Category Archives: Editors’ Picks

A relatively simple math problem that has Stumped everyone

At first glance, it looks easy. But it’s stumped many over the years, starting in Japan.

The problem went viral in Japan after a recent study found only 60 percent of people between the ages of 21 and 29 could get the correct answer–down from 90 percent in the 1980s.

Despite appearing simple, Presh Talwalker of Mind Your Decisions noted what had fooled most people.

“You should write an expression that groups one third as one group,” he says in the video.

“Three divided by one third is equal to nine, and now we have nine minus nine, plus one,” he added

The solution harkens back to an acronym some likely learned in school: BODMAS, or brackets, open; divide; multiply; add; and subtract, in that order.

It’s also known as PEMDAS, or parentheses first, exponents (ie powers and square roots) next, multiplication and division (left-to-right), and addition and subtraction (left-to-right).

More Math Problems

Another viral math problem is:

There were some people on a train.

19 people get off the train at the first stop.

17 people get on the train.

Now there are 63 people on the train.

How many people were there on the train to begin with?

Here’s the answer to the problem:

There are 63 people on the train, meaning that one would subtract the 17 people who boarded the train.

Then you would have to account for the 19 people who got off, and one then has to add 19 and 46.

That gives 65, the answer, meaning there were 65 people on the train to start.

Or one could subtract 19 people by 17 people, which equals 2. Then add the other 63 to 2, which equals 65.

Louise Bloxham posted the problem to Twitter, confusing a number of people by stating the answer is 46. But that only solves the first portion of the problem.

As the Metro noted, “people said that the 19 was a red herring, which doesn’t make sense, or that the train was empty to begin with, which doesn’t make sense. It even says there are ‘some people’ on the train.”


How to support a sexually abused friend or loved one

It’s been a particularly difficult few months for sexual abuse survivors. If you know someone who’s been abused, here are some tips to best support them and their recovery.

It’s an especially difficult time to be a survivor of sexual abuse or assault. On top of the daily struggle to stay safe and healthy, sexual abuse survivors also have to contend with an endlessly triggering news cycle.

If you’re not a survivor yourself but you’re close to one — maybe a partner, friend or family member — you may not be able to fully understand what they’re going through, and you may feel confused or lost about how to best support them. Here’s what you need to know, and how you can be supportive.

If your partner or friend seems to be struggling, let them know you’re available if they need to talk. If you haven’t already, listen to their story, if they’re ready to tell you. They may also want to express their anger, frustration, fear or sadness about recent news events. Don’t pressure your friend into talking or telling you their story, but let them know you’re open to listening to whatever they want to share.

In an email, Beverly Engel, psychotherapist and author of “It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing Yourself From the Shame of Childhood Abuse With the Power of Self-Compassion” recommended you ask — especially if the person is your romantic partner — if they want physical contact (like holding hands or a hug) as they tell their story, but otherwise default to giving them physical space while they speak. Just telling their story can be emotionally daunting, and can bring back memories.

“Don’t let your own feelings of anger or sadness get in the way of you being there for your partner,” Ms. Engel said. Getting angry, even at the person who did this to your friend or loved one won’t help, she said. In fact, it could just scare your friend into closing off. Your job isn’t to “fix” your friend, make them feel better, or take their pain away. Your job is simply to listen.

It’s especially important to believe your friend’s story. It’s sad that this has to be said, but that’s the climate that we’re in right now. Let them know that above all, you believe them.

Wendy Maltz, sex and relationship therapist and author of “The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse,” offered this handy list of possible responses:

  • “Thank you for sharing.”
  • “You are not to blame for what happened to you.”
  • “You didn’t deserve what happened to you.”
  • “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
  • “You are not what was done to you.”
  • “That was abuse, not healthy sexuality.”
  • “I support you in your healing process.”
  • “I respect you for addressing this.”
  • “I love you.”

While every survivor and each story is unique, it’s useful to educate yourself on the impacts of sexual abuse. It’s not the responsibility of a survivor to educate you — especially when it’s so easy to read more on your own — and being informed beforehand will make you a better partner in recovery. Books are a great place to start.

Ms. Engel recommended reading the books “Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Was Sexually Abused as a Child” by Laura Davis and “Sexual Assault [Rape]: Moving From Victim to Survivor” by Lizyvette Ramos. The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network(RAINN) also has a section on its website about post-abuse recovery.

As a psychotherapist specializing in sex therapy, I work with a lot of sexual abuse survivors and their partners. The impacts of sexual abuse can be extremely difficult to understand if you haven’t experienced the abuse yourself, and it may help to learn some of the common impacts that abuse can have on a loved one. Here are some common ones I see in my practice. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and remember, each survivor’s experience is unique.

  • Dissociation: A survivor’s body can be physically present, but their mind can be in a completely different place, especially during intimate moments.
  • Getting triggered: Survivors might jump or tense up when someone gets too close, even if it’s someone they love and trust. Certain words, actions, sounds, gestures or even smells could send them into a heightened state of agitation. Many sexual abuse survivors can also be hypervigilant.
  • Difficulty making healthy decisions: Some sexual abuse survivors find it tricky to make healthy decisions about their sex lives after abuse. They might have poor body image or low self esteem. They may find themselves becoming intimate with people who don’t respect them, or in situations that feel unsafe.
  • Low libido or an avoidance of sex: Many survivors don’t want to revisit the specific activities that traumatized them.
  • Shame: Many survivors feel as if they’re broken or damaged goods. Male sexual abuse survivors can feel a different kind of shame, since male sexual abuse isn’t discussed nearly as often, and carries a different kind of stigma.

