The Mathematician Who Will Make You Fall in Love With Numbers

Math conferences don’t usually feature standing ovations, but Francis Su received one last month in Atlanta. Su, a mathematician at Harvey Mudd College in California and the outgoing president of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), delivered an emotional farewell address at the Joint Mathematics Meetings of the MAA and the American Mathematical Society in which he challenged the mathematical community to be more inclusive.

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Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent division of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences


Su opened his talk with the story of Christopher, an inmate serving a long sentence for armed robbery who had begun to teach himself math from textbooks he had ordered. After seven years in prison, during which he studied algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and calculus, he wrote to Su asking for advice on how to continue his work. After Su told this story, he asked the packed ballroom at the Marriott Marquis, his voice breaking: “When you think of who does mathematics, do you think of Christopher?”

Su grew up in Texas, the son of Chinese parents, in a town that was predominantly white and Latino. He spoke of trying hard to “act white” as a kid. He went to college at the University of Texas, Austin, then to graduate school at Harvard University. In 2015 he became the first person of color to lead the MAA. In his talk he framed mathematics as a pursuit uniquely suited to the achievement of human flourishing, a concept the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, or a life composed of all the highest goods. Su talked of five basic human desires that are met through the pursuit of mathematics: play, beauty, truth, justice, and love.

If mathematics is a medium for human flourishing, it stands to reason that everyone should have a chance to participate in it. But in his talk Su identified what he views as structural barriers in the mathematical community that dictate who gets the opportunity to succeed in the field—from the requirements attached to graduate school admissions to implicit assumptions about who looks the part of a budding mathematician.

When Su finished his talk, the audience rose to its feet and applauded, and many of his fellow mathematicians came up to him afterward to say he had made them cry. A few hours later Quanta Magazine sat down with Su in a quiet room on a lower level of the hotel and asked him why he feels so moved by the experiences of people who find themselves pushed away from math. An edited and condensed version of that conversation and a follow-up conversation follows.

The title of your talk was “Mathematics for Human Flourishing.” Flourishing is a big idea—what do you have in mind by it?

When I think of human flourishing, I’m thinking of something close to Aristotle’s definition, which is activity in accordance with virtue. For instance, each of the basic desires that I mentioned in my talk is a mark of flourishing. If you have a playful mind or a playful spirit, or you’re seeking truth, or pursuing beauty, or fighting for justice, or loving another human being—these are activities that line up with certain virtues. Maybe a more modern way of thinking about it is living up to your potential, in some sense, though I wouldn’t just limit it to that. If I am loving somebody well, that’s living up to a certain potential that I have to be able to love somebody well.

And how does mathematics promote human flourishing?

It builds skills that allow people to do things they might otherwise not have been able to do or experience. If I learn mathematics and I become a better thinker, I develop perseverance, because I know what it’s like to wrestle with a hard problem, and I develop hopefulness that I will actually solve these problems. And some people experience a kind of transcendent wonder that they’re seeing something true about the universe. That’s a source of joy and flourishing.

Math helps us do these things. And when we talk about teaching mathematics, sometimes we forget these larger virtues that we are seeking to cultivate in our students. Teaching mathematics shouldn’t be about sending everybody to a Ph.D. program. That’s a very narrow view of what it means to do mathematics. It shouldn’t mean just teaching people a bunch of facts. That’s also a very narrow view of what mathematics is. What we’re really doing is training habits of mind, and those habits of mind allow people to flourish no matter what profession they go into.

Several times in your talk you quoted Simone Weil, the French philosopher (and sibling of the famed mathematician André Weil), who wrote, “Every being cries out silently to be read differently.” Why did you choose that quote?

I chose it because it says in a very succinct way what the problem is, what causes injustice—we judge, and we don’t judge correctly. So “read” means “judged,” of course. We read people differently than they actually are.

And how does that apply to the math community?

We do this in lots of different ways. I think part of it is that we have a picture of who actually can succeed in math. Some of that picture has been developed because the only examples we’ve seen so far are people who come from particular backgrounds. We’re not used to, for instance, seeing African-Americans at a math conference, although it’s become more and more common.

We’re not used to seeing kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in college or grad school. So what I was trying to say is: If we’re looking for talent, why are we choosing for background? If we really want to have a more diverse set of people in mathematical sciences, we have to take into account the structural barriers that make it hard for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed in math.

We’ve been hearing more about how these kinds of educational barriers arise in primary and secondary school. Do you argue that they arise in undergraduate and graduate programs as well?

That’s right. At every stage we’re losing people. So if you look at some of the studies people are doing now about people who take Calculus 1, and how many of them go on to take Calculus 2, you’ll find basically that we’re losing women and minorities at these critical junctures. This happens for reasons that we can only speculate about. But I’m sure some of it has to do with people in these groups not seeing themselves as belonging in math, possibly because of a negative culture and an unwelcome climate, or because of things that professors or other students are doing to discourage people from continuing.

The obvious problem with this attrition is that when mathematics draws from a smaller pool, we end up with fewer talented mathematicians. But you emphasized in your speech that denying people math is actually denying them an opportunity to flourish.

Math can contribute in a broad way to every person’s life whether that person actually becomes a mathematician or not. The goal of broadly getting people to appreciate math is not at odds with bringing more people into deep mathematics. Connect with people in a deep way and you’re going to draw more people into mathematics. Some of them, more of them, are going to go to graduate school, and that will necessarily happen if you address some of these deep desires — for love, truth, beauty, justice, play. If you address some of these deep themes you’re going to get more people and a more diverse set of people in deep mathematics.

Some of those desires are easier to relate to math than others. I think people have a somewhat intuitive sense of how a desire for truth or beauty might be realized through math. But you spent a lot of your talk on justice. How does that relate to mathematics?

Justice is a desire that people have, and so it leads to a certain virtue which is to become a just person, somebody who cares about fighting for things that defend basic human dignity. I spent the most time discussing justice in my talk mainly because I feel that our mathematics community can do better; we can become more just. I see a lot of ways in which we can do better and become more virtuous as a community.

Being a mathematician in some ways allows us to see things more for what they are. When people learn not to overgeneralize their arguments, they’re going to be very careful not to think that if you’re poor you’re necessarily uneducated or vice versa. Having a mathematical background certainly helps people to be less governed by their biases.

