How Female Genius Changed the World, One Big Idea at a Time
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This Team of Female Astronomers Revolutionized Our Understanding of Stars
This video is part of a series on female genius, in proud collaboration with 92Y's 7 Days of Genius Festival.
The most fundamental knowledge we have of stars comes from a team of Harvard astronomers working at the turn of the 19th century. This team, known as the "Harvard computers" for their ambitious calculations, was composed entirely of females. As astronomer Anna Frebel explains, male researchers were interested in galaxies — the day's hot topic. As a result, women pioneered the field of stellar research. Their methods of cataloging stars and determining their chemical composition are still taught at universities today.
Why Fewer Women Succeed at the Highest Levels of Science — From a Woman Who Did
This video is part of a series on female genius, in proud collaboration with 92Y's 7 Days of Genius Festival.
"Sometimes you have to learn when not to be too much of a lady," says Joy Hirsch. "So if you have to kick a**, just go do it." Director of the Brain Function Laboratory at Yale University, Hirsch knows the challenges that women face in professional life. Often valued for more traditional qualities like the ability to teach or mentor, women aren't always first thought of as leaders; but of course they are, and always have been. The challenge ahead of us, as Hirsch says, is to "allow ambitious, talented women to contribute as best they can."
Why We Explore the Oceans
97% of Earth’s water is ocean. Without the ocean, Earth would be much like Mars: a bleak, barren, inhospitable place.
The Dangers of Deep Sea Diving
Forget sharks and predatory animals—the most dangerous aspect of diving is oxygen.
If The Oceans Are in Trouble, We're in Trouble
Sharks are scary, but an ecosystem without them is even scarier.
How a 27 Year-Old Poet Became the World's First Computer Programmer
This video is part of a series on female genius, in proud collaboration with 92Y's 7 Days of Genius Festival.
The story of Ada Lovelace, the world's first computer programmer, begins with a mathematically gifted mother and, as father, the Romantic poet Lord Byron. Notorious for his philandering, Byron contributed the strong poetical streak to his daughter's worldview. Lovelace's interest in poetry, however, was something her mother wanted stamp out, surrounding Lovelace with mathematics at the exclusion of the arts. But when Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the mechanical engineer behind the first computer, she found an outlet for her creativity, writing the first complete computer algorithm and becoming the world's first computer programmer, all at the age of twenty-seven.
Behind Our Favorite Children's Books, a Woman Who Championed Imagination
Some of our most timeless children's books — The Giving Tree, Charlotte's Web, Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon — are the result of the little-known publisher Ursula Nordstrom. Editor-in-chief of children's books at Harper & Row through the middle of the 20th century, Nordstrom championed complex, non-commercial stories for children at a time when it was unpopular to do so. The friendships she built with authors like Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are, helped embolden their talents and bestow their gifts upon children of all ages.
To Expose the Truth about Mental Asylums, Nellie Bly Feigned Insanity to Study One
Nellie Bly may be little known but her achievements are truly outsized. She spoke out for women's rights; carved out a place for women in journalism by feigning insanity, entering a mental institution, and covering what she saw as a reporter; and she beat Jules Verne's hypothetical record of traveling around the world in 80 days, accomplishing the feat in just 72.
Maria Mitchell: America's First Celebrity Scientist
While England's Charles Darwin studied the foundations of biological science, America's Maria Mitchell became famous for her celestial discoveries. She was our nation's first professional female astronomer. Maria Popova explains: "In 1831 when she was still a teenager obsessed with stargazing she heard that the king of Denmark had offered a gold medal valued at 20 ducats, which was a lot of money at the time to the first person to discover a telescopic comet. It took her 16 years to master the science and the craft of observation, but she did become the first person and C1847T1 was known for 100 years Miss Mitchell's Comet."
- U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
- The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
- The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
The nationwide protests that were catalyzed by the police killing of George Floyd led to the possibility that President Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act. This piece of legislation would presumably justify the use of the military to quell the demonstrations that on numerous occasions turned violent. The legality and reality of that is still under debate, highlighting a very controversial power of an American President. While the U.S. military is banned from participating in law enforcement activities on its own soil, the Insurrection Act can provide the exceptions.
