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    Bizarre caecilians may be the only amphibians with venomous bites

    Caecilians are amphibians like salamanders and frogs, but they’re often mistaken for snakes because of their long, legless bodies. Now, scientists think that the similarities between the two are more than skin deep.

    New microscope and chemical analyses suggest that, like snakes, caecilians have glands near their teeth that secrete toxins. The discovery raises the possibility that caecilians may be the first amphibians found capable of delivering a venomous bite.

    Pedro Mailho-Fontana, an evolutionary biologist with the Butantan Institute in São Paulo, has been studying caecilians for several years, and in particular, the glands in their skin. He has helped show that the animals have separate glands for secreting mucus on their heads and poison on their tails.

    But one day in early 2018, as Mailho-Fontana was slowly eroding the skin on the skull of a dead ringed caecilian (Siphonops annulatus) to get a closer look at the mucus glands, he saw something that made his hair stand on end: large glands in the animal’s upper and lower jaws that had ducts going to the teeth.

    Mailho-Fontana, along with fellow evolutionary biologists Marta Antoniazzi and Carlos Jared also at the Butantan Insitutue, set about characterizing these unexpected oral glands in several caecilian species using standard and electron microscopes. Perhaps the most striking finding is that the glands arise from dental tissue. That’s just like venom glands of snakes, but it’s a first for amphibians, the researchers report July 3 in iScience.

    The team also performed preliminary biochemical tests on the fluid in the newfound glands, and discovered that it contains phospholipase A2 enzymes, a large group of fat-chopping proteins that are frequent components in animal venoms. But the work stopped short of conclusively showing that the animals are venomous.

    Venoms aren’t entirely unknown from amphibians; some use bony protrusions to create wounds in their attackers and deliver skin-derived toxins that way. And Jared and his colleagues previously discovered the only known venomous frogs (SN: 8/6/15). But Jared notes that these amphibians cannot inject their venoms and instead rely on an attacker pressing on their pointy bits.

    caecilian teeth and venom glandsResearchers discovered upside-down tear drop-shaped glands (off-white, above the yellow teeth) by accident when trying to get a closer look at how a caecilian’s skin produces slime. An analysis of fluid in those glands reveals enzymes commonly found in animal venoms.Carlos Jared
    caecilian teeth and venom glandsResearchers discovered upside-down tear drop-shaped glands (off-white, above the yellow teeth) by accident when trying to get a closer look at how a caecilian’s skin produces slime. An analysis of fluid in those glands reveals enzymes commonly found in animal venoms.Carlos Jared

    The caecilian oral glands don’t appear to help inject secretions either. The team didn’t find any tubes or grooves in the teeth that could facilitate the delivery of the fluid. Instead, it appears the glands work more like the venom systems of Gila monsters or other venomous lizards: The glands simply ooze secretions onto the teeth, which then enter the victim as those teeth tear into flesh.

    That these snakelike animals seem to possess a venomous bite even somewhat akin to snakes’ isn’t likely to be a coincidence, Antoniazzi says. “We think it has to do with this fact that they have similar bodies,” she says. Without limbs to subdue prey, both caecilians and snakes benefit from having oral chemical weapons.

    The caecilians’ teeth and associated glands are “extremely fascinating,” says Kartik Sunagar, an evolutionary biologist with the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, comparing them to “something out of an alien movie.” But it’s still unclear if the gland secretions are indeed toxic and play a functional role in feeding or defense, he says.

    Tracking which genes are turned on or off in the oral glands compared with the tail poison glands or other tissues could give a better sense of what the oral secretions contain and whether they are unique to those glands, Sunagar says.

    The team hopes to provide additional evidence for these amphibians being venomous soon, including a more detailed work-up of the oral gland components, which would shed new light on these enigmatic and poorly studied animals. Caecilians are “perhaps the most unknown vertebrate,” Jared says. “This project has opened the door for future studies.”

    in Science News on July 03, 2020 03:00 PM.

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    Horror Movies And Loot Boxes: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

    Keyboard for ideaOur weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

    Being positive is all well and good — but when do messages of hope and happiness start to become toxic? At Cosmic Shambles, Dean Burnett discusses the problem of “toxic positivity”, when people are told that they can or should simply choose to be happy, even in the face of adversity. It often comes in the form of trite sayings like “think happy thoughts”, which can leave people feeling that their negative emotions are not valid.

    With many schools around the world still shut, lots of children are stuck at home without the usual chance to socialise with other kids. How might that affect their social development? Lydia Denworth talks to the experts for The Atlantic.

    We’ve all seen the social media posts proclaiming that countries with female leaders are faring better in the pandemic than those with male leaders. But while there are clearly prominent examples of women-led nations whose response has been excellent — Germany and New Zealand, in particular — is this claim actually true? The evidence is pretty weak, writes Hilda Bastian at Wired, who points to the small sample size (as women still make up a small proportion of world leaders), as well as the confirmation bias that leads us to ignoring women-led countries that have not fared as well.