You’ve been a successful research mathematician, yet you teach at a small college, Harvey Mudd, that doesn’t have a graduate school. That’s kind of unusual. Was there a point where you decided you’d prefer to work at a liberal arts college rather than a big research university?

When I was in graduate school at Harvard I realized I loved teaching, and I remember one of my professors from college telling me that the teaching was better at small liberal arts colleges. So when I was on the job market I started looking at those colleges. I was interested in the research track and willing to do that, but I was also very attracted to the liberal arts environment. I chose to go and I love it; I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else.

And how do you think working at a liberal arts college shapes the way you look at the mathematics community today?

I think one of the things I didn’t address in the talk, but almost did, is the divide in the community between research universities and liberal arts colleges. There is a cultural divide, and the research universities are in some sense the dominant culture because all of us with Ph.D.s come through research universities. And there’s the whole pattern of the dominant culture being completely unaware of what’s going on at the liberal arts colleges. So people come up to me and say: “So, you’re at Harvey Mudd; are you happy there?” It’s almost like assuming I wouldn’t be. That happens all the time, so I find it a bit frustrating to feel like I have to say: “No, this is actually my dream job.”

What are the consequences of this cultural imbalance?

Well, the downsides are, for instance, that many of the people at research universities would never consider taking students from an undergraduate college. That’s the downside; they’re missing a lot of talent. So in many ways the issues are analogous to some of the racial issues that are going on.

I think professors at research universities often don’t realize that there are a lot of bright kids coming through the liberal arts colleges. What I’m addressing is the very common practice right now in certain graduate schools of only admitting people who’ve already had a full slate of graduate courses. In other words, they’re expecting undergraduates to have taken graduate courses before they even get considered. If you have that kind of structural situation, you are necessarily going to exclude a bunch of people who otherwise might be successful.

One barrier you mentioned in your talk arises when senior professors don’t teach introductory classes. Tell me about that.

I’m being a little provocative here as well. I think what that communicates is: “This is not an important enough segment of people for me to put my attention to.” I’m certainly not saying everybody who only teaches senior-level courses has this attitude, but I am saying there are a lot of people who think the math major is basically there for the benefit of students who are going to get a Ph.D. That’s a problem.

Su on the Harvey Mudd campus.

At the Joint Mathematics Meetings there were a number of prizes specifically for women, and a number of women gave invited talks. Has the math community made more progress on gender equality than on racial inclusiveness?

Definitely, racial inclusiveness has not come as far or as fast as gender inclusiveness. Currently about 27 percent of people with Ph.D.s, faculty members, are women, and about 30 percent of the ones who won awards in teaching and service are women. So we’re actually doing pretty well on that front. With our writing awards, which are awards for research and exposition—the fraction of women winning those awards is lower.

Can you look at the process by which gender equality has improved and draw any lessons from that about how to improve racial equality in math?

Many of the practices that work to encourage women in math also work for minorities. Part of the issue here is that there just aren’t that many minorities who come into college interested in doing STEM majors. So there’s something that happened at the secondary and primary school level, and it would help a lot if we could figure out what’s going on there.

You used the metaphor of a “secret menu” in Chinese restaurants. What did you mean by that?

If you go to an authentic restaurant in a big city in New York or California, if you are not Chinese they will give you a standard menu that has things in English and Chinese. But if you’re Chinese, they’ll give you a different menu. Often it’s a menu that is written completely in Chinese and has some additional options that aren’t on the standard menu. And I think that happens in the math community. If you talk to women and minorities they will often tell you they’ve had experiences where people discouraged them from going on, either because they don’t think a woman should be in math, or for other reasons. So I used the metaphor “secret menu” to mean: Do we have a secret menu? And who gets to look at it?

You told a story about a student who was counseled by a professor to choose a different major on the grounds that the student wasn’t good enough to stick with math. Is that common?

I think it’s common. Of course we don’t have any data, but I’ve certainly talked to enough people who’ve had those kinds of experiences to know that it’s very frequent and most of those people are women and minorities.

It’s been almost a month since you gave your speech, and it’s generated a lot of attention on the internet and among mathematicians. What kinds of responses have you received?

Most of the comments have come from people who are grateful to me for mentioning things that haven’t necessarily been discussed, but also for identifying some of the deep, underlying things that cause us to do what we do. I think a lot of people, especially women and minorities, have expressed to me how important it was for somebody to say that. We’ve been having discussions like this in smaller conversations, and a lot of time it’s preaching to the choir, and so having somebody say that in a big address at the national meeting I think felt important and helpful to them.

Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/live-best-life-mathematics/

Let’s Go Back to a Future Where Sci-Fi Does Good Time Travel

Time travel stories are everywhere, from blockbuster movies to children’s cartoons, and it’s easy to imagine that the idea has always been popular. But science writer James Gleick, author of the new book Time Travel: A History, says widespread understanding of time travel is actually a fairly recent phenomenon.

“Everybody who’s born into this society knows about time travel,” Gleick says in Episode 241 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I know six-year-olds who argue at the breakfast table about paradoxes of time travel that would have taken an hour to explain to somebody in the 1930s.”

As recently as 1895 the concept of time travel was so unfamiliar that H. G. Wells had to spend the entire first chapter of The Time Machine just explaining what time travel is. “Because there had never been time travel before, because there had never been a time machine, the first thing H. G. Wells has to do is explain to his readers what this whole book is going to be about, or he can’t even start the story,” Gleick says.

Later authors such as E. Nesbit, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein expanded on Wells’ idea, gradually working out many of the possible implications of time travel, such as meeting yourself or altering the past. Such concepts are now so familiar that audiences can easily follow virtuoso feats of time travel gymnastics such as the Doctor Who episode “Blink,” in which a woman has a conversation with a video recorded in the ’70s.

“That story is trying to talk to us about the world we live in, where we get information from the past mixed up with information from the present and information that seems to be coming to us almost from the future, on all of the different screens that have become part of our networked lives,” Gleick says. “So that’s why I think that story has such great power, besides just being sheer fun.”

But based on some of the responses to the recent film Arrival, it seems that we haven’t quite reached peak time travel sophistication.

“At the heart of the movie is a time travel twist,” Gleick says. “And I know from experience that a lot of people who see the movie don’t quite get it, even when the movie is done.”

