Promoting STEM education outside the classroom

stemcoverThe advancement of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education is a popular topic these days, but much if not most of the publicity it garners is about how these subjects are taught in schools. But an enormous amount of everyone’s formative experience of technology, as well as the subject matter of the sciences, is gained beyond the school’s walls, at home, in young people’s social activities with peers, via play, hobbies, entertainment, general mass media consumed in many forms, and in after-school, summer and informal programs. In recognition of this extra-scholastic framework of our earliest responses to the excitement of the sciences (or their forbidding character, depending on how they’re first presented to us), the US’s national Board on Science Education and National Research Council have published the report Identifying and Supporting Productive STEM Programs in Out-of-School Settings. It’s intended for local, state and federal policymakers, but its subject deserves attention from a much wider audience including journalists, teachers, community activity organizers, companies that produce educational materials, parents and anyone who cares about our national ability to interest America’s young people in science and technology. Read the executive summary here now. If it leaves you wanting more, the same website will enable you to order a hard copy of the report or read a free copy online.


Founding Member Newt Fowler named TEDCO Chair


Baltimore-based attorney and columnist Newton B Fowler, III, a Founding Member of the Aris Institute, has accepted the 2015-2016 chairmanship of the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO). The organization, headquartered in Columbia, MD, was established by the Maryland Legislature in 1998 to promote technological entrepreneurship and industry via seed funding, mentorship and incubation support, with a special interest in the commercialization of intellectual property created by the state’s universities and federal laboratories. TEDCO’s 15-member board is appointed by the Governor with the approval of the State Senate.

A partner at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP (a business law firm that traces its origins to 1876 and employs more than 550 lawyers in Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina,Virginia, Washington DC, Delaware, and California), Mr Fowler has chaired the Greater Baltimore Technology Council and currently advises many leading technology and investor groups on numerous aspects of business governance including venture financing, angel investing, intellectual property, commercialization, business strategy, complex transactions, and securities. His column on business and technology appears on the website Baltimore CityBizList. He earned his doctorate of law at the University of Kentucky Law School in 1985 and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. The national publication Best Lawyers in America, which conducts peer-review surveys of the legal profession, named him Baltimore’s 2013 Technology Lawyer of the Year. Before joining Womble Carlyle he was a partner at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, LLP, CEO of Community Analytics, and a partner at Venable, LLP.

In September 2015 TEDCO announced sixteen funding awards totaling $1.6 million ($100 000 per award) to start-ups in industries ranging from medicine to computer software.

Read more about TEDCO here.


White House’s Chief Technology Officer honored as US falls in global innovativeness ranking


Megan Smith

Megan Smith, the US Government’s Chief Technology Officer, is among the 2015 recipients of the annual Luminary Awards presented to Exceptional Women in Business. The awards are conferred by the Committee of 200 (“C200″), an organization of women entrepreneurs and business leaders..

Four women were honored at this year’s ceremony on October 23 at Washington DC’s Fairmont Hotel: Margery Kraus, Founder of the public relations firm APCO, Sandra E Peterson, Chair of pharmaceutical and consumer goods manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that supports computer education for women, and Ms Smith, who was recognized for her support of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. President Obama appointed Ms Smith to her federal post (helping the White House to progress technology innovation) in September 2014. Previously she was a Vice President at the Internet products company Google.

Ms Smith is the US’s third Chief Technology Officer, the position having been created by President Barack Obama in 2009 with Aneesh Chopra as the first incumbent, followed by Todd Park in 2015.

While the concept of a Chief Technology Officer of the US deserves sustained support, and while Ms Smith is to be heartily congratulated on her recognition, it’s time to re-examine the mission, powers and meaningful achievements of her office in a time of serious concern about the real health of US technology innovation leadership. The Bloomberg business information group’s 2015 Global Innovation Index (comparing fifty countries’ per capita patent volume and research spending, high-technology business population, manufacturing-sector contribution to gross value, tertiary education, and research-worker population) ranks the US sixth in global innovative productivity, after, in descending order, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Finland and Israel. In 2014 it ranked third, but this year Bloomberg included national education performance in its measurements, which pulled America down, since we place thirty-third in tertiary education.

