Beijing University Bans Visiting Harvard Students from Singing the National Anthem on the Fourth of July

(p. A4) TAIPEI, Taiwan — Harvard University will move a popular Chinese-language program to Taipei from Beijing amid a broad chill in academic and cultural exchanges between the United States and China.

The program’s director, Jennifer L. Liu, told The Harvard Crimson that the move had been driven by a perceived lack of friendliness on the part of the Chinese host institution, the Beijing Language and Culture University.

. . .

. . . Professor Liu said that the program had been experiencing difficulties securing access to the classrooms and dormitories needed from Beijing Language and Culture University, according to an account she provided to The Harvard Crimson, a student newspaper. She also said that in 2019, the Chinese university told the program that it could no longer hold an annual gathering to celebrate the Fourth of July, during which students and faculty would typically eat pizza and sing the American national anthem.

Though China has instituted stringent pandemic restrictions, with provinces undergoing snap lockdowns as coronavirus cases have flared up, Professor Liu said she believed that the unwelcoming environment was related to a shift in the Chinese government’s attitudes toward American institutions.

. . .

The Harvard program’s relocation to Taiwan also comes as the island has supplanted Hong Kong as a bastion of free speech in the Chinese-speaking world, an idea that Taiwanese officials have been keen to emphasize.

Joanne Ou, a spokeswoman for Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, said the agency “believes that the democratic and liberal system and pluralistic society will enable young American students to have a deeper understanding of Taiwan and the Chinese-speaking world.”

She added, “Only in a free environment where speech is not censored can the best results of learning be achieved.”

For the full story, see:

Amy Qin. “Chill in Beijing, Harvard Shifts Program to Taiwan.” The New York Times (Thursday, October 14, 2021): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. [sic] 10, 2021, and has the same title “Amid U.S.-China Chill, Harvard Moves a Top Language Program to Taiwan.” The last three sentences quoted above, appear in the online version, but not in the shorter print version. Where there is a slight difference in wording between the two versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

MIT Cancels Chicago Professor for Saying Merit Matters

(p. A13) I am a professor at the University of Chicago. I was recently invited to give an honorary lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The lecture was canceled because I have openly advocated moral and philosophical views that are unpopular on university campuses.

Here are those views:

I believe that every human being should be treated as an individual worthy of dignity and respect. In an academic context, that means evaluating people for positions based on their individual qualities, not on membership in favored or disfavored groups. It also means allowing them to present their ideas and perspectives freely, even when we disagree with them.

I care for all of my students equally. None of them are overrepresented or underrepresented to me: They represent themselves. Their grades are based on a process that I define at the beginning of the quarter. That process treats each student fairly and equally. I hold office hours for students who would like extra help so that everyone has the opportunity to improve his or her grade through hard work and discipline.

Similarly, I believe that admissions and faculty hiring at universities are best focused on academic merit, with the goal of producing intellectual excellence. We should not penalize hard-working students and faculty applicants simply because they have been classified as belonging to the wrong group. It is true that not everyone has had the same educational opportunities. The solution is improving K-12 education, not introducing discrimination at late stages.

. . .

. . ., the university has a duty to encourage students and faculty to offer their opinions and insight on the widest possible range of topics.

. . .

. . . hurt feelings are no reason to ban certain topics. We are all responsible for our own feelings. We cannot control things that are external to us, such as the comments of others, but we can control how we respond to them.

For the full commentary, see:

Dorian Abbot. “The Views That Made Me Persona Non Grata at MIT.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Oct. 29, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Bloomberg Will Donate $750 Million to Support Charter Schools

(p. A19) American public education is broken. Since the pandemic began, students have experienced severe learning loss because schools remained closed in 2020—and even in 2021 when vaccinations were available to teachers and it was clear schools could reopen safely. Many schools also failed to administer remote learning adequately.

Before the pandemic, about two-thirds of U.S. students weren’t reading at grade level, and the trend has been getting worse. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the nation’s report card, show that in 2019, eighth-grade math scores had already fallen significantly.

Teachers understand the severity of the problem, and many are doing heroic work, yet some of their union representatives are denying reality. “There is no such thing as learning loss,” said Cecily Myart-Cruz, head of the Los Angeles teachers union, in an interview with Los Angeles Magazine this past summer. “Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience.”

What nonsense. How about reading, writing and arithmetic, the critical skills we are funding schools to teach?