Listen to our complete interview with James Gleick in Episode 241 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

James Gleick on the influence of his book Chaos:

“I read Jurassic Park at the time, and I saw the movie. I never met Michael Crichton, but it’s pretty obvious that his character the chaos scientist, played in the movie by Jeff Goldblum so memorably, is speaking lines that reminded me of my book, so that was great. … Another much better example—much more beloved by me anyway—is Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, which I can say was inspired by my book, because he has said that it was. And he writes so much more beautifully than I was ever able to about not just chaos but entropy and thermodynamics and all kinds of other scientific ideas. It’s really been inspiring for me to read people like him, to read what artists are able to do with ideas from science.”

James Gleick on 12 Monkeys:

“The world has come to an end, and the movie starts, and Bruce Willis is a kind of unwilling time traveler, being sent back on a mission to the past by these murky, mysterious, semi-sinister people who seem to live in caves or something. And the movie has an ending that is so wonderful, and has a twist that I don’t even want to give away now, years later, even though most of you probably know what it is. But what I didn’t know when I started working on my book is that that movie was essentially a remake of an incredible early French film called La Jetée, that is only half an hour long and is composed almost entirely of still images, and is made by a mysterious Frenchman with the mysteriously American-sounding name of Chris Marker.”

James Gleick on Robert Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps”:

“He had to imagine what it’s like for Bob #2—who’s being told by Bob #3 that they’ve met before—to think, ‘Well, wait a second. If I’ve had this conversation before, shouldn’t I remember it?’ And one of the Bobs actually does remember it, and so it’s natural for him to think, ‘If I’ve had this conversation, now can I say something different, or do I have to follow the script?’ So willy-nilly, we’re now talking about the great, profound philosophical questions of free will and determinism. And I don’t think Robert Heinlein said to himself, ‘I’m going to write a story about free will.’ … But he was a smart, thoughtful guy, and he followed the logic of his story where it led him, and it led him into deep, deep swamps of philosophy.”

James Gleick on the rules of time travel:

“There were versions of time travel history where people thought, ‘OK, maybe you can change the past, but the overall course of human history will just repair itself and get back together. Isaac Asimov’s book The End of Eternity basically makes that case. They make little nudges to change history, but the idea is that you can’t change the really big things just by messing around with little things. But Ray Bradbury took a different approach, and essentially invented what chaos theory 20 years later named ‘the butterfly effect.’ … [His time travelers] are required to stay very carefully on the trail, and not disturb any living thing, because it is understood by the masters of time travel here that there could be unexpected effects in the future. And sure enough, somebody clumsily steps on a butterfly, and as a result the presidential election [in the future] is changed for the worse.”

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/geeks-guide-time-travel/

How Air Force Pilots Patrol and Guard No-Fly Zones

You’re a private pilot, out on a Sunday jaunt in your single engine prop plane. Lovely day for a flight—calm skies, good weather. Then you hear, feel, and then see the fast approach of two, grey, angular military jets, flying terrifyingly close to you, most definitely armed and dangerous.

What have you done? More pressing, what do you do? Chances are, you’ve strayed into restricted airspace, like the no fly zones put in place to protect President Trump wherever he goes, or special events, like this weekend’s Super Bowl.

For the big game, the no-fly zone banishes planes (and drones, the FAA is keen to stress) straying within 34.5 miles of NRG stadium, in downtown Houston. If pilots feel they must enter the outer edge of the perimeter, they need permission from controllers, and are asked to maintain constant contact. The 10-mile core is strictly no entry.

OK, back to those menacing fighter jets, one of which is now level with you, where you can see each other. Hopefully, as a pilot, you’ve read and memorized your in-flight intercept procedures (even if you didn’t bother to check the FAA website for no-fly zones in your area), because they’re your best bet for keeping a lot of airspace between you and a missile.

Step one, rock your wings to acknowledge the intercept, the way a driver hits his turn signal when he sees a cop pulling him over. The jet pilot will be trying to communicate, so answer your radio if you can, and explain how sorry you are. The lead jet will likely turn, guiding you out of the banned area—follow it. If it abruptly turns across your nose and fires its flares, it’s meant as a warning—so follow it, like immediately.

If you can’t comply for whatever reason, switch all your lights on and off at regular intervals. If you’re in distress, maybe due to mechanical failure, do the same, but at irregular intervals (just something else to remember in an emergency).

Turns out that small planes stray into restricted airspace all the time. “Most of the time, before they even get near the restricted area, officials contact them on the radio,” says Stephen Bucci, visiting fellow for Homeland Security and Special Operations at the Heritage Foundation. “They turn them right or left, and that’s the end of it.” But after September 11, 2001, enforcement got more serious. Pilots have intercepted more than 1,800 non-military aircraft since the attacks, according to the North American Aerospace Command (Norad).

So, while a studious pilot should go a lifetime without being bothered by an F-16, fighter jet jockeys spend a lot of time training for this specialized dance.

This week, the Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary of the Air Force, whose 56,000 members are mostly retired and civilian pilots, has been deliberately flying into mock restricted areas around Houston, running through exactly the scenario above, to help military crews practice for any possible encounters this weekend. Volunteers spent two days flying two Cessna 182 planes low and slow, for the Texas Air National Guard to intercept.

“What we’re training for is the pilot who wanders in some place, where they’re not supposed to be, and is going to cooperate,” says the CAP’s Colonel Brooks Cima. After all, that’s the most likely scenario. Pilots are supposed to check daily notices for up-to-date air closure information, but mistakes happen, especially when those closures take effect with little notice, like when POTUS sweeps into town.

To keep everyone sharp, CAP flies 1,450 training missions a year, focussing on simulating everything from presidential inaugurations to meetings of world leaders. It’s all part of Operation Noble Eagle, which the US and Canada jointly launched after 9/11. The military uses a few different aircraft, but F-15 and F-16 jets are popular choices, along with Black Hawk helicopters, since the rotary craft have an easier time flying slowly alongside small, slow planes.

For anyone who buzzes into closed off territory, the fighter jets and persistent radio calls are usually enough to intimidate them into behaving. If not, things step up a notch.

“If it becomes clear that the aircraft has hostile intent, they will get permission to engage it with weaponry,” says Bucci. He worked in the Pentagon after 9/11, when Norad was developing the new rules for how and when to take a plane out. Initially, responsibility for making that call rested with the Secretary of Defense, but is now routinely delegated down to the two-star officer on duty at Norad’s Colorado Springs base.

