
This one initially sounds weird, but remember: millennials don’t own cars or homes. So a Costco membership doesn’t make much sense. It’s not easy to bring home a year’s supply of Nesquik and paper towels without a ride, and even if you take a bus, there’s no room to stash hoards of kitchen supplies in a studio apartment.

Responding to tepid millennial demand, the big box giant is trying to win over youngsters by partnering with Google to deliver certain items right to your home. However, even Costco doesn’t seem all that excited about its new strategy.

“Don’t expect us to go to everybody’s doorstep,” Richard Galanti, Costco’s chief financial officer, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “Delivering small quantities of stuff to homes is not free. Ultimately, somebody’s got to pay for it.”

7. Weddings
Getting hitched early in life used to be something of a right of passage into adulthood. A full 65% of the Silent Generation married at age 18 to 32. Since then, though, Americans have been waiting longer and longer to tie the knot. Pew Research found 48% of boomers were married while in that age range, compared to 35% in Gen X. Millennials are bringing up the rear at just 26%.

Just like with homes, it’s not that today’s youth just hates wedding dresses—far from it. Sixty-nine percent of millennials told Pew they would like to marry, but many are waiting until they’re more financially stable before doing so.

8. Children
It’s hard to spend money on children if you don’t have any.

After weddings, you probably saw this one coming, but millennials’ procreation abstention isn’t only because they’re not married. Many just aren’t planning on having kids. In a 2012 study, fewer than half of millennials (42%) said they planned to have children. That’s down from 78% 20 years ago.

Stop me if you heard this one: it’s not that millennials don’t want children (or homes, or weddings, or ponies), it’s that this whole recession thing has really scared them off any big financial or life commitments. Most young people in the above study hoped to have kids one day, but didn’t think their economic stars would align to make it happen.

9. Health insurance
According the Kaiser Family Foundation, adults ages 18 to 34 made up 40% of the uninsured population in the pre-Obamacare world. Why don’t young people get health coverage? Because they’re probably not going to get sick. This demographic is so healthy that those in the health insurance game refer to them as “invincibles.”

Since the Affordable Care Act, more millennials are gradually buying insurance. Twenty-eight percent of Obamacare’s 8 million new enrollees were 18-34 year-olds. That’s well short of the 40% the Congressional Budget Office wanted in order to subsidize older Americans’ plans, but better than the paltry number of millennials who signed up before Zach Galifianakis got involved.

10. Anything you tell them to buy
When buying a product, older Americans tend to trust the advice of people they know. Sixty-six percent of boomers said the recommendations of friends and family members influences their purchasing decisions more than a stranger’s online review.

Most millennials, on the other hand, don’t want their parent’s or peer’s help. Fifty-one percent of young adults say they prefer product reviews from people they don’t know.

http://time.com/money/2820241/10-things-millennials-wont-shell-out-for/

180
A reporter asked me for a quote regarding the importance of statistics. But, after thinking about it for a moment, I decided that statistics isn’t so important at all. A world without statistics wouldn’t be much different from the world we have now.

What would be missing, in a world without statistics?

Science would be pretty much ok. Newton didn’t need statistics for his theories of gravity, motion, and light, nor did Einstein need statistics for the theory of relativity. Thermodynamics and quantum mechanics are fundamentally statistical, but lots of progress could’ve been made in these areas without statistics. The second law of thermodynamics is an observable fact, ditto the two-slit experiment and various experimental results revealing the nature of the atom. The A-bomb and, almost certainly, the H-bomb, maybe these would never have been invented without statistics, but on balance I think most people would feel that the world would be a better place without these particular scientific developments. Without statistics, we could forget about discovering the Hibbs boson etc, but that doesn’t seem like such a loss for humanity.

At a more applied level, statistics helped to win World War 2, most notably in cracking the Enigma code but also in various operations-research efforts. And it’s my impression that “our” statistics were better than “their” statistics. So that’s something.

Where would civilian technology be without statistics? I’m not sure. I don’t have a sense of how necessary statistics was for quantum theory. In a world without statistics, would the study of quantum physics have progressed far enough so that transistors were invented? This one, I don’t know. And without statistics we wouldn’t have modern quality control, so maybe we’d still be driving around in AMC Gremlins and the like. Scary thought, but not a huge deal, I’d think. No transistors, though, that would make a difference in my life. No transistors, no blogging! And I guess we could also forget about various unequivocally beneficial technological innovations such as modern pacemakers, hearing aids, cochlear implants, and Clippy.

Modern biomedicine uses lots and lots of statistics, but would medicine be so much worse without it? I don’t think so, at least not yet. You don’t need statistics to see that penicillin works, nor to see that mosquitos transmit disease and that nets keep the mosquitos out. Without statistics, I assume that various mistakes would get into the system, various ineffective treatments that people think are effective, etc. But on balance I doubt these would be huge mistakes, and the big ones would eventually get caught, with careful record-keeping even without statistical inference and adjustments. Without statistics, biologists would not be able to sequence the gene, and I assume they’d be much slower at developing tools such as tests that allow you to check for chromosomal abnormalities in amnio. I doubt all these things add up to much yet, but I guess there’s promise for the future. Statistics is also necessary for a lot of drug development—right now my colleagues and I are working on a pharmacodynamic model of dosing—but, again, without any of this, it’s not clear the world would be so much different.