This list shouldn’t be used to diagnose your loved one, but rather, to give you a foundation if your loved one wants to discuss the ways their abuse may affect their life.

Your friend or loved one is most likely going to continue having reactions to the news, family dinner conversations, intimacy or even seemingly random events. Here’s what you can do in those moments:

  • Keep listening. Don’t try to give advice or fix the problem. Just listen.
  • Let them feel their feelings. It can be extremely difficult to see someone you love in pain, but they need space to express themselves. Don’t say things like, “Cheer up” or “Don’t cry.” Stay by their side as they work through their feelings.
  • Let your loved one know you’re on their team. Tell them you’re happy to turn off the TV, get out of the house or leave an event with them.
  • Ask if your friend or loved one needs anything from you. They may not always have an answer, but it’s nice to make it clear that you want to be supportive and engaged.

Encourage your loved one to get as much support as they can. This might include psychotherapy, sex therapy, support groups, crisis lines or talking to other trusted loved ones.

RAINN has a handy tool for finding resources in your area. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE (4673). You can always offer to take them to their appointments, take them out for lunch after a meeting, or even join the session.

However, it’s ultimately up to your loved one to make their own decisions about their healing process. Ms. Maltz advised: “While healing is a process you can participate in, it’s not something you can control or make happen. Survivors heal on their own timelines, based on their own readiness and motivation. Healing is more likely to take place when the survivor leads, and you work as a team together — both partners in a healing process.”

It’s also important for you to get your own support. Mike Lew, author of “Victims No Longer: The Classic Guide for Men Recovering From Sexual Child Abuse,” noted, “People who love survivors go through a parallel process to that of the survivors themselves, often with less support, fewer resources, and the feeling that they don’t deserve the support because it wasn’t done to them.” It’s hard to hear the story of someone you love being abused. Understand that you may have your own reactions, and you deserve support too. Consider getting personal therapy of your own. (You can use the RAINN locator tool too.)

Recovering from sexual abuse is a long process that is never truly over. The path to recovery can also look different for each survivor, but Ms. Maltz noted that the most common steps include “recognizing what happened, identifying repercussions, resolving feelings about the past abuse and the perpetrator (or perpetrators), stopping negative behaviors, reclaiming personal power, relearning touch, addressing sex and intimacy concerns, and more.”

“Be patient,” Ms. Maltz said. “That’s probably the biggest gift you can give.” Along the way, it’s important for you and your loved one to acknowledge and honor your hard work. You can do an activity together after every therapy session, like cooking a special meal, or going on a walk. Or get away for a weekend when the news cycle becomes too much to bear. The healing process can feel like two steps forward, one step back, but any sort of progress deserves recognition.

Vanessa Marin is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in sex therapy and online courses. You can find her on the web here, or follow her on Twitter @VMTherapy.

Guide: how to do healthy exercise for your age

The effect of exercise on health is profound. It can protect you from a range of conditions, including heart diseasetype 2 diabetes and some cancers. But the type and amount of exercise you should do changes as you age. To ensure that you are doing the right type of exercise for your age, follow this simple guide.

Childhood and adolescence

In childhood, exercise helps control body weightbuilds healthy bonesand promotes self-confidence and healthy sleep patterns. The government recommends that children should get at least one hour of exercise a day. As a tip:

  • Children should try a variety of sports and develop skills, such as swimming and the ability to hit and kick a ball.
  • Lots of non–scheduled physical activity is great, too, such as playing in playgrounds.

Exercise habits tend to steadily decline during teen years, particularly in girls. Getting enough exercise promotes a healthy body image and helps manage stress and anxiety. You can also:

  • Encourage teenagers to keep one team sport, if possible.
  • For teenagers who are not into team sports, swimming or athletics can be a good way to keep fitness levels up.

In your 20s

You are at your absolute physical peak in your mid-20s, with the fastest reaction times and highest VO2 max – the maximum rate at which the body can pump oxygen to muscles. After this peak, your VO2 max decreases by up to 1% each year and your reaction time slows each year. The good news is that regular physical activity can slow this decline. Building lean muscle mass and bone density at this age helps you retain them in later years.

  • Vary your training and keep it fun. Try tag rugby, rowing or boot camp.
  • If you are a regular exerciser, get advice from an exercise professional to build “periodisation” into your training regime. This involves dividing your training regime into progressive cycles that manipulate different aspects of training – such as intensity, volume and type of exercise – to optimise your performance and ensure you peak for a planned exercise event, such as a triathlon.

In your 30s

As careers and family life for many intensify in their 30s, it is important that you maintain cardiovascular fitness and strength to slow normal physical decline. If you have a sedentary job, make sure you maintain good posture and break up long periods of sitting by forcing activity into your day, such as routing your printer to another room, climbing a flight of stairs to use the bathroom on another floor, or standing when taking a phone call so you are moving every half an hour where possible.

  • Work smart. Try high-intensity interval training. This is where bursts of high-intensity activity, up to 80% of your maximum heart rate, such as sprinting and cycling, are broken up with periods of lower-intensity exercise. This kind of workout is good for the time poor as it can be done in 20 minutes.
  • For all women, and especially after childbirth, do pelvic floor exercises, sometimes known as Kegel exercises daily to help prevent incontinence.
  • Diversify your exercise programme to keep it interesting. Try boot camp, spin class or yoga.
Diversify your training with boot camp. wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

In your 40s

Most people start to put on weight in their 40s. Resistance exercise is the best way to optimise calorie burning to counteract fat accumulation and reverse the loss of three to eight percent of muscle mass per decade. Ten weeks of resistance training could increase lean weight by 1.4kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7% and decrease fat weight by 1.8kg.

