Building a shared future in a fractured world starts with education and health

It’s that week again. When the world’s corporate and political leaders gather in Davos for the World Economic Forum.

This year, the theme “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World,” captures a vital and challenging task. We only have one planet, so military conflict, economic crises, poverty, and climate change are everybody’s business.

We have both been involved in the running of large countries, as prime minister of Australia and as health and foreign minister of Ethiopia, respectively. Our two nations are very different in many respects, but we have both seen firsthand that what creates a shared future for a nation is to invest in its people. If you provide everyone with affordable health care and education, then you drive up economic growth and drive down inequity and poverty. In doing so, the damaging political and economic fractures in a society are reduced.

Both of us have left our governments to lead global efforts to invest in health and education because we strongly believe that such investments are essential to solving the enormous challenges the world is facing over the coming years.

Investing in education and health is not charity. If we did not know this already, a report released by the advocacy group Global Citizen and the bank Credit Suisse at Davos reminds us of two vital statistics. First, if all children were to leave school with the ability to read, there would be a 12 percent decrease in global poverty levels. Second, according to the Education Commission’s 2016 Learning Generation report, a dollar invested in an additional year of schooling, particularly for girls, generates earnings of $10 in low-income countries and nearly $4 in lower-middle income countries. For every $1 allocated to childhood immunizations, there is a $44 net return rate on investment. And the world’s top economists estimate that every $1 spent on health yields up to $20 in full-income growth within a generation.

 The costs associated with inaction are as devastating as this return on investment is impressive. If anyone doubts that we stand to lose a great deal financially if we do not invest in global health security, just think back to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. The U.S. National Academy of Medicine estimates that “the annualized expected loss from potential pandemics is more than $60 billion,” compared to the costs of preparedness of around $4.5 billion. Yet, the World Health Organization’s Contingency Fund for Emergencies, which many countries rely on to contain deadly disease outbreaks, is woefully underfunded.
Even more troubling is that half the world’s people don’t have access to essential health services, and almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty every year because of out-of-pocket health spending.

Investing in prevention is also why health and global education, particularly the education of girls and children with disabilities, must be prioritized on the global agenda. Neglected tropical diseases can cause preventable blindness and disabilities that hold people back. Girls and children with disabilities are often the most marginalized and face additional barriers to accessing health care and well-being, to participating in schooling, and to fulfilling their full potential. The cost of not educating all of our children and youth and harnessing their potential is simply too great. We need to focus on education — not “sometime in the future,” but right now. Indeed, without radical progress, by 2030 over 825 million young people will not have the basic secondary school skills needed to get a job.

In today’s world, the large majority of countries can actually afford to provide universal health coverage and universal access to quality education. It’s less a question of economics than of political will. For the few low-income or conflict-affected countries that can’t finance health and education from their own coffers, donor funding from multilateral organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and MalariaGavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Global Partnership for Education can help to strengthen health and education systems.

Bridging the financing gap starts with donors stepping up and supporting GPE’s Financing Conference this February to help reach over 800 million children in 89 countries by 2020 or with the anticipated launch of the new African Leaders Malaria Alliance scorecard on NTDs at next week’s African Union Summit. We trust that engaged leaders know that investing in areas such as health and education is not just the right thing to do; it is also the most practical, resulting in more stable, prosperous societies and economies.

 Innovation is also key to this cycle, and we are pleased to see this is a core focus in the Credit Suisse report. As those in extreme poverty generally live in the most remote, vulnerable communities, progress will require new efforts to reach them. We need to mobilize new technologies and forms of capital to support the most marginalized, especially women and those with disabilities. We also need to remove discriminatory practices that prevent all individuals from unleashing their full talents and invest in their education, economic empowerment, and health.

Changes of mindset, real commitment, and action are needed. With the necessary political will, we can accomplish the seemingly impossible, whether it is eradicating a disease such as polio or ensuring that every child has a good, basic education to prepare for a rich, meaningful, healthy life.

Aging Populations Are Not a Crisis.

The idea that an aging global population is an economic crisis is an effort to con us into accepting neoliberal reforms.

The idea that an aging global population is an economic crisis is an effort to con us into accepting neoliberal reforms. 