The Poverty Lab team use statistics and randomized experiments to see what works to help the lives of poor people around the world. That’s cool but I’m not ultimately convinced this all makes a difference in the big picture. Or, to put it another way, I suspect that the statistical validation serves mostly as a way to build political consensus for economic policies that will be effective in sharing the wealth. By demonstrating in a scientific way that Treatment X is effective, this supports the idea that there is a way to help the sort of people who live in what Nicholas Wade would describe as “tribal” societies. So, sure, fine, but in this case the benefits of the statistical methods are somewhat indirect.

Without statistics, we wouldn’t have most of the papers in “Psychological Science,” but I could handle that. Piaget didn’t need any statistics, and I think the modern successors of Piaget could’ve done pretty much what they’ve done without statistics, just by carefully observation of major transitions.

Careful observation and precise measurement can be done, with or without statistical methods. Indeed, researchers often use statistics as a substitute for careful observation and precise measurement. That is a horrible thing to do, and if you have a clear understanding of statistical theory, you can see why. But statistics is hard, and lots of researchers (and journal editors, news reporters, etc.) don’t have that understanding. When statistics is used as a substitute for, rather than an adjunct to, scientific measurement, we get problems.

OK, here’s another one: no statistics, no psychometrics. That’s too bad but one could make the argument that, on the whole, psychometrics has done more harm than good (value-added assessment, anyone?). Don’t get me wrong—I like psychometrics, and a strong argument could be made that it’s done more good than harm—but my point here is that the net benefit is not clear; a case would have to be made.

Polling. Can’t do it well without statistics. But, would a world without polling be so horrible? Much as I hate to admit it, I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, I think polling is on balance a good thing—I agree with George Gallup that measurement of public opinion is an important part of the modern democratic process—but I wouldn’t want to hang too much of the benefits of statistics on this one use, given that I expect lots of people would argue that opinion polls do more harm than good in politics.

The alternative to good statistics is . . .

Perhaps the most important benefits of statistics come not from the direct use of statistical methods in science and technology, but rather in helping us learn about the world. Statisticians from Francis Galton and Ronald Fisher onward have used statistics to give us a much deeper understanding of human and biological variation. I can’t see how any non-statistical, mechanistic model of the world could reproduce that level of understanding. Forget about p-values, Bayesian inference, and the rest: here I’m simply talking about the nature of correlation and variation.

For a more humble example, consider Bill James. Baseball is a silly example, sure, but the point is to see how much understanding has been gained in this area through statistical measurement and comparison. As James so memorably wrote, the alternative to good statistics is not “no statistics,” it’s “bad statistics.” James wrote about baseball commentators who would make asinine arguments which they would back up by picking out numbers without context. In politics, the equivalent might be a proudly humanistic columnist such as David Brooks supporting his views by just making up numbers or featuring various “too good to be true” statistics and not checking them.

So here’s one benefit to the formal study of statistics: Without any statistics, there still would be numbers, along with people trying to interpret them.

Could governments and large businesses be managed well without statistics? I’m not sure. Given that half the U.S. Congress seems willing to shut down the government from time to time, it’s not clear than any agreement on the numbers will have much to do with political action. Similarly, all the statistics in the world don’t seem to be stopping the euro-zone from drifting. But maybe things would be much worse without a common core of statistical agreement. I don’t know; unfortunately this seems like the sort of causal question that is too difficult for statistics to answer.

Finally, one way that statistics is potentially having a huge impact in our lives is through the measurement of global warming and all the rest. But I’m guessing that a lot of this could be done with a pre-statistical understanding. The basic physics is already there, as would be the careful measurements. Statistical modeling is certainly relevant to the study of climate change—if you’re trying to reconstruct historical climate conditions from tree-ring data, it’s tough enough to do it with statistical modeling, I can’t imagine how it could be done otherwise—but the basic patterns of carbon dioxide, temperature, melting ice, etc., are apparent in any case. And, even with statistics, much uncertainty remains.

Summary

When I started writing this post, I was thinking that statistics doesn’t really matter, but I think that’s because I was focusing on some of the more highly-publicized by less beneficial applications of statistics: the use of statistical experimentation and inference to get p-values for tabloid-bait scientific papers, or for Google, Amazon, etc., to perfect their techniques for squeezing money out of their customers or, even at best, to test a medical treatment that increases survival rate for some rare disease by 2 percentage points. But statistics is central to how we think about the world. I still think that statistics is much less central to our lives than, say, chemistry. But it ain’t nothing.

http://andrewgelman.com/2014/07/23/world-without-statistics/

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