Why do you itch and should you scratch? (from the BBC)

Why do you itch and should you scratch?

When it comes to the science of the itch, we’ve only just scratched the surface of this medical mystery. As we discover on The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry, this overlooked area of medicine is revealing surprising results about the human brain.

Here are a dozen facts that will really get under your skin:

1. Rough estimates suggest you scratch an itch about 97 times a day

You probably have one or two now. Go on, nobody’s looking.

2. Itches caused by insects or plants are triggered by toxins left in your skin

The toxins start the release of histamines, part of your body’s immune response. This causes nerve fibres to send itchy signals to your brain.

3. Itches have their own nerve network

Until recently we thought that itch and pain both shared the same pathways, but in 1997 a ground-breaking discovery revealed that the itch has its own specialised nerve fibres.

4. But itch signals travel really slowly

Nerve fibres all have different speeds. Touch signals speed along at 200 mph. “Quick pain” (which you experience if you accidentally touch a hot cooker) travels at 80mph. Itches crawl along at 2 mph – slower than walking pace.

5. Itching is contagious, just like yawning

Scientists proved this by showing a set of mice videos of other mice scratching. The first group started having a quick scratch too.

6. Contagious scratching involves a tiny part of your brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus

Neuroscientists currently have no idea how this part of your brain is involved in seeing and spreading scratchy behaviour.

7. Scratching is the best way for your body to deal with itchy invaders

It helps bat away any pesky insects or poisonous plants. It also makes your blood vessels expand, letting white blood cells and plasma flood in to wash away the invading toxin. This is why your skin becomes red and blotchy.

8. Scratching feels pleasurable because it releases serotonin in the brain

9. The nicest place to scratch is your ankle

Research has shown this to be the case. And you have probably just scratched your ankle to check.

10. The more you scratch, the more you itch

Beware the itch-scratch cycle! Scratching your skin releases extra histamine, sending more itchy signals to your brain. Do it too much and you will break the skin, risking infection and causing nasty scabs.

11. The itch-scratch cycle is problematic in skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema

Antihistamines are often prescribed to try and reduce the effects of histamine and combat itchy sensations.

12. Chronic itch has been shown to be as debilitating as chronic pain

It has been linked to many conditions such as liver disease and lymphoma.

Posted, but not written by, Lou Sheehan

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T r u m p ’ s   L i e s Many Americans have become accustomed to President Trump’s lies. But as regular as they have become, the country should not allow itself to become numb to them. So we have catalogued nearly every outright lie he has told publicly since taking the oath of office. By DAVID LEONHARDT and STUART A. THOMPSON JUNE 23, 2017

T r u m p s   L i e s

Many Americans have become accustomed to President Trump’s lies. But as regular as they have become, the country should not allow itself to become numb to them. So we have catalogued nearly every outright lie he has told publicly since taking the oath of office.