Large US companies retain an ability to put impressive marketing resources into hyping even relatively small advances in gadgetry, maintaining a spectacular publicity machine that tends to obscure a disturbing momentum of complacency and slippage in America’s global innovative competitiveness. The historically established mass of the US’s economy helps perpetuate an illusion that all is well in US technological innovation. For historical reasons going back generations, our national economic scale is enormous, generating numbers that inspire confidence. But there is a great difference between size and evolutionary fitness. Think dinosaurs. For that matter, think China. Because of China’s immense population, it too generates numbers that convey an awesome sense of scale, yet when the figures are adjusted to compensate for scale, it falls way down to twenty-second position on Bloomberg’s innovation index. (Although in some respects it too is outpacing America; see below.)

Another annual global innovation index is published jointly by New York’s Cornell University, WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization, a United Nations entity) and the international business university INSEAD (the name is derived from Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires, meaning European Institute of Business Administration). Using a methodology that differs from Bloomberg’s, the Cornell-WIPO-INSEAD ranking places the US fifth after (in descending order) Switzerland, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Other sources have sounded similar alarms. Historical momentum and accumulated economic mass continue for now to show the US as the world’s top nation in disease research, but its supremacy is eroding fast: a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has observed that the US’s place as a contributor to global biomedical research funding has declined from fifty-seven percent to forty-four percent over the past decade, with waning US support for such research being met by climbing support in other countries. China’s medical research funding has been rising at around seventeen percent annually as against America’s one percent, and Chinese science and technology workers now outnumber the US’s. The JAMA study warns that the US stands to lose its historical innovation lead within ten years if it doesn’t reverse the current trend.

Perhaps the loudest wake-up calls arise from the state of our military innovation and America’s sagging infrastructure. This summer the respected British publication The Economist asserted that the US was losing its technology-based military edge, investing in unimaginative older weapons systems to which career military leaders have become accustomed, while focusing its energies on activities in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of the development of next-generation technology. At the same time, China has been massively investing in new sea power, air power and sophisticated computer technologies capable of disrupting the operating systems of American missiles, planes and ships. As for our infrastructural problems, the US Government has acknowledged that some 60 000 bridges in the country are structurally deficient and that the Highway Trust Fund, a federal account supporting national road works, was expected to fall below “safe levels” on November 20, 2015. It has also been reported that operating costs are not being covered by passenger fares in any US metro rail system.

This is admittedly a wide range of problems, but one way and another they all revolve around our nation’s diminishing scientific and technological momentum. The US’s Chief Technology Officer should be showing us an aggressive plan to lead the US out of its innovation decline in all these areas, as a matter of very great urgency.

Read more: Bloomberg’s Global Innovation Index  | America’s biomedical decline  | Asia overtaking US in innovation  | The loss of our military’s technology edge | The infrastructure crisis  | Megan Smith’s award 


Key roles for Roger Lewis in Peace Corps and World War 1 national monument projects


Two separate national monument initiatives, to create memorials commemorating WW1 and the United States Peace Corps, are moving forward with the involvement of architect, urban planner, author and Washington Post columnist Roger K Lewis, a Research Associate of the Aris Institute’s sister entity, the ArMel Scientifics Center for Technology & Public Policy.

Prof Lewis, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Maryland, is currently co-manager of the World War I National Memorial design competition as well as President and Chairman of the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation.

The Peace Corps monument will honor the mission of the Peace Corps and the work that its many volunteers have done around the world since its creation by President John F Kennedy in 1961. The site proposed for the monument is near the US Capitol. The Peace Corps is a goodwill agency of the US government that deploys American volunteers to provide educational, economic and other social service and development support to communities around the world. Its mission to promote positive growth and innovation by sharing American knowledge and skills, while at the same time enriching America by learning more about foreign cultures on site – closely echoes the Aris Institute’s philosophy of encouraging government to take the lead in sharing knowledge by mentoring creative initiatives everywhere, to build a more prosperous and cohesive world civilization. (The Act of Congress authorizing the creation of the Peace Corps monument is titled “”Memorial to Commemorate America’s Commitment to International Service and Global Prosperity”.)