  • Try kettlebells or start a weight-training programme in your gym.
  • Take up running, if you don’t run already, and don’t be afraid to start a more intensive exercise programme. You get more bang for your buck with running versus walking.
  • Pilates can be useful to build core strength to protect against back pain, which often starts in this decade.
Take up kettlebells in your 40s to burn calories. Goolia Photography/Shutterstock

In your 50s

In this decade, aches and pains may crop up and chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, can manifest. As oestrogen declines in postmenopausal women, the risk of heart disease increases.

  • Do strength training twice a week to maintain your muscle mass.
  • Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, is recommended. Walk fast enough so that your breathing rate increases and you break a sweat.
  • Try something different. Tai chi can be excellent for balance and relaxation.

In your 60s

Typically, people accumulate more chronic conditions as they get older, and ageing is a major risk factor for cancer. Maintaining a high level of physical activity can help prevent cancers, such as post-menopausal breast cancer, colon cancer and cancer of the womb, and it reduces the risk of developing chronic conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Physical activity tends to decline with age, so keep active and try to buck this trend.

  • Try ballroom dancing or other forms of dancing; it’s a fun and sociable way to exercise.
  • Incorporate strength and flexibility exercises twice a week. Aqua-aerobics can be a great way to develop strength using water as resistance.
  • Maintain cardiovascular exercise, such as brisk walking.
Ballroom dancing is fun and sociable. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

70s and beyond

Exercise in your 70s and beyond helps prevent frailty and falls, and it’s important for your cognitive function. If you have a period of ill health, try to keep mobile, if possible. Strength and fitness can decline rapidly if you are bed bound or very inactive, which can make it hard to get back to previous levels.

  • Walk and talk. Instead of inactive visits from family and friends, go for a walk together. It will keep you motivated and boost your healthmore than solitary exercise.
  • Incorporate some strength, balance and cardiovascular exercise in your regime. But get advice from a physiotherapist or other exercise professional, especially if you have several chronic conditions.

The main message is to keep moving throughout your life. Sustained exercise is what benefits health most.

The rise and fall of Christmas music

These days seasonal albums are mostly made by middle-aged musicians for middle-aged listeners.

CHRISTMAS MUSIC as we know it was born in 1963, when Phil Spector corralled his stable of singers into the studio to record “A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector”. Until then, there had only been schmaltzy carols and easy listening staples, with occasional hints of a party tune. Even “Elvis’ Christmas Album” (1957), with its awkward mix of the sacred and the secular, was devoid of the excitement the young Presley could normally summon at will (it ended up selling more than 20m copies and became the best-selling Christmas album of all time, so no one was really complaining). Mr Spector made the first Christmas album that managed to be both thrilling and seasonal. It sounded like the Christmas party, not the snooze after Christmas dinner. 

In so doing he unwittingly created a new line of descent for festive pop: one of maximalism, of breathlessness, where sleigh bells race pounding drums to the end of the song. Mr Spector’s Christmas was the one Roy Wood was recreating on “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” (1973), and the one Mariah Carey was celebrating on “All I Want For Christmas Is You” (1994). Mr Spector made the Christmas record into an annual rite of passage. It was no longer just a slightly sordid cash-in, but something to be embraced.

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So these days you can find heavy metal Christmas albums, funk Christmas albums and punk Christmas albums. John Fahey, a great American primitive guitarist, had his biggest commercial success with an album of Christmas instrumentals after realising that “White Christmas” was a hit every year, and that he might be able to make a little money if he eschewed extended slide guitar improvisations in favour of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”.

Britain has embraced the Christmas single: between 1974 and 1990, nine of the number ones on Christmas Day were explicitly festive records. In America, meanwhile, there has never been a seasonal song at number one at Christmas in the Billboard Hot 100. Perhaps the Christmas single has lost some of its lustre—Katy Perry has released her song “Cozy Little Christmas” exclusively on Amazon Music, more or less guaranteeing that it would not be an immediate hit.

Yet the Christmas album remains a regular feature on the release schedule of major artists. This year, for example, Eric Clapton has one out (his EDMish version of “Jingle Bells” is so spectacularly horrible that it almost demands to be heard), as does John Legend, who offers a tasteful, lush, jazzy and funky record called “A Legendary Christmas” (soul and funk have long produced some of the best Christmas pop). There are two separate albums called “Christmas Party”, one from RuPaul, a drag performer, and the other by the Monkees.

It is this last record that is the most telling. On it the three surviving Monkees—Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork—are aided and abetted by a series of musicians and songwriters who are younger without actually being young: Andy Partridge of XTC, Peter Buck of REM, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, the novelist Michael Chabon (who supplies the lyrics to “House of Broken Gingerbread”), with the whole thing overseen by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne.

That castlist is the clue to what Christmas albums now are: pieces of nostalgia. The people they are aimed at are middle-aged, trying to recreate their old Christmases of Slade or the Pogues. The people who make them are middle-aged, trying to claim their own place in a pop lineage that goes back to “A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector”. You can see it, too, in the tracklisting for the Monkees’ album. It includes songs that would never get anywhere near an album intended for an actual Christmas party, such as “Jesus Christ”, originally recorded by Big Star, an American rock band, on their desolate album “Third/Sister Lovers” (albeit as one of that record’s rare upbeat numbers).

