Leading the News
Academics, Museum Officials Sign Open Letter Protesting Dakota Access Pipeline.
The New York Times (9/21, Ryzik, Subscription Publication) reports more than a thousand archaeologists, anthropologists, curators, museum officials, and academics have signed an appeal to President Obama, the Justice Department, the Department of the Interior, and the Army Corps of Engineers asking for further study of land involved in the Dakota Access pipeline project, around the Missouri River near the border between North and South Dakota. The open letter released Wednesday says, “We join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in denouncing the recent destruction of ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts sacred to the Lakota and Dakota people” as a result of the pipeline construction. The Dakota Access pipeline also has drawn scrutiny from the Society for American Archaeology and other professional organizations.
Meanwhile, Greenwire (9/21, Northey, Subscription Publication) reports that “an oil executive blasted the Obama administration” at the Shale Insight conference on Wednesday “for intervening in the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline and faulted federal regulators for making ‘common cause’ with environmentalists intent on villainizing the oil and gas industry.” Marathon Petroleum Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Gary Heminger told attendees, “Some activists are trying to portray fossil fuels and the companies that produce, transport and sell them as villains. In some cases, regulatory agencies and elected officials are making common cause with activists, shaping our energy and environmental policy.”
Accreditors To Ramp Up Scrutiny Of Colleges With Low Graduation Rates.
The Wall Street Journal (9/21, Belkin, Subscription Publication) reports the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions, which is the umbrella organization over seven regional accreditors supervising nearly 3,000 schools, has announced that it will be increasing its scrutiny of any college under its supervision which has a four-year graduation rate under 25%. The Journal paints the move as a response to rising criticism that accrediting agencies give poor-quality colleges access to Federal student aid.
The Hechinger Report (9/21) reports that accreditors are facing pressure over “the rising number of students who have dropped out of college saddled with debt,” and are therefore “promising to crack down by taking a closer look at graduation rates, loan repayment rates and default rates.” The piece reports the council “announced Wednesday that it would ‘pay special attention’ to four-year institutions with graduation rates below 25 percent.” The Hechinger Report adds that the council said it will scrutinize more than just graduation rates, “since the number of students and the transfer rates often affect a college’s numbers.”
Inside Higher Ed (9/21) reports the council says it will call on colleges with low on-time graduation rates “to account for how they are working to improve those numbers.”
The Politico (9/21) “Morning Education” blog also covers this story, noting that the announcement “comes after the Obama administration last year sought to publicly prod accreditors to focus more on student outcomes by publishing data about how students fare at the schools they approve.” The piece notes that former Education Secretary Arne Duncan had “criticized accreditors as the ‘watchdogs that don’t bite,’ and proposed ending a federal ban on the Education Department setting specific standards for how accreditors judge colleges on metrics like graduation rates.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (9/21) also covers this story.
Southeast Missouri State University Students, Faculty Attend Oklahoma Supercomputing Symposium.
Southeast Missouri State University (9/21) reports, “Seven Southeast Missouri State University students and three faculty members from the College of Science, Technology and Agriculture advanced their supercomputing knowledge” at the Oklahoma Supercomputing Symposium 2016 at the University of Oklahoma earlier this week. Participants “attended a reception and poster session and participated in a supercomputing tour on Sept. 20. Posters covered advanced computing research projects and technical innovations from vendors and attending universities.”
Data Show Wide Range Of Gender Equity In Engineering Degrees At Top Schools.
The Washington Post (9/21, Anderson) reports that while on average, women earn around 20% of all engineering degrees nationwide, “reflecting generations of male dominance in the field.” Nevertheless, women “earned a majority of bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 2015 at two private schools with sizable programs,” the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering and MIT. At several other top programs, that figure was in the 40 percent range. The article touches on the impact of the #LookLikeAnEngineer movement, and explores gender diversity efforts at engineering programs at major schools.
MIT And Other Schools Offering Free On-Line Graduate Courses.
Bloomberg News (9/21, Coy) reports that “the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and 13 other schools said they would offer online graduate-level courses for free, open to all.” The program, referred to as “MicroMasters,” teaches “about a quarter of the material in a typical master’s degree program and involves subjects in critically short supply in the workplace. The certificates are likely to carry weight with employers because of the quality of the universities standing behind them.” Upon program complete, students can pay $1,000 for a certificate or apply to the full degree program.
