ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom dedicated to maintaining the presence of investigative journalism in modern media. It recently sent a team to participate in a ‘hackday’ with a theme of ‘newsgaming.’ While hackathons and similar dedicated coding days are not new, the notion of newsgaming – using games to better engage the reader with the story – is new to me.
ProPublica’s game – HeartSaver – focuses on New York City, where half a million people suffer from heart disease. The challenge – prevent as many heart attack deaths as possible by getting people to emergency rooms fast enough. It becomes complicated when considering the variations in quality of care. A patient may be very close to a sub-par emergency room, but the good emergency room is far enough away that the chances of survival decrease enough on the trip to offset the increased quality of care. The game uses Medicare, Google Directions, and mortality rate information to power its mechanics. Game play is simple – drag patients to the emergency room of your choice as they appear.
Go ahead, play the game. How does it help you understand the challenges of delivering effective health care for heart attack patients in New York City? Would you be more likely to read (or recommend) a story that comes with a news game?
Every so often there’s a grand plan to try and re-shape some large chunk of the federal government. Of those that have been suggested since I started blogging, those that manage to get anywhere are rarely the large-scale, often Cabinet-level, efforts. The last one was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and its effectiveness remains a matter of discussion (certainly when compared to the resources committed to the change).
But if the effort is focused even one or two levels ‘lower’ in the organization, there stands a better chance of the proposal going through. Think about changes in the centers and institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health, or reorganizations of sub-Cabinet level agencies.
An under-reported effort currently underway is the reorganization of the federal programs supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. As ScienceInsider noted, part of the President’s 2014 budget request includes shifting, consolidating and otherwise adjusting federal STEM education initiatives so they reside primarily in the Education Department and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Education Department would have responsibility for programs targeting K-12 education, and the NSF would handle programs for graduate and undergraduate education. Informal STEM education programs remain the responsibility of the Smithsonian Institution.
There are good reasons for making the change. Clearer responsibilities and an attempt to reduce unnecessary duplication of effort make good sense, especially in tight budgetary times. But there is always a challenge of preserving knowledge and access as programs are transferred to new homes. Research and education facilities do not easily switch from one organization to another, and personnel may not wish to transfer. This much was clear from the debates over the recent creation of a new center in the National Institutes of Health, and that did not involve cross-agency changes.
While this transition will be worth watching, it is not obvious that it will happen. As it is tied to the next fiscal year’s budget request, it depends on that budget being approved. Regrettably, that is no longer a sure thing. In point of fact, the safer bet may be to expect some kind of delay in passing a final budget for the next fiscal year, if it actually happens at all (the current year’s government spending was done without a passed budget, late or otherwise). Such is the ability of Congress to muck up the operation of government.
With the summer blockbuster season approaching in the movie theaters, this year has the potential to present some interesting science fiction material – possibly with policy implications. Oblivion was the first science fiction movie of the summer season. However, the one feature that I think has the highest potential for such discussions is Elysium, arriving in U.S. theaters in August. The second feature from Neill Blonkamp, who directed District 9, Elysium is set in a future society where the well-to-do are separated from the rest of society in a floating city. (For what it’s worth, a similar conflict is set on a floating city in the new video game Bioshock Infinite.) The setting of Elysium has the potential of heightening sociological tensions between economic classes – demonstrating the ability of science fiction to hold a (possibly funhouse) mirror to society.
On other science fiction fronts, a Republican state legislator in West Virginia has introduced a bill to require science fiction reading in the educational curriculum (H/T The Guardian). Introduced by Delegate Ray Canterbury in March, the bill would require integrating grade-appropriate science fiction works into the current reading, literature and other courses for middle and high school students. This is the second time Canterbury, who represents a district in the southern part of the state, has introduced the bill.
Not having been educated in West Virginia, I have no idea how common science fiction is in the educational curricula. In my middle and high school courses, there were some science fiction books assigned, but they were not done with the same idea underlying this bill – to get more kids into math and science. Not even all of the science fiction I taught in an introductory science studies course took such a perspective. From the bill (which is quite short)
“To stimulate interest in math and science among students in the public schools of this state, the State Board of Education shall prescribe minimum standards by which samples of grade-appropriate science fiction literature are integrated into the curriculum of existing reading, literature or other required courses for middle school and high school students.”
As the assigned science fiction texts of my early education were mainly of the dystopian variety, I don’t think they would fit the bill, so to speak. Canterbury is interested in the more positive varieties of science fiction, which help explore potential. As he told Blastr, Continue reading
Monday was the Third White House Science Fair, and here are some highlights:
The Administration has been ramping up the event, bringing in LeVar Burton and Bill Nye, The Science Guy to interview participants during a live webcast:
In contrast to the science fairs that I participated in as a kid, the White House event is more demonstration than competition. Many of those who participate have shown promise through winning in competitions like the Google Science Fair or the Intel Talent Search, or have otherwise demonstrated serious science and engineering chops.
Think of it as though a championship sports team was coming to visit, and instead of just getting the picture with the President and perhaps giving him a uniform/ball/cap from the team, the team plays an exhibition game. And the President gives a long-ish speech detailing and praising their achievements.
