Why we need war on the mosquito, the deadliest animal – Bill Gates

October 16, 2016

World's Deadliest Animals, Gates Foundation

World’s Deadliest Animals, Gates Foundation

One could quibble, and point out that it’s the malaria parasite that does the dirty work, more than the mosquito; but it’s only a quibble.

Short film from Bill Gates explaining why he helps wage war on the lowly mosquito. Use of science to find ways to defeat mosquito-borne disease transmission is especially important in the post-DDT world, since DDT resistance now aids every mosquito on Earth.

GatesNotes said:

There are about a dozen different diseases that are spread to humans by mosquito bites including dengue, yellow fever, Zika, chikungunya, and malaria. This little mosquito actually kills more humans than any other thing.

Learn more at: http://b-gat.es/2cUd9Ff

Education just like making toasters?

September 30, 2014

Fred Klonsky, the best under-published cartoonist on education issues:

Fred Klonsky tells the truth:

Fred Klonsky tells the truth: “Teaching your kids like making toasters?” “Not my kids. Your kids.”

Also at Klonsky’s blog.

Teacher ratings can’t tell good teachers from bad ones – back to the drawing board?

March 4, 2012

Corporate and business people who have lived through serious quality improvement programs, especially those based on hard statistical analysis of procedures and products in a manufacturing plant, know the great truths drilled by such high-quality statistical gurus as W. Edwards DemingThe fault, dear Brutus, is not in the teacher, but in the processes generally beyond the teacher’s control.

Here’s the shortest video I could find on Deming’s 14 Points for Management — see especially point #14, about eliminating annual “performance reviews,” because as Dr. Deming frequently demonstrated, the problems that prevent outstanding success are problems of the system, and are beyond the control of the frontline employees (teachers, in this case).  I offer this here only for the record, since it’s a rather dull presentation.  I find, however, especially among education administrators, that these well-established methods for creating champion performance in an organization are foreign to most Americans.  Santayana’s Ghost is constatly amazed at what we refuse to learn.

Wise words from the saviors of business did not give even a moment’s pause to those who think that we can improve education if we could only get out those conniving, bad teachers, who block our children’s learning.  Since the early Bush administration and the passage of the nefarious, so-called No Child Left Behind Act, politicians pushed for new measures to catch teachers “failing,” and so to thin the ranks of teachers.  Bill Gates, the great philanthropist, put millions of dollars in to projects in Washington, D.C., Dallas, and other districts, to come up with a way to statistically measure who are the good teachers, the ones who “add value” to a kid’s education year over year.

It was a massive experiment, running in fits and spurts for more than a decade. We have the details from two of America’s most vaunted and haunted school districts, Washington, D.C., and New York City, plus Los Angeles and other sites, in projects funded by Bill Gates and others, and we can pass judgment on the value of the idea of identifying the bad apple teachers to get rid of them to improve education.

As an experiment, It failed.  After measuring teachers eight ways from Sunday for more than a decade, W. Edwards Deming was proved correct:  Management cannot identify the bad actors from the good ones.

Most of the time the bad teachers this year were good teachers last year, and vice versa, according to the measures used.

Firing the bad ones from this years only means next year’s good teachers are gone from the scene.

Data have been published in a few places, generally over complaints of teachers who don’t want to get labeled as “failures” when they know better.  Curiously, some of the promoters of the scheme also came out against publication.

A statistician could tell why.  When graphed, the points of data do not reveal good teachers who constantly add value to their students year after year, nor do the data put the limelight on bad teachers who fail to achieve goals year after year.  Instead, they reveal that what we think is a good teacher this year on the basis of test scores, may well have been a bad teacher on the same measures last year.  Worse, many of the “bad teachers” from previous had scores that rocketed up.  But the data don’t show any great consistency beyond chance.

So the post over at the blog of G. F. Brandenburg really caught my eye.  His calculations, graphed, show that these performance evaluations systems themselves do not perform as expected:  Here it is, “Now I understand why Bill Gates didn’t want the value-added data made public“:

It all makes sense now.

At first I was a bit surprised that Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee were opposed to publicizing the value-added data from New York City, Los Angeles, and other cities.