For special events like the Super Bowl or last month’s Inauguration, the Secret Service runs the show, and its senior agent on the ground will be the one to authorize action. “It will only happen when everything else has been tried,” says Bucci, and everything else usually works. To date, a civilian plane has never been shot down in the US, not even the gyrocopter a publicity seeker landed on the lawn of the US Capitol in 2015—in some of the most restricted airspace in the country.

Although the risk is low, exercises to keep skill levels high have a secondary benefit: They are a ton of fun for the retired military and civilian pilots who make up CAP. For them, these drills provide the thrill of seeing military aircraft in action, up close and personal. For the rest of us, it’s just one more level of protection.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/air-force-fighters-keep-rogue-pilots-no-fly-zones/

“Antifa” far-left extremists fight neo-Nazis online and in real life

For every neo-Nazi meme, there is an equal but opposite Nazi punch. Think of it as the Third Law of the internet, if Newton was a subreddit.

OK, that’s a little absurdist, but increasingly, it does seem like every upwelling of far-right agitation—in real life or online—gets met with a reciprocal surge from an equally extreme niche on the far left. Somebody punches the white nationalist Richard Spencer in the face in a video that goes viral. Breitbart provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos tries to give a talk at UC Berkeley. Over 150 protestors break windows and throw fireworks at the police until administrators call off the event. And President Trump tweets about it.

The progression isn’t strict call-and-response, to be sure. But it does show that the white nationalist internet has a kind of counterpart. Some of these far-left activists are militant antifascists—“antifa” for short. And not to get all falsely equivalent on you, but many are young, angry, and know their way around a meme.

They may well indeed express more egalitarian ideals than neo-Nazis (who doesn’t, really?), but they’re also anarchists prone to property destruction and online abuse. Worse, by giving as good as they get, they double down on political polarization, driving the national narrative even further from center.

The traditional antifascist playbook pre-dates World War II. Most famously, they employ so-called black bloc tactics, dressing in head-to-toe black and causing chaos. (The antifacist who punched Richard Spencer was a black bloc participant.)

But it’s not all yelling “anarchy” and lighting stuff on fire. They’re also tech savvy. “Since the first white supremacist sites went online, people have been trying to take them down, figure out people’s passwords, and dox them,” says Stanislav Vysotsky, a sociologist and criminologist at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “Later on, it became DDos attacks.” Anonymous and spinoff groups like LulzFinancial certainly seem to be on Team Antifa, doxxing scores of far-right agitators.

But President Trump’s election has rejiggered the antifa-versus-white-supremacist struggle. “Most of the trolling had been coming from the right,” says Phyllis Gerstenfeld, a criminal justice professor at CSU Stanislaus who has studied extremist groups on the internet. “Suddenly, we see a lot more nasty trolling coming from the left. It’s a reaction to power shifts.” With the right in power, the left is alienated and ready to raise hell.

“Bash the Fash”

And that makes for a huge influx of social media-focused, younger antifascists—a mirror universe of the self-described alt-righters you’d see on Gab. “People see the iconography on social media, download a flier and just call themselves an antifascist,” says Vysotsky. “The internet makes it all very accessible.”

This new guard—taking up the internet-y rallying cry “bash the fash”— are responsible for things like the popular Nazi punching memes that followed the attack on Spencer. They’ve spread beyond antifascist subreddits to the general public. A good example, set to the soundtrack of Hamilton:

While it’s easy to see why non-Nazis might find that satisfying—we’ve spoken to Richard Spencer at length—having a laugh at violence is hardly a feel-good moment. “I don’t know that I want punching anyone to be the model of what political action looks like,” says a longtime antifascist activist and participant in the CrimethInc anarchist network who goes by the nickname “A.”

SK—a “university age” antifascist and moderator of the /r/militant subreddit—feels differently. “We just fight fire with fire,” he says. “If they send us Pepes with swastikas, we’ll send them some weird shitty photoshop. The alt-right likes to call it The Meme War.”

That sounds relatively harmless, but the memes on both sides tend toward threats of violence.

via SIZZLE

And it doesn’t end with memes. “Members of Neo-Nazi groups occasionally pose as reporters to get information on antifascists so they can target them later,” says another /r/militant mod, whose username is IamSeth (and who required mulitiple encrypted chat apps to be convinced I wasn’t a white supremacist in disguise).

Meanwhile, the Meme War has metastasized to Reddit at large: “/r/antifa was never an antifascist subreddit,” IamSeth says. “It is a honeypot run by members of the Ku Klux Klan.” (I wasn’t able to confirm the Klan connection, but when I reached out to the /r/antifa mods, an individual who goes by diversity_is_racism denied the honeypot claim, but said he or she thinks Richard Spencer is “a good guy.”)

That’s the cost of anonymity—on a subreddit, nobody really knows if you’re antifa or antiantifa. The only way to get an existing subreddit taken down is to show it has become a platform for doxxing—which is allegedly what happened on the /r/altright and /r/alternativeright subreddits earlier this week when they posted links to WeSearchr, for a crowdfunded bounty calling for the doxxing of the antifa activist who punched Spencer. Here’s a screenshot from Gab:

“I’ve seen antifascists doxxing, but I’ve never participated,” says SK. To antifa activists though, doxxing is justified by their opponent’s behavior, which in their view, is worse. “The alt-right is just online making death treats to people,” SK says. “It does disturb your peace of mind, but I think death threats are kind of gross.”

So the Meme War rolls ever on. According to Vysotsky, it’s already happening: “In Wisconsin, a person put up a Nazi flag, and an antifascist published an address online. But because it was a duplex, the address was incorrect,” he says. “The Latino family living there started receiving threats.”

Some antifascists aren’t bothered by this kind of collateral damage. “People are going to do stupid shit and make the movement look bad,” SK says. “But if you’re fighting against oppression, even if you don’t recognize yourself as antifascist, you’re still a comrade of mine.”