    Meanwhile, even in workplaces where they are well-represented, women continue to face gender bias and discrimination. Researchers studied vets, a profession in which women make up the majority of employees, asking managers to assess the performance of a fictional worker. When they read that the employee was a woman, the managers believed they were less competent and recommended a lower salary, reports Jessica Hamzelou at New Scientist. And, revealingly, this bias was only seen in managers who believed that gender discrimination wasn’t an issue in the workplace.

    The House of Lords Gambling Committee has called for loot boxes in video games to be regulated as gambling, reports BBC News. Studies have shown that there is a link between problem gambling and spending on loot boxes, which provide random rewards for players, though it’s a complex area of research still in its infancy.

    Horror movie fans may be better equipped to deal with the distress caused by the pandemic, a preprint has claimed. Researchers found that fans of horror — and particularly fans of movies in which society collapses — reported less psychological stress during the pandemic, writes Ian Sample at The Guardian. This could be because watching these kinds of movies allows people to learn vicariously about how to act in disaster situations — although the authors do acknowledge that there could be some other third variable that is responsible for both turning someone into a horror fan and reducing their distress.

    For our final link, something that’s not strictly psychology but fun nonetheless. It’s become something of a meme that when scientists submit their work for peer-review, “Reviewer 2” is always the one to shoot down the paper with nasty comments. But a (not-entirely-serious) analysis of papers submitted to one journal has found that it’s actually Reviewer 3 that’s the problem. “Not only is Reviewer 3 the bad actor, but Reviewer 3’s crafty enough that they get Reviewer 2 blamed,” researcher David Peterson tells John Timmer at Ars Technica.

    Compiled by Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren), Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 03, 2020 10:49 AM.

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    A study on fruit flies is retracted “owing to legal issues of confidentiality”

    A preliminary study which found that using cold treatment worked to combat a Mediterranean species of fruit flies in blueberries has been retracted. The study, “Cold Responses of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly Ceratitis capitata Wiedemann (Diptera: Tephritidae) in Blueberry” was published in Insects, an MDPI journal on May 1, 2020. The retraction appears to be … Continue reading A study on fruit flies is retracted “owing to legal issues of confidentiality”

    in Retraction watch on July 03, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    4 reasons not to worry about that ‘new’ swine flu in the news

    It may feel odd to be thinking ahead to the next potential pandemic when the world is far from finished with the current one. But reports of a newly identified swine influenza virus that shows hints of being able to spread among humans have raised that specter — although public health officials say it’s not an imminent threat.

    That virus, identified in pigs in some parts of China, has characteristics similar to a strain that caused the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic (SN: 12/18/09), a new study finds. But just identifying such a flu virus circulating in pigs does not mean it poses an immediate threat to people. Rather it signals to researchers that they should monitor sick people for similar viruses.

    “It’s not an immediate threat where you’re seeing infections,” Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., said in a U.S. Senate hearing on June 30. “But it’s something we need to keep our eye on, just the way we did in 2009 with the emergence of the swine flu.”

    Influenza viruses bind to a protein called sialic acid to break into cells. Birds and people have different types of this protein in their upper airway, but pigs have both. That makes pigs not only susceptible to swine-specific flu strains but also to flu viruses from birds and humans. As a result, the animals often become influenza mixing pots.

    Once in pigs, bird, swine and human flu viruses can exchange genetic material — called reassortment — giving rise to new strains (SN: 2/12/10). If some of those new strains can infect people and make them sick, the virus might go on to cause larger outbreaks.

    Like the 2009 H1N1 virus, a newly identified pig virus, called G4 EA H1N1, or G4 for short, can attach to the type of sialic acid that lines a person’s respiratory tract, and it can also replicate in human cells grown in a dish, researchers report June 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Infected ferrets — an animal commonly used to study influenza because ferrets exhibit similar symptoms as people — can also get sick and pass the virus to other ferrets. The findings hint that the virus has the potential to cause disease and be transmitted among people.

    “It really points out the fact that we’ve got to keep watching influenza viruses,” says Marie Culhane, a swine veterinarian who studies influenza at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul and was not involved in the study.

    Here are four things to know about the G4 swine flu virus.

    The virus began circulating in pigs in 2013.

    That means the new virus isn’t really brand new.

    Jinhua Liu, an influenza researcher at China Agricultural University in Beijing, and his colleagues analyzed more than 30,000 nasal swabs or lung samples from pigs across 10 provinces in northern and central China for influenza viruses over seven years, from 2011 to 2018. The G4 virus emerged in pigs in 2013 and in the following years, it became more prevalent. By 2016, it was the dominant form of influenza virus circulating in tested pigs.

    “That means that this virus is very good at going pig to pig,” Culhane says. “And it’s also probably good at not causing very severe disease in the pigs, because if it was … people would want to do something about it.”

    It’s unclear just how widely the virus has spread. So far, scientists have tested only a small portion of pigs in China.

    The virus has infected some people, but it’s unclear if they got sick.

    Ten percent of 338 people tested who worked with pigs had antibodies, or immune proteins that recognize the virus — a sign that they had recovered from a previous infection, Liu and colleagues found.

