ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

NYTimes, WPost A1: New York Probing ExxonMobil For Allegedly Misleading Public About Climate Change.

In a front-page story, the Washington Post  (11/6, Mooney) reports that ExxonMobil is under investigation “over whether it misled the public and its investors over the impact of its business on climate change.” A source told the Post that the investigation “focuses on whether ExxonMobil withheld what it knew about climate change from investors and consumers.” The New York Times  (11/6, Gillis, Krauss, Subscription Publication), also on its front page, reports that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman “issued a subpoena Wednesday evening to Exxon Mobil, demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents.” The investigation is looking at “the company’s activities dating to the late 1970s, including a period of at least a decade when Exxon Mobil funded groups that sought to undermine climate science.” A “major focus” of the probe “is whether the company adequately warned investors about potential financial risks stemming from society’s need to limit fossil-fuel use.”

The Los Angeles Times  (11/6) reports that at the heart of the issue is whether Exxon in the 1980s and 1990s “incorporated climate research into its business practices while simultaneously arguing, in newspaper ads and public statements by company executives, that climate change science was murky.”

According to Exxon Mobil spokesman Alan Jeffers, “We unequivocally reject allegations that Exxon Mobil suppressed climate change research contained in media reports that are inaccurate distortions of Exxon Mobil’s nearly 40-year history of climate research,” the Wall Street Journal  (11/6, Cook, Subscription Publication) reports.

TIME  (11/5, Worland) reports on its website that Exxon Mobil has warned that the allegations are “are reminiscent – though potentially much greater in scale – [of] similar revelations about the tobacco industry.”

Politico  (11/5, Schor) reports that Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley both praised news of the investigation. Hillary Clinton has previously spoken in favor an investigation into Exxon’s activities, but her campaign did not comment on Thursday’s news.

Bloomberg News  (11/6, Smythe), USA Today  (11/6, McCoy), NPR  (11/5), Reuters  (11/6), CNN Money  (11/5, Garcia), The Hill  (11/5, Cama), the New York Post  (11/6), and the AP  (11/6, Virtanen) also provide coverage.

ED Announces Increased Regulation Of College Accreditors.

The Washington Post  (11/6, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ED on Friday announced “a series of executive actions to reform” the college accreditation system, noting that the downfall of Corinthian Colleges Inc. “exposed cracks in the accreditation system that have left the sector open to endless criticism.” The Post points out that the storm of criticism and government action sparked by the firm’s misdeeds had no deleterious effect on its accreditation. The article quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, “Institutions must be held accountable when they take student, family and taxpayer dollars, but fail to deliver a quality education, so should states and accreditors who are responsible to oversee them under the law. For the most part, accreditation agencies are watchdogs that don’t bite.” ED said “it will publish information about schools placed on probation by accreditors and post standards used to judge institutions.”

US News & World Report  (11/6) reports that the plan is to “beef up accountability in the higher education accreditation system.” ED will make accreditors’ standards public. The piece notes that it is illegal for ED to establish any criteria for these standards, “which Duncan and other advocates have argued allows some accreditors to set low or difficult-to-measure thresholds.” According to ED data, some accreditors “allow the higher education institutions to set the bar themselves.” This piece quotes Duncan saying, “Our administration firmly believes that institutes must be held accountable when they take taxpayer dollars.”

The Wall Street Journal  (11/6, Belkin, Fuller, Subscription Publication) and MarketWatch  (11/6) also cover this story.

Higher Education

California University Stabbing Suspect Was Freshman Engineering Student.

Reuters  (11/5, Skinner) reports that the student who stabbed four people with a knife on the campus of the University Of California Merced Wednesday was identified as freshman engineering and computer science major Faisal Mohammad. None of the injuries sustained by the four victims was life-threatening, and all are expected to fully recover. Mohammad, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said, was carrying a hammer, duct tape, zip-tie handcuffs, two bags of petroleum jelly, and a night-vision scope in a backpack he carried during the attack. The backpack was later disposed of by a bomb squad. Mohammad was shot dead by campus police.

The Wall Street Journal  (11/6, Elinson, Subscription Publication) quotes university Chancellor Dorothy Leland that authorities have no reason to believe Mohammad’s actions were “in any way related to terrorism.” At a news conference, Leland told reporters that “at this point, it would be irresponsible to draw such conclusions based solely on the ethnicity of the suspect.” Sheriff Warnke noted that Mohammad was not on “anybody’s radar” prior to the attack.