Of course, there’s a broader policy goal in this event – promoting science, technology, engineering and math in education and the culture. In this year’s address, the President announced a new national service initiative to connect scientists and engineers with students in their communities. It includes a number of programs, such as a private sector initiative to get major science and technology companies to have 20 percent of their science and engineering workforce volunteering in education.
But on to the gee-whiz stuff. While the President riding the water-filtration bike gets the big visual prize, there were plenty of other compelling projects demonstrated at the fair. Robotic limbs, tactile sound, cancer screening tools, and water-cooled football shoulder pads simply scratch the surface. It’s great to see this kind of attention, but during the run-up to the so-called ‘nerd prom’ of the White House Correspondents Dinner, there’s still a long way to go to get science and technology makers into a better place in the culture.
Earlier today the White House announced that its next Science Fair will take place Monday afternoon, April 22nd. That morning (11:30 Eastern), you will be able to watch the fair live. Here’s the official announcement video, with highlights from the 2012 Science Fair.
This will be third Science Fair of this Administration (I think the third ever in the White House, but I can’t confirm that). Invited participants include winners of the STEM Video Game Challenge and other competitions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
There is a new video lesson from Coma Niddy University, breaking down the laws of nature.
Tom McFadden is still working hard on his BRAHE’S Battles project, which is about $4,000 short of its goal with 11 days remaining. I found a video he put together on geology from last fall. McFadden is typically of the Weird Al school of music videos, and borrows from LMFAO for this opus.
While California is slowly working its way past some of its problems, the space issue in its universities persists. Some of its legislators are looking at online education as a way to alleviate the bottlenecks in lower-level courses that make end up lengthening time to degree.
The advent of massively open online courses, or MOOCs, has California legislators smelling technological fix. A bill was recently introduced by the President of the California Senate that would permit MOOCs to be used by students currently wait-listed at California universities to fulfill general education requirements. The New America Foundation has some details. It’s part of a number of bills that would try to alleviate budgetary and space limitations in state schools by encouraging and/or mandating online education. Put another way, the state would be accrediting courses from other providers based on the sheer need to educate its citizens and its inability (through demand, budget cuts, or both).
Faculty that have been subject to furloughs and other stresses associated with the budget cuts are probably not happy that the state is essentially going cheaper rather than trying to invest in infrastructure – online or offline – within the state institutions. They may also be displeased by what could well be a very large experiment done with little or no thought to effective assessment and evaluation of education and outcomes related to these courses.
While East Coast and West Coast rappers (in)famously had beef back in the 90s, East Coast and West Coast science rappers have nothing but love.
Chris Emdin, you may recall, is the education professor at Teacher’s College at Columbia working with GZA on Science Genius, a rap education project formatted roughly similar to what Tom McFadden is working on in the Bay Area.
Science Genius, Emdin and GZA were featured in tonight’s edition of PBS Newshour. GZA even drops a little taste of his upcoming science-influenced album.
If you want to try your hand at a science verse (16 bars, four beats per bar), there may be a prize in it for you. Newshour is running a contest until May 3. The prizes are a video shout-out from GZA, and a signed Science Genius mug. You will need to follow the contest guidelines, which include uploading your science rap video to YouTube. GZA and PBS want your A game. Express one concept three different ways in 16 bars, with rhyme, metaphor, scientific accuracy and creativity. Good luck.
Hot on the heels of Baba Brinkman successfully funding his repertory series of rap shows off-Broadway is another crowdfunding appeal to help spread the combination of rap and science.
Tom McFadden has kept with the science rap videos that he was doing back in graduate school. After Fulbright work in New Zealand and similar efforts in other countries, McFadden is back in the San Francisco area helping middle school students develop raps for science debates. The project is called “Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science” (BRAHE’S Battles) and if fully funded, it would support video production for battle raps on various scientific debates in five schools. The topics?
- “Is Pluto a planet?”
- “Rosalind Franklin vs. Watson & Crick”
- “Tycho Brahe vs. Johannes Kepler”
- “Alfred Wegener vs. ‘The Fixists’”
- “Black Plague vs. Yellow Fever”
As McFadden explains in the promotional video, work has already taken place on the raps, and video production has been funded for one school. Much like Baba Brinkman did with his Rap Guide to Evolution DVD, the idea is to make quality videos to showcase top-flight content. Check out McFadden’s YouTube channel if you aren’t quite sure about his skills.
The Kickstarter campaign runs through the afternoon of April 16th, so please act quickly. And spread the word.
Sense About Science, a U.K. non-profit focused on helping people think critically about science and evidence, has a campaign called Ask For Evidence. Started in late 2011, the campaign has resources to help people inquire about the evidence behind various claims they see in media and/or from decision makers.
Last month the campaign started in the U.S. Coordinated in part by Sense About Science’s Voice of Young Science network, the campaign includes a U.S. version of the brochure “I Don’t Know What to Believe…” which describes the peer review and scientific publishing systems (H/T Scientific American Blogs). This is intended to help people understand what reliable scientific claims are supposed to go through, which helps them assess claims that they wish to test.
The campaign could bear fruit. Sense About Science is persuaded that it’s education efforts have made it so that you can ask most Britons about peer review and they would be able to give a basic explanation of it. British media are now much better about indicating in their reports whether findings underwent peer review. Those would be lovely outcomes in the U.S. If you want to help participate, visit the Sense About Science website for additional information.
And ask questions.