    Antibodies can stick around for years after an infection, so it’s not known when the workers were exposed the virus. It’s also unclear whether those people had symptoms while they were infected. It’s possible that the virus doesn’t cause severe disease, so the infections went unnoticed. If the workers did have symptoms, there’s also a chance that the signs of illness were indistinguishable from regular flu.

    There is a slight possibility that the test picked up immune proteins that recognize another flu virus, not G4. Looking for antibodies is like “looking for smoke,” Culhane says. “You see smoke, but you don’t know where the fire is.”

    Other flu antibodies that bind to closely related virus strains did not recognize the newer virus. That means that the part of the virus that the antibodies bind to has changed enough so that people don’t have protection from previous flu bouts and might not be immune if the virus began to spread.

    There’s no evidence the virus can easily spread among people.

    When monitoring different flu strains and determining pandemic risk, “what people watch for is human-to-human transmission,” Culhane says. If lots of people who have no connection to pigs or other infected animals were infected with the virus, that would be more concerning.

    The study found that only 4 percent of people in the general population had antibodies to G4 — and those with regular exposure to pigs were more likely to test positive. The paper also cites two cases of flu that were caused by a G4-like virus in people whose neighbors had pigs. But there’s no evidence that someone who worked with pigs then passed the virus to someone else.

    There’s no evidence of the virus in other places.

    The World Health Organization coordinates a Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, which gathers data from member countries to monitor seasonal and pandemic flu. The United States has its own monitoring system in place within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Right now, only pigs in China are known to carry the G4 flu strain. There’s no evidence that G4 or similar viruses are in other countries. For the United States, specifically, “there’s just no evidence of that, and we look at the data all the time,” Culhane says.

    in Science News on July 02, 2020 09:20 PM.

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    A sparrow song remix took over North America with astonishing speed

    Some North American birds are changing their tune.

    The traditional song of the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) ends with a repeated triplet of notes. By 2000, however, some birds in western Canada were whistling a variation ending in a two-note pattern. That new song has since spread widely across North America, researchers report online July 2 in Current Biology.

    The findings fly in the face of previous hypotheses that birdsong dialects don’t change much within local regions. The rapid spread of the new song is akin to someone moving from Kentucky to Vancouver and everyone in Vancouver suddenly picking up a Kentucky accent, says Ken Otter, an avian behavioral ecologist at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, Canada.

    Otter and his colleagues documented the adoption of the western song at a research station in eastern Canada. In 2005, only one male out of 76 surveyed sang the doublet-ending song. In 2014, 22 percent of 101 males surveyed sang the new song. And in 2017, nearly half of 92 males recorded had adopted the variation.

    “You can actually see the [transition] unfolding in real time,” says Jeff Podos, a biologist who studies animal communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was not involved with the study.

    The researchers confirmed the spread of the song with the double-noted ending across the continent — as far east as Quebec and Vermont — via recordings from citizen scientists.

    Eastern sparrows probably picked up the new song at common wintering grounds, the researchers say (SN: 2/4/16). By tracking birds from central British Columbia with backpacklike geolocators, the team found that the birds migrated to the southern U.S. Great Plains, which overlap with known wintering grounds of birds that breed east of the Rockies.

    One explanation for this shift may be a female preference for novel songs, a focus for future study, Otter says.

    in Science News on July 02, 2020 03:01 PM.

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    Earth’s annual e-waste could grow to 75 million metric tons by 2030

    The planet’s hefty pile of discarded electronics is getting a lot heavier, a new report finds.

    In 2014, the world collectively tossed an estimated 44.4 million metric tons of unwanted “e-waste” — battery-powered or plug-tethered devices such as laptops, smartphones and televisions. By 2030, that number is projected to grow to about 74.7 million tons, according to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2020. That’s roughly equivalent to eight times the weight of China’s Three Gorges Dam.

    The findings come from a partnership formed in 2017 between the United Nations International Telecommunication Union, the International Solid Waste Association and other groups to track the accumulation of electronic debris. The projected e-waste for 2020 and other future years doesn’t include any economic consequences that might be related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Higher consumption rates of electronics, as well as shorter life cycles for many devices, are contributing to the rapid pileup. And most people also are not properly and safely recycling their devices, the report found. Of the 53.6 million tons of e-waste generated in 2019, only 9.3 million tons, or 17.4 percent, were recycled.

    Discarded electronics can contain hazardous materials — such as cadmium and mercury in laptops and smartphones, and refrigerant chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons — that can leach into the environment (SN: 8/7/19; SN: 5/22/19). E-waste is also a source of plastic waste (SN: 4/5/18). What’s more, not recycling e-waste can contribute to global warming, the report notes, because humans are mining and processing new materials rather than reusing existing materials.

    E-waste also contains so many valuable recoverable metals, such as iron, copper and gold, that it essentially represents an “urban mine,” the report states. The value of the raw materials in 2019’s e-waste could be as much as $57 billion — only about $10 billion of which was recovered through recycling.

    in Science News on July 02, 2020 02:17 PM.

