Weekly Roundup 11/29/2011

Iraq’s young prepare to inherit a war-scarred nation after U.S. withdrawal
Dan Zak (story and photographs), The Washington Post, Nov. 27, 2011

Synopsis: Post reporter Dan Zak concludes a short tour in Iraq with portraits of Iraq’s young generation, who are “glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein but feel less safe — and therefore less free — than before 2003.” The front-page package includes individual portraits, among others, of bloggers trying to recreate an Arab Spring-style revolution, an activist seeking to energize a protest movement and a student hoping to help transcend ethnic divisions. The Web version includes a photo gallery.

Takeaway: Young Iraqis “view their government as a pseudo-regime that deprives them of basic rights” and “worry that their peers are being lured into the ethnic, sectarian and partisan traps of their elders.” They also think, Zak writes, that “the world is fixating on revolutions in other Arab countries while ignoring a rotting democracy in Baghdad and their generation’s struggle to live the freedom that was promised to them 8-and-a-half years ago.”

For CQ Researcher’s most recent coverage, see “America at War” (Aug. 13, 2010) and “Cost of the Iraq War” (April 25, 2008).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


R.I.P. Lynn Margulis, Biological Rebel
John Horgan, Scientific American blogs, Nov. 24, 2011

Synopsis: Evolutionary biology lost one of its most remarkable minds last Tuesday, when Lynn Margulis, a professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, died unexpectedly of a stroke at the too early age of 73. Margulis faced intense early opposition to her idea that symbiosis – joint, cooperative functioning between organisms – rather than competition alone has been a major driver of evolution. How organisms with nuclei in their cells evolved from simpler older organisms that have no nuclei remained one of biology’s great mysteries until Margulis proposed that larger non-nucleated organisms may have engulfed smaller ones, creating symbiotically united organisms in which the smaller single-celled creatures became the nuclei of the larger ones.

Takeaway: “‘Evolution no doubt occurs, and it’s been seen to occur, and it’s occurring now. Everyone who’s scientific-minded agrees with that. The question is, how does it occur? And that’s where everyone parts company,’” Margulis told blogger John Horgan. “Ultra-Darwinians, by focusing on the gene as the unit of selection, had failed to explain how speciation occurs. Only a much broader theory that incorporates symbiosis and higher-level selection could account for the diversity of the fossil record and of life today, according to Margulis,” he wrote.

Virtual Schools Are Multiplying, but Some Question Their Educational Value
Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown, The Washington Post, Nov. 26, 2011

Synopsis: Full-time online schooling, mostly provided by for-profit companies, is becoming available to more students and younger students – including kindergarteners. But while some education theorists herald the development as a long-needed innovation that will save public dollars while giving students an invaluable chance to learn at their own pace, others say that online learning hasn’t yet proven its merits to the point that rapid deployment is warranted.

Takeaway: Possible social implications are one objection raised to full-time online schooling. “During recent deliberations over virtual schooling in Virginia, a member of the state Board of Education raised the issue of socialization,” write the Post reporters. “‘This would appear to make it possible to go from kindergarten through eighth grade without ever stepping into a real classroom,’ David M. Foster said. ‘I’m not sure I want to encourage that. . . . Collaborative problem solving, socialization, working with other people is key not just to the global economy but to getting along in life.’”

For more, see my CQ Researcher report on “Digital Education,” coming up Dec. 2.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


The Prosecution’s Case Against DNA
Andrew Martin, The New York Times, Nov. 27, 2011

Synopsis: Hundreds of convicted criminals have been exonerated by DNA evidence in the past quarter-century. But when DNA seemingly clears convicted criminals in Lake County, Ill., the new evidence doesn’t always set the men free. Instead, prosecutors often say it just changes the theory of how they committed the crime.

Takeaway: The issues raised by DNA exoneration have led to an overhaul of the nation’s criminal-justice system. But in some jurisdictions prosecutors are dubious about such new evidence. Some legitimately believe the new evidence is somehow flawed. “But legal scholars … suggest that prosecutors’ concerns about their political future and a culture that values winning over justice also come into play.”

For background see “Eyewitness Testimony” (Oct. 14, 2011) and “Wrongful Convictions” (April 17, 2009)

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor