Monday, March 19, 2018

NEWS POST: British Inner-City Teacher Named World’s Best, Wins US$1 Million Prize

British teacher Andria Zafirakou (L) receives the "Global Teacher Prize" from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai during an award ceremony in Dubai on March 18, 2018
Briton Andria Zafirakou, who works in a school in one of the UK's poorest areas, on Sunday won the US$1 million Global Teacher Prize for 2018 at a star-studded ceremony in Dubai.

The arts and textiles teacher from the Alperton Community College of Brent, an inner-city school in London, was among 10 finalists from around the globe for the annual award. Thirty thousand candidates were in the running.

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum and British Prime Minister Theresa May were among the first to congratulate her. "Congratulations to Andria Zafirakou for having won the Global Teacher award," tweeted Sheikh Mohammed after handing her the prize. He said teaching "is the greatest job" ever, and described teachers as "stars".

May, in a video message broadcast at the gala event, said: "Being a great teacher requires resilience, ingenuity, and a generous heart. These are the qualities that you share with your students everyday.

"So thank you for all you have done and continue to do."

Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton raced to the venue to deliver the trophy while South African comedian Trevor Noah hosted the event which included a performance by Oscar-winning actress and Grammy award winning singer Jennifer Hudson.

British Formula One driver for Mercedes' AMG Petronas team Lewis Hamilton arrives with the "Global Teacher Prize" trophy for the awards ceremony in Dubai on March 18, 2018
Brent, where Zafirakou teaches, is considered an ethnically diverse and disadvantaged area and many of her students come from impoverished homes.

The area is also rife with gang violence and Zafirakou faced "a daunting task when she joined the school", the organizers said in a statement. "But throughout the school and on the streets she is driving change" working "closely with the police to identify potential issues and (gang) recruiters."

She redesigned the school's curriculum "to resonate with an ethnically diverse student body" and learnt the basics of some of the 35 languages spoken at the school to communicate with parents and students.

Zafirakou also "reworked the school's timetable to allow girls-only sport, important in a conservative community. The result? A cup-winning girls' cricket team," the statement said. Her hard work paid and placed Alperton Community College "in the top five percent in England and Wales for improving pupils' achievement".

The Dubai-based Varkey Foundation organized the event, the fourth time it has handed out the prize for best teacher. The winner will walk away with US$1 million which will be paid in equal instalments over 10 years on one condition  she continues teaching for at least five years

Originally published on DAILY MAIL UK

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

GUEST BLOG POST: Science In Crisis: From The Sugar Scam To Brexit, Our Faith In Experts Is Fading — Andrea Saltelli

Under the microscope.
Worldwide, we are facing a joint crisis in science and expertise. This has led some observers to speak of a post-factual democracy – with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump the results.

Today, the scientific enterprise produces somewhere in the order of 2m papers ayear, published in roughly 30,000 different journals. A blunt assessment has been made that perhaps half or more of all this production “will not stand the test of time”.

Meanwhile, science has been challenged as an authoritative source of knowledge for both policy and everyday life, with noted major misdiagnoses in fields as disparate as forensicspreclinical and clinical medicine, chemistrypsychology and economics.

Perhaps nutrition is the field most in the spotlight. It took several decades for cholesterol to be absolved and for sugar to be re-indicted as the more serious health threat, thanks to the fact that the sugar industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s, which successfully cast doubt on the hazards of sucrose – while promoting fat as the dietary culprit.

Destructive trend
We think of science as producing truths about the universe. Triumphs of science, like the recent confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves and the landing of a probe on a comet flying around the sun, bring more urgency to the need to reverse the present crisis of confidence in other areas of the scientific endeavour.

Science is tied up with our ideas about democracy – not in the cold war sense of science being an attribute of open democratic societies, but because it provides legitimacy to existing power arrangements: those who rule need to know what needs to be done, and in modern society this knowledge is provided by science. The science-knowledge-power relationship is one of the master narratives of modernity, whose end was announced by philosopher Jean-FrançoisLyotard four decades ago. The contemporary loss of trust in expertise seems to support his views.

Hidden culprit. Gleb Garanich/Reuters
Still, techno-science is at the heart of contemporary narratives: the convictions that we will innovate our way out of the economic crisis, overcome our planetary boundaries, achieve a dematerialized economy, improve the fabric of nature, and allow universal well-being.

The appeal of reassuring narratives about our future depends on our trust in science, and the feared collapse of this trust will have far-reaching consequences.

The cult of science is still adhered to by many. Most of us need to believe in a neutral science, detached from material interests and political bargaining, capable of discovering the wonders of nature. For this reason, no political party has so far argued for a reduction in science funding on the basis of the crisis in science, but this threat could soon materialize.

