All posts by Andrew Mytelka


Missing Mexican Students Are Said to Have Been Killed and Cremated

The 43 Mexican students who have been missing for six weeks were murdered, their bodies burned, and the ashes dumped in a river, suspects in the crime have told investigators, the Associated Press reports. The students, from a teacher-training college, disappeared when they were en route to participate in a protest in Iguala. A combination of police officers and drug gangs, acting at the behest of local officials, are suspected in the deaths, and about 75 people have been arrested. The students’ macabre fate was described on Friday by Mexico’s attorney general, who said that because of the poor condition of the remains, it would be nearly impossible to definitively identify them as belonging to the missing students. The Reuters news agency has more details on the tragedy.

In a somber, lengthy explanation of the investigation, Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam played video showing hundreds of charred fragments of bone and teeth fished from the river and its banks. He said it will be very difficult to extract DNA to confirm that they are the students missing since Sept. 26 after an attack by police in the southern state of Guerrero.

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SAT Scores Are Delayed in South Korea and China Amid Cheating Investigation

The Educational Testing Service said it would delay reporting SAT scores for tests taken this month by South Korean and Chinese students, amid allegations that “organizations that seek to illegally obtain test materials for their own profit” had compromised the integrity of the college-admission test, The New York Times reported. ETS told the Times that it expected to be able to complete its investigation and to release the scores by mid-November, allowing test-takers to cite them on early applications.

Tom Ewing, a spokesman for the Educational Testing Service, said scores were being withheld based on the nations where students lived, not where they took the exam. The SAT is not administered in China, except at a few private schools, and each year thousands of Chinese students travel to other parts of Asia to take the exam.

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Columbia U. to Pay $9-Million to Settle Federal Claims Over AIDS Grants

Columbia University has admitted wrongdoing and agreed to pay $9-million to settle a federal lawsuit accusing it of mismanaging federal grants for AIDS research, reports Capital, an online news service covering New York.

According to the office of the federal prosecutor that handled the case, the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs, a unit of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, filed claims for reimbursement citing work that was not done. Columbia received millions of dollars under more than 75 federal grants to prevent AIDS and HIV, but it was required to track the work of employees and submit that tally in order to obtain the grant money.

The university said in a statement cited by Capital that its center had helped more than two million people in 20 countries. It also said it had instituted new controls over grants administration to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

Columbia’s finance department was found to have provided information for reports, though the employees were largely unaware of which tasks corresponded to which grants. The reports were then certified as correct without using suitable means to verify their accuracy, even as ICAP’s management was aware of the inaccuracies.

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U.S. Cancels Funds for Controversial Studies of Infectious Diseases

The White House announced on Friday that it would temporarily block federal financial support of controversial biomedical research in which scientists seek to learn about the potential dangers of infectious diseases by intentionally making them more hazardous, The New York Times reported.

The move, announced by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services, came just weeks after the Obama administration issued regulations permitting such research but requiring stricter federal oversight of it and active disclosure by scientists of the risks inherent in their work.

The Times quoted a White House statement attributing the moratorium to “recent biosafety incidents at federal research facilities,” a reference to mistakes this year by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involving anthrax, bird-flu, and smallpox samples.

Critics of the research, who have said it could help terrorists or unscrupulous scientists unleash a lethal epidemic, hailed the White House move. The Times was unable to obtain comment from two scientists—Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University, in the Netherlands, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin at Madison—who claimed, in 2011, to have created a more easily transmitted strain of a type of bird flu. That discovery set off a controversy over the wisdom of such research, and whether it should be permitted, financed, or published, that continues to this day.

The moratorium is only on research on influenza virus and the coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS. It made no mention of Ebola or any related filovirus. Ebola is already extremely lethal, but it is not easily transmissible.

No scientist has publicly announced an attempt to make Ebola as easy to transmit with a sneeze as flu is. Given the current panic around Ebola, and congressional anger at federal health agencies, it is unlikely that federal funding for such a project would be given out.

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Supporters of U. of Oklahoma Band Sound Off in Ads Attacking President

Full-page advertisements that were published on Friday in major newspapers across Oklahoma and Texas accused the University of Oklahoma’s president, David L. Boren, and the director of its marching band of creating an “environment of mediocrity and complacency” in the band, and of clamping down on criticism, the Tulsa World reports. The ads, which feature anonymous comments by band members, single out for criticism a policy under which members can be kicked out if they say anything negative about the band.

One critic quoted by the World lamented a decline in “marching and musicality” in the band, whose size has dropped from 280 to 225 members. President Boren, in a written statement quoted by the World, declined to respond to “anonymous personal attacks” in the ads. “It’s a shame that people would waste their money on such ads,” he said, “instead of supporting scholarships for our students.”

Nick Nicholson, a former Pride member who lives in Houston, said Friday’s letter was penned by a group of band students. He helped raise money for the ads, which were placed in at least a half-dozen Oklahoma and Texas newspapers, including the World, The Oklahoman, The Norman Transcript, The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Close to $20,000 was spent on the ads in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Norman, alone, Nicholson said.