Study Highlights Factors Leading To College Failure For Well-Performing High School Students.
The Washington Post (9/21, Guo) reports that according to a study from the University of Toronto, students need more than intelligence to succeed in college. Several factors, including personality, grit, perseverance, conscientiousness, culture, and socioeconomic status have an impact on student performance as they transition into the college environment.
Research and Development
Scientists Successfully Pair Magnetic And Electric Materials.
Phys (UK) (9/21, Yang) reports, “Scientists have successfully paired ferroelectric and ferrimagnetic materials so that their alignment can be controlled with a small electric field at near room temperatures, an achievement that could open doors to ultra low-power microprocessors, storage devices and next-generation electronics.” Research co-led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Cornell University will be published today in Nature.
Security Engineer Discovers North Korea Has Just 28 Websites.
The Washington Post (9/21, Taylor) reports North Korea accidentally revealed that it has only 28 websites. The Post says the “unusual” reveal showed that only 28 websites use North Korea’s website country code domain name “.kp.” The Post contrasts this with the Germany’s “more than 16 million addresses” using the “.de” domain name. Security engineer Matt Bryant discovered the websites when he “noticed that North Korea’s system administrators had made a mistake that allowed outside users to query websites that used the “.kp” name.” The Washington Times (9/21, Sands) reports similarly.
Privacy Concerns Raised Over Google’s New Messaging App Allo.
USA Today (9/21, Baig) reports some individuals are raising privacy concerns over Google’s new messaging app Allo because the default setting stores chat logs “on Google’s servers until you actively decide to delete them.” Google’s reasoning for saving the data is because the new app is “built around machine learning and artificial intelligence.” Allo will review the saved data and try to anticipate what your next message response will be. President of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Georgetown law professor Marc Rotenberg tells USA today that law enforcement will love Allo because they could theoretically subpoena Google to obtain conversation content from the app.
The Washington (DC) Post (9/21, Peterson) reports that content is “not automatically protected by that extra secure form of encryption, which allows only those who send and receive messages to unlock them” but that users can choose an “incognito” setting for encryption. It will be the first of Google’s products that feature an encryption option in the base code. The Hill (9/21, Uchill) reports that Google’s decision to still store the data “angered privacy advocates.” They prefer the incognito mode be the default setting. BBC News (UK) (9/21, Kelion) reports that Big Brother Watch research director Daniel Nesbitt said that “it’s important that citizens are given enough information about what will happen to their data for them make an informed choice about whether or not they want to use this service.”
Tesla Updates Software To Enhance Radar, Patches Security Gap.
The AP (9/21) reports that beginning Wednesday night, an over-the-air software update will enhance the radar and other features of Tesla automobiles, making the Model S sedan and Model X SUV more reliant on radar than cameras when operating in the semi-autonomous Autopilot mode. CEO Elon Musk said the change should help avoid crashes like the one which killed a Florida Tesla driver in May. Musk said the update will also add a maximum temperature control system to help keep kids and pets safe if left in the car. The Verge (9/21) notes that Musk first announced the new Autopilot 8.0 software on August 31, but its release was postponed due to the September 1 explosion of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A hardware update is also reportedly in the pipeline, and it is expected to add more cameras and radar sensors to its vehicles.
The Los Angeles Times (9/21, Mitchell) reports that Tesla, separately from the Autopilot software update, quickly patched a security hole exposed by a Chinese security research team which hacked into a Tesla Model S. From 12 miles away, the hackers seized control of the car’s brakes, turned on its windshield wipers, retracted the side mirror, and opened the trunk – all while the car was in motion. According to Tesla, “[t]he issue demonstrated is only triggered when the Web browser is used, and also required the car to be physically near to and connected to a malicious wifi hotspot. Our realistic estimate is that the risk to our customers was very low.” Because additional hacking is inevitable as more cars connect to the Internet, cybersecurity was among the issues addressed in voluntary guidelines released Tuesday by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Engineering and Public Policy
Ackerman: Nation’s Satellite Capability Must Be Supported, Strengthened.
In a Washington Post (9/20, Ackerman) op-ed, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Steve Ackerman calls for support for the nation’s weather satellite capability, and specifically for bills in the Senate and the House, that aim to fortify NOAA’s satellite portfolio and prioritize weather research. The Senate bill “NOAA Satellite Management and Design” is sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), while its House counterpart is sponsored by Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), and Frank D. Lucas (R-OK). Ackerman says that for improved weather prediction, “One of the most important tools is a growing fleet of spacecraft dedicated to the task of watching and reporting on our skies. Support provided by the weather-focused bills currently in the Congress is a critical first step to making this happen.”