In a sense, then, for all the debts to Mr Spector, Christmas records have returned to their pre-Spector purpose. Forget the teenagers: they’re in their bedrooms on Spotify, YouTube or Netflix. But in the living room, the adults have pulled on the Christmas sweaters and poured the egg nog. Now, what will it be, Bing Crosby or Eric Clapton?

Differences between Catholic and Orthodox churches

TO A non-Christian, or even to a Christian who prefers to keep doctrine and worship as simple as possible, the Catholic and Orthodox churches can look pretty similar.


Both use elaborate ceremonies of ancient origin and have multiple ranks of robed clergy; both claim continuity with the dawn of the Christian era; both have rich theological and scholarly traditions and generally, long institutional memories. Only an apparently tiny difference separates the versions they use of the creed setting out their basic beliefs in a triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Why, then, do the two religious bodies not simply unite? On February 12th Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox church, will meet in Cuba. Though not unprecedented in the last ten centuries such a meeting is nonetheless unusual. Why?

Part of the answer is that precisely because both institutions have long memories, differences which emerged many centuries ago still matter. The formal parting between the Christian West and the Christian East occurred in 1054; to some extent it reflected cultural and geopolitical competition between the Greek-speaking “east Roman” empire, in other words Byzantium, and Latin-speaking western Europe where Roman authority had collapsed in the fifth century, but new centres of power had emerged. Tensions rose in the early 11th century when the Catholic Normans overran Greek-speaking southern Italy and imposed Latin practices on the churches there. The Patriarch of Constantinople retaliated by putting a stop to outposts of Latin-style worship in his home city, and the pope sent a delegation to Constantinople to sort the matter out. The delegation’s leader, Cardinal Humbert, excommunicated the Patriarch; the Patriarch promptly did the same to the visitor.

In the run-up to that final rupture there had been growing differences over the pope’s claim to authority over the whole of Christendom, in contrast with the Orthodox view that all the ancient centres of the Christian world (Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem as well as Rome and Constantinople) were approximately equal in status. The Orthodox took issue with the pope for mandating a version of the creed which in their view amounted to a subtle downgrading of the Holy Spirit. To this theological difference was added a massive geopolitical grievance: in 1204 Latin armies ransacked Constantinople, which was still the Christian world’s greatest centre of commerce and culture and imposed a Latin regime for about six decades. In the Orthodox collective memory, this act of betrayal by fellow Christians weakened the great city and rendered inevitable its conquest by the Muslim Turks in 1453. Having gone their separate ways, the Christian West and Christian East spawned different theological traditions. The West developed the idea of purgatory and of “penal substitution” (the idea that Christ’s self-sacrifice was a necessary payoff to a punitive Father-God). Neither teaching appeals to Orthodox Christians. The East, with a penchant for mixing the intellectual and the mystical, explored the idea that God was both inaccessible to human reason but accessible to the human heart.

To the Orthodox believer, Catholic theology seems excessively categorical and legalistic; to the Catholic mind, Orthodox thinking in its mystical flights can seem vague and ambivalent. In a few hours of set-piece discussion in Havana airport on February 12th, the pope and Patriarch will hardly be able to resolve these centuries-old differences. But at least they may understand each other a little better.

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What in today’s world will scare our grandchildren?


African children


It is estimated that in developed countries about 75% of an individual’s lifetime medical costs are spent in the last six months of life. This is clearly money wasted.

We are wired by evolution to fear death, to cling to life, and yet in the modern world, where most of us will live into our 80s or beyond, extra life is often bought at the cost of gruesome treatment, such as chemotherapy, or prolonged incarceration in miserable hospitals. And even if the treatment is successful, as so often it is not, it may well allow us only to linger on a little longer in a nursing home, with the chances of dementia increasing steadily with age.

When doctors like me face these difficult decisions as patients, they seldom choose the same solution for themselves that they often recommend to their patients. I hope that my grandchildren, not as doctors but as educated consumers of health care, will be appalled at the way that so much suffering was inflicted on the elderly in the past.

I hope that the doctors of the future will be able to provide patients with better and more realistic predictions of what treatment will achieve, and that they will be more honest. All over the world, health-care costs are escalating beyond the rate of inflation, which is not sustainable. Much of this is based on folly, greed and denial of the inevitability of death. I hope my grandchildren will understand that the problem facing us is not how to live a long life, but how to live a good life, and how to end it with a good death.


“The time will come”, wrote Leonardo da Vinci, “when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as now they look upon the murder of men.” About 500 years later, I read an article showing that snails have personalities—some aggressive, others shy. Something similar is true of squid, insects, birds and fish.

Anyone who deals with animals will instinctively confirm this—no two dogs, horses, cats, cows or (I’m told) crocodiles have the same nature. Animals experience joy, love, pain and loss; yet we express surprise when elephants mourn a dead baby, or whales carry a suffering pod-member to the surface to breathe.

My generation has been responsible for the genocide of animals, wild and domestic. Although the natural history of the planet has always involved extinctions, the accelerating rate of species eradication is almost all due to the voracious demands of capitalism. We have destroyed habitats and wild populations out of carelessness, ignorance and (most of all) greed. We breed farm animals for food under horrific conditions of stress, crowding and abuse, somehow justifying the slaughter of 80 billion creatures each year by minimising, sublimating and otherwise denying the extent of their suffering.