JAN. 21 “I wasn’t a fan of Iraq. I didn’t want to go into Iraq.” (He was for an invasion before he was against it.)JAN. 21 “A reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.” (Trump was on the cover 11 times and Nixon appeared 55 times.)JAN. 23 “Between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes caused me to lose the popular vote.” (There’s no evidence of illegal voting.)JAN. 25 “Now, the audience was the biggest ever. But this crowd was massive. Look how far back it goes. This crowd was massive.” (Official aerial photos show Obama’s 2009 inauguration was much more heavily attended.)JAN. 25 “Take a look at the Pew reports (which show voter fraud.)” (The report never mentioned voter fraud.)JAN. 25 “You had millions of people that now aren’t insured anymore.” (The real number is less than 1 million, according to the Urban Institute.)JAN. 25 “So, look, when President Obama was there two weeks ago making a speech, very nice speech. Two people were shot and killed during his speech. You can’t have that.” (There were no gun homicide victims in Chicago that day.)JAN. 26 “We’ve taken in tens of thousands of people. We know nothing about them. They can say they vet them. They didn’t vet them. They have no papers. How can you vet somebody when you don’t know anything about them and you have no papers? How do you vet them? You can’t.” (Vetting lasts up to two years.)JAN. 26 “I cut off hundreds of millions of dollars off one particular plane, hundreds of millions of dollars in a short period of time. It wasn’t like I spent, like, weeks, hours, less than hours, and many, many hundreds of millions of dollars. And the plane’s going to be better.” (Most of the cuts were already planned.)JAN. 28 “The coverage about me in the @nytimes and the @washingtonpost has been so false and angry that the Times actually apologized to its dwindling subscribers and readers.” (It never apologized.)JAN. 29 “The Cuban-Americans, I got 84 percent of that vote.” (There is no support for this.)JAN. 30 “Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage.” (At least 746 people were detained and processed, and the Delta outage happened two days later.)FEB. 3 “Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” (There is no evidence of paid protesters.)FEB. 4 “After being forced to apologize for its bad and inaccurate coverage of me after winning the election, the FAKE NEWS @nytimes is still lost!” (It never apologized.)FEB. 5 “We had 109 people out of hundreds of thousands of travelers and all we did was vet those people very, very carefully.” (About 60,000 people were affected.)FEB. 6 “I have already saved more than $700 million when I got involved in the negotiation on the F-35.” (Much of the price drop was projected before Trump took office.)FEB. 6 “It’s gotten to a point where it is not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it.” (Terrorism has been reported on, often in detail.)FEB. 6 “The failing @nytimes was forced to apologize to its subscribers for the poor reporting it did on my election win. Now they are worse!” (It didn’t apologize.)FEB. 6 “And the previous administration allowed it to happen because we shouldn’t have been in Iraq, but we shouldn’t have gotten out the way we got out. It created a vacuum, ISIS was formed.” (The group’s origins date to 2004.)FEB. 7 “And yet the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right? Did you know that? Forty-seven years.” (It was higher in the 1980s and ’90s.)FEB. 7 “I saved more than $600 million. I got involved in negotiation on a fighter jet, the F-35.” (The Defense Department projected this price drop before Trump took office.)FEB. 9 “Chris Cuomo, in his interview with Sen. Blumenthal, never asked him about his long-term lie about his brave ‘service’ in Vietnam. FAKE NEWS!” (It was part of Cuomo’s first question.)FEB. 9 Sen. Richard Blumenthal “now misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him?” (The Gorsuch comments were later corroborated.)FEB. 10 “I don’t know about it. I haven’t seen it. What report is that?” (Trump knew about Flynn’s actions for weeks.)FEB. 12 “Just leaving Florida. Big crowds of enthusiastic supporters lining the road that the FAKE NEWS media refuses to mention. Very dishonest!” (The media did cover it.)FEB. 16 “We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all won bigger margins in the Electoral College.)FEB. 16 “That’s the other thing that was wrong with the travel ban. You had Delta with a massive problem with their computer system at the airports.” (Delta’s problems happened two days later.)FEB. 16 “Walmart announced it will create 10,000 jobs in the United States just this year because of our various plans and initiatives.” (The jobs are a result of its investment plans announced in October 2016.)FEB. 16 “When WikiLeaks, which I had nothing to do with, comes out and happens to give, they’re not giving classified information.” (Not always. They have released classified information in the past.)FEB. 16 “We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision.” (The rollout was chaotic.)FEB. 16 “They’re giving stuff — what was said at an office about Hillary cheating on the debates. Which, by the way, nobody mentions. Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates.” (It was widely covered.)FEB. 18 “And there was no way to vet those people. There was no documentation. There was no nothing.” (Refugees receive multiple background checks, taking up to two years.)FEB. 18 “You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?” (Trump implied there was a terror attack in Sweden, but there was no such attack.)FEB. 24 “By the way, you folks are in here — this place is packed, there are lines that go back six blocks.” (There was no evidence of long lines.)FEB. 24 “ICE came and endorsed me.”(Only its union did.)FEB. 24 “Obamacare covers very few people — and remember, deduct from the number all of the people that had great health care that they loved that was taken away from them — it was taken away from them.” (Obamacare increased coverage by a net of about 20 million.)FEB. 27 “Since Obamacare went into effect, nearly half of the insurers are stopped and have stopped from participating in the Obamacare exchanges.” (Many fewer pulled out.)FEB. 27 “On one plane, on a small order of one plane, I saved $725 million. And I would say I devoted about, if I added it up, all those calls, probably about an hour. So I think that might be my highest and best use.” (Much of the price cut was already projected.)FEB. 28 “And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that.” (NATO countries agreed to meet defense spending requirements in 2014.)FEB. 28 “The E.P.A.’s regulators were putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands.” (There’s no evidence that the Waters of the United States rule caused severe job losses.)FEB. 28 “We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials.” (They can’t lobby their former agency but can still become lobbyists.)MARCH 3 “It is so pathetic that the Dems have still not approved my full Cabinet.” (Paperwork for the last two candidates was still not submitted to the Senate.)MARCH 4 “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” (There’s no evidence of a wiretap.)MARCH 4 “How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”(There’s no evidence of a wiretap.)MARCH 7 “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” (113 of them were released by President George W. Bush.)MARCH 13 “I saved a lot of money on those jets, didn’t I? Did I do a good job? More than $725 million on them.” (Much of the cost cuts were planned before Trump.)MARCH 13 “First of all, it covers very few people.” (About 20 million people gained insurance under Obamacare.)MARCH 15 “On the airplanes, I saved $725 million. Probably took me a half an hour if you added up all of the times.” (Much of the cost cuts were planned before Trump.)MARCH 17 “I was in Tennessee — I was just telling the folks — and half of the state has no insurance company, and the other half is going to lose the insurance company.” (There’s at least one insurer in every Tennessee county.)MARCH 20 “With just one negotiation on one set of airplanes, I saved the taxpayers of our country over $700 million.” (Much of the cost cuts were planned before Trump.)MARCH 21 “To save taxpayer dollars, I’ve already begun negotiating better contracts for the federal government — saving over $700 million on just one set of airplanes of which there are many sets.” (Much of the cost cuts were planned before Trump.)MARCH 22 “I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems.” (Riots in Sweden broke out two days later and there were no deaths.)MARCH 22 “NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that.” (It has fought terrorism since the 1980s.)MARCH 22 “Well, now, if you take a look at the votes, when I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong — in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people.” (There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud.)MARCH 29 “Remember when the failing @nytimes apologized to its subscribers, right after the election, because their coverage was so wrong. Now worse!” (It didn’t apologize.)MARCH 31 “We have a lot of plants going up now in Michigan that were never going to be there if I — if I didn’t win this election, those plants would never even think about going back. They were gone.” (These investments were already planned.)APRIL 2 “And I was totally opposed to the war in the Middle East which I think finally has been proven, people tried very hard to say I wasn’t but you’ve seen that it is now improving.” (He was for an invasion before he was against it.)APRIL 2 “Now, my last tweet — you know, the one that you are talking about, perhaps — was the one about being, in quotes, wiretapped, meaning surveilled. Guess what, it is turning out to be true.” (There is still no evidence.)APRIL 5 “You have many states coming up where they’re going to have no insurance company. O.K.? It’s already happened in Tennessee. It’s happening in Kentucky. Tennessee only has half coverage. Half the state is gone. They left.” (Every marketplace region in Tennessee had at least one insurer.)APRIL 6 “If you look at the kind of cost-cutting we’ve been able to achieve with the military and at the same time ordering vast amounts of equipment — saved hundreds of millions of dollars on airplanes, and really billions, because if you take that out over a period of years it’s many billions of dollars — I think we’ve had a tremendous success.” (Much of the price cuts were already projected.)APRIL 11 “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve.” (He knew Steve Bannon since 2011.)APRIL 12 “You can’t do it faster, because they’re obstructing. They’re obstructionists. So I have people — hundreds of people that we’re trying to get through. I mean you have — you see the backlog. We can’t get them through.” (At this point, he had not nominated anyone for hundreds of positions.)APRIL 12 “The New York Times said the word wiretapped in the headline of the first edition. Then they took it out of there fast when they realized.” (There were separate headlines for print and web, but neither were altered.)APRIL 12 “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism.” (NATO has been engaged in counterterrorism efforts since the 1980s.)APRIL 12 “Mosul was supposed to last for a week and now they’ve been fighting it for many months and so many more people died.” (The campaign was expected to take months.)APRIL 16 “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over!” (There’s no evidence of paid protesters.)APRIL 18 “The fake media goes, ‘Donald Trump changed his stance on China.’ I haven’t changed my stance.” (He did.)APRIL 21 “On 90 planes I saved $725 million. It’s actually a little bit more than that, but it’s $725 million.” (Much of the price cuts were already projected.)APRIL 21 “When WikiLeaks came out … never heard of WikiLeaks, never heard of it.” (He criticized it as early as 2010.)APRIL 27 “I want to help our miners while the Democrats are blocking their healthcare.” (The bill to extend health benefits for certain coal miners was introduced by a Democrat and was co-sponsored by mostly Democrats.)APRIL 28 “The trade deficit with Mexico is close to $70 billion, even with Canada it’s $17 billion trade deficit with Canada.” (The U.S. had an $8.1 billion trade surplus, not deficit, with Canada in 2016.)APRIL 28 “She’s running against someone who’s going to raise your taxes to the sky, destroy your health care, and he’s for open borders — lots of crime.” (Those are not Jon Ossoff’s positions.)APRIL 28 “The F-35 fighter jet program — it was way over budget. I’ve saved $725 million plus, just by getting involved in the negotiation.” (Much of the price cuts were planned before Trump.)APRIL 29 “They’re incompetent, dishonest people who after an election had to apologize because they covered it, us, me, but all of us, they covered it so badly that they felt they were forced to apologize because their predictions were so bad.” (The Times did not apologize.)APRIL 29 “As you know, I’ve been a big critic of China, and I’ve been talking about currency manipulation for a long time. But I have to tell you that during the election, number one, they stopped.” (China stopped years ago.)APRIL 29 “I’ve already saved more than $725 million on a simple order of F-35 planes. I got involved in the negotiation.” (Much of the price cuts were planned before Trump.)APRIL 29 “We’re also getting NATO countries to finally step up and contribute their fair share. They’ve begun to increase their contributions by billions of dollars, but we are not going to be satisfied until everyone pays what they owe.” (The deal was struck in 2014.)APRIL 29 “When they talk about currency manipulation, and I did say I would call China, if they were, a currency manipulator, early in my tenure. And then I get there. Number one, they — as soon as I got elected, they stopped.” (China stopped in 2014.)APRIL 29 “I was negotiating to reduce the price of the big fighter jet contract, the F-35, which was totally out of control. I will save billions and billions and billions of dollars.” (Most of the cuts were planned before Trump.)APRIL 29 “I think our side’s been proven very strongly. And everybody’s talking about it.” (There’s still no evidence Trump’s phones were tapped.)MAY 1 “Well, we are protecting pre-existing conditions. And it’ll be every good — bit as good on pre-existing conditions as Obamacare.” (The bill weakens protections for people with pre-existing conditions.)MAY 1 “The F-35 fighter jet — I saved — I got involved in the negotiation. It’s 2,500 jets. I negotiated for 90 planes, lot 10. I got $725 million off the price.” (Much of the price cuts were planned before Trump.)MAY 1 “First of all, since I started running, they haven’t increased their — you know, they have not manipulated their currency. I think that was out of respect to me and the campaign.” (China stopped years ago.)MAY 2 “I love buying those planes at a reduced price. I have been really — I have cut billions — I have to tell you this, and they can check, right, Martha? I have cut billions and billions of dollars off plane contracts sitting here.” (Much of the cost cuts were planned before Trump.)MAY 4 “Number two, they’re actually not a currency [manipulator]. You know, since I’ve been talking about currency manipulation with respect to them and other countries, they stopped.” (China stopped years ago.)MAY 4 “We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world.” (We’re not.)MAY 4 “Nobody cares about my tax return except for the reporters.” (Polls show most Americans do care.)MAY 8 “You know we’ve gotten billions of dollars more in NATO than we’re getting. All because of me.” (The deal was struck in 2014.)MAY 8 “But when I did his show, which by the way was very highly rated. It was high — highest rating. The highest rating he’s ever had.” (Colbert’s “Late Show” debut had nearly two million more viewers.)MAY 8 “Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows — there is ‘no evidence’ of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.” (Clapper only said he wasn’t aware of an investigation.)MAY 12 “Again, the story that there was collusion between the Russians & Trump campaign was fabricated by Dems as an excuse for losing the election.” (The F.B.I. was investigating before the election.)MAY 12 “When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?” (Clapper said he wouldn’t have been told of an investigation into collusion.)MAY 13 “I’m cutting the price of airplanes with Lockheed.” (The cost cuts were planned before he became president.)MAY 26 “Just arrived in Italy for the G7. Trip has been very successful. We made and saved the USA many billions of dollars and millions of jobs.” (He’s referencing an arms deal that’s not enacted and other apparent deals that weren’t announced on the trip.)JUNE 1 “China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020.” (The agreement doesn’t allow or disallow building coal plants.)JUNE 1 “I’ve just returned from a trip overseas where we concluded nearly $350 billion of military and economic development for the United States, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.” (Trump’s figures are inflated and premature.)JUNE 4 “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’” (The mayor was specifically talking about the enlarged police presence on the streets.)JUNE 5 “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.” (Trump signed this version of the travel ban, not the Justice Department.)JUNE 21 “They all say it’s ‘nonbinding.’ Like hell it’s nonbinding.” (The Paris climate agreement is nonbinding — and Trump said so in his speech announcing the withdrawal.)JUNE 21 “Right now, we are one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.” (We’re not.)