The risk, as always, is escalation. “The equivalent of black bloc street battles will happen online,” say Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “Both sides will use every tool at their disposal to go after the other. Lord knows what they could pull off.” Online, actions earn not equal and opposite reactions but stronger ones— and the dial seems only to turn one way.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/neo-nazis-face-new-foe-online-irl-far-left-antifa/

Security News This Week: Hackers Play Anti-Trump Song on Local Radio Stations Across the US

There’s a lot of international news to process lately, and some of it was refreshingly positive in the world of cybersecurity. Mozilla announced this week that the average quantity of encrypted internet traffic is finally larger than the average quantity of unencrypted traffic. Researchers at Google and domestic violence advocacy groups are working to understand how technology makers can develop their products to better aid survivors of intimate partner abuse. And a podcast app called RadiTo is working to circumvent censorship in Iran so citizens can access diverse international audio from within the country.

There was some bad news too, though. Ransomware attacks are on the rise, and are taking on larger targets than ever. A man filed a lawsuit against Grindr alleging that the company did nothing to help him deal with spoofed accounts masquerading as him that are disrupting his privacy and life. And police across the US are using cell data they can get without a warrant to track suspects’ whereabouts.

And there’s more. Each Saturday we round up the news stories that we didn’t break or cover in depth but that still deserve your attention. As always, click on the headlines to read the full story in each link posted. And stay safe out there.

Hackers Use Known Vulnerability That Radio Stations Ignored to Put Anti-Trump Song on Local Airwaves

Hackers have been targeting a bug in a particular low-power FM radio transmitter to play the YG and Nipsey Hussle song “F–k Donald Trump” live on air on more than a dozen local radio stations around the country. The attacks take advantage of a vulnerability that was disclosed in April 2016, but that many stations still haven’t addressed. The vulnerability occurs when a certain model of Internet-connected transmitter doesn’t have a strong password restricting access and isn’t behind a firewall or VPN. The stations that use the equipment are all small-radius, low-power FM stations, though, so “F–k Donald Trump” probably won’t be coming to larger networks any time soon.

Browser Security Experts Increasingly Critical of Anti-Virus Software

More and more developers who work on securing browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have come out against antivirus software recently because they say it hinders deployment of new security features. Since AV attempts to monitor and secure an entire computing environment, it inserts itself into many programs and must be able to interoperate. As a result, software vendors have to work around it, and this process can delay or even stall security improvements. For consumers, it’s difficult to know what the right course of action is, because anti-virus software can do some good, but has many flaws. For now the answer seems to be simply making an informed choice, and, as always, keeping all software and devices current with the latest security updates from the developer. Anti-virus makers themselves have slowly been acknowledging that they need a new paradigm, but the shift can’t come quickly enough.

Treasury Implements Planned, Minor Exceptions to Sanctions Against Russian Spy Agency

On Thursday, the US Treasury slightly altered sanctions against the Russian intelligence agency FSB. The sanctions were created in response to Russia’s alleged political hacking during the 2016 presidential election. The change is meant to let companies interact with FSB for approval to import digital products to Russia. Under the revised rule, companies are only allowed to do transactions with FSB up to $5,000 for permits and certifications in a given year. The news sparked rumors that the White House was backing off of the sanctions, recently put in place by former President Obama. But President Trump said on Thursday that he’s “not easing anything.”

Smartphone-Cracking Software Leaks From Hacking Tool Dealer Cellebrite

The hacker who claimed in January to have nabbed 900GB of data from the servers of the smartphone analysis group Cellebrite has publicly leaked a collection of files from the breach that relate to doing forensic evaluations of Blackberry and Android handsets and some old iPhone models. Cellebrite is known for working with government law enforcement agencies, but also seems to have worked with authoritarian regimes like Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Some of the iOS tools are similar to and possibly based on software already publicly available among jailbreakers. The Cellebrite hacker told Motherboard that he or she wanted to release the data to show that hoarding hacking tools is dangerous because they’ll almost certainly leak.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/security-news-week-hackers-play-anti-trump-song-local-radio-stations-across-us/

The Silicon Valley Engineers Driving the Anti-Trump Train

This week, more than 2,000 Google employees walked out of work to protest President Trump’s immigration ban. Far from disciplining them for leaving their desks, CEO Sundar Pichai and co-founder Sergey Brin treated workers to impassioned speeches of support.

“Proud, moved, and touched to be at a company that boldly stands for its people,” Googler Sam Tse tweeted. The hashtag #GooglersUnite trended.

While Pichai and Brin were no doubt speaking from personal conviction—Brin’s family fled the former Soviet Union when he was a boy—they also had little choice but to back their employees. Trump’s directive cut to the heart of Silicon Valley’s treasured values of globalism and openness, values widely embraced by the workers themselves. And in Silicon Valley, where companies’ success depends so deeply on their rosters of intellectual talent, it’s the workers who have the leverage to force their bosses to respond when the president threatens those values.

The power of that pressure was on full display yesterday when Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down from Trump’s economic advisory council. “There are many ways we will continue to advocate for just change on immigration, but staying on the council was going to get in the way of that,” Kalanick wrote in an email to employees. His decision came after the #DeleteUber hashtag campaign went viral over the company’s response to Trump’s ban. But according to a New York Times report, the real arm-twisting may have come from employees furious that Kalanick’s membership on the council looked like a company endorsement of the administration.

Only two weeks into Trump’s presidency, it’s clear Kalanick won’t be the last CEO to face this kind of criticism not just from outsiders but from inside their companies themselves. Silicon Valley’s workforce is heavily liberal and deeply committed to the notion of itself as a meritocracy—a place where people succeed on the quality of their ideas, not where they’re from. Given the seller’s market for their talent, tech workers have real power to influence their bosses’ postures toward the president. If their CEO doesn’t stand up aggressively to Trump, they can always go work for a CEO who does.

So Many Choices

It’s an old Silicon Valley lament that the tech industry faces a severe talent shortage, but it remains true. Jobs in computing are growing at twice the national rate of other occupations—far faster than the country is turning out qualified workers to fill them.

“Our students are regularly getting dozens of offers, and they are stressed out by having to choose among so many options,” says Andrew Moore, dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science.

‘Our students are regularly getting dozens of offers, and they are stressed out by having to choose among so many options.’

At the most mercenary level, the competition is fierce because talented employees make tech companies lots of money. Facebook employees generate $1.9 million in revenue annually per person, while the median compensation is about $150,000. “An employee’s return on investment is higher than drug dealing,” says John Sullivan, a human resources strategist and management professor at San Francisco State University. “It’s not the buildings, the location, or the equipment that make these tech firms excel at serial innovation. Instead, it’s the quality and capabilities of the people that they attract and retain.” The competition gets even fiercer in more specialized fields like machine learning and artificial intelligence, where the best command salaries more akin to professional athletes than office workers.

With talent so precious and scarce, tech companies have little choice but to take their workers’ politics seriously. “In Silicon Valley, the pressure for firms to act 100 percent politically correct is constant and powerful,” says Sullivan. “The turnover rate is already so high at firms like Google, that it makes no sense to do anything that might anger even a small portion of your workforce.” It makes sense, then, that techies would scrutinize their prospective employers based on whether those companies and their leaders exhibit values that align with their own worldviews. And these days, those views are likely to be anti-Trump.

“The tech community in general contains a very high proportion of recent migrants or children of migrants,” says Yoshua Bengio, director of the University of Montreal’s Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, a hub for AI talent. “With near unanimity against the Trump immigration ban among all the people in that community, it is not surprising to see companies making public moves against this ban.” For some, even those public displays are not enough. Bengio says he knows top researchers who are now looking for jobs outside of the US.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/silicon-valley-vs-trump-tech-workers-wield-real-power/

Tinder for Apes, and the Week’s Other Unsettling Developments

Editor’s note: We’re proud to bring NextDraft—the most righteous, most essential newsletter on the web—to WIRED.com. Every Friday you’ll get a roundup of the week’s most popular must-read stories from around the internet, courtesy of mastermind Dave Pell. So dig in and geek out.

Genus de Milo

Trump threatened to pull federal funding from UC Berkeley after a night of violent protests prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from delivering a scheduled speech. (Campus officials had already condemned the violence.) The entire incident brings up an important point when it comes to dealing with trolls and hate speech. The key is to give trolls as little coverage and attention as possible. These protests (even if they hadn’t been violent) do just the opposite. The same goes for celebrities and other influencers who quote hate-tweets from trolls. Their main goal is to go viral. Don’t help them. I never thought it would be possible to turn the word Yiannopoulos into a household name…

On Hi(gh)atus

“The biggest influence on kids are other kids. It’s not uncool to say, ‘I don’t take drugs or drink.’ It’s perfectly acceptable now.” Vice looks at some of the forces behind numbers when it comes to drug use among young people in the UK: Gen Z Is Too Busy to Drink or Do Drugs. (I guess my generation was pretty good at multitasking…)

NextDraft


About

The NextDraft newsletter is now on WIRED.com. Every Friday, mastermind Dave Pell visits the far reaches of the web to bring the news you missed. Politics, tech, science—you name it, and it’s here.

(Original story reprinted with permission from NextDraft.)


The Nuke Option

Trump on the nuclear option: “Go for it.” Thankfully, he wasn’t talking about actual nukes, but rather a filibuster-busting tactic that Senate Republicans could deploy to push through his Supreme Court nominee, Colorado federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch: a justice who is likely to follow in the legal footsteps of Antonin Scalia.

+ “The White House aides ferried Gorsuch down a quiet farm road to the airport, where they boarded a military jet for the flight to Joint Base Andrews.” As he announced his pick, Trump asked, “Was that a surprise?” Here’s how hard the White House worked to keep the pick a secret. (I imagine keeping the boss away from Twitter was the most difficult aspect of the strategy.)

The Caller Is Inside the (White) House

“At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladimir Putin — and that ‘this was the worst call by far.’” The president appeared to successfully migrate his Twitter communication style to a landline phone as a call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull turned sour. (I’ve had less heated calls on a Samsung Galaxy Note 7.)

+ “Politicians have gotta talk from both sides of their mouth, gotta please everybody because they want votes. He don’t have to. He’s saying, listen, this is the way it’s going to be. He’s changing all the rules, and I love it.” From NPR: Trump Supporters Cheer Quick Starts On Campaign Promises.

Going Ape

“Often, animals have to be taken back to the zoo they came from without mating. Things don’t always go well when a male and a female first meet.” The solution? Tinder for Orangutans.

+ “In many species, a family dinner means something else.” The NYT on new discoveries about cannibalism in the animal kingdom. So I guess it’s not just a DC thing after all…

The Balm

“She was like, ‘Oh, did you see that firefighter? He’s so cute.’ And I was like, ‘Mom, I just got blown up.’” Here’s a nice story about a Boston Marathon bombing survivor who is getting married to the fireman who saved her.

Pop(ulism) Goes the Weasel

“The recipe for populism is universal. Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior.” In a very interesting piece, Andrés Miguel Rondón explains how populism works, and maybe more importantly, how to fight it. (Hint: it’s pretty much the opposite of what most people are doing right now.) How to let a populist beat you, over and over again.

+ “Many conservative foreign-policy and national-security experts saw the dangers last spring and summer, which is why we signed letters denouncing not Trump’s policies but his temperament; not his program but his character. We were right.” A hawkish neocon explains why this is a clarifying moment in American History.

The Worst of the Worst

The New Yorker’s Adrian Chen on the human toll of protecting the internet from the worst of humanity. “He developed symptoms of P.T.S.D., including insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, and auditory hallucinations. He began to have trouble spending time around his son, because it triggered traumatic memories.” (If you’ve never worked on a site where people share content or perform searches, trust me, you have no idea…)

Going Out in Style

“These are luxury, nuclear-hardened bunkers that are engineered… to accommodate not just your physical protection but your mental well-being as well.” From the BBC: The nuclear bunkers designed for luxury living. All I need is coffee and some decent Wi-Fi, and I’ll be fine. I am the cockroach of news curators.

+ Outside: Everything wrong with Peter Thiel’s doomsday survival plan. (When it hits the fan, the last people I will run to for advice are Internet nerds…)

Bottom of the News

You have thousands of terrible photos that you’ve been meaning to cull through. You have tens of thousands of emails that you still haven’t deleted. Maybe you’re just overwhelmed or a little bit lazy. Or maybe you’re a digital hoarder.

+ It’s one of the longest running and most irritating debates in human history. And now a college student from Georgia may have come up with a way to answer one of life’s pressing questions: What should we have for dinner?

+ Here’s a great idea for a way to redesign nutrition labels in a way that might actually motivate you to cut down on sugar.

+ Joe Buck on Howard Stern. It’s an interesting chat on universal topics like social media, family dynamics, and hair plugs. And it’s not politics. Enjoy.