The PCCF recently reached the phase at which finalists in a two-stage design competition were scheduled to present their refined concepts to a jury in Washington DC. A similar competition for the WW1 memorial is currently also in the second-stage review process. The winning design is due to be announced in January 2016.

Read more: The Peace Corps monument  | The WWI monument  | Roger Lewis  | An article about the Peace Corps by ArMel Scientifics Center scholar N J Slabbert 


2015 Nobel Prizes honor achievements in particle physics, DNA research, disease treatment, consumer studies, historical writing, human rights

stockholmThe Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded this year’s Nobel Prizes in fields ranging from the ways livings cells repair DNA to research on the scientifically usable content of ancient Chinese medicine.

The physics prize has been shared by Takaaki Kajita, of the University of Tokyo, Japan, and Arthur B McDonald, of Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, for experiments that showing that the neutrino, an elusive and mysterious subatomic particle, has mass. This discovery has fundamentally fundamentally upset the prevailing theory of the universe which for over two decades had characterized the neutrino as massless.

The chemistry prize has gone to Tomas Lindahl of Britain’s Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory, in Hertfordshire, and two North Carolina scientists: Paul Modrich of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, and Aziz Sancar at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for their discoveries of how organic cells repair and protect DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, which contains the genetic code that determines how organisms develop). Their work sheds new light on how cells work and has practical implications for research in various important areas, like cancer

The physiology / medicine prize has been shared by William C Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura (for work leading to the development of the drug ivermectin, which combats river blindness, elephantiasis and other parasitic diseases), and Youyou Tu (or Tu Youyou, in the Chinese rather than western style, Tu being a surname), whose research itno ancient Chinese herbal remedies yielded knowledge that helped developa an anti-malaria drug, artemisinin. Professor Ōmura is associated with Kitasato University, Japan, and Wesleyan University, Connecticut, and Dr Campbell with Drew University, New Jersey. Professor Tu works under the auspices of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing.

The economics prize has gone to Professor Angus Deaton, of Princeton University, New Jersey, for his research on how the saving and spending choices of individuals affect their society’s economy and relate to the incidence of poverty. The literature prize has been awarded to Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich for her body work using interviews and monologues to document the emotional impacts of historic events. The peace prize was conferred on the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a group promoting civil rights and democratic institutions.

Read more here.


Founding Member Mike Galiazzo receives Manufacturing Day proclamation

A proclamation by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, declaring October 2, 2015 as a special day honoring the state’s manufacturing industry, was presented in Annapolis to Brian Sweeney, Executive Director of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), and Aris Institute Founding Member Dr Mike Galiazzo, President of the Baltimore-based Regional Manufacturing Institute (RMI). Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford made the presentation.

Both MEP and RMI are non-profits providing support services to manufacturers.

Read more: About RMI  | About MEP


John Rogard Tabori serving on Blue Ribbon Fiscal Commission

taborThe Council of Prince George’s County, Maryland, is currently working with a Blue Ribbon Commission appointed to study the County’s structural deficit and recommend policies for the 2016 Budget. Nine of the Commission’s 15 voting members are officers of County organizations (the Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, Association of Realtors, organized labor, the Office of Audits and Investigations, and the Office of Management and Budget). The six citizen members are Earl Adams Jr, Henry W Mosley, Ron L Watson, Sherman L Ragland II, Mark E Tomassoni, and ArMel Scientifics Center Research Associate John Rogard Tabori.

Two non-voting ex officio members are County Council Vice-Chair Derrick Leon Davis and the County’s Chief Administrative Officer for Budget, Finance & Administration, Thomas Himler.