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    Call for Papers! BMC Oral Health Collection: Something in the Water – Fluoridation and Caries

    Water fluoridation is a measure to prevent caries, a disease of significant public health importance. Caries, when not managed, result in pain and discomfort for individuals and have further implications for the health and well-being of the affected individual, such as retarded growth and development of pre-school children. The huge cost of managing caries has significant impact on the allocation of public health funding.

    Different management strategies have been employed to prevent caries. Behaviour based interventions to reduce individual’s exposure to caries’ risk factors such as a reduction in sugar consumption, have limited success. Public water fluoridation is a cost-effective approach to facilitate access of populations to systematic fluoride and, in turn, reduce caries.

    © samopauser / stock.adobe.com

    The effectiveness of water fluoridation is still being extensively debated globally.  First, there is contradictory evidence on its effectiveness in preventing caries and there are reported risks of adverse effects such as dental and skeletal fluorosis. There are also debates weighing up the potential health benefits in the context of ethical principles and personal liberties.  Fluoridation reduces the risk of ill health in a manner which protects the vulnerable and reduces health outcome inequality between the different socioeconomic groups. Those who oppose fluoridation do so on the grounds that it is unethical to coerce individuals to live healthy lives, and emphasises the importance of consent before any health intervention.

    Given the level of interest in public water fluoridation, the range and complexity of the public debate, and its implication for policy making, this Collection aims to bring together empirical research papers, and theoretical and conceptual analyses about water fluoridation and caries. The Collection will consider manuscripts on the following three themes:

    • Population level impact of the introduction or the cessation of water fluoridation on health
    • Barriers to the implementation of fluoridation and reasons for its cessation, including the assessment and evaluation of the attitudes and knowledge of members of the public, dental professionals and policy makers on water fluoridation
    • Ethical arguments for and against water fluoridation

    If you have any research you would like us to consider, please submit directly to BMC Oral Health stating in your cover letter that you wish to be considered for the Collection “Something in the Water”

    To view the articles already published in this Collection, please visit our website: https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/Fluoride

    Alternatively you can email your pre-submission queries to Anne Menard (anne.menard@biomedcentral.com).

    The post Call for Papers! BMC Oral Health Collection: Something in the Water – Fluoridation and Caries appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 02, 2020 01:45 PM.

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    Self-Compassion Can Protect You From Feeling Like A Burden When You Mess Things Up For Your Group

    By guest blogger Itamar Shatz

    It feels bad to know that you’ve messed up, especially when other people have to pay a price for your actions. Unfortunately, this feeling is something that most of us end up experiencing at one point or another — when we’re placed on a team with other people at school or at a job, for instance, and make a mistake that forces our team members to do more work as a result.

    However, recent research, published in Social Psychology by James Wirth at Ohio State University and his colleagues, shows that there is a trait that can reduce those negative feelings, called “self-compassion”.

    Self-compassion is composed of three components: self-kindness, which involves showing kindness to yourself, mindfulness, which involves keeping your emotions balanced, and common humanity, which involves recognising that everyone experiences challenges. Past work has shown that self-compassion can be beneficial from an emotional perspective, for example by protecting people who write about their emotional pain, and by helping people with chronic pain lead happier and more active lives.

    To see whether self-compassion could also protect people from the negative feelings that occur when they perform poorly in a way that hurts their group, the researchers conducted a series of online experiments, each with around 160 to 300 participants.

    In the first experiment, participants imagined playing a trivia game as part of a team. Some imagined that they performed as well as their team members, while others imagined that they performed poorly, and thus reduced the team’s number of correct answers.

    In the second experiment, participants actually engaged in a team task, in which they saw three words, and had to find a fourth word that linked them together. Some participants were told that they performed as well as their team members (who were actually computer agents), while others were told that they performed worse and that as a result, the team did not get enough answers correct and would have to answer more questions as a penalty.

    In both cases, when people performed (or imagined performing) poorly, they experienced more negative emotions, suffered from lower self-esteem, felt more burdensome and ostracised, and expected more exclusion from other group members.

    However, self-compassion significantly reduced these negative outcomes: participants who were high in self-compassion did not experience as many negative emotions and concerns over being a burden as those who were low in self-compassion.

    In two further experiments, the researchers attempted to untangle the effects of poor performance from those of harming one’s group. In one experiment, participants were either asked to recall a time when their poor performance harmed members of their group, or when they performed poorly but not in a way that harmed their group. In the other, participants engaged in the same word creativity task as before. This time, however, all participants were told that they performed worse than their team members, but some were told that their team would be impacted by this, while others were told that there would be no harm to their team.

    These studies showed that when their poor performance also harmed other members of their group, participants felt more negative social consequences, such as feeling burdensome. Again, self-compassion seemed to buffer against these negative effects.

    The study does have some limitations, as the researchers themselves note. For example, the experiments were conducted in an online setting, where participants did not directly experience the in-person social interaction that plays an important role in these kinds of situations. Still, it’s encouraging that most of the study’s main findings replicated across all of the individual experiments.

    Overall, these findings help explain why some people feel crushed when they make mistakes, while others manage to cope well. Furthermore, they suggest that practising self-compassion might help you cope with difficult situations where you feel you are being a burden on others. For example, if you’re part of a group project and you make a mistake, you could benefit from reminding yourself that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, and that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you do so. If you’re someone who’s not naturally self-compassionate, this may be difficult, but as the researchers note, with enough practice, it might be possible to increase your self-compassion over time.