As a professor of education for almost 20 years and eldercare giver for more than 10 years, I’ve spent the better part of my life experiencing how policy shapes practices of care.

Simply put, the lives of young people are intimately tied to the health and well-being of older adults. That is, social expenditure at the beginning and end of life makes for greater social stability for all.

For example, funding after school programs enables 50 million working parents to keep their jobs and, thus, provide better care for their children; and Meals on Wheels helps keep the elderly in their homes, which not only enables better care, but also does so at a fraction of the cost.

While other nations have figured out that economies of care pay in dividends, the US continues to struggle with balancing the people vs. profits equation. Trumpcare would have only exacerbated this calculus with the greatest impact imposed on society’s most vulnerable — the young and the old. As such, the AARP, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Hospital Association (AHA) played no small part in the bill’s downfall.

While the AARP and others may have wrestled a momentary stay against draconian cuts to health care, the impasse seems insurmountable. Or is it? While groups opposing and groups supporting GOP visions of a market-based system differ across multiple variables, both ultimately factor in age-as-cost (the aged = deserving class, worthy of cost, vs. the aged = human surplus, expendable cost). In other words, they all treat the elderly as if they exist out of any particular socioeconomic or cultural context. It is only within modernist, capitalist societies, that the aging body is prefigured as a crisis of decreased labor power and increased social expenditure.

Indeed, policy analysts have long obsessed over the coming “demographic storm,” linking the “crisis” of global aging to everything from declining GDPs to threatened global security. Such predictions, however, not only presume that neoliberal capitalism will continue unabated, but also the particular view on aging that arises from that presumption. Yet, both are on their way toward obsolescence.

So, what if the coming demographic shift was actually an opportunity and not a crisis? Stated differently, what if we allowed ourselves to imagine life beyond neoliberalism and in a post-productive society?

In this scenario, the aging masses present a tremendous opening for rethinking the outmoded relationships we have drawn between work and existence, economic growth and production, and age to declining yield.

For instance, rather than perceive the aging workforce as a drag on productivity, why not imagine the increasingly healthy population of 50- to 64-year-olds as a flexible labor pool that could potentially relieve work stress for younger adults?

Instead of engaging in global hand-wringing about rising unemployment, why not plan for a work-life that includes intentional career breaks, with an older workforce filling the gaps?

Perhaps it’s time to take seriously the idea of a universal basic income that would unhinge “work” from market imperatives, moving us toward forms of labor defined by love, service, education and justice. If nothing else, an older, more seasoned workforce would serve as a welcome intervention to the false notion that wealth buys happiness, pointing us toward a new horizon beyond the productivist logics of capital.

At the very least, if we are going to free our imaginations about the future, we need to refuse the manufactured crisis of aging as a politics being sold as yet another ruse for neoliberal reform strategies. Not just because we already know that subjecting health care to the “logic” of the marketplace will do more harm than good, but also because our collective refusal will help to disentangle aging from the discourse of crisis. Particularly as we approach the point of no return with climate change, replacing our fixation with profit margins and accumulation could prove to be an important first step to imagining lives measured by satisfaction and sustainability.

Toward this end, we first need to ensure the basic health and well-being of the elderly by joining the AARP, AHA and AMA in rejecting any legislation that places profits over people. Next, let’s change the narrative about the elderly-as-crisis, and shift toward more generative views that embrace the wisdom, composure and satisfaction that comes with age. Finally, we must hospice the neoliberal era toward its own death and accept what is already evident: lives defined by collectivity, reciprocity and balance hold the greatest promise for human beings and the rest of nature.

 Genes are not destiny: Environment and education still matter when it comes to intelligence

Genes are not destiny: environment and education still matter when it comes to intelligence
Intelligence is about more than just biology. 

Recent research has suggested that academic performance, reading ability and IQ have a genetic basis. This reinforces the popular notion that intelligence and related cognitive capacities are somehow “in our genes”.

This has led some people to reject the importance of educational interventions on the grounds that spending money on nurture isn’t going to significantly affect the abilities nature has given us.

However, are not destiny. There is good evidence to show how effective environmental interventions can be for educational outcomes.

Genetics and intelligence

The way in which genes actually contribute to intelligent individuals is often overlooked.