A structural deficit is the imbalance caused when normal government spending annually exceeds tax revenues. County Council Chairman Mel Franklin says the Commission’s members bring together “considerable expertise in the areas of budget, finance and public policy” and the County is looking forward to their recommendations in the coming year.

Mr Tabori, a political economist and policy analyst, is a graduate of Columbia University and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the academic honor society, and Phi Alpha Theta, the history academic honor society. He has been a writer-editor for the US Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract of the United States and his publications include a guidebook on evaluation research, many technical papers and three Congressional reports. His expertise has been used by numerous US Government agencies including the Department of Housing & Urban Development, the Department of Health & Human Services, Department of Transportation, and Federal Transit Administration. He was Mayor of the town of University Park, MD, from 2006 to 2014, and co-chair of Phase II of Envision Prince George’s, a planning initiative of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission from 2011 to 2014. He serves on the Development Overview Committee of the Town of University Park as well as on the Transit Oriented Development Committee of Envision Prince George’s.

Read more about the Blue Ribbon Commission here and here.


American Innovation at the Crossroads

By Aris Melissaratos

Chairman and Founder, The Aris Institute

crossroadsAmerica has come to a fork in the road. On one of its possible paths it will likely lead the world technologically for much and perhaps most of the 21st century, as it did in the 20th. The other path points to a future in which the US slows down more and more, falling ever farther behind other nations in the race of technological evolution.

America is built on optimism, and our faith in what we can achieve must never waver. But there is a time for self-satisfaction and a time for warnings. As a nation we are now in warning mode. Elsewhere in this edition you can find disturbing information about America’s receding technological edge across a wide front. It will profit all leaders of business and public service to pay keen attention to this wake-up call.

For over three decades at the Westinghouse corporation, including as chief scientific officer and vice president of science and technology, and in my separate careers as a technology investor, as Maryland’s economic development secretary, and as director of Johns Hopkins University’s intellectual capital commercialization, all my professional experience has been about anticipating our technological future. All I have learned tells me that this is a moment for national self-examination and urgent remedial action. For example, consider our transit situation.

Continue reading here.


A milestone in America’s healthcare reform thinking

by N.J. Slabbert

In 1751, a quarter of a century before he helped establish the US Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin was a healthcare activist. He raised £2000 in public donations — over $630 000 in today’s money — to match government funding to bankroll the colonies’ first hospital. It was a moment that continues to resonate thought-provokingly with 21st-century America, not just because it initiated American hospital services but because from the outset it identified organized public healthcare provision as a moral issue.

FranklinThe hospital that Franklin labored to set up, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, wasn’t for the well-to-do. It was expressly to offer free care to the poor, including that “great number of persons who arrive here from several parts of Europe,  many of whom are poor.” Franklin partnered prominent local Quakers on the project, which its originating document described as “a good work, acceptable to God”. A practical thinker more comfortable with the zest of everyday problem-solving than with unworldly contemplation, Franklin possessed a politician’s awareness of the persuasive power of religious argument. But he was also driven by moral impulses, a sense of transcendent values, and an altruistic imperative. Shortly before his death he wrote that he believed in God and that “the most acceptable service we render to him, is doing good to his other children”. Elsewhere he wrote of “that satisfaction which naturally arises in humane minds from a consciousness of  doing good, and from the frequent pleasing sight of misery relieved.”  To symbolize this humane mission, Franklin and Quaker physician Thomas Bond gave the Pennsylvania hospital an official seal referencing Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan.

Today the hospital has grown into a 520-bed complex that not only provides medical care to over 29 000 admitted patients and 115 000 outpatients a year but also trains doctors and conducts research. It’s part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, a massive organization that grapples with all the challenges that confront America’s national medical infrastructure. While it still tries to honor its humanitarian roots, it’s clear that something has been lost in translating Franklin’s vision into the 21st-century economic and administrative vocabularies of the medical system and the nation that Franklin pioneered. A 2015 University of Pennsylvania Health System financial aid policy document explains that the system “must balance what is compassionate and equitable with what is financially reasonable”, that the process for non-citizens “will be handled on a case-by-case basis”, and that “patients who do not cooperate with the financial counseling process, or whose application for full financial assistance is denied by UPHS, may be pursued by collection efforts, including referral to an outside collection agency or attorney, as determined by Patient Accounting.”