All the President’s Lies

Trump told a public lie

Didn’t tell a public lie

JAN. 2017







President Trump’s political rise was built on a lie (about Barack Obama’s birthplace). His lack of truthfulness has also become central to the Russia investigation, with James Comey, the former director of the F.B.I., testifying under oath about Trump’s “lies, plain and simple.”

There is simply no precedent for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers. No other president — of either party — has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.

We have set a conservative standard here, leaving out many dubious statements (like the claim that his travel ban is “similar” to Obama administration policy). Some people may still take issue with this standard, arguing that the president wasn’t speaking literally. But we believe his long pattern of using untruths to serve his purposes, as a businessman and politician, means that his statements are not simply careless errors.

We are using the word “lie” deliberately. Not every falsehood is deliberate on Trump’s part. But it would be the height of naïveté to imagine he is merely making honest mistakes. He is lying.

Trump Told Public Lies or Falsehoods Every Day for His First 40 Days

The list above uses the conservative standard of demonstrably false statements. By that standard, Trump told a public lie on at least 20 of his first 40 days as president. But based on a broader standard — one that includes his many misleading statements (like exaggerating military spending in the Middle East) — Trump achieved something remarkable: He said something untrue, in public, every day for the first 40 days of his presidency. The streak didn’t end until March 1.

Told a public lie

Told a public falsehood

Didn’t tell a public lie or falsehood

First day without

a public lie

or falsehood

JAN. 2017



Visited a Trump property

and told no public

lie or falsehood




Since then, he has said something untrue on at least 74 of 113 days. On days without an untrue statement, he is often absent from Twitter, vacationing at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, or busy golfing.

The end of May was another period of relative public veracity — or at least public quiet — for the president. He seems to have been otherwise occupied, dealing with internal discussions about the Russia investigation and then embarking on a trip through the Middle East and Europe.

Visited a Trump

property and told

no public lies

or falsehoods
















Washington Post reports Trump shared highly classified intelligence with Russians




New York Times reports Trump hoped Comey would “let this go,” referring to the Flynn investigation

Special counsel appointed in investigation of Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign















Trump’s trip


Trump’s Public Lies Sometimes Changed With Repetition

Sometimes, Trump can’t even keep his untruths straight. After he reversed a campaign pledge and declined to label China a currency manipulator, he kept changing his description of when China had stopped the bad behavior. Initially, he said it stopped once he took office. He then changed the turning point to the election, then to since he started talking about it, and then to some uncertain point in the distant past.

When Trump said China stopped manipulating its currency


“from the time I took office”








“during the election”


“as soon as I got elected”




“since I started running”



“since I’ve been talking about

currency manipulation”

The Public’s Mistrust of Trump Grows

Trump has retained the support of most of his voters as well as the Republican leadership in Congress. But he has still paid some price for his lies. Nearly 60 percent of Americans say the president is not honest, polls show, up from about 53 percent when he took office.

Would you say Donald Trump is honest?

















Source: Quinnipiac

David Leonhardt is a New York Times columnist. Stuart A. Thompson is the graphics director for the Opinion section.

Correction: June 23, 2017
An earlier version of this graphic included an incorrect total for the number of days Donald Trump told a lie during his first two months as president. It was 20, not 25.

Posted, but not written, by Louis Sheehan

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County Population Percentages

The Upshot

19801990200020102020203020402050← in the pastin the future →Most resembles America… based on race, ethnicity, gender and age
A Census Time Machine: Sioux Falls Is the Past, Staten Island the Present, Las Vegas the Future

If you find yourself traveling through Nevada’s pointed southern tip, look around: Along with the towering rust-hued rock formations and the Las Vegas Strip, you might catch a glimpse of the face of the nation’s future.