I like to imagine a not-so-distant future when farm animals will be raised and slaughtered humanely and in far smaller numbers, when our diet will depend much less on the consumption of sentient creatures, and when the preservation of habitat for wild animals has become a matter of universal urgency.

Future generations, seeing our exploitation and mistreatment of animals, will look back in horror.



In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. Now the fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana are threatened with a boycott by irate celebrities for objecting to gay couples having children. Imagine trying to tell Oscar Wilde, as he sat in his cell in 1897, serving a two-year sentence for gross indecency with other men, that, within 120 years, it would be considered outrageous to suggest that children should be born only to a mother and father.

Come to that, picture homosexuality—the love which dared not speak its name in Wilde’s time—become so unshocking that a bill to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales was passed into law in 2014. Gay marriage is not a concept my grandparents could have grasped, let alone tolerated, when they walked my sister and me to Sunday service in Welsh Baptist chapels. Those were cold, judgmental places, at a time when to be judgmental was to align yourself with God, not to induce a hissy fit in Elton John. I’m glad my grandparents didn’t live to see two men getting spliced, which would have been an abomination to them, just as I was appalled to read of the great code-breaker Alan Turing, forced, as recently as 1952, to choose between incarceration and chemical castration for committing homosexual acts.

So what will our grandchildren find shocking about us? We assume the March of Progress takes a one-way liberal street to greater enlightenment. But maybe my granddaughter will be horrified to hear how little time I, a working mother, devoted to her mother or father in their infancy at the end of the 20th century. Just four months off for maternity leave, can you imagine anything so barbaric?

By 2015 it had become the norm for children to have both parents in full-time work. “What were they thinking? Putting tiny children in day care from 8am to 6pm. Didn’t they know what a terrible effect that would have on the kids’ cognitive abilities and their ability to empathise?”

By 2049 the long-term decline in educational achievement and a startling spike in youthful depression, heavy drug use and anti-social violence were clearly apparent. Traditional cultures, where the mother stayed at home to rear her young, outperformed Britain on every indicator.

In 2052 the prime ministers ordered a public inquiry into what had gone wrong and why the birth rate was at an all-time low of 0.7 per woman. “How did the British forget the most basic of our instincts?” she and he asked via the universal, personalised messaging system. “How could we ever have thought that making women ‘economically productive’ was more important than shaping the next generation?”

On Twitter, a campaign to issue a posthumous pardon to Penelope Cuthbertson, jailed for being the last full-time mother in England in 2037, gathered more than 10m thumbprints in 24 hours. In maternity hubs across the land, new parents were implanted with a chip to detect the love hormone and keep a running total of meaningful emotional interactions. Babies found to have a high level of the stress hormone cortisol in their bloodstream, linked to neglect and absentee parents, were put up for adoption by families in India, who would offer them a better life.

In 2065 my granddaughter was talking to her 16-year-old, already pregnant with IVF triplets. “Your great-grandmother wasn’t a bad person,” she said. “She just did what everyone thought was right at the time.”



In one felt-tip drawing, the Queen wears a yellow crown, a purple dress and red shoes, and stands up to her neck in water. On her left, there’s an octopus, and on her right, completely submerged, the London Eye. In a speech bubble, she asks: “Can one of my loyal subjects help me?” Another picture depicts the Earth as a face weeping tears; a third shows polar bears perched on tiny blocks of ice. This is how one class of primary-school children see their future.

As a child, my mother had the Blitz to worry about (a bomb fell on the house next door). My generation grew up with the threat of nuclear war. In each case there was a strong sense of Them and Us. With climate change, children grow up with a depressing new twist to their fears. This time, we are the bad guys.

What will appal their children is the way we consume and waste energy, knowing full well that burning fossil fuels drives climate change. And yet there are still 1.3 billion people on the planet without access to electricity—and another 2 billion-3 billion who will be on the planet by 2050. The classroom walls should be filled with bright felt-tip visions of a low-carbon, low-energy world. But we have largely failed to imagine it.


My grandson spent his 150th birthday surrounded by his descendants. They arrived as usual in their kiddie-drones, landing in the drone-port in the old loft.


He tried to be relaxed as they rootled around in his study. “Great-great-great grandpa,” shouted one. “Is this one of those things you called books?”

“That’s right, my dear.”

“These pictures!” she cried. “Are they those African tribesmen you told us about?”

“No, no. They’re white people like me. Humans used to be all sorts of colours and hated each other if they were a different one. Those markings were called tattoos. People thought it was cool to have a needle stuck in them and get their body defaced.”

They were all with him now, giggling and making faces. “Weird!”

“And what are those?”

“Cars. You had to pilot yourself. Damn dangerous.”

“And those funny buildings?”

“Ah, that was London. It had to be abandoned after the floods in the 2040s, but the water wasn’t the real problem. It was the poison and all the plastic bottles. No one could clear up the mess.”

“The houses are so big. Did anyone live in them?”

“Oh, yes. That was Kensington. All the basements had been dug out, so when the water came in the houses just floated away. Company bosses lived in them. They earned 300 times more than the workers and said they deserved it because they were so clever. We had a system called capitalism. But then a famous writer produced two brilliant books called ‘Human Farm’ and ‘2084’. And we got rid of it.”

“And why are those people walking around outside? You can’t do that!”

“Well, you could do all kinds of things. It was quite safe before the sea rose and the big heats came and then the Chinese smog. That’s why we just go from house to house in our drones.”

“So was it better in the old days?”