Genes can act in a variety of ways to produce their effects. Some genes may alter brain chemistry so that a person is better able to learn. Other genes could cause behavioural , causing some people to self-select more stimulating environments.

And it is likely that the genetics of works at least in part by a genetic influence on the environment. This means that a genetic basis for intelligence is as much about one’snurture as about one’s nature.

Intelligence is the most widely studied trait in behavioural genetics. It is correlated with a suite of other characteristics ranging from income, to lifespan, to happiness.

Researchers have found a significant genetic contribution to intelligence differences using the method of heritability estimates.

These studies compare populations of identical (monozygotic) and fraternal (dizygotic) twins. Identical twins are genetically identical – they’re nature’s clones. Fraternal twins, like siblings, share an average of 50% of their genes.

If there is a heritable basis for intelligence, then should be more similar than fraternal twin pairs. This method gives researchers an idea of how heritable intelligence is, but tells us nothing about the actual genes involved.

Since the advent of gene sequencing, new techniques have allowed scientists to identify specific candidate genes that are correlated with intellectual outcomes.

More recently, researchers have investigated the relative effects of many specific genes working together. Earlier this year researchers at Kings College London used this method to explain a substantial proportion of exam score differences.

The standard interpretation of these kinds of results is that intelligence genes work through innate biological processes, causing individual differences. But this may not always be the case.

A thought experiment

Imagine two groups of children who have different versions of a candidate intelligence gene: Gene X.

Children with one version of this gene have an insatiable love for the musty smell of books. The other group of children feel the opposite way and detest the smell.

You can imagine the first group actively seeking out and surrounding themselves with books, while the second group actively avoids them. As a result, the first group of children will likely attain better reading scores than the second group, simply because of their increased exposure to books.

A genetic analysis of these results could easily lead researchers to declare that Gene X is the gene for reading ability. But it makes more sense to think of Gene X as a gene for smell preferences.

These smell preferences then cause environmental differences between the two groups, and it is the environment that plays the final part in generating differences in reading scores.

Nature via nurture

Genes can cause differences in brain development. But they can also predispose individuals to experience different kinds of environments. In behaviour genetics this is termed “gene-environment correlation”.

There are many ways in which people behave that could influence their environment. Personality differences will influence whether or not a child has the confidence to attend an extracurricular class. Differences in temperament will affect the kinds of resources children will seek out for themselves.

More social children might spend less time constructing an academically rich environment than those spending more time alone. If personality differences of this kind are correlated with, then it is likely that associated genetic effects are thought of as due to “intelligence genes”.

A danger with the genetic research of human abilities is the way in which findings are understood. If results are interpreted prematurely or incorrectly, then ineffective and potentially disastrous policy decisions could follow.

This was illustrated in the 1960s when prominent geneticist Arthur Jensen criticised the Head Start education program, which offers compensatory education to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

One reason for its instigation was to bridge the divide in school performance between black and white American students. Jensen claimed that interventions of this type would be of no use because of the of intelligence.

This sparked debate about the causes of intelligence differences between racial groups, fuelling racism at a cultural and political level. Genetic accounts of intelligence differences between racial groups have since been debunked. We now know that these differences are due to associated environmental differences, including the prejudices some groups face within society today.

Unfortunately, racism still persists, as does prejudice in many other forms. Because of this, scientists and media professionals should be extra careful when they present findings about genetic causes.

There is more work to be done to uncover the environmental factors associated with genes. But we should pay close attention, as this information can be used to create a fairer education system for all.

After A Decade Of Education, Why Are Our Kids So Uneducated?

What skills, qualities and information do we need to live an honourable, healthy and happy life? And of those skills and qualities, which are provided and nurtured through the school system? The answer is almost none of them.

Why After A Decade Of Education Are Our Kids So Uneducated

It’s clear that we need to redesign our education model.

It is up to the parents, mentors, peers and other societal influences to fill these gaps, but we all know this doesn’t regularly occur. If the guides and teachers in a child’s life don’t have the knowledge and skills to properly inform and take care of themselves, then how can they be expected to share it with others? They literally can’t. To break this cycle, we need an effective safety net to provide the skills and information that our children need to develop into awakened, functional and well-rounded adults, not just well-behaved employees of “The System”.