Clark County, which occupies that corner of Nevada, is the county that most looks like the United States of 2060 in terms of race, Hispanic ethnicity, age and gender, according to new data from the Census Bureau. It was followed by Contra Costa and Solano Counties in California’s Bay Area.

The bureau on Thursday published its latest detailed population estimates for each of the more than 3,000 American counties. We used that data, along with the bureau’s projections about the future, to compare each county with the nation as a whole at different points in time. We looked at population estimates for more than 200 different groups of people — for instance, “Hispanic men ages 20 to 24” would make up one such group.

While southern Nevada offers a vision of tomorrow, the past is just a day’s car ride away. Drive about eight hours north and east into Utah, stopping just short of Salt Lake City, and you’ll find Tooele County, which most closely resembles the younger, less diverse national population of 1971, the earliest year for which comparative data is available.

To better understand the America of today, fly about 2,000 miles south and east to the greater Orlando, Fla., area. There you’ll find Seminole County, a modern microcosm whose population most closely matches the nation’s current mix. Staten Island, a.k.a. Richmond County, is the second closest.

Clark County, Nev. in 2016 44% 11% 31% 14%
… most resembles the U.S. in 2051 47% 13% 27% 14%
U.S. in 2016 61% 12% 18% 8%

America is more than demographics, but how they change can have a profound effect on culture, politics and business. An aging population is already beginning to test the health care industry and threaten the nation’s fiscal future. The rise of minorities, led by a swelling Hispanic population, is transforming the nation’s complicated relationship with race and ethnicity.

The accompanying map shows when the nation will most closely match each county today.

Right now, Cook County, Ill., the second-most populous county, more closely resembles the nation in 2047 than any other year we studied. Maricopa County, Ariz., the fourth-largest county, resembles the demographics of the nation in 2020.

Counties with populations that are about 75 percent white tend to reflect the America of the 1970s and 1980s. Those where the population is half white and more diverse tend to reflect the America of the 2040s and 2050s.

The findings can be somewhat misleading: Some counties, often small ones with unusual demographics, still don’t look much like the nation even in the year to which they are best matched. The racial categories are limited, and the comparisons do not account for variables like education, income or population density. But this analysis nonetheless offers a glimpse at America’s demographic past, present and future.

2060 Clark County, Nev.
2050 Clark County, Nev.
2040 Westchester County, N.Y.
2030 Polk County, Fla.
2020 Seminole County, Fla.
2010 Will County, Ill.
2000 Barrow County, Ga.
1990 Barrow County, Ga.
1980 Faulkner County, Ark.

Much like the possibility that your best friend may have a different best friend, the county that best matches the U.S. in a given year may not result in the same pair as the U.S. year that best matches a selected county.

Our analysis included whether someone was Hispanic or not, broad racial categories (white, black, and other), age (in five-year groups up to 85 and over) and gender.

Because of the need to maintain consistency with limited historical data, the analysis combined two small but growing parts of the population: Asian-Americans and those who say they are more than one race. Those two groups, along with several other races who account for small parts of the population, were combined into a single “other races” category for the comparison.

That “other” category accounts for about 10 percent of the population today, but it is expected to be about 17 percent by 2060. Asian-Americans are expected to account for the majority of that category, though people of more than one race are also expected to make up a sizable share of it.

Because of the limits of the “other” race category, parts of the country with sizable American Indian populations stand out as resembling the United States of the future even though that demographic is unlikely to account for a significant portion of the population in the decades to come.

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Psychologists Open a Window on Brutal C.I.A. Interrogations

Posted, but not written by, Louis Sheehan


Two men who proposed interrogation techniques widely viewed as torture are part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of former C.I.A. detainees. Deposition videos, obtained exclusively by The New York Times, reveal new insights into the enhanced interrogation program and the C.I.A. contractors behind it.

Fifteen years after he helped devise the brutal interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects in secret C.I.A. prisons, John Bruce Jessen, a former military psychologist, expressed ambivalence about the program.

He described himself and a fellow military psychologist, James Mitchell, as reluctant participants in using the techniques, some of which are widely viewed as torture, but also justified the practices as effective in getting resistant detainees to cooperate.

“I think any normal, conscionable man would have to consider carefully doing something like this,” Dr. Jessen said in a newly disclosed deposition. “I deliberated with great, soulful torment about this, and obviously I concluded that it could be done safely or I wouldn’t have done it.”

The two psychologists — whom C.I.A. officials have called architects of the interrogation program, a designation they dispute — are defendants in the only lawsuit that may hold participants accountable for causing harm.

The program has been well documented, but under deposition, with a camera focused on their faces, Drs. Jessen and Mitchell provided new details about the interrogation effort, their roles in it and their rationales. Their accounts were sometimes at odds with their own correspondence at the time, as well as previous portrayals of them by officials and other interrogators as eager participants in the program.

Read the Case Documents

Linked below are PDF transcripts of the depositions and other declassified agency documents.

The suit, filed in Federal District Court in Spokane, Wash., was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several former prisoners of the Central Intelligence Agency. The New York Times has obtained the video depositions of Dr. Jessen and Dr. Mitchell, as well as those of two former C.I.A. officials and two former detainees. Newly declassified agency documents have also been released in the case.

Revelations about the C.I.A. practices, which were a radical departure for the United States, set off global denunciations and bitter divisions at home. They led to an eventual ban on the techniques and a prohibition by the American Psychological Association against members’ participation in national security interrogations. A 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report condemned the interrogation techniques as brutal and ineffective in providing “unique” intelligence information by other means.

For years, Dr. Mitchell, polished and assertive, has defended the two men’s actions in the press and in a recent book, while Dr. Jessen remained silent. But Dr. Jessen answered questions under oath on Jan. 20, the same day that President Trump was inaugurated. During the election campaign Mr. Trump had pledged to revive the use of torture, including waterboarding, though he later backed off.

The two psychologists argue that the C.I.A., for which they were contractors, controlled the program. But it is difficult to successfully sue agency officials because of government immunity.

Under the agency’s direction, the two men said, they proposed the “enhanced interrogation” techniques — which were then authorized by the Justice Department — applied them and trained others to do so. Their business received $81 million from the agency.

Video depositions in a case brought by former C.I.A. detainees give an insight into the beginnings of the agency’s enhanced interrogation program. Malachy Browne and Natalie Reneau

But in his deposition, Dr. Jessen indicated that the two men had some reservations. “Jim and I didn’t want to continue doing what we were doing,” Dr. Jessen testified. “We tried to get out several times and they needed us, and we — we kept going.”

The outline for the techniques emerged in 2002 when C.I.A. officials asked them to come up with proposals. The techniques were largely adapted from those the psychologists had used to train American soldiers in survival schools to resist brutal interrogations by hostile forces that were violating the laws of war.

“Jim and I went into a cubicle,” Dr. Jessen said. “He sat down at a typewriter and together we wrote out a list.” They thought those techniques — including sensory and sleep deprivation, shackling for hours in uncomfortable positions and waterboarding — would be safer than others the C.I.A. might consider to get resistant detainees to provide information that could help head off another terrorist attack, he said.

