Economist 3/16/16

  1. According to the latest Visa Restrictions Index, released last month by Henley & Partners, a relocation firm, Brits can enter 173 of the world’s 218 countries (not including my own) either without a visa or with a visa on arrival.Britain is joint third on Henley’s list of the world’s most useful passports .Germany comes top. Its citizens can gain visa-free access to 175 countries. At the other end of the list, it is little surprise to find some of the world’s most troubled nations, including Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.Over the past two years, for example, citizens of the United Arab Emirates have been able to travel visa-free to 45 more countries than before, according to Henley. This includes to the Schengen Area, a group of 26 European nations that have abolished passport controls, making it the first Arab country to be granted a European visa waiver.
  2. Now researchers have managed to restore memories to mice with Alzheimer’s.Susumu Tonegawa and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used a technique known as optogenetics, which activates clusters of neurons by shining light on them. As they report in Nature, the researchers prepared seven-month-old Alzheimer’s mice by injecting a harmless virus into the rodents’ dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus that helps to store fearful memories.During their experiments, the researchers were able to illuminate the infected neurons of the mice using optical fibres implanted in their brains.To help the Alzheimer’s mice consolidate and keep their memory of the electric shock, the team flashed their dentate gyrus with blue light at 100 hertz, a frequency known to induce long-term potentiation. After this the Alzheimer’s mice froze in the box for at least six consecutive days, suggesting they were able to remember the shock themselves.But there is a more immediate consequence of the work for the estimated 40m people with the disease. Electrical stimulation of large areas of the brain of Alzheimer’s patients is already being tried.But Dr Tonegewa’s team found that stimulating neurons in the dentate gyrus other than those directly involved with holding the fear memory prevented Alzheimer’s mice from remembering their shocks in the long term.
  3. A new report by Deloitte, “Global Human Capital Trends”, based on a survey of more than 7,000 executives in over 130 countries, suggests that the fashion for teamwork has reached a new high. Companies are abandoning functional silos and organising employees into cross-disciplinary teams that focus on particular products, problems or customers.The fashion for teams is driven by a sense that the old way of organising people is too rigid for both the modern marketplace and the expectations of employees.A good rule of thumb is that as soon as generals and hospital administrators jump on a management bandwagon, it is time to ask questions.Hackman (who died in 2013) noted that teams are hampered by problems of co-ordination and motivation that chip away at the benefits of collaboration.In a study of 120 teams of senior executives, he discovered that less than 10% of their supposed members agreed on who exactly was on the team.
  4. Organisations need to learn something bigger than how to manage teams better: they need to be in the habit of asking themselves whether teams are the best tools for the job. Team-building skills are in short supply: Deloitte reports that only 12% of the executives they contacted feel they understand the way people work together in networks and only 21% feel confident in their ability to build cross-functional teams. Slackly managed teams can become hotbeds of distraction—employees routinely complain that they can’t get their work done because they are forced to spend too much time in meetings or compelled to work in noisy offices.
  5. WHEN the new students arrive at Sweden’s two opera conservatories this autumn, they’ll share one thing in common: they’ll all be women. In the most recent round of auditions, only women won a place. There just weren’t any qualified male candidates.Of the 72 applicants this year at Stockholm University College of Opera, 50 were women; 35 sopranos and 15 mezzo-sopranos. The conservatory decided that even though it would make for skewed student productions, it could not admit male singers on the grounds of gender alone.Professor Lindal isn’t sure where the female domination comes from. Perhaps, she reasons, it is connected to the growing share of women at universities in general.The trouble is that while women have made great strides in education and the labour market—and opera conservatories—during the past century, operatic casting has changed little. Young tenors and basses can launch their careers in a myriad of smaller roles as courtiers, soldiers, watchmen and servants, while female singers have much fewer roles available to them. “La traviata”, the world’s most-performed opera, features a cast of three women and six men. “La bohème”, another perennial box office favourite, features two women and eight men.
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