Posts Tagged ‘education’

This was one of discussion questions of the Disasters and Ecosystems MOOC.

Actually the answer is simple. The formula for successful environmental degradation consists of 2 variables – overpopulation and capitalism.

When there are a lot of people – most of them a poor, uneducated and hungry. When you are hungry you will do everything to become less hungry today even if it can potentially lead to negative consequences tomorrow, which you may not even foresee if you are uneducated.

Humans are good in adaptation. When the adaptation is strong enough it leads to abuse (for example, if you are well adopted at the stock market you start abusing it to increase your profit even if it will cost dearly to the other stakeholders – people value their own well-being much more than the other’s and of course much more than the well-being of environment especially when they know that their own impact seems negligible compared to impact of the entire population).  When you live in condition of free market of capitalistic world – you are your only hope for not being hungry (or being more wealthy) now. And as you know from the economic theory – the capitalist economy needs a constant grows of consumption and production – so you need more and more resources to just sustain the economy. In conditions of capitalist market people value today’s profit much more than losses of tomorrow

You see – the capitalist economy needs people to consume more and more; more people – more consumption; more people – more poverty and lack of education; more hungry uneducated people people – more people willing to do anything to survive now and don’t even bother themselves about the future.

Overpopulation and a consumption society (created by capitalist economy) inter-stimulate each other and destroy the environment for the today’s profits or food and doesn’t care much of the consequences of tomorrow because most are either uneducated or doesn’t care at all plus you have to live through today to face consequences of your actions tomorrow (a day-by-day living).

Obviously there are 3 steps to improve the situation:

  • Decrease the population.
  • Educate people.
  • Create new sustainable economy model that would equally value tomorrow’s losses and today’s profits, and would not rely on constantly increasing consumption.

I enrolled a MOOC titled “Disasters and Ecosystems: Resilience in a Changing Climate” which is organised by the UNEP (and other organisations… which names I’m going to learn by heart cause they have like 2 minutes of credits after each lecture O_o ). Not that I know nothing about disasters, risks or climate change (I’m a geographer and ecologist after all), but I was curious about the product that was made by organisation of this class.

The third video (and first video that is not an introduction) they teach us about the disasters; differences between hazard and disaster; and risks. Well… the thing they told, the graphs they showed – that what inspired the title of this post.


Here see some definitions they use.

Disaster. When they say “disaster” they mean “natural disaster” that was enhanced by human [mismanagement].

Risk – a potential losses due to disasters.

Hazard – A dangerous phenomenon, substance, human activity or condition that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage.

Exposure – People, property, systems, or other elements present in hazard zones that are thereby subject to potential losses.

Vulnerability – the characteristics and circumstances of a community, system or asset that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard


The risk

They presented a “great” formula for (a disaster) risk evaluation that they use in the UN:
Risk = Hazard * Exposure * Vulnerability
where: Exposure = People * ExposureTime
Vulnarability – succeptability to hazard.
Well these characteristics do correspond to the risk, but the formula is stupid! I already wrote about that: Risk = Probability * Damage. And this formula actually corresponds to the definition they give (see Terminology section). We can’t get a monetary outcome from their formula. We can’t get numeric numeric output out of that formula at all: can you multiply flood by people? Can you???!!!

A Disaster with Disasters

The fail with the risk evaluation is a common mistake, but the fail with disaster – that is what really cool!
Take a look at this plot (which is from reading materials from the course):

What can you conclude from this plot? That the world is doing to hell and we all will fall to disaster? Let’s look closer. The exposure is growing faster for poorer countries (and it is the only conclusion they make in lecture)… but the total number of people exposed (and for each type of countries) seems to be the almost unchanged! Interesting… This means (see the definition for the exposure) that there are just a 150% increase of property value in the dangerous area of the poorer countries (and 25% for the richest) on a span of 30 years. Does this graph shows us only the economic grows? I think it does… (reminds me of my previous post).
Now to the most delicious part. Take a look at this two graphs from the lecture readings:
Deaths dynamics


Damage dynamics
This is interesting. Despite the population growth and all that questionable “climate change” staff people die less (in total numbers), see fig. 1, but the damage increases, see fig. 2. Did they take inflation into account for the damage graph? Do not know… I think they didn’t, otherwise they would use “discounted damage” term instead of just “damage” and would indicate the base year. So the second graph seems to demonstrate inflation and may be the economic grows.
Clearly disasters are not that disastrous. Despite the new on the TV on the subject the nature’s wrath even enhanced by human is less and less dangerous for human lives. The pockets are to suffer: the storm in port wrecking the humble fisherman’s boat or a trawler – that’s the difference.