Lasting Scars

Articles in this series examine the American legacy of brutal interrogations.

  • How U.S. Torture Left a Legacy of Damaged Minds

  • After Torture, Ex-Detainee Is Still Captive of ‘The Darkness’

  • Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo

  • Secret Documents Show a Tortured Prisoner’s Descent

  • Memories of a Secret C.I.A. Prison

Soon after, the C.I.A. asked them to use the techniques to interrogate a terrorism suspect, something with which they had no experience.

“I had been in the military my whole life and — and I was committed to and used to doing what I was ordered to do,” Dr. Jessen said. “That’s the way I considered this circumstance.”

Abu Zubaydah, taken into custody in 2002, was the first detainee to be waterboarded. The United States government believed he was a top leader of Al Qaeda, though it later abandoned that claim.

At a secret C.I.A. jail in Thailand, he provided useful intelligence to F.B.I. agents who questioned him using traditional methods, including rapport-building. But worried that he was holding back information, which the C.I.A. later concluded he never had, agency leaders chose to use extreme physical force to break him.

Drs. Mitchell and Jessen were sent to the jail to carry out the techniques, including waterboarding. Water was poured over a cloth covering Abu Zubaydah’s face to simulate drowning. He underwent the procedure 83 times over a period of days; at one point he was completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising from his mouth, according to the Senate report. A newly declassified August 2002 cable from the prison to headquarters noted: “At the onset of involuntary stomach and leg spasms, subject was again elevated to clear his airway, which was followed by hysterical pleas. Subject was distressed to the level that he was unable to effectively communicate or adequately engage the team.”

When those at the prison wanted to end the waterboarding sessions as no longer useful, C.I.A. supervisors — including Jose Rodriguez, then the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center and a witness who testified under oath in the lawsuit — ordered them to continue.

“They kept telling me every day a nuclear bomb was going to be exploded in the United States and that because I had told them to stop, I had lost my nerve and it was going to be my fault if I didn’t continue,” Dr. Jessen testified.

Dr. Mitchell said that the C.I.A. officials told them: “‘You guys have lost your spine.’ I think the word that was actually used is that you guys are pussies. There was going to be another attack in America and the blood of dead civilians are going to be on your hands.”

A plaintiff, Mohamed Ben Soud, drew pictures depicting his treatment in a C.I.A. prison. They included, left, being placed in a wooden box and poked through its holes and, right, being strapped to a wooden board on which he was abused with water. via ACLU

Still, the psychologists’ interrogation team recommended using the aggressive techniques as a “template for future interrogations of high-value captives,” according to an agency cable. The psychologists later subjected two other prisoners — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — to waterboarding.

In his deposition, Dr. Mitchell, who once said that most people would prefer to have their legs broken than to be waterboarded, disagreed with a lawyer’s reference to the practice as painful. “It sucks, you know. I don’t know that it’s painful,” he said. “I’m using the word distressing.”

Both Dr. Jessen and Dr. Mitchell rejected the notion that men subjected to the harsh techniques suffered any long-term physical or psychological damage. “If they are out there and that happened, then, you know, show me the data,” Dr. Mitchell said. He added that if the techniques were applied as recommended, “my view is, that is so unlikely so as to be impossible.”

But The Times last year found a pattern of long-term psychological damageamong dozens of former detainees subjected to brutal treatment by the United States. The men described grappling with depression, anxiety, withdrawal and flashbacks.

Mohamed Ben Soud, a Libyan, was held by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan. Holly Pickett/ACLU

In their depositions, two former prisoners who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit described their torment. Drs. Mitchell and Jessen said they had not interrogated or encountered the two men.

Mohamed Ben Soud, a Libyan, was held by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan and was subjected to being locked in small boxes, slammed against a wall and doused with buckets of ice water while naked and shackled. He said he still suffered from nightmares, fear, mood swings and other psychological injuries as a result of his captivity.

“It comes to me during my sleep and as if I’m still imprisoned in that horrible place and still shackled,” he said in his deposition, through a translator. “I get the feeling of worry about my future and about the fear that this could happen again.”

Suleiman Salim, a Tanzanian captured in 2003 and also held by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan, was beaten, isolated in a dark cell for months, subjected to dousing with water and deprived of sleep. He said he suffered from flashbacks, headaches, sleeplessness and ringing in his ears.

“I don’t feel like being with people, I like being with myself, and I don’t like walking around to see people,” he said in his deposition, also through a translator. “I feel like I’m so weak and I can’t do anything.”

Suleiman Salim, a Tanzanian, was captured in 2003 and held by the C.I.A. in Afghanistan. He was beaten, isolated in a dark cell for months, subjected to dousing with water and deprived of sleep. Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Dr. Jessen said that after the C.I.A.’s secret detention program became public — it was officially acknowledged by President George W. Bush in 2006, but had been previously described in news reports — he and Dr. Mitchell were asked for guidance about which methods could be eliminated. They also deliberated “damn near every day how we could help our government and not do the things we were doing,” Dr. Jessen said. He said they developed an alternative involving less physical coercion, but never had the chance to put it into practice. He would not provide details because the plans remain classified.

Still, Dr. Mitchell asserted that the current legal limits on interrogation methods were too restrictive, and both men said that some of the physically harsh techniques were useful. “Walling,” in which a prisoner is repeatedly slammed against a flexible plywood wall, was “one of the most effective,” Dr. Jessen said. “It’s discombobulating. It doesn’t hurt you, but it jostles the inner ear, it makes a really loud noise.”

He also described extreme sleep deprivation: “There is a tether anchored to the ceiling in the center of the detention cell. The detainee has handcuffs and they’re attached to the tether in a way that they can’t lie down or rest against a wall. They’re monitored to make sure they don’t get edema if they hang on the cuffs too much.”

Mr. Salim, responding to questions about the same technique, described it as excruciating: “A lot of pain in my arms, a lot of pains in my back and around my waist.”

In his deposition, Dr. Mitchell revealed that he, along with others, urged the C.I.A. to destroy videotapes the agency had made of some interrogations. The destruction of the tapes became the subject of investigations both by the Justice Department and Congress.

Got a confidential news tip?

Dr. Mitchell explained his reasoning about the graphic images of waterboarding and other practices: “I thought they were ugly and they would, you know, potentially endanger our lives by putting our pictures out so that the bad guys could see us.”

Both men denied accusations that they evaluated the effectiveness of the methods they promoted. However, the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights, in a report being released this week, contends that the men and the C.I.A. engaged in unethical experimentation on detainees, which is banned by the Nuremberg Code for health professionals developed after World War II.

The group said the explicit mention of applied research in the psychologists’ contracts with the agency, released recently through the lawsuit, and similar references in recently released C.I.A. cables, indicate that the enhanced interrogation program “was itself an applied research regime and implicitly conceptualized as such by the C.I.A.”