Could they be experiencing twinges of a bad conscience?

No way.

That’s not it. Nor do these educational Deformers think that value-added mysticism is nonsense. They think it’s wonderful and that teachers’ ability to retain their jobs and earn bonuses or warnings should largely depend on it.

The problem, for them, is that they don’t want the public to see for themselves that it’s a complete and utter crock. Nor to see the little man behind the curtain.

I present evidence of the fallacy of depending on “value-added” measurements in yet another graph — this time using what NYCPS says is the actual value-added scores of all of the many thousands of elementary school teachers for whom they have such value-added scores in the school years that ended in 2006 and in 2007.

I was afraid that by using the percentile ranks as I did in my previous post, I might have exaggerated or distorted how bad “value added” really was.

No worries, mate – it’s even more embarrassing for the educational deformers this way.

In any introductory statistics course, you learn that a graph like the one below is a textbook case of “no correlation”. I had Excel draw a line of best fit anyway, and calculate an r-squared correlation coefficient. Its value? 0.057 — once again, just about as close to zero correlation as you are ever going to find in the real world.

In plain English, what that means is that there is essentially no such thing as a teacher who is consistently wonderful (or awful) on this extremely complicated measurement scheme. How teacher X does one year in “value-added” in no way allows anybody to predict how teacher X will do the next year. They could do much worse, they could do much better, they could do about the same.

Even I find this to be an amazing revelation. What about you?

And to think that I’m not making any of this up. (unlike Michelle Rhee, who loves to invent statistics and “facts”.)

You should also see his earlier posts, “Gary Rubenstein is right, no correlation on value-added scores in New York city,” and “Gary Rubenstein demonstrates that the NYC ‘value-added’ measurements are insane.”

In summary, many of our largest school systems have spent millions of dollars for a tool to help them find the “bad teachers” to fire, and the tools not only do not work, but may lead to the firing of good teachers, cutting off the legs of the campaign to get better education.

It’s a scandal, really, or an unrolling series of scandals.  Just try to find someone reporting it that way.  Is anyone?

More, Resources:

Sideshow of DDT and malaria

August 23, 2011

Not exactly a DDT/Malaria carnival.  Just enough for a sideshow.

First, the controversy over use of DDT in Uganda continues, even as DDT is applied daily there.  This demonstrates that DDT remains freely available for use in Africa.  It also demonstrates that Africans are not clamoring for more DDT.

Uganda offers a key proving ground for the propaganda campaign against environmentalists, against scientist, against medical care officials, and for DDT.  Though malaria plagues Uganda today and has done so for the past 200 years at least, it was not a target of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) campaign to eradicate malaria in the 1950s and 1960s, because the nation lacked the governmental structures to mount an effective campaign.  DDT was used to temporarily knock down mosquito populations, so that medical care could be improved quickly and malaria cured among humans.  Then, when the mosquitoes came roaring back as they always do with DDT, there would be no pool of the disease in humans from which the mosquitoes could get infected.  End of malaria problem.

Plus, for a too-long period of time, Uganda was ruled by the brutal dictator Idi Amin.  No serious anti-malaria campaigns could be conducted there, then.

Uganda today exports cotton and tobacco.  Cotton and tobacco interests claim they cannot allow any DDT use, because, they claim, European Union rules would then require that the tobacco and cotton imports be banned from Europe.  I can’t find any rules that require such a ban, and there are precious few incidents that suggest trace DDT residues would be a problem, but this idea contributes to the political turmoil in Uganda.  Businessmen there sued to stop the use of even the small amounts of DDT used for indoor residual spraying (IRS) in modern campaigns.  They lost.  DDT use continues in Uganda, with no evidence that more DDT would help a whit.

Malaria campaign posters from World War II, South Pacific - Mother Jones compilation

Much of the anti-malaria campaign aimed at soldiers, to convince them to use Atabrine, a preventive drug, or to use nets, or just to stay covered up at night, to prevent mosquito bites. Mother Jones compilation of posters and photos.