+ “Police in northern Oklahoma say they’ve arrested a substitute teacher on an indecent exposure complaint after she reportedly did a cartwheel in front of students while wearing a skirt but no undergarments.”

This is a weekly best-of version of the NextDraft newsletter. For daily updates and to get the NextDraft app, go here. (Original story reprinted with permission from NextDraft.)

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/tinder-apes-weeks-unsettling-developments/

Trump’s Dodd-Frank Rollbacks Threaten Retirees—and Robots

Retirees who lost big in the 2008 financial crisis have good reason to worry about President Trump’s new rollbacks of Wall Street regulations. So do the robots.

In an executive order issued today, Trump sought to undo parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank act, which curbed some of the finance industry’s most egregious recession-spawning practices. In a separate memo, the president ordered a review of the “fiduciary duty rule,” which requires retirement fund investors to act in the best interests of their clients.

Democrats condemned the Trump administration for its short memory:

The opposition may have an unlikely ally in this fight: fintech, the segment of the tech industry trying to automate away so much of what Wall Street does.

In the wake of the financial crisis, a slew of so-called robo-advisors promised consumers a fully automated version of money management that purports to remove human error—and avarice—from the equation. Instead of a human broker making decisions about how to invest your money, companies like Betterment and Wealthfront let algorithms do it. Experts have speculated the fiduciary rule would benefit robo-advisors by making the compliance costs too great for money managers to justify holding onto smaller clients. Robo-advisors that can perform much the same function at a lower cost would likely gobble that business right up.

In a 2015 Congressional hearing, then-Labor Secretary Tom Perez repeatedly cited Wealthfront as the way of the future. “They have a platform that enables them to lower their fees, operate as a fiduciary and do well by doing good,” Perez said at the time.

‘Repeal means favoring the bottom lines of the financial services industry over the American people.’

“Today’s announcement of a rollback or freeze on some of those rules probably will shrink the market for robo-investing,” says former California state senator Sam Blakeslee, president of the broker-dealer Blakeslee & Blakeslee.

“This is a sad day for individual investors. Repeal of the fiduciary rule would imperil the retirement savings of millions of Americans,” Jon Stein, founder and CEO of Betterment, said in a statement. “Repeal means favoring the bottom lines of the financial services industry over the American people, who deserve financial transparency and honesty.”

In December, Betterment took out ads in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, both of which were written as letters to then president-elect Trump, urging him not to repeal the rule. “We hope that you will stand on the side of America’s 75 million retirement savers, not the firms with deep pockets who are lobbying you to protect their bottom line,” one ad implored.

Indeed, as Trump signed the executive orders today, former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn—now director of the National Economic Council—stood just over the President’s shoulder—a stark symbol of who wins in this fight.

“The traditional industry has lobbied hard and spent a lot of resources to prevent this rule from moving forward,” says Joe Ziemer, vice president of communications and policy at Betterment, who himself spends lots of time in Washington.

It’s not just the delay of the fiduciary rule that concerns fintech companies. Dodd-Frank includes another rule known as section 1033 on which many financial startups rely. The rule protects consumers’ rights to their own financial data, data that fintech companies need to offer users advice on how to spend their money. If Dodd-Frank is dismantled, that rule could also go.

Fintech companies including Betterment, Digit, and Affirm (founded by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin) recently launched the Consumer Financial Data Rights Group, a trade association of sorts that will try to use its collective might to solidify consumer data access rights. “It’s our view that innovation is not a partisan ideology,” says Steve Boms, vice president of Yodlee, one of the companies in the group. “What’s happening in fintech is something both parties benefit from.”

In the meantime, the robots and would-be retirees will be watching to see if anyone beyond Wall Street benefits from these rollbacks at all.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/trumps-gifts-wall-street-threaten-retirees-robots/

The FCC OKs Zero-Rating—But Net Neutrality Pays the Price

The Federal Communications Commission’s new chairman made what could be the least politically risky move of his entire tenure: He’s ending the agency’s investigations into companies for giving away free stuff.

The practice is called zero-rating, and on the surface it sounds totally innocuous. Verizon, AT&T and other internet and wireless providers let some apps squeak past their data caps while still charging customers to use others. For example, you can stream all the Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora you want under certain T-Mobile programs without using any of your data. But in late 2015, the FCC sent four internet providers letters notifying them that the commission was looking into whether zero-rating violated its net neutrality rules. After all, favoring one network over another on your network sounds a lot like preferential treatment.

That investigation is now over, and zero-rating is here to stay. “These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace,” Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai said today.

The problem is that as appealing as free stuff might seem now, zero-rating could harm innovation long-term. Want to start a new video company to compete with Netflix? Good luck if, for example, your whole addressable market already gets to stream Netflix data-free.

Consumer groups have long argued that internet service providers shouldn’t be able to pick winners and losers online—or give their own services an unfair advantage over their competitors’ offerings. It’s the basic principle of net neutrality: the idea that all internet traffic should be treated equally.

Each of the four companies the FCC investigated has at least one offering that could be considered zero rated. AT&T allows its wireless customers to stream content from its DirecTV service for free and gives its home broadband subscribers free unlimited data if they also subscribe to DirecTV. Verizon exempts its Go90 video service from its wireless data caps. Comcast doesn’t count its Stream TV service towards its new data limits. And T-Mobile’s BingeOn and Music Freedom programs let users stream unlimited amounts of video and audio from select services (though it does slow down your video connections if you use BingeOn).

The FCC didn’t explicitly ban these types of practices in its sweeping net neutrality rules passed in 2015. But it did reserve the right to consider case-by-case whether companies were using data limits for anticompetitive purposes. After the election last year, the FCC notified AT&T and Verizon that their practices—which include letting companies pay to have their data zero-rated—were likely anticompetitive. But Pai and fellow Republican FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly told the companies to wait until after Inauguration Day before worrying about altering their zero-rating programs. Today’s announcement means they don’t have to worry at all about zero-rating, and possibly broader net neutrality rules that the GOP-controlled FCC, or Congress itself, could soon spike.

As appealing as free stuff might seem now, zero-rating could harm innovation long-term.

Pai also said this week that the FCC will become more transparent by releasing the full text of future FCC proposals before commissioners vote on them, giving the public more opportunity to comment. But his main agenda so far has been to roll back the decisions made by the Democrat-dominated FCC of the past eight years. Last week he quietly removed his predecessor’s cable box liberation reforms from the FCC’s agenda. Today he reversed a decision to allow nine more companies participate in a federal program called Lifeline, which helps subsidize telephone and broadband access for low income families.

