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Tell Me Some Good News

Each Tuesday I have lunch with some of my retired colleagues from the University of Oregon College of Education. Recently I posed the following question to them:

This morning I read the news on my tablet computer, listened to the news on the radio, and read a few miscellaneous magazine articles. Essentially every news item fell into my category of “doom and gloom” or I considered it to be relatively inconsequential. I asked my colleagues to share some of the happier and important news they had encountered so far in the day.

There were several long moments of silence, and it felt like they were struggling to come up with examples. Indeed, instead of providing personal examples they lamented that this doom and gloom approach to reporting the news was both common and depressing.

Lots of Good Things Are Happening

It isn’t that there are not a lot of good things happening. For example, this morning I spent time reading my email. I am on the mailing list for a variety of information sources. Here is an article by Anna Azvolinsky, Animal-free Toxicity Testing, that caught my attention (Azvolinsky, 1/28/2016).

In brief summary, currently many researchers are using tests on animals to determine the possible toxicity of the various chemicals in products—such as drugs, cosmetics, and food ingredients—that they are developing. Animal rights activists say this is cruelty toward animals, and others argue that tests on animals may not be good measures of effects on humans.

Quoting from the article:

Toward reducing animal testing while predicting a chemical’s effects on human health, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and their colleagues have developed an in vitro robotic screening tool able to systematically screen thousands of chemicals in human cell lines. In a study published today (January 26) in Nature Communications, the NIH-led team demonstrates an ability to test environmental chemicals found in drugs, food and food packaging, consumer products, and chemicals produced during manufacturing and industrial processes using cell-based assays.

The work is part of Tox21, a collaboration among four government agencies—the NIH, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Toxicology Program (NTP), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—that officially kicked off in 2008.

“I think this is one of the best examples of big data entering [the field of] toxicology,” said Thomas Hartung, director of the Centers for Alternatives to Animal Testing (NCATS) at Johns Hopkins University who was not involved with the work. “Because of the high quality of the data set and its transparency and data-sharing, this is really an enabling step” toward in vitro toxicology testing.

Here is another quote from the article:

“The system is very efficient,” [Ruili Huang, an informatics group leader at NCATS] told The Scientist. “We can test all the chemicals at 15 different concentrations each and in three independent experiment runs in one week. With animal testing, this would take years.”

Wow!!! That is what I call good news. The current system tests 10,000 different chemicals. The article goes on to talk about where the research is headed and that the approach the researchers are using can encompass tens of thousands of additional chemicals.

Final Remarks

We are living at a time of very rapid technological progress. The Smartphone provides a good example. The first iPhone became available in 2007. Now, the world is producing and selling over a billion Smartphones a year! Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide another example. While we have had online education for a long time, the first MOOC was a course on Artificial Intelligence offered by Stanford University in 2011. In 2015 there were 4,200 MOOCs world wide, and they enrolled a total of about 36 million students (Moursund, 12/30/2015).

Think about the educational implications of most students in the world having online access to a steadily growing collection of MOOCS that not only span the college curriculum, but also span the precollege curriculum. We are just at the beginnings of a massive change in informal and formal education. I consider that good news.

What You Can Do

There is plenty of doom and gloom in our world to satisfy everyone who wants to view the world that way. However, there is plenty of good news for those who are buoyed up by such news. I strongly encourage you to seek the good along with the bad. Work to disseminate and increase the good news that you, your students, and others see and talk about in their everyday lives.

References and Resources

Azvolinsky, A. (1/26/2016). Animal-free toxicity testing. The Scientist. Retrieved 1/28/2016 from http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/45173/title/Animal-Free-Toxicity-Testing/.

Moursund, D. (1/23/2016). Learning problem-solving strategies by using games: A guide for educators and parents. IAE Blog. Retrieved 1/28/2016 from

Moursund, D. (1/23/2016). Brain science research on nature and nurture. IAE Blog. Retrieved 1/28/2016 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/brain-science-research-on-nature-and-nurture.html.

Moursund, D. (12/30/2015). MOOC enrollment continues to grow. IAE Blog. Retrieved 1/28/2016 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/mooc-enrollment-continues-to-grow.html.

Moursund, D., & Sylwester, R., eds. (December, 2015). IAE Newsletter series: Joy in learning. Retrieved 1/28 2016 from http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2015-175.html.

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Thursday, 13 August 2020

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