The education system in western society is not geared towards providing what’s best for each child. Primarily it is designed to produce citizens who contribute to, and consume from, the interdependent global economy. It’s like a factory assembly line; it helps us find which mundane 9-5 job we are best “suited” to, as we grow into stressed out and discontented adults.

It is in this sense that we are indoctrinated through our schooling to uncritically accept the socio-economic system that we are born into, regardless if it means ill-health and discontentment for the individual, and even our society as a whole. The model is simply attempting to shape new generations of children into conforming to the old ways, without recognizing the uniqueness of each child — or that we are undertaking a huge paradigm shift into a new era of human consciousness.

However, it’s not just the systemic box that we’re squashing out children into; our kids are being lied to in many ways. There is also little focus on real education, such as equipping them with the creative, personal, emotional, social and other life skills to properly survive and thrive in today’s challenging society. For example, emotional and social skills are a “different way of being smart” and are extremely important for kids to learn at a young age, so why aren’t they a primary focus? It just doesn’t make sense. Instead, our kids are being medicated with antipsychotics at alarming rates, mostly because their behaviours don’t fit the mould we’re forcing them into. Adding to this problem, up to 40 percent of U.S. schools are now cutting back on recess — the time when children get to go outside and be children!

It all seems too crazy to be true, yet there are some regions and countries doing something about this mess. For example, meditation has been introduced into some schools, having a remarkable impact on the learning and social development of students. In addition, countries like Finland have taken an entirely different approach to educating their kids, proving that less is more.

Ultimately, there are positive changes happening and even though they might not yet be perfected, they’re still not being taken seriously by political and community change agents. Given that our society is evolving on so many levels, we need an education system to reflect those changes; particularly as technological automation is also expected to eliminate many manual jobs from the workforce in the near future.

The Way Forward? A New Six Dimension Model of Education

An interview with Will Stanton

Will is a young Australian writer, researcher, activist and teacher who has worked in a number of primary schools, including a government school in Kathmandu, Nepal. His book, Education Revolution, exposes the challenges and shortfalls of the current system from an insider perspective, and proposes an entirely new model of education; one that frees children from indoctrination and nurtures their innate potential as unique, loving and creative human beings.

In the following interview, Will explores the Six Dimension model he created for a new educational paradigm of our future. He believes teachers are the current system’s best asset, but are underpaid and overworked and are generally faced with a restrictive system that inhibits the highest potential being realised by each child, and each teacher. He also discusses the decreasing investment in education by our governments, as well as ways this funding barrier can be transcended — by moving to new ways of organising our society, economically, socially and politically.

The Verdict

Education is much, much more than conventional subjects and the occasional personal education class. Clearly there are valuable skills and information to be taken from the current system we educate our children in, so a proportion of it should be incorporated into the way we move forward. Yet we have to accept the reality; both culturally and politically, our education model is not only failing our kids’ health and wellbeing, it’s also perpetuating a system of social order that is lethal for our collective and planetary future. We cannot continue to train children in the “old ways”, which clearly are not working for our society or our environment.

Many parents are dissatisfied with the current system, which has translated into an increase in home schooling, and evenunschooling practices. This is one way in which an individual family can break the grip of an out-of-date and unsophisticated education system and equip their kids with the kind of education they truly need.

Our children are our future; they need to be educated on the toxic realities of our society, to learn not to repeat or conform to the status quo, and to engage in creating the kind of conscious society they deserve. In addition, the philosophical and societal shifts that we are awakening to need to be deeply embedded into the educational structure, so that we can collectively begin to transcend the dysfunction of our world and create a bright future for both our global society and our natural environment.

Education & Experience Don’t Guarantee Success—Attitude & Habits Do

Professional success is a culmination of many factors. Your education matters—maybe not as much as you think, but a degree in your field can really jump-start your progress. Your experience certainly matters, but that can only come to you after years of dedication. Your talent matters, too, but aside from skills (which develop from experience) most of your talent is innate, meaning you have a natural tendency to perform well in certain areas more than others. Your network of contacts matters, but you can’t always control who you interact with. And ultimately, at least some of your career success is going to come down to a factor of luck.