Instead of giving students the skills they need to succeed in college or in a trade, the public education system is handing them diplomas that say more about their attendance record than their academic achievement. This harms students, especially those from low-income families. When and if they graduate, they will try to find work in an economy that values knowledge and skills above all else, and their old schools will say to them: “Good luck!”

. . .

We know what works, because we can see it in real time. Success Academy’s network of 47 public charter schools is serving New York children whose families predominantly live below the poverty line. Their students are outperforming public-school students in Scarsdale, N.Y.—the wealthiest town on the East Coast and the second-wealthiest town in America—by significant margins. Yet a statewide cap on charter schools is blocking Success Academy from expanding.

. . .

Today there are long waiting lists for charter schools across the country, but mayors and governors aren’t getting the support they need from Congress and the White House to open new charter schools. To begin meeting the demand for charters, Bloomberg Philanthropies is launching a five-year, $750 million effort to create seats for 150,000 more children in 20 metro areas across the country.

For the full commentary, see:

Bloomberg, Michael R. “Why I’m Backing Charter Schools.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 1, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

UNL Ph.D. Studies Cow Manure and Burps “to Help Save the Planet”

(p. A1) ITHACA, Neb. — In what’s been dubbed the “methane barn” at a University of Nebraska-Lincoln agricultural research center near here, sensitive electronic equipment monitors and logs the amount of gas belched out by a herd of yearling steers.

Yes, Andrea Watson and her fellow UNL scientists are studying cow burps. She has already heard all the jokes.

“My brother especially thinks it’s funny I had to get a Ph.D. to study cow manure and cow burps,” she said.

But this work is really quite serious. If it can help reduce the beef industry’s global environmental hoofprint, it could one day help save the planet.

. . .

Consider that in a year, the average cow belches out 220 pounds of greenhouse gas. According to United Nations figures, if the world’s beef and dairy cattle were their own country, they would be the third-largest emitter, after only China and the United States.

. . .

(p. A9) “Trying to blame the cow industry for any of this is BS,” said Jay Wolf, an Albion, Nebraska, cattle rancher who definitely is familiar with real BS. “We have reduced the herd by one-third. When other sources reduce by one-third, come talk to me.”

. . .

Climate experts are increasingly recognizing that in the decades-long battle ahead, reducing methane emissions from all sources is crucial to helping the planet buy time and avoid catastrophe. Cattle can play a big role in that, said Joe Rudek, lead senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.

. . .

(p. A11) In North America, livestock are responsible for 28% of all methane emissions, with an additional 41% from the oil and gas industry (mostly through leaks) and 21% from landfills. In all, a hefty 25% of today’s warming globally is driven by methane.

Rudek said if methane emissions across all industries worldwide can be cut by 30% by 2050, it would be enough to avoid a half degree of warming.

For the full story, see:

Henry J. Cordes. “Much-maligned cattle now have chance to be part of climate solution.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, October 24, 2021): A1 & A9-A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated November 4, 2021, and has the title “The State of Beef: Much-maligned cattle now have chance to be part of climate solution.”)

M.I.T. Tries to Silence Abbot for Defending Hiring and Promotion Based on Merit

(p. A1) CHICAGO — The Massachusetts Institute of Technology invited the geophysicist Dorian Abbot to give a prestigious public lecture this autumn. He seemed a natural choice, a scientific star who studies climate change and whether planets in distant solar systems might harbor atmospheres conducive to life.

Then a swell of angry resistance arose. Some faculty members and graduate students argued that Dr. Abbot, a professor at the University of Chicago, had created harm by speaking out against aspects of affirmative action and diversity programs. In videos and opinion pieces, Dr. Abbot, who is white, has asserted that such programs treat “people as members of a group rather than as individuals, repeating the mistake that made possible the atrocities of the 20th century.” He said that he favored a diverse pool of applicants selected on merit.

He said that his planned lecture at M.I.T. would have made no mention of his views on affirmative action. But his opponents in the sciences argued he represented an “infuriating,” “inappropriate” and oppressive choice.

. . .

(p. A14) This fight did not surprise Dr. Abbot, who described his own politics as centrist. A Maine native, he went to Harvard and came to the University of Chicago for a fellowship and became a tenured professor. He said he found in Chicago a university that remained a leader in upholding the values of free speech, even as he noticed that colleagues and students often fell silent when certain issues arose.

Dr. Abbot said his department had spoken of restricting a faculty search to female applicants and “underrepresented minorities” — except for Asians. He opposed it.

“Asians are a group that is not privileged,” he said. “It reminded me of the quotas used to restrict Jewish students decades ago.”