Before he became chairman, Pai served as an FCC commissioner in the Republican minority under the Obama administration. In that role, he opposed reclassifying broadband providers as “Title II” common carriers, which allows the agency to regulate them like utility companies—a necessary step toward enforcing net neutrality rules. That reclassification might be next to go, though former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has argued that Pai might have a hard time revoking those changes on his own.

He might not have to. Congress has been trying to kill the FCC’s net neutrality regulations since before the agency approved them in the first place. At the same time, at least one Republican bill would keep at least some net neutrality protections intact. The internet may become less open under Trump. But after today, some things at least will stay free.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/fcc-oks-streaming-free-net-neutrality-will-pay/

Cutting International Science Funding Will Only Hurt America

Now is the winter of scientists’ discontent. A coalition of researchers is planning a protest march on Washington; rogue federal-agency Tweeters are posting inconvenient truths and anti-administration sentiments; thousands of members of the global research community have pledged to boycott American conferences. All because, as Newton said, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In the (short) amount of time since the Trump administration came into power, it has limited the public communications of scientific agencies, removed climate science information from the internet, and banned immigration from seven countries.

The administration has yet to take many concrete positions on scientific priorities or funding plans, so onlookers don’t know much about what the landscape will look like, beyond “probably not good for climate science.” But the president ran on a nationalistic, America-first-and-great platform. That doesn’t bode well for science—especially in a world where the biggest discoveries come from collaborative, multinational teams. Now that scientists know atoms and germs and—yeah—anthropogenic climate change exist, they go deeper, bigger, and more expensive. “The scale, cost, and complexity of the facilities required to make progress on the frontiers of many of the current generation of science questions can no longer be borne by a single nation,” says Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences.

The United States has historically been a major contributor to these “Big Science” programs—the ones that discover things like the Higgs boson and gravitational waves. Now, in addition to clamping down on communications and travel, the Trump administration has established a “looking out for Numero Uno” ethos that suggests major cuts to such funding. But if Trump tries to improve Americans’ lot by reducing spending on unnecessary global collaborations, he will accomplish just the opposite: hurting American science and scientists, and slowing the progress that benefits the entire world.

Partners in Crime

The balance sheet isn’t the only reason global collaboration is good for science. Different countries have different industrial and natural resources, for one, and their citizens have perspectives and insights that make for better results. “Diversity in science breeds innovation,” says Gabriela Gonzalez, spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, whose instruments directly detected gravitational waves for the first time last February. Though US-based, LIGO currently includes contributions from Germany, the United Kingdom, and Australia, along with more than 1,000 scientists from 15 countries total.

Already, LIGO is preparing to protect itself from brain drain. “We may have to arrange our meetings so that scientists can freely participate,” says Gonzalez, “perhaps considering other meeting places than the US, which may affect foreign nationals in the US who have trouble getting abroad.” Digital participation is a challenge, too: Regulations on information sent in and out of the country could prevent the team from planning their future hardware and software updates.

At the European Southern Observatory—which, along with American and Japanese partners and help from Canada, Taiwan, and South Korea, runs the Atacama Large Millimeter-Submillimeter Array megaproject in Chile—scientists worry about similar restrictions. “[We are], like many other scientific organizations world-wide, concerned about limiting the ability of scientists to travel in pursuit of their work, and of sharing their work with their peers,” says program manager and astronomer Wolfgang Wild.

Funding-wise, at least, Big Science isn’t terribly at risk. Wild says that if a country that contributes to ALMA—the world’s most expensive terrestrial telescope—wanted to cut back, the partners could jointly decide how to adjust their shares to make up the difference. The same goes for gravitational-wave science: “If the US is not a leader or major contributor, we expect that the exciting science will attract the needed funding from other sources,” says Gonzalez.

But. A country that steps back from any of these international collaborations would lose some of their rights. Astronomers wouldn’t get to use the telescope as much, for instance, or gain rapid access to data. In science, you’ve gotta give to get.

The same logic goes on the International Space Station—perhaps the greatest symbol of global scientific collaboration, running on the financial and actual backs of 15 countries. “When humanity puts its scientific brain and brawn to work,” says the European Space Agency’s Pal Hvistendahl, “together as one, we can make humanity progress faster than any single nation or bloc alone.”

The European and Canadian space agencies didn’t comment on whether they were worried about the US changing its role on-orbit (example: “It is not up to ESA to have any opinion about internal US matters”). But Gilles Leclerc, the Canadian agency’s director general, did suggest that—no matter what may happen politically—the space station will weather it. “The ISS originated more than 30 years ago,” he says, “and there has been a continuity of efforts through many government changes.”

The Groundwork

Back on the ground, international partnerships feel less certain. The president has banned immigration from seven countries, denied refugees refuge, and made both the Mexican president and the Australian prime minister mad. Also mad are the more than 5,000 scientists who have pledged not to attend any conferences held on American soil while the executive-ordered immigration ban is in place. The list of signatories contains scientists from Belgium, South Africa, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Italy, France, Ireland, and—indeed—the United States itself.

So, yes. It is winter. Scientists are discontent, as are people with more at stake than data, like lives and safety. The foundations of their work—the free flow of both information and people—are under threat. If scientists abroad can’t or don’t want to come here to collaborate, US scientists lose out on their insights, as well as the opportunity to train international members of the next generation of researchers. Likewise, if scientists and scientist-hopefuls can’t come here for work or school, those researchers also lose out on American resources. And if data disappears or stays within certain borders, everyone loses.

Science itself will continue, as will Big Science. The question is whether the US will play a big or small part on the global stage.

It’s only in the past few decades that such planet-scale collaboration has even been possible. All of this happened not long ago: The Cold War ended, ocean-crossing flights became (relatively) affordable, internet connections became powerful and extensive enough to pipe data 10,000 miles away, online archives let researchers share papers for free, wikis let global teams update each other in real-time, email was born, videoconferencing and VOIP made cross-border conversation cheap. The degree of scientific cross-pollination is higher than it’s ever been. We’ve come so far so quickly, and we—all of us, because that’s who science is for—have so much to lose.

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source : https://www.wired.com/2017/02/can-international-big-science-survive-without-us/