    Feeling Like a Burden: Self-Compassion Buffers Against the Negative Effects of a Poor Performance

    Post written for BPS Research Digest by Itamar Shatz. Itamar is a PhD candidate at Cambridge University. He writes about psychology and philosophy that have practical applications at Effectiviology.com

    At Research Digest we’re proud to showcase the expertise and writing talent of our community. Click here for more about our guest posts.

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 02, 2020 11:24 AM.

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    Why COVID-19 is both startlingly unique and painfully familiar

    For Abby Knowles, a headache and fatigue was just the start.

    She soon felt like she had a tight band across her chest, making it difficult to breathe. She developed pain in her upper body, which led doctors to check if she was having a heart attack (she wasn’t). Her blood pressure began to oscillate — too low, too high — leaving her lightheaded and nauseous. Her mind became so foggy she couldn’t read a book.

    A symptom might taper off, only to return. “You’ll think, ‘Oh I’m done with that bit, brilliant,’” Knowles says, “and then three days later it will be back.” After more than three months of illness, Knowles — who is 38 and lives in Reading, England — has been referred for an evaluation for long-term complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. Meanwhile, her husband Dan, who also became sick toward the end of March, had a high fever and more typical COVID-19 symptoms for a few days but soon recovered.

    The experiences of the Knowles and many COVID-19 patients point to the ways that the coronavirus can be maddeningly unpredictable. Some people have debilitating illness, while others barely feel sick, if at all. For some, it’s mostly a respiratory illness, while others have neurological symptoms (SN: 6/12/20), such as loss of smell (SN: 5/11/20). Severely ill patients may develop life-threatening blood clots (SN: 6/23/20), adding vascular symptoms to the list. Some patients are struggling to get back to normal long after being sick.

    And the way the disease plays out by age can be baffling. Severe cases of COVID-19 have been rare among children, but some have suffered a dangerous inflammatory syndrome that can appear weeks after an infection (SN: 6/3/20). Older people remain at highest risk for hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, but young adults are getting seriously ill, too (SN: 3/19/20). That group generally tends to fare better than the very young and very old with viral infections (one glaring exception: the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed healthy, young adults at a high rate).

    In the six months since China reported a pneumonia of unknown cause, doctors have described a burgeoning catalog of health harms from what’s now called COVID-19. In some ways, the disease stands apart: The range of COVID-19’s effects and the difficulty in predicting how severely it will hit any one person is out of the ordinary. But some of the symptoms and patterns associated with COVID-19 are painfully familiar.

    Combating COVID-19 — there are now over 10.5 million confirmed cases worldwide, and more than half a million have died of the disease — will take a better understanding of how it operates at every level, from the microscopic on up. Moving from the viewpoint of a cell to a person to society, here’s a look at how COVID-19 compares to other viral infections and the harms they inflict.

    Peering at the cell

    Studying how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with the immune system has revealed some surprises along with one explanation for why COVID-19 can be a severe illness.

    During a viral infection, the infected cells put out a call to arms and a call for reinforcements, says virologist Benjamin tenOever of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. The cells release interferons, proteins that “signal to all of the neighboring cells that there’s a virus present,” he says. The cells also send out proteins called chemokines, which attract immune cells to the site of infection.

    Viruses endeavor to overcome both calls. Influenza, for example, dampens each enough to replicate and move to another host, but not so much that a person can’t eventually clear the infection. SARS-CoV-2 does something different: It slams the breaks on the call to arms but puts the gas on the call for reinforcements, tenOever says.

    In experiments with cells, animals and blood and tissue samples from COVID-19 patients, tenOever and his colleagues found low levels of interferons, which sound the call to arms. But levels of chemokines, which bring in the cavalry of immune cells, were high, the researchers report May 28 in Cell.

    “It makes no sense,” tenOever says, as the juiced up call for reinforcements “doesn’t even necessarily benefit the virus.” But it can cause big problems for patients. The excessive show of immune cell force spurs inflammation and cell death, which can stoke yet more inflammation and cell death. This severe immune reaction can damage the lungs and other organs.

    SARS-CoV-2 SEM imageThis colorized scanning electron micrograph shows a cell infected with SARS-CoV-2 (yellow), the virus that causes COVID-19. The way the virus interacts with the immune system can lead to serious problems for patients, researchers say.NIAID

    The way that SARS-CoV-2 tangles with the immune system largely sets it apart from other viruses, although SARS-CoV — the coronavirus behind the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2003 — also showed the same mismatched approach to the call to arms and call for reinforcements, tenOever says. And the Ebola virus does something a little similar, although for a different reason, he says. That virus is good at blocking the call to arms, but it damages so many cells quickly during an infection that it ends up triggering a lot of inflammation, even though it isn’t revving up the call for reinforcements.