My grandson paused. “Yes, in many ways it was,” he said finally. “But the people who ran the world were really, really stupid.”

What history says about Rwanda today

At first sight, three fundamental ruptures occurred in modern Rwandan history: colonisation, starting at the end of the 19th century; the revolution of 1959-1961 followed by independence in 1962; and the 1994 genocide followed by the seizure of power by the Rwandan Patriotic Front.


Of course, these are breaks with the past. But I argue that there are also striking continuities spanning the entire period, from the mid-19th century to the 2010s. These include the concentration of power, intra-regime conflict, the salience of ethnicity, and the nature of the state.

Another characteristic – the pervasiveness of the military institution and of military ethics – disappeared during colonial days and the first two republics. But it resurfaced from 1994 onwards, resuming continuity after a century-long interval.

This longue durée view is very illuminating. It offers a better understanding of crucial characteristics of governance in Rwanda today, at home and in the region.

Concentration of power

A first continuity throughout the four periods (precolonial, colonial, post-revolution and post-genocide) is the concentration of power. The precolonial kingdom became increasingly centralised, particularly from the latter part of the 18th century.

In a structure like a pyramid, regional authorities were dependents of the mwami (king). Below them were hill chiefs who tightly controlled the population.

Authoritarian centralisation continued in colonial days in two ways. On the one hand, indirect rule reinforced and stabilised the power of the court and the chiefs. On the other, the Belgian administration was authoritarian and, like the indigenous one, ignored principles like the separation of powers and the rule of law.

The elective principle and checks and balances were introduced less than two years before independence. It’s therefore not surprising that, in Rwanda as elsewhere in Africa, the new political elites continued colonial modes of governance. In this respect, there is not much of a break between colonial rule, the de facto single-party first republic, the de jure single-party second republic and de facto single-party regime in post-genocide Rwanda.

Internal strife

Intra-regime conflict is a second continuity. Internal strife within the royal court and among ruling elites was common in precolonial days. Most successions to the throne were contested and led to bitter and often violent infighting, and even to civil war. Regime infighting resumed after independence. The gradual narrowing of the ruling party’s power base through the elimination of important constituencies eventually led to the downfall of the first republic.

A similar phenomenon occurred under the second republic. A number of regime leaders were arrested in 1980. Fearing a similar fate, others fled the country.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front has also fallen prey to intense struggle. This pitted factions against each other from the first days of the invasion. This evolution became more pronounced after 2000 and took a radical turn in 2010 when four leading figures who fled published a long diatribeagainst the regime.


A third major continuity is the importance of ethnicity, although it has had different political implications depending on the period.

Political ethnicity emerged clearly in the 19th century. The distinction between ethnic groups that earlier referred to political positions and economic and military occupations became institutionalised.

From the 1870s, the awareness of ethnic distinction spread all over the country and led to several revolts. The 1897 insurrection showed that the population was conscious of a great divide between the two ethnic groups.

Colonial rule further institutionalised and rigidified ethnicity. Belgium first entrenched Tutsi rule. However, in the 1950s it switched sides when democratisation and independence came to the fore.

Although there were underlying social, political and economic grievances, the revolution of 1959-1961 took place under an almost exclusively ethnic banner. On assuming power, the Rwandan Patriotic Front set out to pursue a policy of de-ethnicisation. But the denial of ethnicity is an essential element of the hegemonic strategies of the party-dominated elite. The claim that “there are no Hutu or Tutsi, we are all Rwandans now” allows them to hide a Tutsi ethnocracy.

The regime’s narrative merely reflects the public transcript. But the hidden transcript – that of oppressed Hutu and Tutsi – is very different.

The state

A fourth strong continuity lies in the nature of the state which, unlike in much of Africa, is strong and well internalised by citizens.

Rwanda is not a colonial creation, and an ancient state tradition plays an undeniable role in the maintenance of an efficient pyramid-like structure. The Rwandan Leviathan is highly centralised and hierarchical – it reaches every inch of the territory and every citizen.

Echoing the situation in earlier days, a mere two years after the extreme human and material destruction of 1994, the state had been rebuilt, and Rwanda was again administered from top to bottom. Before – as after the genocide – the regimes displayed a strong belief in managing, monitoring, controlling, and mobilising the population. Both showed a strong belief in using the state in projects of economic and social engineering implemented under the stewardship of forward-looking and enlightened leaders.

A final determining continuity is the pervasiveness of the military institution and of warrior ethics and values. What is particularly striking is the re-emergence of this in 1994, after it had virtually disappeared during colonial days and the two Hutu republics. After that century-long gap, it reappeared almost seamlessly. Beyond the army as an institution, military values are disseminated throughout the entire society by the widespread use of means like ingando and itorero (re-)education practices.

History as a reference point

Clearly the continuities outweigh the ruptures. Except during the relatively brief period of colonial rule, Rwanda was, and is, a violent society. Throughout the entire period, central political power has been almost absolute. In today’s Rwanda, constant references to history, whether factually true or not, are used as a tool of legitimation. The idealised glorification of the precolonial era supports the political objectives and strategies of the current rulers.

Rwanda’s history matters in a concrete way. Hence efforts by the Rwandan Patriotic Front to impose and tightly police its narrative. The problem is that the public and the hidden transcripts often don’t tally.

We are still teaching reading the wrong way – why?

Teacher preparation programs continue to ignore the sound science behind how people become readers.


Our children aren’t being taught to read in ways that line up with what scientists have discovered about how people actually learn.