Second, the website for Mother Jones magazine includes a wonderful 12-slide presentation on DDT in history.  Malaria took out U.S. troops more effectively than the Japanese in some assaults in World War II.  DDT appeared to be a truly great miracle when it was used on some South Pacific islands.  Particularly interesting are the posters trying to get soldiers to help prevent the disease, some done by the World War II-ubiquitous Dr. Seuss.  Good history, there.  Warning:  Portrayals of Japanese are racist by post-War standards.

Third, a new book takes a look at the modern campaigns against malaria, those that use tactics other than DDT.  These campaigns have produced good results, leading some to hope for control of malaria, and leading Bill Gates, one of the biggest investors in anti-malaria campaigns, to kindle hopes of malaria eradication again.  Here is the New York Times  review of  Alex Perry’s Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time (PublicAffairs, $25.99).   Perry is chief Africa correspondent for Time Magazine.

This little gem of a book heartens the reader by showing how eagerly an array of American billionaires, including Bill Gates and the New Jersey investor Ray Chambers (the book’s protagonist), are using concepts of efficient management to improve the rest of the world. “Lifeblood” nominally chronicles the global effort to eradicate malaria, but it is really about changes that Mr. Chambers, Mr. Gates and others are bringing to the chronically mismanaged system of foreign aid, especially in Africa.

These three snippets of reporting, snapshots of the worldwide war on malaria, all diverge dramatically from the usual false claims we see that, but for ‘environmentalist’s unholy and unjust war on DDT,’ millions or billions of African children could have been saved from death by malaria.

The real stories are more complex, less strident, and ultimately more hopeful.

Is Bill Gates the Superman education needs?

February 3, 2011

At Almost Diamonds, a clear explication of why Bill Gates alone cannot save education:

If you want to improve education in the U.S., fund it properly. Fund the education and salaries of teachers. Fund the building and maintenance of schools. Fund supplies. Fund libraries. Fund good textbooks and other materials. Fund early education. Fund student nutrition and health. Fund community social services that keep parents rooted in one place longer.

In short, fund those things it takes to produce small classes of students undistracted by other problems, taught by experienced teachers who aren’t constantly overworked. Is it a sexy solution? Does it put somebody’s name in lights? No, but it works.

Putting your name on some education initiative somewhere is grand. Nifty, even. The problem is that it really isn’t all that innovative when it comes right down to it. There is plenty of history of experimentation in education. Much of it even produced promising results.

Then it fell by the wayside because the implementation cost money. All the promise in the world can’t produce results if no one is willing to pay the cost. No, if someone really wants to do something new and different in the field of education, they need to implement those solutions that have already been proven.

More good stuff there at Almost Diamonds, keying off an article in The Atlantic by Chrystia Freeland on the “new elite.”

Tip of the old scrub brush to Rational Rant.

BSA awards Bill Gates the Silver Buffalo

September 15, 2010

News came out during the Jamboree, but yesterday in Seattle the Boy Scouts of America made it tangibly official.

Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, Jr. received the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest honor BSA gives to any Scouter.

Gates was a Life Scout; his father, William Gates, Sr.,  is an Eagle Scout.  The awards ceremony was scheduled to include members of Gates’s Cub Scout Pack 144 and Boy Scout Troop 186.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates receiving the Silver Buffalo award from Boy Scouts of America. BBC image

Microsoft founder Bill Gates receiving the Silver Buffalo award from Boy Scouts of America. BBC image


DDT ain’t pixie dust; we can’t poison Africa to health

February 7, 2009

Internet communications spreads information far and wide, but it also spreads disinformation and error far and wide — sometimes faster than good information.

Bill Gates gave a TED* Talk about the need to fight malaria, and where his billions-of-dollars campaign against the disease is going.  Within minutes, the nattering nabobs science ignorance were calling Gates an idiot, and calling for the poisoning of Africa.

Gates, you may remember, is either the richest man in the world or close to it due to his brilliant marketing of Microsoft products.  This would suggest to rational people that he is not an idiot, at a minimum, and perhaps should be listened to on topics which he has researched, such as malaria and mosquitoes.   Africa, you may remember, has a lot of people in it who don’t want to be poisoned, thank you very much. This may suggest that DDT would be controversial even were it a panacea, which it is not.