The Act was signed into law by Thomas Jefferson in 1807, and has a long history of being used to quell race and labor-related riots. The first time the act was modified was in 1861, when in anticipation of the calamity that would follow the Civil War, a section was added allowing the feds to use the National Guard and the army even against the wishes of state governments. The language specified the case of "rebellion against the authority of the government of the United States" as the cause that would justify sending in the troops.
The 1871 amendment to the act was actually meant to protect African-Americans from attacks by the Ku Klux Klan. The new wording stated then that the federal government can invoke the act for the enforcement of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This came into play during the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War and in the course of the desegregation incidents that were part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.
One important caveat to the use of the act – since 1967 it has only been invoked upon request from the states and not under exclusive authority of the President. The actual wording of the act states its purpose is to address "whenever there is an insurrection in any State against its government, the President may, upon the request of its legislature or of its governor if the legislature cannot be convened," call upon military troops. A 1956 provision, however, says the President can use it without state governments in cases where "unlawful obstructions" or "rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws". In the current situation in the U.S., following the George Floyd murder at the hands of the police, the states have not asked Trump for such help.
Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
One of the early Presidents to invoke the act was Andrew Jackson. He used it to put down the slave rebellion by Nat Turner in 1831 and to settle a labor dispute by workers of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1834.
Ulysses S. Grant relied upon the Insurrection Act several times, for the suppression of the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina in 1871 and to put down the unrest that started after the contested 1872 Louisiana gubernatorial election.
Rutherford B. Hayes used the Insurrection Act for the troops needed to deal with the Lincoln County War of 1878, the one that famously involved Billy the Kid.
The tensions brought on by the railroad worker Pullman Strike of 1894 and the 1914 mine worker uprising dubbed the "Colorado Coalfield War" forced, respectively, Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson, to rely on the act to bring back order.
Colorado National Guard troops during the Ludlow strike. 1914.
Credit: Survey Associates, Inc.
In more modern times, the Insurrection Act's re-appearance is tied exclusively to breakdowns in race relations. It was employed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1943 Detroit race riot and by Dwight D. Eisenhower to protect the Little Rock Nine – a group of nine African American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. John F. Kennedy used the act a couple of times, both times to fight segregation. He called upon it during the Ole Miss Riot of 1962 and to enforce desegregation in Alabama's public schools in 1963.
Lyndon B. Johnson was most prolific in engaging the Insurrection Act, resorting to it four times – during the bloody 1967 Detroit riot as well as the 1968 riots in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Baltimore that were precipitated by the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King.
In recent times, President George H. W. Bush was the last one to invoke the act, calling up troops to restore calm in the 1992 Los Angeles riots, prompted by the beating of Rodney King.
National Guardsmen in South Los Angeles, 30 April 1992.
Photo credit: HAL GARB/AFP via Getty Images
- Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
- Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
- Where's an El Niño when you need one?
Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.
NOAA expects a busy season
According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.
Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.
What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.
This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.
Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:
- The ocean there is warmer than usual.
- There's reduced vertical wind shear.
- Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
- There have been strong West African monsoons this year.
Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:
ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.
First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.
Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.
Image source: NOAA
Batten down the hatches early
If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.
Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."
Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.
- The feature is called Manage Activity, and it's currently available through mobile and Facebook Lite.
- Manage Activity lets users sort old content by filters like date and posts involving specific people.
- Some companies now use AI-powered background checking services that scrape social media profiles for problematic content.
Facebook is rolling out a new feature designed to help users delete old posts in bulk instead of one at a time.
The company announced Tuesday that its "Manage Activity" tool will allow users to delete posts en masse, or archive them so that they're accessible only to the user. Manage Activity will let users organize old content in batches, sorted by filers like specific date range and posts involving certain people.
Manage Activity is available today on mobile and Facebook Lite, and the company says it'll be functional for desktop users in the future.