It’s a problem that has been hiding in plain sight for decades. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, more than six in 10 fourth graders aren’t proficient readers. It has been this way since testing began. A third of kids can’t read at a basic level.

How do we know that a big part of the problem is how children are being taught? Because reading researchers have done studies in classrooms and clinics, and they’ve shown over and over that virtually all kids can learn to read — if they’re taught with approaches that use what scientists have discovered about how the brain does the work of reading. But many teachers don’t know this science.

What have scientists figured out? First of all, while learning to talk is a natural process that occurs when children are surrounded by spoken language, learning to read is not. To become readers, kids need to learn how the words they know how to say connect to print on the page. They need explicit, systematic phonics instruction. There are hundreds of studies that back this up.

But talk to teachers and many will tell you they learned something different about how children learn to read in their teacher preparation programs. Jennifer Rigney-Carroll, who completed a master’s degree in special education in 2016, told me she was taught that children “read naturally if they have access to books.” Jessica Root, an intervention specialist in Ohio, said she learned “you want to get” children “excited about what they’re reading, find books that they’re interested in, and just read, read, read.” Kathy Bast, an elementary school principal in Pennsylvania, learned the same thing. “It was just: Put literature in front of the kids, teach the story, and the children will learn how to read through exposure,” she said.

These ideas are rooted in beliefs about reading that were once commonly called “whole language” and that gained a lot of traction in the 1980s. Whole-language proponents dismissed the need for phonics. Reading is “the most natural activity in the world,” Frank Smith, one of the intellectual leaders of the whole-language movement, wrote. It “is only through reading that children learn to read. Trying to teach children to read by teaching them the sounds of letters is literally a meaningless activity.”

These ideas had been debunked by the early 2000s. It may seem as if kids are learning to read when they’re exposed to books, and some kids do pick up sound-letter correspondences quickly and easily. But the science shows clearly that to become a good reader, you must learn to decode words. Many whole-language proponents added some phonics to their approach and rebranded it “balanced literacy.”

But they did not give up their core belief that learning to read is a natural process that occurs when parents and teachers expose children to good books. So, while you’re likely to find some phonics lessons in a balanced-literacy classroom, you’re also likely to find a lot of other practices rooted in the idea that children learn to read by reading rather than by direct instruction in the relationship between sounds and letters. For example, teachers will give young children books that contain words with letter patterns the children haven’t yet been taught. You’ll see alphabetical “word walls” that rest on the idea that learning to read is a visual memory process rather than a process of understanding how letters represent sounds. You’ll hear teachers telling kids to guess at words they don’t know based on context and pictures rather than systematically teaching children how to decode.

Many teachers learn these approaches in their teacher preparation programs. Publishers perpetuate these ideas, and school districts buy in. But colleges of education — which should be at the forefront of pushing the best research — have largely ignored the scientific evidence on reading.

The National Council on Teacher Quality reviewed the syllabuses of teacher preparation programs nationwide and found that fewer than four in 10 taught the components of effective reading instruction identified by research. A study of early-literacy instruction in teacher preparation programs across the University of North Carolina system found that instructional strategies based on research were mentioned “in a cursory way, if at all, on most syllabuses.” (Some instructors required students to write their “personal philosophies” about how to teach reading.) Kelly Butler of the Barksdale Reading Institute in Mississippi interviewed more than 100 deans and faculty members of schools of education as part of a study of teacher preparation programs in the state and found that most of them could not explain basic scientific principles about how children learn to read.

It’s not just ignorance. There’s active resistance to the science, too. I interviewed a professor of literacy in Mississippi who told me she was “philosophically opposed” to phonics instruction. One of her colleagues told me she didn’t agree with the findings of reading scientists because “it’s their science.”

There is no excuse for this. Colleges of education have to start requiring that their faculties teach the science of reading. Children’s futures depend on it.

SOURCE: This article originally apeared on The New York Times. Emily Hanford (@ehanford) is a senior education correspondent for APM Reports and the producer of the audio documentary “Hard Words: Why Aren’t Kids Being Taught to Read?” This article is based on her reporting for that project.

Why more women are not wining science Nobels

One of the 2018 Nobel Prizes in physics went to Donna Strickland, a major accomplishment for any scientist. Yet much of the news coverage has focused on the fact that she’s only the third female physicist to receive the award, after Marie Curie in 1903 and Maria Goeppert-Mayer 60 years later.


Though biochemical engineer Frances Arnold also won this year, for chemistry, the rarity of female Nobel laureates raises questions about women’s exclusion from education and careers in science. Female researchers have come a long way over the past century. But there’s overwhelming evidence that women remain underrepresented in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Studies have shown those who persist in these careers face explicit and implicit barriers to advancement. Bias is most intense in fields that are predominantly male, where women lack a critical mass of representation and are often viewed as tokens or outsiders.

When women achieve at the highest levels of sports, politicsmedicineand science, they serve as role models for all of us, especially for girls and other women. But are things getting better in terms of equal representation? What still holds women back in the classroom, in the lab, in leadership and as award winners?

Good news at the start of the pipeline

Traditional stereotypes hold that women “don’t like math” and “aren’t good at science.” Both men and women report these viewpoints, but researchers have empirically disputed them. Studies show that girls and women avoid STEM education not because of cognitive inability, but because of early exposure and experience with STEM, educational policy, cultural context, stereotypes and a lack of exposure to role models.