From these graphs I can conclude one thing – it is safer to live now than in the past, a disaster should not be feared as a deadly havoc. To my mind the disaster nowadays is entirely economic issue. See, if we loose less people and (maybe) more money – we should just develop more advanced insurance techniques to cover economic damage and relax. The disasters should just be studied as phenomena to develop cheap early warning systems, let the property be destroyed (just cover the losses with insurance) and additional employment to be created (rebuilding).
This is my conclusion form the graphs I showed here: the disaster is an ancient myth! Just buy insurance! LOL

Recently I’ve accomplished 2 of the on-line courses provided by Coursera.

A “Model Thinking” course provided a nice overview of the existing approaches to model creation. Despite oversimplified maths (that I tried to compensate by using R-scripting where it was applicable) I liked this course for covering a wide range of real world implementation of different types of models.

A “Game Theory” course was quite nice, but had a lack of the real world implementation examples (there were a couple of them). And it was quite disappointing because that was what I hoped to learn about. I’ve already studied Game Theory in my University 7 or 8 years ago and since then was curious in seeing the theory in action. Unfortunately all the examples I’ve encountered were either oversimplified or far too complicated. The good thing was that the statement of accomplishment of Game Theory course was much fancier then that of Model Thinking.

Also there was another course named “Probabilistic Graphical Models” that I dropped. This course tended to consume more time than both courses above, demanded usage of MathLab or Octave (and I don’t see how would I benefit from learning them when I use R). But the worst thing was… lectures. The issue was  in awful video stile – the lecturer always gave definitions of terms and topics in the end of the lecture and further more – after an interactive in-video quiz that demanded knowledge of that definition! So I had to view the lectures again after definition was given to finally understand the topic! I value my time…

Now I have some plans for autumn:

I highly doubt if I will have time to pass all of them. I think I will have to stick with only 2 maximum, so will see…
Free on-line education is a great thing, especially for already graduated people, who don’t actually need extra paper on qualification. Also I doubt if on-line courser would provide diplomas for free. I’m aware about on-line education in the field of GIS but they are not for free. Finally, I hope Coursera will provide some courses on GIS too.
In Stockholm my wife and I had a short conversation with a subway cashier – a 40 years old man. We found out that he speaks Russian fluently and many years ago have studied in Herzen Institute. Excellent painting – Russian education is just good enough to sell tickets in Sweden…
Despite there are no Russian institutions of higher education in top 200 of the Times Higher Education’s list 2010, Moscow State University still holds at 152-nd place on another list. It is not a reason for cheers, because it is only one Russian institution on the list and only at 152-nd place (the situation with higher education and science in Russia is awful and MedvePut does not pay attention to it). But it is an example that all depends on methodology. Let’s take a look at the methodology of the Times…
Times’s methodology (source)
There is no sense to perform a deep analysis, so straight to the point. 11% – of the rating points are different types of incomes, which are definitely much higher in developed countries than in Russia. More over recently the research function was officially separated from education in Russia. So let’s take that any Russian university loses at least 10% out of total 11% in this type of comparison.

32.5% – the greater part of the index is a Citation impact. The main part of the universities from the list are from English-speaking countries. And the main part of the others uses an English for publications. So it is much harder for Russian institutions to gain Citation impact points due to most part of publications are in Russian and it makes them unavailable for the most part of scientific society. Of course there are international publications of Russian scientists but it is a small part of overall publications. Let’s take that Russian institutions lose at least 30% out of 32.5% of Citation impact score.

100% -(10%+30%)=60%. This 60% means 77-th place in current rating – the best what Russian university can get. The last place has 46.2%. Particular Russian university have to lose only 14% in other parts of the rating to be out of the list; remember – 40% are lost by default.

This means that actually it is hard to confirm that Russian education is too bad only because there are no Russian Universities on the list. But definitely there are a lot of problems. Most obvious are a lack of financial support for everything (I don’t even want to talk about corruption) and  a problem with exchange of scientific knowledge.

The last one is a very interesting subject for discussion – it concerns misunderstanding of scientific publication’s goals in Russia (an exchange of knowledge between scientists of the world – not only with fellow countrymen) and one of the main problems of the science (to my mind), which was pointed out by Nietzsche – a general problem of particular language usage (multiple meanings for a single word, etc.). So there are two problems for the knowledge exchange: impossibility of understanding (for foreign languages)  and misunderstanding due to particular language peculiarity. Actually there are 2 more: a general public accessibility  due to intellectual property of journals etc., and classified information, but it is another story.  It is obvious that science have to have its own language. For now  English is a common language for science de facto and you have to accept it. But I suppose that Scientific Language must be created from scratches. I will try to write some thoughts on this subject later.

Back to the Russian universities. If we want to have them on the top 200 list, then we should provide an adequate financial support and put a great-power proud (so typical for Russia) in the ass and publish scientific papers only in English.