National / International News
We’ve tracked labor productivity in the U.S. for about 70 years. For most of that time, it’s risen steadily along with economic growth. Recessions just saw little blips — that is until the last one when productivity rose sharply.
Researchers found that productivity jumped even more sharply in areas with higher unemployment — fear of the ax seems to have motivated Americans to work their tails off.
Another factor that increases productivity is a growing rate of educational achievement. Dale Jorgenson, a professor of economics at Harvard University, says the impact of education is diminishing because the portion of the workforce with higher education is growing at a slower rate than before.
Jorgenson says it takes decades of data to figure out what normal productivity is, so it’s best to not get too caught up in those quarterly reports.
A Colorado program has allowed more than 30,000 women to get long-term contraception for free, lowering teen birth and abortion rates. Now lawmakers have to decide if it can qualify for state funding.
A new poll shows that fewer young people see gender as limited to female and male. Youth Radio reporter Nanette Thompson talks with two students about their experiences at school.
Even at low doses, the potent poison damages organs and causes cancers. Now scientists have found a population high in the Andes Mountains that has adapted to the toxic metal over thousands of years.
Argonne National Laboratory, a non-profit research lab operated by the University of Chicago for the Department of Energy, last weekend shut down one of the nation's oldest online educational tools, one that pre-dated the Internet itself.
NEWTON Ask A Scientist had been online in its current form since 1991. It offered a platform for students to ask science questions long before you could simply Google a query like "Why is the sky blue?" Answers were written by vetted scientific experts, who did their best to provide uncomplicated responses to complex questions such as "How long did the big bang last?"
Occasionally – when Pluto was reclassified as a planetoid, or when the Higgs-Boson particle was discovered – the site took on a newsy feel. Most of the time, however, it was a place where students indulged their curiosities by asking general-knowledge questions.
"You'd think over 25 years all the questions had been asked, but heck no," says Nathan Unterman, a 39-year Illinois high school science teacher. Unterman moderated the site with another, now-retired teacher, Steve Sample. They were employed as part-time staff at Argonne but mostly served as volunteers during the more than two decades they ran the site.
By the time Argonne finally pulled the plug, more than 110 volunteer scientists had answered questions, which were still coming in a steady stream. Still, the site was "limping along," says Meridith Bruozas, manager of educational programs and outreach at Argonne.
The institutional and funding structure that created NEWTON are long gone, she says, plus the site and the technology behind it are outdated. In an email, Sample said the high cost of updating the software was a factor in shutting the site down. Argonne spent about $10,000 per year on NEWTON over the past few years, spokesman Christopher Kramer said in an email, but to keep it running "is akin to supporting the telegraph in the era of smartphones."
Indeed, many Argonne's educational efforts now live on social media, and are centered around the lab's current research. Argonne now hosts Google Hangout tours, offers Reddit AMAs, posts lectures online, produces a series of videos called "Ask Argonne" and more.
"So instead of random questions on any topic, like 'Why is the sky blue?' we're actually talking about 'What does the next generation battery look like?' and 'What does supercomputing look like and how does modeling look like when you're crunching big data?'" Bruozas says. "Those are the things that kids need to be focused on now... because that's our the next generation of scientists and researchers."
Still, there was some value in the question-and-answer style, Unterman and Sample say. Often multiple scientists would chime in, arguing and adding to each other's responses. That type of dialogue isn't easily replicated with a Google search.
"Let's say you want to describe a cow. A very, very first attempt might be 'Well, let's make it a sphere.' That might be the level for a kindergartener, or a third grader. Another scientist might come in and say, 'Well, that's not really so,' and they'd start adding a head and legs. And somebody else might say, 'You could look at it that way but really...' and they'd start adding a tail and ears and horns and all of that," Unterman says. "Just how far do we simplify it, and have we simplified it to the point that it's just no longer true? We had some interesting interactions like that, which were stimulating and enriching."
Both teachers said they are grateful for impact the site had were disappointed to see it go, but ultimately understood its time had come. Unterman notes that if Argonne let the site simply stay online, the information could become outdated and NEWTON would be doing more harm than good.
Still, for those who still want to poke around, this relic of early ed tech lives on via the Internet archive.
"There were real people behind [the site]. There are all kinds of facts and figures and numbers ... and that's great, but there's also a human side to it, which – while it lasted – was great fun," Unterman says. "It's a little bit of a time capsule, I suppose."
Foods from Fukushima, Japan, are back to pre-accident levels of radiation but people still aren't eating them. One way to ease concerns: a chemical that blocks radioactive cesium from entering plants.
Sixty percent of parents think there is too much emphasis on testing. Are they right?
The distinctive white arches looming over the Edmund Pettus Bridge are in pretty much every photo about the Selma-to-Montgomery marches in Alabama. But many folks don't know about the man the bridge was named for, and like many people, he has a complicated past.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge is a sacred place in America's civil rights history. It also was named after a Grand Dragon of the state Ku Klux Klan. There's a strong generational divide on renaming it.
The Nigerian Islamist militant group has traded grainy videos for slick productions. This week, Boko Haram posted a video purportedly showing the bodies of two beheaded men accused of spying.
Think of this as a corporate restructuring 2.0.
A secret document penned by D.C. Federal Reserve governor Daniel Tarullo in 2010 set in motion a silent centralization of powers within the organization. Now, the change is having some unforeseen consequences.
Up until 2008, the New York Fed was in charge of keeping tabs on the nation’s banking industry.
"After the financial crisis," says the WSJ’s Jon Hilsenrath, "Tarullo came along with Ben Bernanke’s assent and said, basically, ‘we’re gonna do it a new way.’” This “new way” included stripping oversight powers from the New York Fed and placing them in the hands of a special committee based in Washington.
Referred to as the “Triangle Document,” the six-page document provided a blueprint for a new era. Now, oversight of all 12 Federal Reserve banks is managed by Tarullo’s committee.
Hilsenrath says, though, that the change hasn’t necessarily made the process any easier. “There are critics who say the banks feel burdened by the whole process … There are also complaints even within the system that the new system makes it a little bit harder for the information to flow up to the most senior people in the Fed.”