For the past several decades, efforts to improve the representation of women in STEM fields have focused on countering these stereotypes with educational reforms and individual programs that can increase the number of girls entering and staying in what’s been called the STEM pipeline – the path from K-12 to college to postgraduate training.

These approaches are working. Women are increasingly likely to express an interest in STEM careers and pursue STEM majors in college. Women now make up half or more of workers in psychology and social sciences and are increasingly represented in the scientific workforce, though computer and mathematical sciences are an exception. According to the American Institute of Physics, women earn about 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 18 percent of Ph.D.s in physics, an increase from 1975 when women earned 10 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 5 percent of Ph.D.s in physics.

More women are graduating with STEM Ph.D.s and earning faculty positions. But they go on to encounter glass cliffs and ceilings as they advance through their academic careers.

What’s not working for women

Women face a number of structural and institutional barriers in academic STEM careers.

In addition to issues related to the gender pay gap, the structure of academic science often makes it difficult for women to get ahead in the workplace and to balance work and life commitments. Bench science can require years of dedicated time in a laboratory. The strictures of the tenure-track process can make maintaining work-life balance, responding to family obligations, and having children or taking family leave difficult, if not impossible.

Additionally, working in male-dominated workplaces can leave women feeling isolatedperceived as tokens and susceptible to harassmentWomen often are excluded from networking opportunities and social events and left to feel they’re outside the culture of the lab, the academic department and the field.

When women lack critical mass – of about 15 percent or more – they are less empowered to advocate for themselves and more likely to be perceived as a minority group and an exception. When in this minority position, women are more likely to be pressured to take on extra serviceas tokens on committees or mentors to female graduate students.

With fewer female colleagues, women are less likely to build relationships with female collaborators and support and advice networks. This isolation can be exacerbated when women are unable to participate in work events or attend conferences because of family or child careresponsibilities and an inability to use research funds to reimburse child care.

Universities, professional associations, and federal funders have worked to address a variety of these structural barriers. Efforts include creating family-friendly policies, increasing transparency in salary reporting, enforcing Title IX protections, providing mentoring and support programs for women scientists, protecting research time for women scientists, and targeting women for hiring, research support and advancement. These programs have mixed results. For example, research indicates that family-friendly policies such as leave and onsite child care can exacerbate gender inequity, resulting in increased research productivity for men and increased teaching and service obligations for women.

People haven’t done a good job updating their mental images of what a scientist looks like since Wilhelm Roentgen won the first physics Nobel in 1901. Photo: Wellcome Collection, CC BY

Implicit biases about who does science

All of us – the general public, the media, university employees, students and professors – have ideas of what a scientist and a Nobel Prize winner looks like. That image is predominantly male, white and older – which makes sense given 97 percent of the science Nobel Prize winners have been men.

This is an example of an implicit bias: one of the unconscious, involuntary, natural, unavoidable assumptions that all of us, men and women, form about the world around us. People make decisions based on subconscious assumptions, preferences and stereotypes – sometimes even when they are counter to their explicitly held beliefs.

Research shows that an implicit bias against women as experts and academic scientists is pervasive. It manifests itself by valuing, acknowledging and rewarding men’s scholarship over women’s scholarship. Implicit bias can work against women’s hiring, advancement and recognition of their work. For instance, women seeking academic jobs are more likely to be viewed and judged based on personal information and physical appearance. Letters of recommendation for women are more likely to raise doubts and use language that results in negative career outcomes.

Implicit bias can affect women’s ability to publish research findings and gain recognition for that work. Men cite their own papers 56 percent more than women do. Known as the “Matilda Effect,” there is a gender gap in recognition, award winning and citations. Women’s research is less likely to be cited by others and their ideas are more likely to be attributed to men. Women’s solo-authored research takes twice as long to move through the review process. Women are underrepresented in journal editorships, as senior scholars and lead authors, and as peer reviewers. This marginalization in research gatekeeping positions works against the promotion of women’s research.

When a woman becomes a world-class scientist, implicit bias works against the likelihood that she will be invited as a keynote or guest speaker to share her research findings, thus lowering her visibility in the field and the likelihood that she will be nominated for awards. This gender imbalance is notable in how infrequently women experts are quoted in news stories on most topics.

Women scientists are afforded less of the respect and recognition that should come with their accomplishments. Research shows that when people talk about male scientists and experts, they’re more likely to use their surnames and more likely to refer to women by their first names. Why does this matter? Because experiments show that individuals referred to by their surnames are more likely to be viewed as famous and eminent. In fact, one study found that calling scientists by their last names led people to consider them 14 percent more deserving of a National Science Foundation career award.

Donna Strickland outside her lab at the University of Waterloo. Photo: Reuters/Peter Power

Female physics laureate No. 3

Strickland winning a Nobel Prize as an associate professor in physics is a major accomplishment; doing so as a woman who has almost certainly faced more barriers than her male counterparts is, in my view, monumental.

When asked what it felt like to be the third female Nobel laureate in physics, Strickland noted that at first it was surprising to realize so few women had won the award: “But, I mean, I do live in a world of mostly men, so seeing mostly men doesn’t really ever surprise me either.”

Seeing mostly men has been the history of science. Addressing structural and implicit bias in STEM will hopefully prevent another half-century wait before the next woman is acknowledged with a Nobel Prize for her contribution to physics. I look forward to the day when a woman receiving the most prestigious award in science is newsworthy only for her science and not her gender.

Cover photo: Three Share Chemistry Nobel Prize for Developing New Technique to Image the Molecules of Life. Photo: Inside Science