Report: Television Makers Exploiting Loopholes In DOE Tests.
E&E Publishing (9/21, Marshall, Subscription Publication) reports that flaws in DOE test procedures are being “exploited by television manufacturers and threaten to worsen carbon emissions and consumer costs dramatically, the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a report.” The NRDC and Ecos Research found loopholes in DOE’s procedures for TVs that allow companies to produce televisions that may use twice as much power as advertised. “Test conditions have allowed some companies to install a motion-detection dimming feature that powers down the screen’s backlight during the test to achieve large energy savings, but not when in normal use.”
The AP (9/21) reports that televisions made by Samsung, LG Electronics and Vizio saddle households with an extra $120 million in electricity bills each year and generate tons of additional pollution. Though not illegal, the behavior “smacks of bad faith,” NRDC senior scientist Noah Horowitz said.
Connecticut Wants EPA To Act On Polluting Pennsylvania Plant.
The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico (9/21) reported Connecticut’s congressional delegation wants the Environmental Protection Agency “to do something about smog-forming pollution coming from a Pennsylvania coal-fired power plant that floats downwind and hurts air quality in the Nutmeg State.” In a letter yesterday to the EPA, “the lawmakers urge the agency to take a close look at the June petition from Connecticut regulators asking EPA to force more pollution controls on the Brunner Island coal plant in Pennsylvania’s York County.”
Clean Power Plan Hearing Expected To Draw Big Crowd.
E&E Publishing (9/21, Subscription Publication) reports that “professional line-standers will stake out positions long before sunrise Tuesday” outside the DC Circuit Court where judges could decide the fate of the Clean Power Plan. The court’s chief deputy clerk, Marilyn Sargent, estimates that about 400 seats will be made available in the courtroom and in two overflow rooms, and that for high-profile cases, people sometimes show up 24 hours early.
Automakers Raise Concerns Over Fuel Efficiency Rule.
Reuters (9/21) reports on testimony submitted to the House Energy and Commerce Committee by Mitch Bainwol, head of the industry trade group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers saying that the issue is not whether vehicle fuel economy will improve, but rather how, by when, “and at what cost to consumers, industry and the economy as a whole.” Obama Administration officials countered that the policy is working. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration general counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh and Environmental Protection Agency official Janet McCabe “both said that fuel saving technologies are entering the market faster than expected.”
Boeing Gives $6 Million To Promote Tech Worker Training.
The Seattle Times (9/21) reports Boeing is distributing $6 million in grant money to a “wide-ranging group of nonprofits and education institutions” in Washington state “in an effort to boost tech training and skills.” The firm “is aiming to reach a diverse group of high school and college students, many of whom historically haven’t pursued STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.” Boeing CEO Ray Conner said Wednesday “the company wants to provide opportunities for tech jobs to a generation that’s growing more racially and ethnically diverse.”
The AP (9/21) reports Boeing said “the grants are geared toward programs that enhance science, technology, engineering and math, workforce training, and educational and career opportunities for students.” The firm said $1 million of the funding is earmarked “to further support students seeking a STEM education and enhanced learning opportunities at local universities.”
Also in the News
Rice Engineer Named MacArthur Fellow.
The Houston Chronicle (9/21, McGuire) profiles Rebecca Richards-Kortum, a Rice University bioengineering professor who was named a 2016 MacArthur Fellow. Richards-Kortum says the $625,000 grant is “a nod to the global work she’s done to deliver low-cost medical technology to Third World countries,” including “a piece of machinery she helped develop that assists babies who struggle to breathe and has significantly decreased mortality rates in countries using it.”
Wednesday’s Lead Stories
• DOT Releases Policy On Self-Driving Cars.
• NSF Grant Aims To Help Female UMass Lowell STEM Students.
• Northeastern University Researchers Studying Use Of Nanoparticles To Fight Infection.
• MIT Researchers To Test Self-Driving Boats In Amsterdam.
• Renault, Nissan To Acquire Sylpheo For Self-Driving Car Technology Development.
• FBI InfraGard Program Pairs With Private Sector Against Cyberthreats.
• Titus: US Must Invest In STEM Education.