The Sacramento (CA) Bee  (11/6, Hecht) reports that according to Sheriff Warnke, Mohammad had said he was angry about getting “kicked out of a study group.” Mohammad “had apparently gotten upset at one of the students, and apparently took his anger to an extreme level,” the sheriff said. “He had a pretty elaborate idea of what he wanted to do.” The sheriff said that the coroner who autopsied Mohammad found his detailed plan to handcuff students, increase chaos by spreading petroleum jelly on the floor and ultimately ambush a police officer and get his gun. As many as 20 FBI agents, as well as representatives for DHS are assisting local authorities in the investigation. FBI officials, Warnke said, informed him that they had found nothing in Mohammad’s history or belongings to indicate a religious or political motivation to the attack.

The AP  (11/6, Elias) quotes Warnke on Mohammad’s plan that Mohammad “had delusions of grandeur. …I don’t think he had any actual capability to carry it out.” Investigators, the AP notes, have not found evidence that Mohammad was mentally ill.

In an editorial, the Sacramento (CA) Bee  (11/6) argues that conservative media outlets, including Fox News, erred in speculating that Mohammad’s attack had terroristic motivations when his identity was revealed. “Here on Earth, where psychologists note that the onset of severe mental illness often occurs with a breakdown in an adolescent’s late teens or 20s, clearer eyes might have seen the far less exotic picture: a lonely, reclusive boy; a handwritten list;… a backpack full of makeshift gear”. The Bee urges the adoption of polices to better address mental illness in the United States.

USA Today  (11/5, Stanglin) and the Los Angeles Times  (11/5)also report on this story.

Push For National Lab Loan Forgiveness Could Help New Mexico Workers.

Noting that Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) has called on Education Secretary Arne Duncan to “rule that employees at the Department of Energy’s privately operated national laboratories are eligible for the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program,” the Santa Fe New Mexican  (11/6, Nott) reports that such a move “could aid thousands of workers in New Mexico and help boost the recruitment of scientists at the state’s national labs.”

Kentucky Program Pairs Community Colleges With Local Manufacturers To Train Skilled Workers.

On its website, WCPO-TV  Cincinnati (11/6, Engel) reports the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KYFAME) is a partnership between community colleges and local manufacturers. Students take courses towards their associate’s degree while completing apprenticeships with manufacturers. Since its creation several years ago, KYFAME has expanded across the state to meet the growing demand for skilled manufacturers. Many manufacturers are worried about keeping up with demand as manufacturing job vacancies are expected to soar in the coming years.

Amicus Briefs Filed In Supreme Court Affirmative Action Case.

Reuters  (11/5, Hurley) reports many businesses and civic organizations have filed amicus briefs in a Supreme Court case concerning affirmative action in university admissions. On December 9, the Supreme Court will rehear the case of Abigail Fisher, a white applicant to the University of Texas at Austin who was denied admission. Fisher claims she was denied admission because of the university’s affirmative action program and that the program is unconstitutional. DuPont, IBM Corp, and Intel Corp. all signed a brief in favor of affirmative action citing the under-representation of minorities in STEM professions, while the Cato Institute and the Center for Individual Rights filed a brief against affirmative action.

October Prism Now Online – Members Only
Cover story – A sprawling telescope array has made South Africa a world leader in radio astronomy and produced a pipeline of specialized engineers.

The Best Part of ASEE Membership
Members weigh in in this short video from the Annual Conference.

Transforming Undergraduate Eduction in Engineering
Read the first report of this multi-phase project.

Research and Development

University Of Texas At Arlington Researchers Developing SMART Bandage System.

The News-Medical (AUS)  (11/5) reports researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington are developing a bandage system that can “help doctors and other healthcare workers better monitor and heal patients’ complex wounds more quickly.” Researchers call the device the “Sensing, Monitoring and Release of Therapeutics” (SMART) bandage system. The research is being funded by the Texas Medical Research Collaborative, a partnership between several Texas universities and other organizations.

NSF Chooses UW, UC Berkeley, And UC San Diego As Western Regional Big Data Hub.

The Seattle Times  (11/5, Long) reports the National Science Foundation has chosen the University of Washington, the University of California Berkeley, and the University of California San Diego as co-hosts of the Western Regional Big Data Hub, which will receive a $1.2 million grant from NSF. The universities will host data to facilitate large data analysis projects.