He spoke, too, of a lack of ideological diversity, noting that a conservative Christian student was hectored and made to feel out of place in an unyielding ideological climate. Last year he laid out his thoughts in videos and posted them on YouTube.

Loud complaints followed: About 150 graduate students, most of whom were from the University of Chicago, and a few professors from elsewhere signed a letter to the geophysical faculty at the University of Chicago. They wrote that Dr. Abbot’s “videos threaten the safety and the belonging of all underrepresented groups within the department.” The letter said the university should make clear that his videos were “inappropriate and harmful to the department members and climate.”

Dr. Abbot has since taken the videos down.

Robert Zimmer, then the president of the University of Chicago, issued a statement strongly reaffirming the university’s commitment to freedom of expression. Dr. Abbot’s popular climate change class remains fully subscribed. The tempest subsided.

. . .

WDr. Abbot, for his part, said he had tenure at a grand university that valued free speech and, with luck, 30 years of teaching and research ahead of him. And yet the canceled speech carries a sting.

“There is no question that these controversies will have a negative impact on my scientific career,” he said. “But I don’t want to live in a country where instead of discussing something difficult we go and silence debate.”

For the full story, see:

Michael Powell. “Science, Ideology and Politics Jostle in the Halls of Academia.” The New York Times (Thursday, October 21, 2021): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date October 20, 2021, and has the title “M.I.T.’s Choice of Lecturer Ignited Criticism. So Did Its Decision to Cancel.”)

Former Teacher Union President Says Charter Schools Give Black and Hispanic Children “Access to a Quality Education”

(p. A21) When I became a teacher, it seemed natural to become an advocate for the profession. Somewhere along the way I became more of a union leader than an educational leader.

. . .

I used to oppose charter schools, not because they were bad for kids, but because they were bad for unions.

. . .

I served as president of the Washington Teachers’ Union for six years and recognize the added value unions can bring in securing fair compensation and safe working conditions for teachers. I’m still a union member. But I now work on behalf of charter schools.

Charter schools are also public schools. All of them. They provide more than three million students, mostly black and Hispanic, access to a quality public education. They are innovative and student-centered. They break down barriers that have kept families of color from the educational opportunities they deserve. Another two million children would attend charter schools if there were space for them. How could I work against these kids?

For the full commentary, see:

George Parker. “How My Mind Opened to Charter Schools.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 27, 2021): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 26, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

University of Chicago’s Milton Friedman Center Now Run by “Former Obama Staffers Who Cheer” . . . “Moves Toward Socialism”

(p. A15) Colleges’ ideological turn leftward has become sharper. At my own institution, a center dedicated to Milton Friedman is now run by former Obama staffers who cheer on the Biden administration’s moves toward socialism.

These policies reward professors and administrators who can then raise the price of their services. It’s basic economics that subsidizing demand increases the price of the product. Tuition rising as loan subsidies expand is no different. It isn’t a coincidence that education and health care, the industries in which government subsidies are most pervasive, took the highest price increases over the past 15 years—3.7% and 3.1% a year, compared with the 1.8% average across industries.

For the full commentary, see:

Tomas J. Philipson. “College Subsidies Are a Feedback Loop for Bigger Government.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 11, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 10, 2021, and has the title “College Subsidies Are a Feedback Loop for Bigger Government.”)

Carolyn Shoemaker Developed Tacit Knowledge of Presence of Comets and Asteroids

(p. B6) Carolyn Shoemaker, who for more than a decade managed a telescopic camera with her husband from a high-altitude observatory in California and became widely regarded, without academic training, as the world’s foremost detector of comets and asteroids, died on Aug. 13 [2021] at a hospital in Flagstaff, Ariz.

. . .

In the afternoons, Dr. Shoemaker would take the film they had used the previous night and develop it in a darkroom, then turn over the negatives to Ms. Shoemaker. Using a stereoscope, she would compare exposures of the same block of sky at different times. If anything moved against the relatively fixed background of stars, it would appear to float in the viewing device’s eyepiece.

Ms. Shoemaker was charged with discerning what was the grain of the film (and perhaps dust on it) and what was an actual image of light emitted by an object hurtling through space. “With time,” she wrote, “I saw fainter and fainter objects.”

It took a few years before she found her first new comet, in 1983. By 1994 she had discovered, in addition to hundreds of asteroids, 32 comets, a number considered by the United States Geological Survey and others to represent the world record at the time.

. . .

One comet, known as Shoemaker-Levy 9 (named in part for their associate David Levy), had stood out from the rest. Rather than making a lonely journey through the cosmic vacuum, Shoemaker-Levy 9 was on a collision course with Jupiter.