Gul Rahman died in C.I.A. custody in Afghanistan in 2002. His estate is a plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by the A.C.L.U. and the Gibbons law firm. Habib Rahman

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Gibbons law firm of Newark brought the lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Salim, Mr. Ben Soud and the estate of a third man, Gul Rahman, who died in C.I.A. custody in Afghanistan in 2002, most likely of hypothermia. Dr. Jessen, who participated in Mr. Rahman’s interrogation, said he had asked guards several times to provide clothes and blankets to him.

The case is scheduled for trial on Sept. 5. Last month, both sides asked Judge Justin L. Quackenbush of Federal District Court to rule summarily in their favor. He has not yet ruled, but did grant the United States government’s request to block the deposition of two additional former C.I.A. officials as witnesses and the release of certain documents requested by Drs. Mitchell and Jessen, on grounds it could harm national security. However, the case was permitted to continue.

Video production by Malachy Browne, Natalie Reneau and Sheri Fink.
Design and production by Danny DeBelius.

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How Hot Were the Oceans When Life First Evolved?

How Hot Were the Oceans When Life First Evolved?

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How Hot Were the Oceans When Life First Evolved?

When haze built up in the atmosphere of Archean Earth, the young planet might have looked like this artist’s interpretation — a pale orange dot.

Credit: Francis Reddy/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

We know little about Earth’s surface temperatures for the first 4 billion years or so of its history. This presents a limitation into research of life’s origins on Earth and how it might arise on distant worlds.

Now researchers suggest that by resurrecting ancient enzymes they could estimate the temperatures in which these organisms likely evolved billions of years ago. The scientists recently published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We need a better understanding of not only how life first evolved on Earth, but how life and the Earth’s environment co-evolved over billions of years of geological history,” said lead author Amanda Garcia, a paleogeobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “A similar co-evolution seems certain to be the case for any life elsewhere in the Universe.” [Ancient Earth: Pummeled, Cracked and Oozing Magma (Visualization)]


Garcia and her colleagues focused on the history of Earth’s surface temperatures. Rocks offer many clues to deduce temperatures over the last 550 million years in the Phanerozoic Era, when complex, multicellular life took off, including that of humans. However, few such “paleo-thermometers” exist for the earlier Precambrian Era, spanning the Earth’s formation 4.6 billion years ago and the rise of life.

Earlier geological evidence has suggested that 3.5 billion years ago, during the Archean Eon, the oceans were 131 degrees to 185 degrees F (55 degrees to 85 degrees C). They cooled dramatically to current average temperatures of 59 degrees F (15 degrees C). Scientists made these estimates by examining oxygen and silicon isotopes in marine rocks. Quartz-rich rocks in the seabed, known as cherts, have higher levels of the heavier oxygen-18 and silicon-30 isotopes as the seawater gets colder. In principle, the ratio of heavier to lighter oxygen and silicon isotopes can shed light on ancient temperatures.

But such paleo-thermometers do not adequately take into account how these rocks or the ocean might have changed over the course of billions of years. Perhaps the isotopic ratios in seawater varied over time in response to physical or chemical alterations, such as water flows off the land or from hydrothermal vents.

Given the uncertainties, Garcia and her colleagues sought an independent measurement of seawater temperatures in the Precambrian that centers on the behavior of biological molecules. The scientists examined an enzyme known as nucleoside diphosphate kinase (NDK), which helps manipulate the building blocks of DNA and RNA, as well as many other roles. Versions of this protein are found in virtually all living organisms, and were likely vital to many extinct organisms as well. Previous research found a correlation between the optimal temperatures of protein stability and an organism’s growth.

The image on the left depicts what Earth might have looked like more than 3 billion years ago in the early Archean. The orange shapes represent the magnesium-rich proto-continents before plate tectonics started, although it is impossible to determine their precise shapes and locations. The ocean appears green due to a high amount of iron ions in the water at that time. The timeline traces the transition from a magnesium-rich upper continental crust to a magnesium-poor upper continental crust.

The image on the left depicts what Earth might have looked like more than 3 billion years ago in the early Archean. The orange shapes represent the magnesium-rich proto-continents before plate tectonics started, although it is impossible to determine their precise shapes and locations. The ocean appears green due to a high amount of iron ions in the water at that time. The timeline traces the transition from a magnesium-rich upper continental crust to a magnesium-poor upper continental crust.

Credit: Ming Tang/University of Maryland

By comparing the molecular sequences of versions of NDK in a variety of contemporary species, researchers can reconstruct the versions of NDK that might have been present in their common ancestors. By synthesizing these reconstructions, scientists can experimentally test these “resurrected” ancient proteins to find the temperature that stabilizes the protein and deduce from that the likely temperature that supported the ancient organism.

Scientists estimate when ancient enzymes might have existed by looking at their closest living relatives of their host organism. The greater the number of differences in the genetic sequences of these relatives, the longer ago their last common relative likely lived. Scientists use these differences to gauge the age of biomolecules such as the reconstructions of NDK. [The Strangest Alien Planets (Gallery)]

Previous research had reconstructed ancient enzymes to deduce past temperatures, but some of these enzymes may have come from organisms that lived in unusually hot environments, such as deep-sea hydrothermal vents, which would not be representative of the wider ocean. Instead, Garcia and her colleagues sought to reconstruct NDK from land plants and photosynthetic bacteria living in the upper sunlit depths of oceans, presumably far away from boiling hot springs.

Microbial reefs called stromatolites are examples of biological structures found as far back as 3.7 billion years ago.
Microbial reefs called stromatolites are examples of biological structures found as far back as 3.7 billion years ago.

Credit: Pamela Reid, Ph.D., University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Their research suggests that Earth’s surface cooled from roughly 167 degrees F (75 degrees C) about 3 billion years ago to roughly 95 degrees (35 degrees F) about 420 million years ago. These findings are consistent with previous geological and enzyme-based results.

Garcia said such a dramatic cooling is hard to fathom, emphasizing how scientists need to remember how different conditions were in the past when figuring out how life evolved over time.

“It requires a lot of effort to envision a world that does not seem to fit with the common sense of our current Earth conditions.”

Future research could reconstruct versions of NDK from more organisms, as well as other enzymes, giving more evidence to support the method. Such research could help “in solving big questions about the early evolution of life and Earth’s environment,” she said.

The participation of study co-author J. William Schopf, founder of the Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life at the University of California, Los Angeles, was supported by his membership in the NASA Astrobiology Institute’s Wisconsin Astrobiology Research Consortium.

This story was provided by Astrobiology Magazine, a web-based publication sponsored by the NASA astrobiology program. Follow us@Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+

Posted, but not written, by Lou Sheehan
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Could subjects soon be a thing of the past in Finland?

Could subjects soon be a thing of the past in Finland?

Media captionFinland has one of the best education systems in the world.

Finland has long been renowned for the quality of its education and always scores highly in international league tables.

Now it is rethinking how it teaches in the digital age – seeking to place skills, as much as subjects, at the heart of what it does. But not everyone is happy, and there are fears it could bring down standards.

It is a chilly morning in a remote village in southern Finland, but the thoughts of this class of 12-year-olds are elsewhere – in ancient Rome.

Their teacher is taking them through a video re-enactment – shown on the classroom’s interactive smart board – of the day Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the city of Pompeii.