Looking at these things, it seems like there is little you can control. But none of these things will matter if you neglect the most important things you need to create for yourself:

1. A Positive Attitude

The whole “positive attitude” angle might seem like a gimmick—after all, can you think of anybody successful who got to where they are only because they thought positive thoughts? Of course not. But you can trace almost any successful entrepreneur or professional’s journey and find at least one major obstacle that nearly disrupted everything. And in the face of that obstacle, they remained positive, which motivated action rather than submission, and eventually, they rose to the top.

Positive thinking is about more than helping you through the tough times. Research shows that positive self-talk, rather than negative self-talk, can actively reduce your stress levels, giving you greater physical and mental health and a greater capacity to perform to your maximum potential. The best part is that there aren’t any naturally positive or naturally negative people—your thoughts and your self-talk can be controlled with practice, meaning a positive attitude is something you can, and should, create for yourself.

2. Ongoing Habits

Our habits make us who we are. Over time, our repeated actions become automatic, or second nature, and once we’re in that groove it’s nearly impossible to break the chain. With bad habits, like sleeping through your first alarm or working through your breaks, this unbroken chain can come to destroy you. But with positive habits, like regularly reading or fact checking all of your work, this unbroken chain can lead you to success.

Though many habits form unconsciously through our natural actions, it is possible to create ongoing habits for yourself. The key to creating these habits is consistency—if you want to start doing something every day, you must force yourself to start doing it on a daily basis, and don’t allow yourself to slip in the first few weeks. After a few rounds of consistent effort, it will become easier. Breaking bad habits can be tougher, but it’s entirely within your power.

3. Goals

While your specific job may have company goals that dictate your actions, your professional goals are entirely within your control. Create goals that are too lofty and you’ll never be able to make significant progress. Create goals that are too easy, and you’ll never reach your true potential.

The reliable standby for creating good goals is the SMART criteria—an acronym that describes the five key qualities that all goals must have: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-specific. In addition to meeting these criteria, you should create goals on multiple scales. For example, you should have broad, flexible long-term goals detailing your plans for your long-term success, but you should also have smaller, more immediate, actionable goals that can lead you to those broader visions, and medium-sized goals in between the two to act as milestones.

4. Tactical Plans

Goals are good for helping you to hone your desires and set the tone for your career, but without a solid plan of execution, those desires are only pipe dreams. As an extension of your goals, you must learn to create tactical plans that detail how you’re going to achieve those goals. That might include a list of tasks you must accomplish before reaching the goal, a series of strategies you’re going to use while pursuing that goal, or a list of prerequisites you’ll need to have before moving on to the next phase of your plan. If you’re having trouble coming up with an initial plan, you may need to do additional research before moving forward.

5. A Healthy Environment

As humans, we are often products of our environments, and in the professional world, this is no different. If your desk is messy, your mind may be more frantic and cluttered. If you work in a noisy area full of distractions, you’ll never be able to focus. But perhaps more importantly, if you’re surrounded with negative, apathetic or downright lazy people, you’ll never be able to motivate yourself to achieve your goals. If you’re working in a place that doesn’t acknowledge hard work, you’ll never be able to progress.

Create your own environment to maximize your chances for success, whether that means working within the confines of your current organization or moving on to a better opportunity. Surround yourself with the types of people who will lead you to success, and structure your work environment so you can be your most productive.

Once you start creating these things for yourself consistently and with dedication, you will find yourself naturally gravitating toward a path of success. With a strong vision in your mind and the right attitude and environment to carry you through the obstacles that lie ahead, there should be nothing stopping you from achieving your goals.

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Poverty, Education Tied to Outcomes in Musculoskeletal Diseases

  • As observed in other chronic diseases, lower educational level and socioeconomic status (SES) have a strong independent association with poorer physical and mental health in those with musculoskeletal disease, according to research published online in RMD Open.

Led by Polina Putrik, a PhD student in health policy at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, the study analyzed population survey data from the Dutch National Monitor on Musculoskeletal System 2010. A demographically representative sample of 8,904 members of the Dutch population completed a survey on sociodemographics, physician-diagnosed morbidities, and physical and mental health measured by standard instruments.

Regression models were computed: first, in the total group of patients with musculoskeletal disease, with education, age, gender, origin, and place of residence as independent variables; and, second, in individuals expected to have paid work, with an added variable of social status. Models were repeated for five other subgroups of chronic disorders (cardiovascular, diabetes, cancer, mental, and respiratory).

