Daily Digest — Rich kids, poor adults, successful and frustrated scientists and our new neighbor planet

Ian Larson

— In college news today, there’s a pretty strong Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times on legacy admissions at major American colleges. Richard Kahlenberg writes that “studies have shown that being the child of an alumnus adds the equivalent of 160 SAT points to one’s application (using the traditional 400-to-1600-point scale, and not factoring in the new writing section of the test) and increases one’s chances of admission by almost 20 percentage points.” One exception, Kahlenberg notes, is Cal-Tech, where only 1.5 percent of students had a parent attend the school. A poll earlier this decade found that 75 percent of Americans oppose such an inherited advantage. The other 25 percent are the lazy children of smart people.

— There’s been a slew of bad economic news lately (despite the announcement by the National Board of Economic Researchers that the recession technically ended mid-2009), so add this to the list: 3.7 million people took advantage of the Medicaid program in 2009, bringing the total to just under 50 million Americans. So, one of six Americans was on Medicaid, and last week it was announced that, according to census numbers, roughly one in seven Americans was below the poverty line. To be fair to the economists,  both the Medicaid and poverty line numbers are from 2009, as was their assessment of the recession, so,  at the end of the ninth month in 2010, we know exactly one thing: 2009 was awful.

–Bad news for the country that produced Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking and Tim Berners-Lee: British scientists may be staging an exodus for foreign jobs. The Conservative-Lib-Dem British government alliance has proposed cuts across the board in spending, and with science no exception, researchers are looking to mainlaind Europe and America for new jobs. To localize it, Cambridge’s loss is probably the U’s gain. But why would any scientist want to leave a country with science writing like this?

— Finally, scientists have found a new, rather Earth-like planet. The unfortunately-named Gliese 581G (remember when we named planets after Roman gods?) is called the “Goldilocks planet” by astronomer Paul Butler: “just the right size and the right distance from its sun.” The Washington Post describes it as “quite close at 20 light years from Earth’s solar system.” While this seems fair given the vast space of the universe, it’s not exactly something you could do in a weekend. It took 240 scientists about 11 years just to find and assess this thing: again, a short time in astronomy terms, but a long time if you’re, you know, a human. Besides, if there is alien life there, I’m sure that they, too, are struggling to find a way out of the recession.

-Mike Mullen