    From person to person

    Many of the symptoms and complications associated with COVID-19 are seen with other viral infections. For example, loss of smell, called anosmia, can occur during infections with common cold-causing coronaviruses and other viruses that target the upper respiratory tract. Fatigue is common with such viral illnesses as mononucleosis, which is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. Blood clotting problems can occur in patients severely ill with certain viral infections.

    But the sheer breadth of symptoms and complications associated with this illness is unusual. With COVID-19, “we are seeing such a devastatingly wide range of effects,” says infectious disease physician Anna Person of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

    Person knows COVID-19 both as a doctor and a patient. The Sunday in late April that the avid runner became ill started like any other and included a seven-mile run. But that evening, “I just had a wave of feeling horrible,” Person says, with chills and signs of a fever. “It hit me like a sledgehammer.”

    During Person’s bout of COVID-19, she temporarily couldn’t smell or taste — coffee tasted like water, she says — and she experienced confusion and memory problems. Two months on, she’s slowly starting to feel like herself, but it’s taken longer than she expected. She has begun running again, but still battles heavy fatigue. Yet her case is considered mild because she didn’t need to be hospitalized.

    The risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 increases with age and with certain underlying conditions, but younger, healthy people are also ending up on ventilators or having strokes. What’s so unpredictable, Person says, is that “while we have studies that have told us certain risk factors for more severe disease, we’re seeing so many exceptions to that.”

    Severe illness is no stranger to other viral infections, from dengue to West Nile to measles to chickenpox and shingles (SN: 2/26/19). And with respiratory viruses such as the flu, “there’s always a subset of people who present with very severe infection,” says infectious disease specialist Preeti Malani of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Those patients can end up with acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, a deadly condition that deprives the organs of oxygen. But with COVID-19, she says, “clearly it’s a very different scale.”

    Even those who seem to pass through a SARS-CoV-2 infection without a sniffle may not come out unscathed. Researchers assessed 37 people who tested positive for the coronavirus but didn’t have symptoms in the two weeks before their test or during their isolation in the Wanzhou People’s Hospital in China. Twenty-one had abnormal features in their lungs that have been seen in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, the researchers report online June 18 in Nature Medicine.

    That leaves open the possibility that asymptomatic people, not just those with symptoms, may end up with long-term consequences. “One of the concerns is, are these people going to be left with lungs that don’t function normally?” Malani says.

    CT scan of SARS-CoV-2 patient's lungsThese chest computed tomography scans from two patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 but did not have symptoms show signs that the virus affected their lungs. The arrows point to cloudy spots and stripes, abnormal features seen in patients who have COVID-19 pneumonia.Q.-X. Long et al./Nature Medicine 2020

    Social scenarios

    There is still much to learn about why an individual person might be more or less at risk of developing complications or long-term damage from COVID-19. But there’s little question anymore that certain scenarios put a person at higher risk of getting an infection in the first place. The virus mainly spreads by respiratory droplets, generated by coughing, sneezing or talking, when people are in close contact (SN: 6/18/20).

    “Who are the people who are more likely to be in constant close contact with others, who are not able to isolate from respiratory droplets, who are not able to work from home?” says Jasmine Marcelin, an infectious disease physician at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Those “often times are minority communities.”

    The racial and ethnic disparities in terms of who has access to health care, owns a home and has a job that can be done remotely have produced stark differences in who gets sick and dies from COVID-19 (SN: 4/10/20). An analysis at the U.S. county level shows that greater social vulnerability — a measure which takes into account socioeconomic status, minority status, access to housing and transportation and other factors — is associated with a higher risk of being diagnosed with COVID-19 and a higher risk of death from the illness, researchers report online June 23 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

    Most patients hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Medical Center with COVID-19 are from communities of color, says Person. “It’s systemic racism at work.”

    This isn’t the first pandemic to disproportionately burden Black, Latino and Native American communities. For example, the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 was riskier for these Americans. And there is evidence that, even though fewer were infected, Black Americans were more likely to die from the 1918 pandemic flu than white Americans, researchers report online June 5 in Annals of Internal Medicine. “These problems have existed for centuries,” says Marcelin. Inequities “permeate every aspect of society, including health care and the way we respond to health care crises.”

    All told, COVID-19 leaves us both with déjà vu and the sense we’re blazing new territory. Certainly some of what’s so transformative about the experience is that many of us are living through a pandemic of this scale for the first time, as we face a virus our bodies have never seen before. Because the coronavirus is new, “we’re learning on the job,” Marcelin says. “That makes it a lot more scary to think about.”

    in Science News on July 02, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    An influential osteoporosis study is “likely fraudulent” — but not retracted

    Alison Avenell first came across The Yamaguchi Osteoporosis Study (YOPS) when she was working on a 2014 Cochrane Review on bone fractures. She cited the study but felt something was off about it. “I suppose, together with my collaborators over the years, we developed sort of antennae for rather suspicious looking studies,” Avenell, of the … Continue reading An influential osteoporosis study is “likely fraudulent” — but not retracted

    in Retraction watch on July 02, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Research 2030 podcast: Looking beyond lockdown — PhD student Comzit Opachaloemphan

    An international PhD student shares how he has adjusted to life under lockdown, from the essential work of caring for ants to continued learning in a paused world

    in Elsevier Connect on July 02, 2020 09:39 AM.