Physician-confirmed musculoskeletal disease was reported by a substantial 1,766 (20%) participants (mean age 59 years, 38% male). In addition, 1,855 respondents (21%) reported cardiovascular disease (CVD), 679 (8%) respiratory disorders, 547 (6%) diabetes, 526 (6%) mental disorders, and 270 (3%) cancer. More than half (4,525/51%) reported no disease.

Musculoskeletal disease was associated with the lowest level of physical health. In musculoskeletal disease patients, primary-school versus university education was consistently associated with worse physical and mental health: -5.3 on the physical component summary (PCS) subscale of the 12-item Short Form Health Survey (SF-12), and -3.3 on its mental component summary (MCS) subscale. Being on state subsidy versus having paid employment also related to poorer health: -5.3 PCS and -4.7 MCS.

“These health gradients are unfair and partly avoidable, and require consorted attention and action in and outside healthcare,” Putrik and colleagues wrote.

Gender was relevant only for PCS: female versus male -2.1. With the exception of cancer, other diseases showed comparable differences in health by education and SES. No health gradients by ethnic origin or place of residence were observed.

The physical health gradient by education seen in musculoskeletal disease patients was also present in comparable magnitude in persons with CVD: lower-education CVD patients had a 6.6-point lower PCS score compared with university graduates. The effect was even stronger in patients with mental disorders (8.0 points lower) and respiratory disorders (9.1 points lower). Gradients were also seen in patients with diabetes (5.0 points lower) and in the healthy population (4.2 points lower).

As for SES, differences in PCS between employed persons and those receiving state living allowances were higher in patients with CVD, mental disorders, and respiratory disorders compared with musculoskeletal disease patients: employed musculoskeletal disease patients had on average a 5-point higher score on PCS, while in CVD and mental, and respiratory disorders those differences reached 11.6, 5.9 and 8.8 points, respectively.

In mental health, a comparable gradient by education was seen in musculoskeletal disease and CVD patients: the mental health of persons with the lowest versus the highest educational attainment was on average 3.8 points lower in those with CVD and 3.3 lower in those with musculoskeletal disease. In all other diseases, a trend to have worse mental health in less-educated individuals was present but did not reach statistical significance.

Significantly, comorbidities and smoking status were always important confounders for both physical and mental health in patients with chronic diseases, and body mass index was particularly relevant for physical function. “It is of note that the presence of comorbidities even amplified the effect of not having paid employment (having to rely on living allowance) on mental health,” the investigators wrote.

Noting theirs is the first study to compare both mental and physical health gradients by SES across the major chronic diseases, the authors speculate that persons of lower educational level may lack the skills to cope with the consequences of their diseases. “Healthcare systems should become more aware that individuals with low SES may benefit from preventive and clinical care, tailored to [the] specific needs of these persons, independently of the type of the disease they suffer from,” they wrote.

Addressing study limitations, they cited the low response rate of 22.4% to the survey, which may lessen the generalizability of findings. Furthermore, compared with data from the Dutch Bureau of Statistics, the sample seemed to have a somewhat lower representation of lower-education respondents. They also conceded that self-administered surveys find it more difficult to reach respondents with low levels of education and literacy, which could lead to an underestimation of the extent of the problem.

“Low SES of the patient should be a signal for healthcare professionals and other stakeholders to join efforts in order to reduce health inequities,” they concluded.

​Hawking warns gifted disabled scientists could be left without financial support — RT News

Stephen Hawking (Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett)

“I wonder whether a young ambitious academic, with my kind of severe condition now, would find the same generosity and support in much of higher education,” Hawking said at a dinner that marked his 50th year as a fellow of Gonville and Caius College at the University of Cambridge.

“Even with the best goodwill, would the money still be there? I fear not,” the 73-year-old professor added.

Suffering from progressing motor neurone disease (MND), he received support from the college. Hawking said that “Caius [college] gave me a home, literally and figuratively, and is a constant thread running through my life.”

“That fellowship [that Hawking received in 1965] was a turning point in my life, as the college made sure I could continue my research, despite my increasing disability.”

The college’s master, Alan Fersht, replied to the words of Hawking, saying “Stephen questioned whether a young academic in his condition would get the same level of support today? For Caius at least, I can say emphatically ‘yes’. The fellowship is a family, just as our students, our staff and our alumni are all parts of the Caian family.”

