Wanted – A US job market fix; A start-up seeks to crowd fund Ebola cure; Music, math and the school curriculum

1 Wanted – A US job market fix (Khaleej Times) US labour markets remain hampered by the effects of the Great Recession and the Federal Reserve should move cautiously in determining when interest rates should rise, Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said. Yellen said she felt the unemployment rate alone was inadequate to evaluate the strength of the US job market.

The jobless rate has fallen faster than expected, but Yellen said the economic disruption of the last five years has left millions of workers sidelined, discouraged, or stuck in part time jobs — facts that are not captured in the unemployment rate alone.

Judging whether the economy is close to full employment is “complicated by ongoing shifts in the structure of the labour market and the possibility that the severe recession caused persistent changes in the labour market’s functioning”, Yellen said.

The Fed has held benchmark rates near zero since December 2008, and has said it would wait a “considerable time” after winding down a stimulative bond-buying programme in October before raising them. Financial markets currently expect rates to raise around the middle of next year.


2 A start-up seeks to crowd fund Ebola cure (Stephanie M Lee in San Francisco Chronicle) With the death toll from the Ebola outbreak at 1,350, one biotechnology company after another is jumping into the fray to develop drugs for the fatal, infectious disease. Now add to the list a tiny, seed-stage startup spun out of UCSF, which has said it wants to crowdfund cash to turn its experimental cancer drug into an Ebola treatment.

OncoSynergy is headquartered in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, in one of the life science incubators that make up the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3). Founded in 2011, the six-employee company has an experimental drug, OS2966, that’s designed to attack highly aggressive cancers. The Food and Drug Administration has recognized it as an “orphan drug” that could treat glioblastoma, a coveted designation that earns drug makers some tax credits and other incentives.

So what could cancer have to do with Ebola? OS266 apparently inhibits a cell adhesion molecule, CD29, that plays a major role in cancer progression. And scientists also think that CD29 is hijacked by the Ebola virus during infection (and blocking CD29 with monoclonal antibodies similar to OncoSynergy’s drug has been shown in some studies to inhibit Ebola infections).

So on the science crowdfunding site Experiment, the privately held company wants to raise $10,000 in 30 days for a study that will examine if OS2966 can block Ebola infection in human vascular cells. But the company is so small, it can’t actually do the work itself. It’ll hand off the project to scientists across the country through The Science Exchange, an online marketplace that allows researchers to outsource experiments for a fee.


3 Music, math and the school curriculum (Namita Devidayal in The Times of India) As math wizard Manjul Bhargava points out there is an organic link between music and maths. Is it time schools rethink their curriculum? When musician Taufiq Qureshi was a little boy, he was perenially paranoid about his school maths until, one day, his father, the tabla master Alla Rakha said, “Why are you so fearful? We do maths all the time in our music.We are adding, subtracting, multiplying…” And he proceeded to show his son, through a series of tabla compositions, how maths was actually their second language – after music.

There is an organic connection between maths and music – contrary to the perception that one is a cold rational subject and the other a soft emotional one. Just as music is more than a collection of notes, mathematics is more than numbers. Both are about structure, pattern, abstractions and about connecting with the nature – the rhythmic movement of the tides, of our breath, or that there being exactly the same number of petals in daisies sprinkled across a field, which also corresponds to the Fibonacci numbers in mathematics.

This is why Manjul Bhargava, the Princeton-base mathematician, says he keeps a photograph of a field of daisies in his office. Bhargava, who just won the world’ most prestigious math prize, the Field Medal, is a concert-level tabla player trained by Zakir Hussain. In his interviews, he talks about the connection between math, music and poetry which, if taught well, could produce an entirely different generation of creative thinkers.

“Why are people who are into exact sciences like math and physics, also into music?” asks Suvarnalata Rao, a musicologist with a background in physics “Because both require abstract thinking – to be able to fathom that abstraction and its organization. That’s why children who trained in music will be able to organize thoughts much more logically.”

Why do our schools classify math in the core curriculum and music as `extra-curricular’? Math, music, the study of daisies – they all have to somehow filter into our classrooms and imagination.



About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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