In groups they take out their mini laptops. Their task is to compare ancient Rome with modern Finland. One group looks at Roman baths and today’s luxury spas; another puts the Colosseum up against modern-day stadiums.

Map of Hauho

They use 3D printers to create a miniature of their Roman building, which will eventually be used as pieces for a class-wide board game.

This is a history lesson with a difference, says Aleksis Stenholm, a teacher at Hauho Comprehensive School. The children are also gaining skills in technology, research, communication and cultural understanding.

“Each group is becoming an expert on their subject, which they will present to the class,” he explains. The board game is the culmination of the project, which will run alongside normal classroom teaching.

How Finland has shaken up teaching for the 21st Century

For nearly two decades, Finland has enjoyed a reputation for having one of the world’s best education systems. Its 15 year olds regularly score amongst the highest in the global Pisa league tables for reading, maths and science.

Hauho Comprehensive School, Finland
Image captionExercise balls replace chairs in this classroom at Hauho school

Its ability to produce high academic results in children who do not start formal schooling until the age of seven, have short school days, long holidays, relatively little homework and no exams, has long fascinated education experts around the world.

Despite this, Finland is shaking up the way it is doing things – a move that it says is vital in a digital age where children are no longer reliant on books and the classroom to gain knowledge.

In August 2016 it became compulsory for every Finnish school to teach in a more collaborative way; to allow students to choose a topic relevant to them and base subjects around it. Making innovative use of technology and sources outside the school, such as experts and museums, is a key part of it.

The aim of this way of teaching – known as project- or phenomenon-based learning (PBL) – is to equip children with skills necessary to flourish in the 21st Century, says Kirsti Lonka, a professor of educational psychology at Helsinki University. Among the skills she singles out are critical thinking to identify fake news and avoid cyber-bullying, and the technical ability to install anti-virus software and link up to a printer.

Kids at lunchtime at Hauho Comprehensive School, Finland
Image captionThe school at Hauho is relaxed about the children using their mobile phones in class as well as in the lunch hour

“Traditionally, learning has been defined as a list of subject matters and facts you need to acquire – such as arithmetic and grammar – with some decoration, like citizenship, built in around it,” Ms Lonka says.

“But when it comes to real life, our brain is not sliced into disciplines in that way; we are thinking in a very holistic way. And when you think about the problems in the world – global crises, migration, the economy, the post-truth era – we really haven’t given our children the tools to deal with this inter-cultural world.

“I think it is a major mistake if we lead children to believe the world is simple and that if they learn certain facts they are ready to go. So learning to think, learning to understand, these are important skills – and it also makes learning fun, which we think promotes wellbeing.”

How Finland is ditching classroom traditions

Hauho Comprehensive School is nestled among forests and lakes, some 40 minutes drive north-east of the city of Hameenlinna.

With just 230 pupils aged between seven and 15, it has a homely feel. Shoes are left at the front entrance, exercise balls are used instead of chairs in some classrooms, and there are pull-up bars in the doorways.

Teachers are relaxed about mobile phones in the classroom; it is a chance, they say, for children to appreciate their value as a research tool, not just as a means for communicating with their friends.

Kids on their scooters at Hauho Comprehensive School, Finland
Image captionThe school’s skate park came from an idea suggested by the children, who helped design and raise funds for it

On this cold day, the older students huddle around their phones during the lunch hour while some of the younger children brave the snow flurries to use the skate park, football and basketball pitches.

Head teacher Pekka Paappanen is a firm believer in PBL and looks for a variety of ways of integrating it into the school’s curriculum.

“I talk through ideas with our teachers, and then I make sure there is time and space in the schedule for them to happen,” he explains.

“I think teachers have more power in this way, but they have to realise they can’t do everything. We are leaving some old traditions behind, but we are taking it slowly too – the job of teaching our children is too important and we mustn’t get it wrong.”

Tackling Europe’s biggest issues in class

One big project last year was on the subject of immigration, when the flow of migrants into Europe was making headlines around the world.

Kids at lunchtime at Hauho Comprehensive School, Finland
Image captionThe children linked up with German pupils to compare their understanding of immigration

Aleksis Stenholm says they chose the topic because it became clear many of their students had little personal experience of immigrants and immigration. The topic was incorporated into German and religious classes.

Their 15-year-olds carried out street surveys to garner local opinions about immigration, and they visited a nearby immigration centre to interview asylum seekers. They shared their findings via video-link with a school in Germany, which had carried out a similar project.

“It was really powerful, how the students reacted to it. They started thinking about things, questioning their opinions,” Mr Stenholm recalls.

“If I had just taught this over, say, the course of three lessons, the effect would have been very different.”

But does it work?

The idea behind phenomenon-based learning has its critics. Some, like physics teacher Jussi Tanhuanpaa, fear it does not provide children with a strong enough grounding in a subject to enable them to study it at a higher level.

He teaches in Lieto, just outside the south-west city of Turku, and says that of one cohort of children he knew who took advanced-level maths post-16, some 30% of them had to drop down a level.

He also worries it is widening the gap between the most and least able students – a gap that has been historically small in Finland.

Children learning at Hauho Comprehensive School, Finland
Image captionA smart board and tablet computers are used for this lesson on climate change

“This way of teaching is great for the brightest children who understand what knowledge they need to take away from an experiment. It allows them the freedom to learn at their own pace and take the next steps when they are ready to,” he says.

“But this is not the case for children who are less able to figure it out for themselves and need more guidance. The gap between the brightest and the less able has already begun widening and I am very afraid that this will only get worse”.

Girl learning at Hauho Comprehensive School, Finland
Image captionPens and paper are still an important part of classroom life

Others worry that it is also adding to teachers’ workloads and is disadvantaging older teachers who may not be as digitally able as their younger counterparts.

Jari Salminen of Helsinki University’s faculty of education says similar types of learning have been tried in the past – as far back as 100 years ago – and have failed.

“Many international visitors are asking me, why are you changing this system when you get such good results? And it’s a mystery to me, because we don’t have any data from school level that phenomenon-based learning is improving results,” Mr Salminen says.

Children in art lessons at Hauho Comprehensive School, Finland
Image caption…. so too are arts and crafts

Anneli Rautiainen of Finland’s national agency for education accepts there are concerns and says they are introducing the changes gradually: schools are only required to provide one such PBL project for its pupils a year.

“We want to encourage teachers to work in this way and for children to experience it, but we are starting it slowly. There are still subjects being taught and goals to be reached for each subject, but we also want skills to be embedded in that learning,” she explains.

But what about results?

“We are not too keen on metrics in this country overall so we are not planning to measure the success of it, at least not for now. We are hoping it will show in the learning outcomes of our children as well as in the international tables such as Pisa,” she says.

What’s unusual about Finnish schools?

  • Teaching is a highly respected, well-paid profession
  • There are no school inspections or teacher evaluations
  • The school system is highly centralised and most schools are publicly funded
  • School days are short and the summer break is 10 weeks
  • Children are assessed by their teachers. The only nationwide exam is for those who continue studying to 18
  • Average school size is 195 pupils; average class size is 19 pupils
  • Success has been attributed to a traditionally high regard for teaching and reading, as well as a small, largely homogenous population
  • Though still high, Finland has been slipping down the Pisa rankings in recent years
  • Like other nations, it faces challenges of financial constraints and growing immigration

While not everyone is convinced by this revolution in Finnish teaching, it has been given the thumbs up by most students and parents at Hauho.