Rational voices exist.  Deltoid and Bug Girl both provided useful, and accurate information (though in this case, Tim Lambert at Deltoid refers to the DDT controversy on bed bugs, and to another Bug Girl post on research showing DDT won’t help against bed bugs).

Here’s the controversial two minutes of Gates’s talk (you can see it at Bug Girl, too):

Internet and other media now fall into a predictable rhythm:  Any news faintly related to DDT prompts stiff-necked conservatives and other do-nothings who don’t like environmentalists to write stuff calling for a “return” of DDT, making erroneous claims that DDT had made the world safe against malaria, and that only the delusional claims of Rachel Carson convinced everyone to stupidly stop spraying DDT.  And, of course, they then make the erroneous claim that all we need to do to fix everything is bring back DDT.

They don’t ever let the facts get in the way of a stupid, misplaced political hit.

In short, they treat DDT as pixie dust, a magic solution to every problem.  This is fantasy.  In reality, we cannot poison Africa to good health.

I’ve written about these issues before at length.  Hard research, good research, tells us what we have to do to fight malaria

  • Money must be spent to improve health care in Africa, especially to remote populations. Wiping out malaria requires that we get rid of the parasite in humans.  Mosquitoes get the parasite from infected humans, after all — if mosquitoes can’t get infected from humans, we don’t need to worry so much about killing the mosquitoes.  Preventing infections is good; curing those that exist is essential.  Malaria parasites’ ability to grow resistance to pharmaceuticals means we need health care delivery systems that will assure a complete cycle of medical treatment occurs in every victim, and before that, that a quick and accurate diagnosis will allow targeting of the right drug to the specific parasite.
  • Housing improvements will provide huge benefits. Malaria was wiped out in the U.S. and Europe partly by rising incomes.  Even poor people could afford screens on windows, which keeps mosquitoes out of the house, where most infections start.  Housing unsuitable to screening will put a larger burden on bednets.  But better housing is a key part of the fight.
  • Improving incomes help fight malaria. Families with more money can afford better housing, and better health care.  Malaria, and most disease, is very much an “Are Your Lights On” sort of problem.  Victims are the first to know they need to get medical care, and they are in the best position to prevent infections earlier.  If potential victims have the money to buy the tools to fight malaria, malaria has a tough time.
  • Good public works, from local governments, help fight malaria. Good roads work well to fight the disease.  Bad roads develop potholes.  In Africa, potholes fill with water and become breeding sites for mosquitoes.  Well-engineered, well-maintained roads and walkways make great contributions to eliminating malaria.
  • Education on how to avoid malaria pays huge dividends. People who know how to look for mosquito breeding places, and how to eliminate them, are crucial to the elimination of the disease.  Abandoned tires are classic mosquito breeding dumps, but so are rain gutters and even badly-drained flower pots.  When these things occur close to homes, mosquitoes breed there and bite victims close to home.  Since most people spend a signficant amount of time at or near their homes, eliminating these infection opportunities pays off well.  Further, certain breeds of mosquitoes are active at particular hours of the day or night.  Avoiding the places these breeds exist at the hours of their activity prevents malaria infection.  People must be educated to know these things, and to act on them.
  • Bednets work well, and bednets do not prevent the use of other methods. Pitting a fight against bednets and DDT is a favored tactic of pro-DDT groups.  Research shows bednets are very effective without DDT, but that DDT is not effective over the long term without bednets.  A mild solution of DDT applied to bednets in some areas improves the efficiency of the nets.  This is not an one-or-the-other issue.  Bednets always work, insecticides can be used appropriately.  To beat malaria, we will have to use every tool.  Bednets are a great tool, and they will be required regardless the availability or propriety of DDT.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stepped in to provide money and organization to the fight against malaria a few years ago.  In the last year alone his work and his money have helped prevent millions of cases of malaria, reducing the incidence of the disease by 50 percent in some areas, and 85 percent in others.  Whatever he says about malaria and mosquitoes deserves a good listen at least.

(Until I figure out how to embed TED into the new WordPress, here’s the link at TEDS:  http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/451)


*  TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design

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