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    Buy Professor Seeberger’s Artemi-Tea to survive COVID-19!

    Science communication by press release. No paper is published, no data available, but a Max Planck Institute director is eager to announce a possible cure for COVID-19: artemisia extracts, by his own company.

    in For Better Science on July 02, 2020 06:43 AM.

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    A newfound exoplanet may be the exposed core of a gas giant

    A dense, scorched planet around a faraway star may be the naked core of a gas giant.

    Satellite and Earth-based telescope observations show that the newly discovered exoplanet has a radius nearly 3.5 times Earth’s and a mass about 39 times as big. Those dimensions combined point to a density roughly the same as Earth’s, suggesting that the exoplanet is mostly rock. Unlike other massive planets, this world, called TOI 849b, has a barely there atmosphere, making up 4 percent of its mass at most, a new study suggests.

    That atmosphere is “absolutely minuscule for a planet of its size,” says astronomer David Armstrong of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England. “This one is almost entirely an exposed rocky ball.”

    The planet’s large mass and near lack of an atmosphere suggest that TOI 849b may be the remnant core of a gas giant, Armstrong and colleagues report July 1 in Nature.  It might be the first exposed gas giant core ever found.  

    Using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, the team spotted TOI 849b as it passed in front of a sunlike star about 734 light-years away. Follow-up observations with the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla Observatory in Chile revealed the planet’s mass, which is more than twice that of Neptune. Combining those observations with the planet’s inferred volume showed that TOI 849b is the densest planet of its size discovered so far.

    The exoplanet whips around the star once every 18 hours, orbiting so close that its surface sizzles around 1500° Celsius. That puts it in a rare class: Most planets that lie so close to their stars are Jupiter-sized and larger, or Earth-sized and smaller. Only a handful of these “hot Neptunes” have been spotted before (SN: 7/30/19).

    In the standard theory of how planets form, any ball of rock that reaches about 10 Earth masses or more should gobble up gas insatiably from the disk of gas and dust in which it formed (SN: 5/11/18). “Beyond that mass, it’s very hard to stop it turning into a gas giant,” Armstrong says. “You get this huge infall of gas that overwhelms the formation process.”

    At 39 Earth masses, TOI 849b should have that thick atmosphere, so where is it? There are two main possibilities for the missing gas, the researchers report. One is that the planet opened a gap in the protoplanetary disk as it was forming, and so had a more meager buffet to eat from (SN: 5/20/20). That could have stalled the planet’s growth before it became a full-blown gas giant, leaving just a core.

    The other option is that TOI 849b was a gas giant but lost its atmosphere somehow. Energy from the exoplanet’s star could have heated the atmosphere enough that it blew or boiled away, or collisions with other planets could have tossed out the gas atmosphere but left the rocky core.

    It’s “a little premature” to say that TOI 849b is definitely a remnant core of a gas giant, says Elisabeth Adams, an astronomer at the Planetary Science Institute who is based in Somerville, Mass. There are still other possibilities, like rocky planets merging after most of the protoplanetary disk had dissipated.

    But if TOI 849b is a former giant, studying this planet and others like it will help astronomers learn about the centers of planets like Jupiter and other gas giants. Those cores are otherwise hard to study hidden in their thick, gassy cocoons.

    “We don’t even know how big Jupiter’s core is, and we’ve sent spacecraft to Jupiter,” says Adams, who was not involved in the work.

    The exoplanet’s thin atmosphere might be gases released from inside the planet itself. Looking at the spectrum of starlight filtering through that atmosphere with future space telescopes could reveal what the planet is made of, Adams says.

    in Science News on July 01, 2020 03:00 PM.

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    Seventy Teams of Scientists Analysed the Same Brain Data, and It Went Badly

    What the latest fMRI “crisis” means for the rest of science

    in The Spike on July 01, 2020 02:27 PM.

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    Why Do We Overestimate The Importance Of The Country We Live In?

    By Matthew Warren

    What proportion of world history is the United Kingdom responsible for? While it’s clearly hard to put an exact number on it, you might be surprised by the answers participants gave in a 2018 study: on average, Brits believed that the country has contributed a whopping 55% of the total history of the world. And they weren’t alone: participants from 34 other countries all rated their own nations as having outsized contributions, from 11% in Switzerland to 61% in Russia.

    Other work has found that people make similar claims about the regions they live in: one study found that Americans believe their own state is responsible for 18% of the nation’s history, despite just being one of 50 in the country. Now a series of studies in Memory & Cognition has looked at exactly why people make these judgements, known as “collective overclaiming”.

    In the new paper, Morgan Quinn Ross at The Ohio State University and colleagues studied the phenomenon through the lens of support theory. Simply put, this theory states that the way an event is described influences how likely we believe it is to occur. In particular, if an event is “unpacked” into its constituent parts, we generally see it as more likely. For instance, people believe that a plane crash is more likely when they think about the possible causes of plane crashes — human failure, terrorism, and so on — than when they just think about the likelihood of a plane crash in general.