. . .

“Carolyn Shoemaker is one of the most revered and respected astronomers in history,” Jennifer Wiseman, a senior scientist overseeing the Hubble Space Telescope, said by phone. “Her discoveries, her tenacious care in how she did her work — those things have created a legacy and a reputation that has inspired people who have come into the field after her.”

. . .

. . . scientists still depend on methods that Ms. Shoemaker perfected.

“She and her colleagues set the stage for how to identify what we would call minor bodies in our solar system, such as comets and asteroids,” Dr. Wiseman said. “We still use the technique of looking for the relatively fast transverse motions of comets and asteroids in our own solar system, as compared to the slower or more fixed position of stars.”

For the full obituary, see:

Alex Traub. “Carolyn Shoemaker, 92, a Stargazer Who Spotted Comets and Asteroids.” The New York Times (Monday, September 6, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Sept. 4, 2021, and has the title “Carolyn Shoemaker, Hunter of Comets and Asteroids, Dies at 92.”)

Center-Left Biothreat Expert Says Many Scientists Rejected Wuhan Lab Origin, Not Due to Evidence, but Due to Trump

(p. A13) A few months before Covid-19 became a pandemic, Filippa Lentzos started reading about unusual flu cases in Wuhan, China. Ms. Lentzos, a social scientist who studies biological threats, belongs to an email group she describes as consisting of “ex-intelligence, bioweapons specialists, experts, former State Department diplomats” and others “who have worked in arms control, biological disarmament.”

As Chinese authorities struggled to contain the outbreak, she recalls, the expert circle asked questions about the pathogen’s origin: “Is this security related? Is it military? Is there something dodgy going on? What information are we not getting here?”

. . .

. . . in February 2020, a group of scientists had published a statement in the Lancet calling out “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.” The New York Times and Washington Post dutifully attacked Mr. Cotton as unhinged. Media, with an assist from some virologists, dismissed the lab-leak theory as “debunked.”

Ms. Lentzos, who places her own politics on the Swiss “center left,” thought that conclusion premature and said so publicly. In May 2020, she published an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists weighing whether “safety lapses in the course of basic scientific research” caused the pandemic. While acknowledging there was, “as of yet, little concrete evidence,” she noted “several indications that collectively suggest this is a serious possibility that needs following up by the international community.”

. . .

The article barely made a ripple. “If you look at the argumentation that’s used today, it’s exactly the same basically as what I laid out, which was, accidents happen,” she says. “We know that they’re having questions around safety. We know they were doing this field work. We see videos where they’re in breach of standard biosafety protocol. We know China is manipulating the narrative, closing down information sources—all of that stuff. All of that is in there. But it didn’t get much traction.”

. . .

American liberals—including many scientists—conflated open-mindedness about the question with support for Mr. Trump. Ms. Lentzos was one of the few who could separate their distaste for him from their analysis of the pandemic.

. . .

The most significant problem came from the scientific community. “Some of the scientists in this area very quickly closed ranks,” she says, and partisanship wasn’t their only motive: “Like most things in life, there are power plays. There are agendas that are part of the scientific community. Just like any other community, there are strong vested interests. There were people that did not talk about this, because they feared for their careers. They feared for their grants.”

Ms. Lentzos counsels against idealizing scientists and in favor of “seeing science and scientific activity, and how the community works, not as this inner sacred sanctum that’s devoid of any conflicts of interests, or agendas, or any of that stuff, but seeing it as also a social activity, where there are good players and bad players.”

Take Peter Daszak, the zoologist who organized the Lancet letter condemning lab-leak “conspiracy theories.” He had directed millions of dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology through his nonprofit, EcoHealth Alliance. A lab mistake that killed millions would be bad for his reputation. Other researchers have taken part in gain-of-function research, which can make viruses deadlier or easier to transmit. Who would permit, much less fund, such research if it proved so catastrophic? Yet researchers like Marion Koopmans, who oversees an institution that has conducted gain-of-function research, had an outsize voice in media. Both she and Mr. Daszak served on the World Health Organization’s origin investigation team.

. . .

Ms. Lentzos has experience working with United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization. “It was incredibly exciting to finally go in. And then you become more disillusioned when you see how things operate, how things don’t operate,” she says. “Like any large organization, they are slow, and inflexible, and bureaucratic.”

For the full interview see:

Adam O’Neal, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; A Scientist Who Said No to Covid Groupthink.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 12, 2021): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 11, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)