Fersht went on to say: “In 1965, none of us dreamt that we would be here, 50 years on, to celebrate this day. I say none, but I suspect I actually mean ‘all, but one’.”

Back in 2008, Hawking warned that £80m ($122m) of grant cuts could put Britain’s position in the international scientific community under threat. He said, “These grants are the lifeblood of our research effort; cutting them will hurt young researchers and cause enormous damage both to British science and to our international reputation,”according to the Guardian.

Uploading human brain for eternal life is possible .

Reuters/Michaela Rehle

“People could probably live inside a machine. Potentially, I think it is definitely a possibility,” Dr Hannah Critchlow of the Cambridge Neuroscience said at the popular Hay Festival in Wales, as quoted by The Telegraph.

Although the human brain is enormously complex, scientists are beginning to better understand its separate parts’ functions, Critchlow said, describing the brain as a complex circuit board. The scientist claimed it “would be possible” to recreate it as a computer program: “If you had a computer that could make those 100 trillion circuit connections – then that circuit is what makes us us.”

“We are about 100 billion nerve cells and the most complicated circuit board you could image,” the neuroscientist, who produces and presents brainy interactive experiences for the public and has been named among the UK’s Top 100 scientists by the Science Council, told the audience.

She also debunked a common myth that humans only use some 10 percent of their brain, explaining the whole thing is constantly running in idle mode to save energy and certain areas are only powered up when needed. She noted that despite only weighing about 1.5 kilos and taking up just two percent of the body’s mass, the brain “takes about 20 percent of all energy consumption.”

The neuroscientist confirmed that the brain’s right and left hemispheres are different, and that there is some evidence to support the belief that left-handed people are more creative.

It is known that the right hemisphere of the brain, which is more active in left-handed people, is linked to creativity. Recent studies have shown that creative thought can be externally improved by special devices stimulating that part of the brain. It is now possible to buy hats containing electrodes to stimulate the area for around $80, the scientist said.

Education, breastfeeding and gender affect the microbes on our bodies.

Trillions of microbes live in and on our body. We don’t yet fully understand how these microbial ecosystems develop or the full extent to which they influence our health. Some provide essential nutrients, while others cause disease. A new study now provides some unexpected influences on the contents of these communities, as scientists have found that life history, including level of education, can affect the sorts of microbes that flourish. They think this could help in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The more the merrier.

A healthy human provides a home for about 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes. These microbes are known as the microbiome, and normally they live on the body in communities, with specialised populations on different organs.

Evolution has assured that both humans and bacteria benefit from this relationship. In exchange for somewhere to live, bacteria protect their hosts from harmful pathogens. Past analysis of the gut microbiome has shown that, when this beneficial relationship breaks down, it can lead to illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, a chronic digestive disorder.

You’ve been swabbed

One of the largest research projects looking at the delicate connection between humans and their resident microbes is called the Human Microbiome Project (HMP). As part of the project, hundreds of individuals are being sampled for microbes on various parts of their bodies, with the hope that the data will reveal interesting relationships.

In the new study, published in Nature, Patrick Schloss at the University of Michigan and his colleagues set out to use data from the HMP to investigate whether events in a person’s life could influence their microbiome.

Their data came from 300 healthy individuals, with men and women equally represented, ranging in age between 18 and 40. Life history events, such as level of education, country of birth, diet, and recent use of antibiotics were among 160 data pieces were recorded. Finally, samples were swabbed from 18 places across the body to analyse their microbiome communities at two different time intervals, 12 to 18 months apart.

Those swabs underwent genomic analysis. A select group of four bacterial communities were selected to test what proportion of each was found on different body parts. That data was then compared with life history events. Only three life history events out of about 160 tested could be associated with a specific microbial community. These were: gender, level of education, and whether or not the subject was breastfed as a child.

This complicated issue may help diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. “If a certain community of bacteria is associated with a specific life history trait,” Schloss said, “it is not such a stretch to imagine that there may be microbiome communities associated with illnesses such as cancer.”

To be sure, these associations are only correlations. Neither Schloss nor hundreds of other scientists working on microbiome data can be sure why certain communities end up on certain body parts of only certain individuals. “We really don’t have a good idea for what determines the type of community you’ll have at any given body site,” Schloss said.

