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Society, Politics & Law

OpenLearn Live: 25th February 2016

Updated Thursday, 25th February 2016

The wall once designed to repel which now attracts; and how to make sense of today's migration statistics. Then more free learning through the day.

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OpenLearn Live brings free learning into the heart of your life. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday, we met The Prosecutors, thought about growing up, and caught up with the EU referendum

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

The rats which sniff TB

Emma Young reports how rats are being trained to save lives:

Not long ago, with a group of Apopo donors, Mgode met a man in Morogoro whose TB had been detected by the rats. “Afterwards I asked him in Swahili: ‘When you went to hospital and were diagnosed negative, how did you feel?’ He said: ‘Ah, my colleagues were asking me: “Man, if not TB, what else?”’ That is the problem. He was feeling like even his friends were thinking he had HIV. So when he got the rats’ result showing TB, he was so happy.”

Weetjens and Mgode both talk about how difficult it is to get funding for the rat programme. Much of what Apopo does get consists of an assortment of relatively small donations from various governments and businesses along with proceeds from an initiative that allows individuals to ‘adopt’ a rat. The pace and scope of the dog research also suffers from a lack of funding, says Claire Guest.

For Guest, the success of the Apopo rat programme is “inspirational”. When it comes to the dogs, the next three years will be critical, she says. If the prostate cancer and breast cancer studies go well, then she hopes dogs will join the rats as fully fledged disease detectors. She also hopes, like Mgode with his rats, that further work may demonstrate that dogs can detect disease at an earlier stage than many current techniques.

Read the full article: Ratting out disease

Fifty years on

Fifty years ago today, the White Paper which would create The Open University was published. A simple Act of Parliament which would create a campus, an institution, change the lives of millions of people - directly and indirectly - and, as a side effect, made possible this website.

Our friends over in the Communications department have made this short video celebrating the landmark (which alerts us that they appear to have got their hands on some drones which haven't been shared with us.)


You can still see our greatest hits from the 40th anniversary

Making sense of today's migration figures

With the EU Referendum shifting into a thing that's very much happening, the release of the latest net migration figures this morning have taken on even more political significance than normal. Here's the Office For National Statistics on what the figures tell us:

  • In the year ending (YE) September 2015: Net long-term international migration = +323,000 (up 31,000 from YE September 2014)
  • Immigration = 617,000 (up 2,000 from YE September 2014)
  • Emigration = 294,000 (down 29,000 from YE September 2014)
  • The latest increase in net migration was not statistically significant compared with YE September 2014. This net increase was the result of a decrease (not statistically significant) in emigration from 323,000 in YE September 2014 and immigration being at a similar level to the previous year.
  • Net migration in YE September 2015 was 13,000 lower (not statistically significant) than the peak level of 336,000 published for YE June 2015.
  • Net migration of EU citizens was estimated to be 172,000 (compared with 158,000 in YE September 2014; change not statistically significant). Non-EU net migration (191,000) was similar to the previous year (188,000).
  • The estimate of immigration for EU citizens was 257,000, compared with 246,000 in YE September 2014. Whilst this was not statistically significant, there was a statistically significant increase in immigration of EU2 citizens to 55,000 in YE September 2015 (up 15,000). Conversely, immigration of non-EU citizens saw a decrease from 289,000 to 273,000 (not statistically significant).

Read the ONS press briefing in full

See the full ONS data

The data keeps repeating the phrase "not statistically significant" - if you're not sure what that means, the OU's Kevin McConway explains how statisticians use the phrase "statistically significant" in his article on Confusing Terms in Statistics:

 the important thing to remember is this: if I say a difference is statistically significant, all I mean is that ‘we can pretty well rule out the possibility that the result is due to chance alone.’

In its everyday use, ‘significant’ means ‘having a meaning or importance’. But a difference that is statistically significant might actually have very little importance in a practical sense.

Read the full section on statistical significance

In short, then, the ONS is using the phrase to mean that any change is so small as to be virtually the same as no change.

Oxford University's Migration Observatory has issued a statement responding to the new data, and what it might tell us about how leaving or remaining in the EU might affect these numbers:

Madeleine Sumption, Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “Free movement within the EU is not the only driver of recent high levels of net migration, but it has played an important role. While EU migration is a defining issue in the referendum debate, the truth is that it’s difficult to predict EU migration levels with confidence in either the stay or leave scenario. Whether Brexit would reduce migration will depend in part on the treaties and policies that followed, and these cannot be known in advance.”

The last time net migration briefly exceeded 300,000 was in the year ending June 2005, when non-EU net migration was at a historical peak of just over 250,000 and EU enlargement had enabled a sharp increase in arrivals from Eastern Europe.

Sumption added: “Sustained high levels of net migration raise the question of whether we are experiencing a temporary peak or a ‘new normal’ in the UK. In the short term, the UK remains an attractive destination with low unemployment and robust job growth so there’s no reason to expect a dramatic change to migration levels. In the long run, migration is much harder to predict. It will depend on many different factors from future policy changes to economic growth in other countries.”

Read the full statement at Migration Observatory

Read The Paradox of Migration Control

Wall week: Hadrian's Wall

This week, we're spending some time staring at walls. Notable walls, obviously. Yesterday, we told the story of Vera's Wall and how Portland attempted to save itself from the Pineapple Express. Today, we're back in Britain, and Hadrian's Wall.

Hadrian's Wall Creative commons image Icon Ricardo Cabral under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 license

Hadrian was, above all, a CEO of empire. The wall was part of his strategy for the Roman Empire. His predecessor, Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Traianus), had passed to him an Empire in 117CE that had enjoyed a long period of territorial expansion. Hadrian considered that in order to enjoy the benefit of those struggles, what was needed was a period of consolidation rather than never-ending conquest. To make this work, he looked for an Empire which was clearly demarked.

Out East, he withdrew his troops to the banks of the River Euphrates, a natual barrier. In Germany, a palisade fence was constructed in a straight, unbroken line. And in this Northern outpost, he called for a stone wall.

This wall would cross the landscape from the coast just outside modern Newcastle to the Solway Firth. Just shy of eighty miles, the Empire would maintain the defence line for 300 years.

If the wall was designed to preserve the Empire, it also helped preserve a sense of life in that Empire. The fortification at Vindolanda - pictured above - was the site of archaelogical excavations in the 1970s. This has helped us understand what life was like for Roman soldiers and their families on the edge of Empire.

Vindolanda was an everyday kind of place; Chesters Fort was a more significant encampment designed to protect a vital river crossing at the Tyne. In the 1800s, the owner of the land found the fortification a problem, and buried it under earth to make a more pleasing landscape. His son, John Clayton, was a passionate amateur archaelogist - he only found time to dig on Mondays - and delighted in undoing his father's work and, in 1903, opened a small museum celebrating finds on the estate.

Nowadays, the National Trust also cares for - and welcomes visitors to - sections of the wall, and the full length of the wall is an official National Trail. The wall, once designed to repel, has transformed into an attraction.

Explore Hadrian's world with our game

See more about the key points along the wall

Life in Vindolanda





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