NSF Funding Collaborative Project To Build Cloud System For Data Analysis.

The Ithaca (NY) Journal  (11/5, Reynolds) reports the National Science Foundation is funding the work of three professors around the country to “build a cloud system called the Aristotle Cloud Federation to assist” STEM workers with large amounts of data. The researchers will test the system with academics from diverse fields to learn more about the value of streamlining data flows. The leaders of the project are Cornell University professor David Lifka, University of Buffalo professor Tom Furlani, and UC Santa Barbara professor Rich Wolski.

Amazon Launching Grant Program.

The Seattle Times  (11/5, Greene) reports that Amazon is launching a new grant-making program called Amazon Catalyst, where it will provide grants to fund research in various “complex and vexing areas.” The program, which will debut at the University of Washington, is geared towards funding “early stage ideas” that would likely not otherwise receive grant money. In exchange for the grants, Amazon will have nonexclusive royalty-free licenses to use the research.

GeekWire  (11/5, Cook) also covers the story.

Industry News

Toyota Invests $1 Billion On Artificial Intelligence, Robotics.

Bloomberg News  (11/5, Trudell, Hagiwara) reports that Toyota Motor Corp. will invest $1 billion into “a research institute focused on artificial intelligence and robotics, as the world’s largest automaker looks to elevate its role in reducing traffic fatalities.” Toyota Research Institute Inc. “will start operating in January, and the Japanese carmaker’s five-year initial investment will set up locations near Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to a company statement,” the article reports. Toyota in September hired Gill Pratt, the former top robotics engineer for the US military as its new CEO. “Our target is really to make the fatalities from car accidents zero,” President Akio Toyoda said.

Engineering and Public Policy

Nation’s Aging Infrastructure Threatens Public Safety.

The New York Times  (11/6, A12, Nixon, Subscription Publication) reports that the highway funding bill that the House approved Thursday falls “far short” of what several experts say is needed to repair the nation’s aging infrastructure. Experts have also said that the deteriorating infrastructure threatens public safety. According to the article, the DOT has indicated that 14,000 deaths each year can be attributed to poor road conditions; the agency has financed research estimating that poor road conditions led to medical costs of $11.4 billion in 2013. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is quoted as saying, “There is no question that there are safety impacts and loss of life because we didn’t take the time or spend the money to make infrastructure what it should be.” The Times says that the “problem extends beyond roads,” and cites research by the NTSB, which shows that “since 2004, about 77 deaths and 1,400 injuries could have been prevented if railroads had installed…Positive Train Control.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

South Carolina Elementary School Teaching Students About Programming With Game.

On its website, WLTX-TV  Columbia, SC (11/5) reports students at Ballentine Elementary School in Irmo, South Carolina are learning the basics of computer programming while playing a modified version of the popular game Angry Birds. Students must solve puzzles in the game by writing simple programs.

Science Teachers Send Out Warning About “Rainbow Flame” Demonstrations After Accident In Virginia.

The Washington Post  (11/6, Balingit) reports the National Science Teachers Association sent out a safety advisory to 68,000 science teachers instructing them to “halt the use of methanol-based flame tests on an open laboratory desk” after an incident at a Virginia high school that burned a chemistry teacher and five students. The US Chemical Safety Board will not be investigating the incident, but noted that they advised all teachers doing similar “rainbow flame” demonstrations to use a fume hood in a safety bulletin last year. Some school districts and high schools have banned “rainbow flame” demonstrations because of similar incidents in the past that burned students and teachers.

Also in the News

Internet Pioneer Advocates For Greater Control Of Personal Data At NYU Lecture.

The Wall Street Journal  (11/4, Norton, Subscription Publication) reports Internet pioneer Vinton G. Cerf spoke at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering about the need for individuals to have a better understand about how their personal data is used on the Internet. Cerf said that users should have more knowledge and control over their personal information online.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Media Analyses: State’s Rejection Of Keystone Review Suspension Likely Dooms Pipeline.
Representatives Request Duncan Expand Federal Loan Forgiveness For All DOE Lab Employees.
Study Casts New Light On Dust Bowl’s Impact On Soil.
NASA Signs Partnership To Develop Ellington Airport’s Spaceport.
Eighteen States Seek To Defend Clean Power Plan In Court.
Girls, Minorities Still Underrepresented In AP Computer Science, According To College Board Data.

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