Sara, 14, says it is “not so tiring. It’s much more interesting – I like that about it”. Anna, also 14, says her older sister is envious because she thinks “school is much more fun than when she was here”.

Mum Kaisa Kepsu says most parents she knows are positive about the changes to the curriculum. “There has been a wider discussion about the need to ensure children are still learning the basic facts, and I agree with that,” she says. “But raising their motivation and making the world more interesting is also important. I don’t see anything wrong with school being fun”.

Could this approach work in the UK?

Some project-based learning does happen in UK schools already, says Tom Bennett, the government’s classroom behaviour adviser, but on a much smaller scale than that planned for Finland.

And it is likely to remain that way, he says, as there is no compelling evidence that it is a more efficient way of teaching.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) funded a trial of PBL that involved mixed-ability Year 7 children in 24 UK schools between 2014 and 2016.

The findings were skewed because a large number of schools dropped out of the study, largely because of the high level of management support and organisational change needed.

The trial found no evidence that PBL had a positive impact on pupils’ literacy or their engagement with school and learning, the EEF said.

However, the independent evaluators did find that – from observations and feedback from schools – it could enhance pupils’ skills in communication, teamwork and self-managed study.

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Posted but not by Lou Sheehan.

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Juno peers below Jupiter’s clouds

South Pole: The polar cloud structure at Jupiter is very different from that at SaturnImage copyrightNASA/JPL-CALTECH/SWRI/MSSS/BA.HALL/G.ROBLES
Image captionSouth Pole: The polar cloud structure at Jupiter is very different from that at Saturn

Scientists working on the American space agency’s new Juno mission say its initial observations at Jupiter have taken their breath away.

In particular, they have been amazed by the storms seen at the planet’s poles.

“Think of a bunch of hurricanes, every one the size of the Earth, all packed so close together that each hurricane touches the other,” said Mike Janssen.

“Even in rooms of hardened researchers, these images of swirling clouds have drawn gasps,” the Nasa man added.

Image captionMany of the best images are being processed by citizen scientists

The Juno probe arrived at the fifth planet from the Sun on 4 July last year. Since then, it has been making a close pass over the gas giant every 53 days.

The first data to come out of these observations are now being reported in two papers (here and here) in the journal Science, and in more than 40 others in a special collection for Geophysical Research Letters.

The mission team says that in nearly all instances, previously cherished theories about how Jupiter works are being challenged.

“We’re getting the first really close up and personal look at Jupiter and we’re seeing that a lot of our ideas were incorrect and maybe naive,” said Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

Those big cyclones that cover the highest latitudes of the planet are only now being seen in detail because previous missions to the planet never really got to look from above and below like Juno – certainly not at such a high resolution. Features down to 50km across can be discerned.

The structures are very different from those seen at Saturn’s poles, for example, and the team will have to explain why. It is also not clear at this stage how long-lived they are. Will they dissipate much faster than the storms at lower latitudes, which in some cases – as with the famous Great Red Spot on Jupiter – have persisted for centuries?

Image captionThe white spots in this image are ice clouds about 50km across

Another surprise comes from Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR), which senses behaviour below the visible cloud surface. Its data indicates the presence of a broad band of ammonia around the equator that goes from the top of the atmosphere to as deep as it is possible to detect, at least 350km down. It could be part of a major circulation system.

But the MWR records the ammonia at higher latitudes to be much more variable.

“What this is telling us is that Jupiter is not very well mixed on the inside,” said Dr Bolton. “The idea that once you drop below the sunlight everything would be uniform and boring was completely wrong. It’s actually very different dependent on where you look.”

Mission team-members picked out a number of highlights in the new results.

One concerned the magnetic field of Jupiter. It was known to be strong but it has now been determined to be even stronger than expected – a doubling of the assumed strength where the probe makes its closest approach to the planet (the field is about 10 times the strength of Earth’s magnetic field).

But the signal is quite lumpy, which tells the scientists that the dynamo system – the electrically conducting region generating the field – is probably not that deep into the planet.

“When we see small spatial-scale variation, it indicates to us that we may be very close to the source and so that might mean the dynamo is above the metallic hydrogen (layers) and it may operate in the molecular hydrogen envelope above. That’s very significant,” said Jack Connerney, Juno’s deputy principal investigator and the lead for the mission’s magnetic field investigation.

Southern auroraImage copyrightNASA/JPL-CALTECH/SWRI
Image captionThese bright lights in the ultraviolet are the auroras over Jupiter’s southern pole

It is the magnetic field investigation that is also at the heart of trying to understand Jupiter’s very bright auroras – its northern and south lights. And again, what Juno is finding is not what everyone was expecting.

The auroras should result from electrons running down field lines and then striking the atmosphere. But the current carried by the electrons should have its own magnetic signature, and Juno has not at this stage been able to detect it.

“It’s got us all scratching our heads, I have to say,” said UK scientist Dr Jonathan Nichols from the University of Leicester.

“We see the auroras, we have a good idea we think of how they’re generated but when it comes down it we’re not seeing the signature of supposedly millions of amps of current.”

OrionImage copyrightNASA/JPL-CALTECH/SWRI

One very smart picture taken by Juno and released on Thursday showed the ring of dust that surrounds Jupiter. It is not well known that Jupiter has a ring, but it does. What was clever was getting the familiar stars of the Orion constellation to be in on the shot as well.

“This is the first image of Jupiter’s ring that has ever been collected from the inside of it looking out,” said mission scientist Heidi Becker from Nasa.

“Juno is 3,000 miles from the planet when we took this picture. So, what you’re looking at is a ring of dust that’s 40,000 miles away and stars that are hundreds of light-years away, all in the same picture.”


It is early days in the mission still (it is likely to run for several years yet), but the first gravity sensing data is pointing to some weirdness in respect of Jupiter’s centre. Theories had suggested it either had a relatively small rocky core or no core at all (one suggestion was that the planet’s gases went all the way down to the centre in an ever more compressed state).

Scientists are now considering something in between – a diffuse core. “It really looks fuzzy,” said Dr Bolton. “There may be a core there but it’s very big and it may be partially dissolved, and we’re studying that.”

Dr Bolton flagged up Juno’s next pass, on 11 July. This will be dedicated to investigating the Great Red Spot.

Inside Jupiter
  • Jupiter is 11 times wider than Earth and 300 times more massive
  • It takes 12 Earth years to orbit the Sun; a ‘day’ is 10 hours long
  • In composition it resembles a star; it’s mostly hydrogen and helium
  • Under pressure, the hydrogen assumes a state similar to a metal
  • This ‘metallic hydrogen’ could be the source of the magnetic field
  • Most of the visible cloud tops contain ammonia and hydrogen sulphide
  • Jupiter’s low-latitude ‘bands’ play host to very strong east-west winds
  • The Great Red Spot is a giant storm vortex twice as wide as Earth

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter:@BBCAmos


Posted but not written by Louis Sheehn

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