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Thai Historian Faces Complaint for Doubts About Ancient Elephant Battle

A leading Thai historian has been accused of defaming the monarchy—a serious charge in Thailand—over his skepticism about whether a 16th-century duel between a Thai king and an invading Burmese general, both mounted on elephants, actually took place as it has long been portrayed in textbooks and movies, reports Khaosod English, an English-language website of a Thai newspaper.

The accusation of defamation, known as lèse majesté, was made by a group of ultra-royalists against Sulak Sivaraksa, who is 82, based on his remarks this month at a Thammasat University seminar. If officially charged and convicted, the historian could face up to 15 years in prison.

In official Thai histories, the king is said to have killed the general in the elephantine encounter, persuading the Burmese army to retreat.

Lt.Gen. Padung Niwetsuwan, a member of the group, said the 82-year-old writer insulted the Thai monarchy by questioning the accomplishments of King Naresuan, who ruled ancient Thailand – known then as Ayutthaya Kingdom – between 1590 and 1605.

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Missing Mexican Students Are Not Among Remains in Mass Grave

Mexican officials said on Tuesday that DNA testing indicated that none of the 43 students who went missing two weeks ago were among the 28 bodies exhumed from a mass grave near where they disappeared, The Wall Street Journal reported. Also on Tuesday, security forces killed the alleged chief of a criminal gang that the authorities had suspected of playing a role, along with corrupt police officers, in the disappearance of the students. The DNA findings were unexpected because the mass grave had been identified by a police officer who admitted he had participated in killing the students.

MEXICO CITY-Mexican security forces killed the alleged head of Guerreros Unidos, the criminal gang accused of colluding with police in the recent disappearance and presumed deaths of 43 college students, a federal official said Tuesday.

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Hocking College’s President, a Victor in 2011 Battle With Trustees, Retires

Ron J. Erickson, whose five years as president of Hocking College were marked by an unusual dispute with the Ohio institution’s Board of Trustees—in which he was fired and then reinstated—resigned on Thursday, according to the Athens Messenger.

After a two-hour meeting, the board announced that Mr. Erickson would become special assistant to the board chair for special projects, and that the two-year college would hold a reception on Friday “to see him off.”

Such a warm farewell seemed unlikely b…


Catawba College Draws Scrutiny Over Sexual-Assault Case Against Ex-Coach

Ralph Wager, a popular and successful coach of men’s soccer at Catawba College from 1983 to 1990, is facing criminal charges of sexually molesting two boys on the North Carolina campus, and according to an in-depth report on the case by The Charlotte Observer, prosecutors plan to introduce evidence that the college attempted to cover up the allegations against Mr. Wager.

One of the alleged victims was on a swimming team that practiced in the Catawba pool; he was allegedly assaulted several times between the ages of 9 and 11, in Mr. Wager’s office and his on-campus apartment. The other alleged victim was the son of a college employee.

When the mother of the first alleged victim complained, Mr. Wager was barred from the pool area when the team practiced. When the mother of the second alleged victim complained, the college’s athletic director demanded and received Mr. Wager’s resignation, an abrupt move that raised questions on the campus. The police were not contacted about any of the allegations.

Mr. Wager, who is now 71 and was inducted into Catawba’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, declined to comment. A date has yet to be set for his trial in the case, which is reminiscent of child-sex-abuse scandal that rocked Pennsylvania State University three years ago.

College administrators also declined to comment to the Observer, other than to say they had cooperated with law-enforcement officials and had conducted an internal investigation. The results of that inquiry have not been disclosed.

Fred Corriher, a trustee at the time, said the board was not told. … Asked whether college administrators should have reported the allegations, Corriher said, “Things have changed a lot since those days. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. You can say that, ‘Yes, they should have.’ But again I don’t know if it was something that could have been expected.”

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Southern Utah U. Removes Sen. Harry Reid’s Name From Center

Southern Utah University’s president said last week that he had been under pressure from local conservatives to remove Sen. Harry Reid’s name from a center on the campus, the Associated Press reported, but he insisted that politics was not a factor in the decision to do so.

Senator Reid, a Nevada Democrat and the Senate majority leader, is an alumnus of the university, and he agreed to lend his name to the Outdoor Engagement Center three years ago in order to help raise money for it. But several months ago, a group of conservatives told the president, Scott Wyatt, that they had raised $40,000 in pledges to remove Senator Reid’s name from the center.

Mr. Wyatt said he had told the group he would not accept the money. But the week before last, the name was removed—because, Mr. Wyatt said, it led to confusion over the center’s purpose since Mr. Reid is not associated with the outdoors. Mr. Wyatt also said that the center’s naming for Mr. Reid had drawn no donations.

In a statement quoted by the AP, Senator Reid seemed not to object to the removal of his name, saying he’d been “happy” to let the university use it to raise money. But “I’m not going to raise money to have my name placed on anything,” he said.

“The decision has nothing to do with politics,” Wyatt told The Associated Press. “We’re a university. We’re full of Democrats and Republicans and Green Party members and Libertarians. We don’t make partisan calls with regard to our esteemed alumnus.

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