The argument that Scrooges have hijacked medical care and other socially necessary services, squeezing out morality, has been strongly made by both religious and secular observers. British economic historian Richard Tawney, a devout Christian, saw the commercialization of society as corrosive to the humane spirit, while Canadian-American economist John Kenneth Galbraith (who according to Esquire magazine said he had found that religious speculation, on the whole, “adds very little to economics”) produced an impressive body of analysis which concluded that the great power of big business doesn’t necessarily translate into public well-being.

On the other hand, it’s been cogently argued that religious sentiment can not only coexist with economic impetus but support it. In an early 20th-century classic of sociology, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, German scholar Max Weber argued that the values espoused by the Protestant form of Christianity contributed greatly to the rise of capitalist economies. In our time historian Niall Ferguson has observed that Weber’s conclusions are apparently validated by the diminishing work ethic of an increasingly secular western Europe. And it’s relevant to bear in mind that in addition to performing charitable hospital endeavors, Franklin was a shrewd and successful businessman who also helped launch America’s insurance industry, which he saw as both profitable and socially useful.

schimpff bookWhat connects Franklin’s healthcare activism with our present day is the ongoing philosophical tension between morality, economics and politics. The idea that morality requires access to medical care goes back to antiquity and can be traced to various faiths which encouraged the merciful sharing of healing expertise. More than two thousand years ago healing services were offered at Greek temples. After Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, the church’s compassionate mission drove the spread of organized medical care, a development which seems to have been pivotal in the evolution of hospitals in western civilization. The Roman Catholic network of medical institutions currently seems to remain the world’s biggest single source of medical services outside government, but although the medical profession fiercely clings to its public image as an ethically impelled corps of public benefactors, several tides of modern history have patently diluted the influence of faith-based moral considerations in healthcare policy and administration.

The secularization of western civilization while by no means abolishing morality, has made it unfashionable to promote moral arguments with the kind of forcefulness and context associated with religious teaching. The professionalization of medicine (and other disciplines) over the 19th and 20th centuries has encouraged publicly beneficial codes of conduct and peer oversight, but at the cost of collectivizing individual practitioners into power groups whose internal politics and agendas don’t always coincide with the public interest. This phenomenon is further complicated by interactions between different professional power groups. Medical policymaking is shaped by nonmedical professionals such as economists, government bureaucrats, business managers, political party ideologues, and lawyers. Massive commercial organizations such as insurers, pharmaceutical corporations and other industrial concerns have made American healthcare a lucrative industry in which profit often appears to override all other considerations.

When one surveys the immense terrain covered by public debate over healthcare policy, it’s hard to avoid the impression that one of the biggest obstacles to healthcare reform is its sheer conceptual complexity. The community of physicians is only one of the participants, and probably not the dominant one. Many power groups are involved, representing various disciplinary backgrounds and intellectual vocabularies. A clear perception of this confusion is obscured by the fact that contemporary media culture projects a greatly simplified impression of public discourse, in which superficial phrases of the moment make it seem as if everyone is sharing a common vocabulary, so that the underlying philosophical Babel goes largely underestimated. In the fictional universe of the popular science fiction entertainment franchise Star Trek there is a device called “the universal translator” which conveniently makes it possible for speakers of any language to communicate transparently with the speakers of any other. The Internet creates the illusion that, as in the fantasy world of Star Trek, everyone occupies the same mental world. This Universal Translator Myth is an enemy of public policy development, because it impedes recognition of the immense intellectual gulfs that exist between different power groups and even different intellectual disciplines, even when language is shared.