"Whether you're entering the job market after college or moving on from an old relationship, we know things change in people's lives, and we want to make it easy for you to curate your presence on Facebook to more accurately reflect who you are today," Facebook wrote in a statement. "That's why we're launching Manage Activity to help you archive or trash old posts, all in one place."
Why is Facebook releasing the feature now? A company spokesperson told Recode that users and privacy advocates have long requested better control over past posts. Users have had access to the "limit past posts" option, which blocks the public from accessing a user's posts past a certain date. But there has been no way to delete old content in batches.
Social media background checks
Now, the feature could bring users some peace of mind. After all, the platform currently has more than 2.6 billion monthly active users, and some of these users created accounts in their teens, around the time Facebook became widely available in 2006. As these veteran users get older, it seems likely that many would want to delete years-old posts, whether because content is embarrassing, outdated or professionally jeopardizing.
Some employers now use automated or third-party background checks that scrape candidates' social media accounts. These checks can search for content that's racist, sexually explicit, criminal or otherwise offensive.
But they're not always accurate. One AI-powered background service called Checkr has even faced lawsuits from people who claim the company's algorithms made mistakes that cost them job opportunities.
How to use Manage Activity
It's unclear when Manage Activity will become available on desktop. But to learn how to use it on mobile or Facebook Lite, check out this instructional video from Facebook.
- A new theory takes the direct-collapse theory explaining the creation of supermassive black holes around which galaxies turn ones step further.
- The advance is made possible by a super-powerful computer, ATERUI II.
- The new theory is the first that accounts for the likely assortment of heavy elements in early-universe gas clouds.
It seems that pretty much every galaxy we see is spinning around a supermassive black hole. When we say "supermassive," we mean BIG: Each is about 100,000 to tens of billions times the mass of our Sun. Serving as the loci around which our galaxies twirl, they're clearly important to maintaining the universal structures we see. It would be nice to know how they form. We have a pretty good idea how normally-huge-but-not-massive black holes form, but as for the supermassive larger versions, not so much. It's a supermassive missing piece of the universe puzzle.
Now, in research published in Monthly Notices of the Astronomical Society, astrophysicists at Tohoku University in Japan reveal that they may have solved the riddle, supported by new computer simulations that show how supermassive black holes come to be.
The direct collapse theories
Glowing gas and dark dust within the Large Magellanic Cloud
Image source: ESA/Hubble and NASA
The favored theory about the birth of supermassive black holes up to now has been the "direct-collapse" theory. The theory proposes a solution to a cosmic riddle: Supermassive black holes seem to have been born a mere 690 million years after the Big Bang, not nearly long enough for the standard normal black hole genesis scenario to have played out, and on such a large scale. There are two versions of the direct-collapse theory.
One version proposes that if enough gas comes together in a supermassive gravitationally bound cloud, it can eventually collapse into a black hole, which, thanks the cosmic background-radiation-free nature of the very early universe, could then quickly pull in enough matter to go supermassive in a relatively short period of time.
According to astrophysicist Shantanu Basu of Western University in London, Ontario, this would only have been possible in the first 800 million years or so of the universe. "The black holes are formed over a duration of only about 150 million years and grow rapidly during this time," Basu told Live Science in the summer of 2019. "The ones that form in the early part of the 150-million-year time window can increase their mass by a factor of 10 thousand." Basu was lead author of research published last summer in Astrophysical Journal Letters that presented computer models showing this version of direct-collapse is possible.
Another version of the theory suggests that the giant gas cloud collapses into a supermassive star first, which then collapses into a black hole, which then — presumably again thanks to the state of the early universe — sucks up enough matter to go supermassive quickly.
There's a problem with either direct-collapse theory, however, beyond its relatively narrow time window. Previous models show it working only with pristine gas clouds comprised of hydrogen and helium. Other, heavier elements — carbon and oxygen, for example — break the models, causing the giant gas cloud to break up into smaller gas clouds that eventually form separate stars, end of story. No supermassive black hole, and not even a supermassive star for the second flavor of the direct-collapse theory.
A new model
Image source: NAOJ
Japan's National Astronomical Observatory has a supercomputer named "ATERUI II" that was commissioned in 2018. The Tohoku University research team, led by postdoctoral fellow Sunmyon Chon, used ATERUI II to run high-resolution, 3D, long-term simulations to verify a new version of the direct-collapse idea that makes sense even with gas clouds containing heavy elements.
Chon and his team propose that, yes, supermassive gas clouds with heavy elements do break up into smaller gas clouds that wind up forming smaller stars. However, they assert that's not the end of the story.
The scientists say that post-explosion, there remains a tremendous inward pull toward the center of the ex-cloud that drags in all those smaller stars, eventually causing them to grow into a single supermassive star, 10,000 times larger than the Sun. This is a star big enough to produce the supermassive black holes we see when it finally collapses in on itself.
"This is the first time that we have shown the formation of such a large black hole precursor in clouds enriched in heavy-elements," says Chon, adding, "We believe that the giant star thus formed will continue to grow and evolve into a giant black hole."
Modeling the behavior of an expanded number of elements within the cloud while faithfully carrying forward those models through the violent breakup of the cloud and its aftermath requires such high computational overhead that only a computer as advanced as ATERUI II could pull off.
Being able to develop a theory that takes into account, for the first time, the likely complexity of early-universe gas clouds makes the Tohoku University idea the most complete, plausible explanation of the universe's mysterious supermassive black holes. Kazuyuki Omukai, also of Tohoku University says, "Our new model is able to explain the origin of more black holes than the previous studies, and this result leads to a unified understanding of the origin of supermassive black holes."
America is experiencing some of its most widespread civil unrest in years following the death of George Floyd.
Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on 25 May, and his death has underscored the many ways race and ethnic background drives unequal experiences among many Americans.
These charts help illustrate key gaps impacting everything from opportunity to health.
1. Wide educational gaps
In the 70 years since the US Supreme Court ruled racial segregation of public schools unconstitutional, progress in improving racial educational divides has been slow and uneven. Gaps have narrowed by 30-40% when compared to the 1970s, but divides remain large.Improvement in 9-year-olds' NEAP math test scores (Image: Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis)
2. Limited access to improved earnings, mobility
For people of colour in America, education does not provide the same economic return as it might for other groups. People of colour, particularly women of colour, typically have lower salaries than white and male workers with similar levels of education.Even with similar educational levels, wen of colour are still earning less. (Image: Equitable Growth)
Income inequality is also stifling intergenerational mobility – the American Dream of children having a higher standard of living than their parents. Research from economist Raj Chetty in 2016 showed that at age 30 people born in 1940 had around a 90% chance of out-earning their parents. But for people born in 1980 this chance had fallen to half.
3. Outsized unemployment burdens
A lack of access to higher education or skilled work can make people of colour more vulnerable to unemployment during downturns and periods of economic growth. As researchers explained in one report from The Russell Sage Foundation and The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality: "An African American cannot count on education as providing the same relief against the risk of unemployment that it provides to other groups."
4. Health care insurance and life expectancy dynamics
Life expectancy gaps between white Americans and people of colour have begun to narrow, but inequities still exist thanks to a range of socio-economic factors such as income inequality, access to health insurance and adequate health care.
The disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on black Americans demonstrates some of the vulnerabilities the population faces.
5. Black imprisonment in the US is falling but remains disproportionate
The imprisonment rate among black Americans has fallen by over a third since 2006, and stands at around 1,500 prisoners for every 100,000 adults. But black Americans remain far more likely to be in prison than Hispanic and white Americans. The figures are particularly stark among some age groups: in the 35-39 age bracket about 1 in 20 black men were in state or federal prison in 2018.
Imprisonment Rates. (Image: Pew Research)
Black Americans made up a third of the sentenced prison population in 2018 – nearly triple their representation in the US adult population as a whole. They also make up a disproportionate number of fatal police shootings.