AirTalk for January 20, 2011

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Scientists, researchers and other contract employees working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been challenging personal background checks by their employer in court. Under a Bush directive made in the wake of 9/11 and increased national security, the usual checks for government employees were extended to corporate, college and think-tank employees working on government-funded projects. The 28 scientists named in Nelson v. NASA have argued that poking into their backgrounds is invasive, a violation of their privacy and part of a broader move to erode scientific independence. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of JPL, saying the checks – which include questions about drug use, sexual partners and other personal matters - are acceptable. Will this decision result in an exodus from NASA? Where will all of this scientific talent go?
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Does class size matter?

The size of kindergarten through third grade classes is going up in California—and across the country—as school districts grapple with budget cuts. The conventional wisdom is that large class sizes will damage student performance. But research from Harvard University’s Kennedy School is taking a different view. What effect does class size ultimately have on student learning?
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Several California Democrats are backing proposed Congressional legislation to restrict the size of ammunition clips. The Tuscon shooter carried a semiautomatic pistol with a 31-round magazine. A 1994 law limiting their capacity to ten rounds expired in 2004. Senator Dianne Feinstein was the principal sponsor of the old law and is supporting efforts to reinstate a ban on high-capacity magazines. Would new regulations on gun magazines help prevent violence? Are lawmakers going too far or not far enough?
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Social media isn’t just changing how we live; it’s also altering how we experience death. Every day, we tweet, post to FaceBook, upload photos to Flickr, and pour our hearts out on blogs – creating a staggering amount of revealing information and digital assets. That information lingers long after we are gone. An estimated 408,000 FaceBook users will die in 2011. What happens to all their personal content? Sometimes, it’s transformed into online memorials where friends and loved ones can share fond memories. But the internet is an open environment and those obits are accessible to a large, impersonal audience capable of leaving hurtful posts, and otherwise disrupting the mourning process. Academics are looking into how all this changes the way we grieve and entrepreneurs are jumping into the fray with businesses that deal with digital afterlife management. (Think: “I ________ hereby leave my Miley Cyrus fan fiction blog to my brother Rick.”) Do we need digital estate planners? What are the legal ramifications of our digital lives? Has the internet changed how you grieve?
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