The interdisciplinary conceptual challenges posed by contemporary healthcare have taxed policymakers and scholars for generations. In a 1984 review of The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The Rise of a Sovereign Profession and the Making of a Vast Industry, a Pulitzer Prizewinning book by sociologist Paul Starr (now co-editor of the magazine The American Prospect), researcher Conrad Seipp praised the work while at the same time regretting its failure to “identify or discuss either the inevitable linkages among medical enterprise, the ideology underlying its practice, and the prevailing social structure-or the ways they collectively impact on the developments he describes.” The book, he noted, “left unexplored is the possibility that the current crisis is intellectual and conceptual as well as cultural and organizational.”

Over three decades later, the US healthcare crisis is even worse and efforts to navigate it continue to be handicapped by the intellectual difficulties of integrating the diverse intellectual perspectives that must be brought to bear. Against this background, the publication of Dr Stephen C Schimpff’s Fixing the Primary Care Crisis: Reclaiming the Patient-Doctor Relationship and Returning Healthcare Decisions to You and Your Doctor is a major contribution which offers a turning point in healthcare discussion. As a clear, authoritative, state-of-the-art orientation text in one of America’s most important current public interest issues, it is a milestone in America’s healthcare reform thinking which every US presidential candidate should read.

This statement may sound extravagant, but I offer it with due consideration, for three reasons. The first is Schimpff’s credentials. Unlike many writers on healthcare and other public policy issues, he has no agenda apart from wanting to help improve healthcare. He’s not running for public office or seeking to climb a professional ladder. His long and successful career has spanned medical practice, teaching, research, advising government, and successfully running one of the world’s leading hospitals. Although he retains professor status in medicine and public policy, he’s essentially retired to his study to document and analyze the state of healthcare as he sees it. He has nothing to prove to anyone and no one to cozy up to politically. This is fortunate for the rest of us, because his mind contains a unique encyclopedia about how healthcare works and how it can be changed to serve us all better. Schimpff isn’t just another commentator. He’s a national resource.

The second reason to pay attention to Schimpff is his tone. Despite its context of crisis it is patient and calmly reasoned, marked by a note of urgency derived not from hysteria but from moral earnestness. He is convinced that we must fix the healthcare system not just because doing so will be economically efficient but because it will be ethically right. Both this conviction and the nature of the solutions he offers enable his suggestions to achieve unusual success in bridging the ever-widening intellectual gap that has grown between the moral and politico-economic perspectives on medical services. It’s this blend of moral and economic message that gives his book its philosophical importance.

The third reason to read this book is that unlike many discussions of big ideas it doesn’t leave it to others to cope with the details. Because Schimpff has been responsible for making medical services work on every level of policymaking and administration, he knows the circumstances in which doctors work most productively, both individually and in collectives.

The word “crisis” has become so commonly used that its meaning has been debased, but the primary care issue really is one. Of all the aspects of healthcare policy that need attention, this one — the lack of access of millions of Americans to a doctor with whom they can develop and sustain an ongoing health-monitoring and advisory relationship – is arguably the most pressing. It isn’t a crisis only for patients, but also for government, for all the institutions that support healthcare, for physicians themselves, and for the economy as a whole. Schimpff’s book reflects a keen grasp of this interlocking nature of the healthcare ecology, which is like a biosystem in which damage to one part can impair the functioning of a multifaceted whole. Schimpff has grasped a key fact, namely that the economics of healthcare cannot be fixed by accountants and economists alone. There must be a fundamental philosophical change in how we approach healthcare. It is widely believed that the crisis in healthcare is the result of the great expense of the necessary services, but as Schimpff shows, the crisis has not been caused by the expense; the expense has been caused by the crisis. This stems from the way our medical establishment is structured, and it can be fixed. Read this book for a fresh understanding of both the problem and the road ahead.

For more about Dr Schimpff’s book, go here.

For Benjamin Franklin’s memoir of his hospital project, go here.

For other articles on a different subject by N.J. Slabbert, go here or here.

To read older posts, go here.


Mensah_StevensonAris recently hosted fashion entrepreneur Elaine Mensah, founder of the Svelte brand, who shared her insights on creative strategy with students at the Brown school of Business and Leadership. Read more here.