The crisis we saw coming
The crisis in science is not a surprise – some scholars of history and philosophy of science had predicted it four decades ago.

Derek de Solla Price, the father of scientometrics – literally the scientific study of science – feared the quality crisis. He noted in his 1963 book, Little Science, Big Science, that the exponential growth of science might lead to saturation, and possibly to senility (an incapacity to progress any further). For contemporary philosopher Elijah Millgram, this disease takes the form of disciplines becoming alien to one another, separated by different languages and standards.

Jerome R Ravetz noted in 1971 that science is a social activity, and that changes in the social fabric of science – once made up of restricted clubs whose members were linked by common interests and now a system ruled by impersonal metrics - would entail serious problems for its quality assurance system and important repercussions for its social functions.

Ravetz, whose analysis of science’s contradictions has continued to the present day, noted that neither a technical fix would remedy this, nor would a system of enforced rules. Scientific quality is too delicate a matter to be resolved with a set of recipes.

A perfect illustration of his thesis is the recent debate about the P value – commonly used in experiments to judge the quality of scientific results. The inappropriate use of this technique has been strongly criticized, provoking alarm – and statements of concern – at the highest levels in the profession of statistics. But no clear agreement has been reached on the nature of the problem, as shown by the high number of critical comments in the ensuing debate.

Philip Mirowski’s recent book offers a fresh reading of the crisis in terms of the commercialization of science’s production. Scientific research deteriorates when it is entrusted to contract research organizations, working on a short leash held by commercial interests.

The present trajectory will result in an impasse in many areas of science, where it may become impossible to sort out the good papers from the bad.

Science-based narratives and the social functions of science will then lose their appeal. No solution is possible without a change in the prevailing vision and ideology, but can scientific institutions offer one?

The supremacy of expertise
Here the stakes are high and perverse systems of incentives entrenched. Many scientists are highly defensive of their work. They adhere to the deficit model, in its standard or glorified form, whereby if only people understood science – or at least understood who the true experts were – then progress would be achieved.

Scientists often subscribe to the myth of one science, and promote actions for or against a policy based on their position as scientists. In a recent case, more than 100 Nobel laureates took a side in a dispute over a genetically modified rice, a rather complex case where more prudence would have been in order.

See me after class. CC BY-SA
Climate is another battlefield where the idea that “science has spoken” or “doubt has been eliminated” have become common refrains.

Many scientists defend the supremacy of expertise; if lay citizens disagree with experts, it is the former who are wrong. This because scientists are better than bankers and politicians, or simply better human beings, who need protection from political interference.

There is an evident tension between this view and what takes place in the arena of evidence-based (or informed) policy. Here legislation developed to fight racketeering is used by activists and scientists to target their peers in the opposing faction, in hot fields from climate to biotechnologies.

The science of economics is still in control of the master narrative. The same craft that failed to predict the latest great recession – and worse, directly engineered it thanks to its financial recklessness – is still dictating market-based approaches to overcome present challenges. By its own admission, the discipline, which supported austerity policies with a theorem based on a coding error, has little clue as to what to do if the global economy will face another downturn.

The economic historian Erik Reinert notes that economics is the only discipline impermeable to paradigm shifts. For economics, he says, the earth is round and flat at the same time, all the time, with fashions changing in cyclical shifts.

One can see in the present critique of finance – as something having outgrown its original function into a self-serving entity – the same ingredients of the social critique of science.

Thus the ethos of “little science” reminds us of the local banker of old times. Scientists in a given field knew one another, just as local bankers had lunch and played golf with their most important customers. The ethos of techno-science or mega-science is similar to that of the modern Lehman bankers, where the key actors know one another only through performance metrics.

Change takes place at an ever-accelerating pace; the number of initiatives to heal science’s diseases multiply every day from within the house of science.

Increasingly, philosophers warn that not all is well in our ever-stronger symbiotic relation with technology. The effects of innovation on jobs, on inequality, on our way of knowing and of making sense of reality, are all becoming problematic. Everything moves at a pace that frustrates our hope of control.

What can we do?
If this wave of concern will merge with the science crisis, then important facets of our modernity might be up for discussion. Will this lead to a new humanism as hoped by some philosophers or to a new dark age, as feared by others?

The conflicts described thus far involve values in conflict, of the type dealt with in something called “post-normal science”. Many dislike the name of this approach for its postmodern associations, but appreciate its model of extended peer communities. These communities bring together experts from across disciplines – as different disciplines see through different lenses – and anyone affected or concerned with the subject at hand, with possibly different views about what the problem is.

Today, extended peer communities are set up by some activist citizens and scientists. This format encourages a humbler, more reflexive attitude. It suggests to citizens a more critical and participatory attitude in matters of science and technology, with less deference towards experts.

New media provides fertile ground for these communities. “Could the internet be to science what the printing press was to the church?” asks the science and technology philosoper Silvio Funtowicz.

If this process leads to reform in science and challenges the monopoly of knowledge and authority – as to some extent we see happening in health- then we might go some way to rebuilding trust in one of the most important facets of modern life.

Perhaps not the most helpful attitude. DanaK~WaterPennyCC BY
Andrea Saltelli is adjunct professor at the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT) - University of Bergen (UIB), where he cooperates with a team interested in post normal science, and visiting fellow at Open Evidence Research, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, in Barcelona.

Originally published on THE CONVERSATION 

Monday, March 05, 2018

NEWS POST: Cameroon Startup Launches Drones For Global Market

Three drone makers at work in the plant run by William Elong, 25, who aims for a Cameroonian entry into the market for pilotless aircraft
Talking fast and dreaming big, William Elong shows off the first "made in Cameroon" drone at his sixth-floor workshop in downtown Douala, minutes from the economic capital's Atlantic seafront.

The 25-year-old, known as a high-flyer after being named one of Forbes' most promising young Africans under 30, is enthusing about his new unmanned aerial drones and keen to promote his company and Africa as a place where IT and new tech can flourish.

We must "get out of the Afro-centric vision of business" to "understand that when one has a global vision, worldwide, this includes Africa," Elong says in a discussion of future technologies.

Elong has no degree in IT or robotics but studied strategy and competitive intelligence in France, becoming the youngest-ever graduate from Paris' Economic Warfare School.

He founded his startup Will & Brothers in 2015 with a main project called Drone Africa, which aims to provide drones for civil purposes to businesses, the state in Cameroon and elsewhere. With a top range of up to 20 kilometres (12 miles), the drones can be used for purposes as different as cartography, media coverage, support for agriculture and detecting gas in mines to reduce the risk of accidents.

"The know-how is here, in Cameroon," says Elong, who is aware young African talent often seeks employment in Europe and elsewhere. He says at this stage his firm's capital of US$200,000 (€162,400) has come from Western backers.

Also supported by the government of President Paul Biya, Elong hopes eventually to raise US$2 million to expand the business but he regrets that "not many Africans are involved" in the project, which features two airborne types of drone and one terrestrial model.

The commercial market in Africa is expanding with unmanned aircraft already whizzing across the skies delivering items like medicine and food, and even helping farmers sow seeds.

- 'Flying wing' -
In Rwanda, drones get medical supplies such as blood and vaccines to remote areas. Tanzania is launching a similar programme. And drones equipped with night-vision cameras help to detect and track poachers in Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Three drone makers at work in the plant run by William Elong, 25, who aims for a Cameroonian entry into the market for pilotless aircraft
Elong presents the two airborne prototype models on a table inside his assembly shop. The first "flying wing that we've baptized Algo" has the furthest range and could prove an economical solution to the costly task of making maps, he suggests.

The second type, known as Logarythm, has four arms forming a propeller, can reach an altitude of up to 500 metres (1,640 feet) and is fitted with high-definition cameras, which would be useful in high-risk zones and for precision work, Elong adds.

Crucially, he argues, manufacturing costs are lower than those of foreign manufacturers, so the drones produced will be priced competitively across the African marketplace. He envisages "selling drones to Vietnam, to Venezuela, to Denmark for example, and becoming one of the biggest global enterprises in this sector."

Elsewhere, two young engineers in white lab coats are carefully building a prototype. "When all the components are available, we are able to assemble a drone like this in 24 hours," says engineer Louis Ekani.

Some of the parts are made in Cameroon, while others are supplied from abroad.

- 'The pride of Cameroon' -
"The start was extremely complicated," says young technical director Yves Tamu, who is described on the company website as an entrepreneur, digital champion and inventor. "But we have a dynamic, autonomous and state-of-the-art team thanks to which we found the solution (to assembling drones)."

The average age of employees is barely 22 and the team comprises mainly engineers and developers who have spent two years building airworthy drones. "Will & Brothers is the pride of Cameroon," gushed Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Libom Li Likeng at a government ceremony to present the drones in early February. Their design demonstrates "the innovative capacity of Cameroonian youth", she added.

Elong's firm is represented in Ivory Coast and plans to open offices in France and the United States, but he stresses the development of artificial intelligence is his primary goal. Will & Brothers has worked on an AI known as Cyclops, which enables drones to detect people, objects and vehicles and to identify different types of animal at specific sites.

"Artificial intelligence is the future of humanity," Elong says, confident that Africa can at least try to compete with the big tech giants in California. "It knocks me out that so many people here take no interest in technology."

Originally published on DAILY MAIL/AFP WIRES