Lack of such knowledge means that Schloss cannot explain odd correlations, such as why women with a baccalaureate degree have specific communities in their vaginal microbiome. Because level of education is also associated with a range of other factors such as wealth and social status – we can’t know that it is only education affecting the vaginal microbiome. Janneke Van de Wijgert at the University of Liverpool said, “I think that it is impossible to tease out the individual effects of education, sexual behaviour, vaginal hygiene behaviour, ethnicity, and social status.”

Van de Wijgert believes the data has other limitations. “The study population of a mere 300 was homogenous and healthy – young, white women and men from Houston and St Louis – which likely means that much additional microbiome variation has been missed.”

With better tools, genomic data analysis has substantially improved since the project launched in 2008. Van de Wijgert thinks that future studies need to sample a lot more individuals and look for changes at shorter time intervals.

She is hopeful that microbiome data can be used to improve medicine, make it more tailored to individual. But before manipulations of the microbiome are used to treat illnesses, she said, it should be confirmed that the offending bacteria communities cause – and are not symptom of – disease. If the bacteria causes an illness, then efforts can be made – such as a change in diet or microbial transplant – to treat disease.

The Conversation

What Marita Cheng did next.

You’re a brilliant young computer science student who was awarded Young Australian of the Year in 2012 after you founded an international organisation to get girls interested in high tech careers.

You’ve got a swag of scholarships and fellowships under your belt and you’re in demand as a guest speaker in Australia and overseas.

Young Australian of the Year, Marita Cheng assembling a robot at Melbourne University last year.

You’re about to graduate from the University of Melbourne with a double degree in mechatronics and computer science after seven years on the books.

Do you: a) take one of the hundreds of job offers that have come your way in the past two years; b) leapfrog into a career in academia, courtesy of your high profile; or c) start a company that makes bionic arms for people with disabilities?

Option C, says 24-year-old Robogals founder Marita Cheng, who’s preparing to throw herself full-time into 2Mar Robotics, the start-up she launched in April, when she graduates at the end of the year.

Her vision is to produce a bionic arm which can be used as daily living aid for people with limited hand movement, due to spinal injuries and disabilities such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.  The arm can be mounted in multiple places around the home, including the kitchen and bathroom, and is controlled by iPhone.

“I really wanted to make a robot that was useful to people and changed people’s lives and this was a way I could do it,” Cheng says.

The idea drew enthusiastic feedback from the Spinal Injuries Association when first mooted, Cheng says: “People thought it was a dream come true.”

There are 20,000 people with spinal injuries in Australia and around three million worldwide. As well as offering people more independence, investing in robotic devices makes sound economic sense, Cheng says.

Her arm may reduce the amount of human assistance some people need to perform basic tasks and save thousands in carer costs, she says.

Cheng’s first group of users will begin testing a prototype in their homes next month and she hopes to have the arm available commercially by April next year.

Pricing is yet to be determined but Cheng hopes to collaborate with not-for-profits which can provide grant funding to suitable recipients.

“I feel really lucky, I know what I’m doing next year…I’m looking forward to it, I can spend more time on this,” Cheng says.

Striking out on her own, rather than fast tracking into an international firm, seems a logical progression for someone who cites Steve Jobs as an inspiration.

“I got so many job offers last year, it was a real dream but I always knew I wanted to start a company,” Cheng says.

“I have energy and I like to put that energy into something…I like having a vision and making it happen in real life.”

Jamie Evans is the academic whose suggestion Cheng do something to encourage young girls into engineering led her to found Robogals in 2008. The organisation, which sends students into schools to teach girls robotics, has 17 chapters in four countries and has run workshops for 11,000 girls.

Now the head of electrical and computer systems engineering at Monash University, Evans says Cheng’s segue into the start-up world is no surprise.

“She is a quintessential entrepreneur – someone who is not interested in finding reasons that things can’t be done but rather believing that something is important and making it happen, regardless of the limited resources at her disposal,” Evans says.

“She likes to set her own agenda and, given the amazing things she has already achieved, I could not imagine her taking a graduate job in a big company. I see her as a serial entrepreneur moving from one venture to another over the years.”