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Opinion Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Cavalier Daily “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” —Thomas Jefferson

Kaz Komolafe Editor-in-Chief Charlie Tyson Caroline Houck Executive Editor Managing Editor Meghan Luff Kiki Bandlow Operations Manager Chief Financial Officer

The sweet science

The University should work to keep the public informed about its research efforts PureMadi, a nonprofit group of University faculty and students that combats global water scarcity and contamination, unveiled an invention Friday. The group created a water purification tablet called MadiDrop. The small ceramic disc can be placed in a container of water to quickly remove pathogens. The device lets people in developing areas treat drinking water immediately before consuming it. The MadiDrop is a cheaper alternative to the larger ceramic water filters the nonprofit introduced in South Africa last year. PureMadi’s high-profile reveal — at a sold-out event Friday in Alumni Hall celebrating the group’s one-year anniversary — marked an exception to the manner in which the University publicizes most of its innovative scientific work. Apart from the faculty, administrators and graduate students who work closely with research efforts, the University’s science world is hermetically sealed. Some findings break out of the laboratory’s confines to appear in academic journals read by few. But the University’s scientific work rarely receives the attention it merits. The problem is one of communication, or lack thereof. Most students might guess the University is a major research hub, but few, especially in the College, would know the extent to which our institution aims to make strides in big data, energy systems, sustainability and more. Ideas that emerge from the University’s multiple research centers are not well-publicized. Highly motivated undergraduates might probe into a professor’s research interests or undertake a project of their own. But the majority of students are left distanced from the high-stakes scholarly investigation that occurs nearly every day on Grounds. The only glimpses they get of the University’s academic efforts are what they see in the classroom. And if University students remain unaware of the strides and breakthroughs happening on Grounds, is there any chance the general public will take note? University officials have recently taken steps to prevent the institution’s intellectual activity from languish-

ing in laboratories or growing stale in the stacks. Most of these efforts are commendable but incomplete. OpenGrounds, for example, which opened last March, has been useful for connecting scholars across disciplines. The Corner studio space has served as a site for supplementary learning through programs such as the ongoing “Humanities in Place” project, which takes the form of a weekly seminar. But OpenGrounds, despite its attempts to engage the public through open hours and various contests, risks becoming an airtight domain of its own. The U.Va. Innovation initiative, which also launched last March, is even more promising. Friday it introduced streamlined intellectual property disclosure forms to make it easier for researchers to inform the University of their discoveries. The group’s goal is to commercialize University technologies by partnering with businesses. It is important for industries to recognize the benefits of scholarship beyond private in-house research and development projects, and the U.Va. Innovation initiative’s efforts — such as its recent proposal to create a Charlottesville economic development program to push student and faculty inventions into the market — help the University’s research positively influence the economy. But the ideas the University produces — from strides in health care to cutting-edge work in digital humanities — are not always immediately marketable, which is where the U.Va. Innovation initiative falls short. And the University should aim to keep not just industries but also the general public informed of its intellectual work. University affiliates that promote and publicize the institution’s scientific achievements should search for writers and media specialists who can explain research breakthroughs simply and accurately. They should also seek opportunities for student involvement whenever possible, as PureMadi and OpenGrounds have. Reticence about research will not help the University attract investors or stake a claim for increased public funding. The University’s science world needs a popularizer.

Editorial Cartoon by Stephen Rowe

Identity crisis

““As a former Honor support officer and, more importantly, someone who is proud to have “worn the honors of Honor,” I strongly endorse the content of this letter. The disparate impact the proposed “informed retraction” would have on students of different backgrounds is, in my mind, unconscionable. And further, it is difficult to conceive how removing an element so fundamental as the option of a jury of one’s peers would possibly benefit students. Honor is not a perfect system, but it is a system worth protecting. It is a system worth doing right. These proposals are not the answer.”

Lucy Partain, responding to Charles Harris and Joshua Hess’ February 4th guest column, “A flawed proposal.”

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The University should take action to prevent the replication of student ID cards Last week, a group of fourth-year called official attention to the exploit- and some cassette tape. The actual students revealed the lesson they able aspects of the ID system, which project took less than two hours to learned from a two-month project could lead to the system’s improve- complete. It cost $250, which was they undertook for one of their ment. At the same time, the study’s even more expensive than necesclasses. They discovered that our release undermined the system it sary, as a cheaper card reader would student ID cards are not that hard critiqued by making its weaknesses have done just as well as the one to replicate. Several of the students more evident and thus more vul- they bought. involved in the project advocated nerable. One of the students of the In light of the simplicity of this a change in the system to make study rightly referred to the current process, University officials should students’ ID cards more secure, but system as “security by obscurity.” take steps to strengthen the security such suggestions are unlikely to Now, some of that obscurity is gone. of the student ID card system. A Possibility of rather simple solution was suggested be implemented, fraud is admittedly by one of the fourth years from the as the Office of SAM NOVACK low — no one at study that drew attention to the Business OperaCAVALIER DAILY OPINION WRITER O-Hill is going to issue: merely replace the current tions — which successfully swipe number stored in the magnetic strip heads the ID card system — does not see fraud as a in with cheap knockoffs or floppy — which is now the same as the stuserious threat. While this stance is index cards. But if the strip is pro- dent’s ID number — with a random not entirely illogical, and there are grammed correctly on a fake card, number. several reasons why student IDs are the doors around Grounds would There are plenty of avenues for unlikely to be exploited, the ease not know the difference. Old dorms mischief at college, and I am not with which IDs can be replicated on McCormick and new dorms like saying every student is capable of ultimately demands a change in the Watson-Webb and Kellogg are just walking around with a faux ID card. some of the places that could be Yet the problem is out there now, and current system. On the one hand, you have the vulnerable to entry via fake ID card. the ease with which the system can Office of Business Operations, which One can only be exploited “Old dorms on McCormick would, to its credit, take action if imagine the should act as a things took a turn for the worse. Pos- danger such and new dorms like Watson- call to action. sible improvements to the ID system vulnerability These enterWebb and Kellogg are just are on the table, but any serious creates. prisingstudents In addition, some of the places that would have called to overhaul would be too costly to justify considering the threat’s relatively o n e s h o u l d be vulnerable to entry via fake our attention benign nature. Then there are the consider the a weakness ID card.” cards themselves, which — unless simplicity with that was previyou had access to a list of individual which IDs can ously not wellID numbers — would have to fall be faked. It is not merely experi- known, and they have also suggested into the hands of a copier for him or enced students in computer science inexpensive remedies that would her to procure a card number. And classes who devote two months to fortify the system — remedies the a fake card would not be convincing the task that can pull this off. Sev- University should not ignore. without a good deal of work, leaving eral first-year Engineering students the likelihood of fraud — with meal conducted a similar study before the swipes, Plus Dollars and Cav Advan- higher-publicity study was released, Sam Novack’s column appears first overwriting their own cards tage — fairly low. Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily. He On the other hand, a number of with a volunteer’s information, then weaknesses in the ID card system making a brand new card from can be reached at require attention. The recent study scratch using only an index card


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February 12, 2013  

Print Edition

February 12, 2013  

Print Edition