    Across a series of five studies, the team examined whether a similar kind of bias could account for our tendency to overclaim the contributions of a particular region. In the first, 302 participants read about a fictitious country, Oloram, and were asked how much the territory Adivigan was responsible for the historical developments of the country. Crucially, participants either learned that there were a total of 5, 20, or 50 territories, of which Adivigan was just one, and were told to keep in mind that the total contribution of all territories should equal 100%.

    Without any other information to go on, it would seem to make sense simply to estimate the contribution of Adivigan as a proportion of the total number of territories (i.e. 20% for the 5 territory condition or 2% for the 50 territory condition). And in the 5 territory condition, participants weren’t far off: on average they estimated that Adivigan was responsible for 23% of the country’s history. But participants considerably overestimated the contribution for the 20 and 50 territory conditions (average responses were 16% and 12% respectively, while the mathematically correct responses would be 5% and 2%).

    This study showed that the extent of overclaiming increased when there were more territories. The researchers suggest that this may be because with people’s focus concentrated on Adivigan, they tend to lump all the other regions together, rather than considering them as many individual territories (i.e. they don’t “unpack” them, in the language of support theory). This means people are prone to underestimate the role of these other regions — particularly when there are more of them.

    To test this idea further, the team asked a separate set of participants to complete a similar task, except this time they all read that Oloram had 5 territories. Some participants again rated the contribution of just one region, while the others rated all five. As expected, when the participants had to “unpack” the scenario by rating all of the territories, they were spot on, rating the contribution of each as 20%. But when they rated just one of the territories, they again overestimated its contribution at 39%.

    In a later study, the team looked at whether the amount of information given to participants influenced their judgements. In the “minimal content” condition, they simply read that Adivigan was one of Oloram’s 20 territories; in the “content” condition they were given facts about the territory (e.g. that it has prominent shipping and trade industries and boasts a popular forest); and in the “detailed content” condition they read more detailed information (e.g. that it has more than 30 financial institutions and several rare tree species).

    In all conditions, participants once again overestimated Adivigan’s contributions to the history of the country. But participants who received more information overestimated these contributions the most: those in the detailed content condition rated the contribution at 36%, compared to 14% in the minimal content condition.

    Overall, the results suggest that our tendency to overclaim may at least partly be the result of cognitive biases: we overestimate the contributions of the region that is most salient to us or that we know most about — whether that is Adivigan or the UK. And while in the real world there’s probably an element of nationalism at play as well, the fact that these biases were seen even for fictitious territories suggests that that can’t be the sole explanation.

    Most importantly, the findings also suggest a way to overcome this bias: by “unpacking” all the other alternative regions, rather than considering them as one entity. So, suggest the authors, learning about the history of other countries could help reduce the “inflated perceptions” you might hold about your own nation.

    Overclaiming responsibility in fictitious countries: Unpacking the role of availability in support theory predictions of overclaiming

    Matthew Warren (@MattBWarren) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 01, 2020 01:47 PM.

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    4 ways to put the 100-degree Arctic heat record in context

    On June 20, a remote Siberian town called Verkhoyansk logged a temperature of 38° Celsius (100.4° Fahrenheit), likely setting a new high-temperature record for the Arctic Circle (SN: 6/23/20).

    But that new record didn’t occur in a vacuum: It’s part of a long-term trend of historically hot temperatures in Siberia linked to climate change, and a larger, even more worrisome trend of amplified warming over the last few decades throughout the Arctic region. Here are four things to know about this new Arctic record.

    Siberia has been sweltering under months of unprecedented warmth.

    Globally, May 2020 was the hottest May on record, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. Much of that record-breaking heat is the result of warming in Siberia, where May temperatures were as much as 10 degrees C higher than average, says climate scientist Martin Stendel of the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen.

    This extreme event in Siberia would not have happened without human-caused climate change, Stendel says. “If we assume for a moment that we don’t have any climate change,” there is a 1 in 100,000 chance of such a hot May in the region, he says. “It’s virtually impossible.”

    In fact, Stendel says, Siberian temperatures during the entire six-month period from December 2019 through May 2020 were also “quite extraordinary.” These temperatures were the warmest on record going back to 1979, and likely unprecedented within the last 140 years, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

    This particular high temperature probably isn’t unique within the rapidly warming Arctic.

    “We don’t have a whole lot of stations [in the region],” says Randall Cerveny, a meteorologist at Arizona State University in Tempe. “There are large portions that we are not monitoring. It is possible that there are higher temperatures in places [where] we don’t have instruments.”

    Still, officially noting this record is a way to mark a more symbolic milestone for the whole region. The World Meteorological Organization, which archives global records of weather extremes, hasn’t previously maintained a category of extremes specifically for the Arctic. The addition of this temperature record, which still needs to be verified, would also mean creating such a dedicated category.

    The time is right for such a category, Cerveny says, because climate change is warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the planet. “Given that the Arctic is one of our more climatically sensitive regions, it’s pretty important.”

    Verifying this record and creating this category isn’t a swift process; it could take months to a couple of years, adds Cerveny, who researches and confirms global weather records for the WMO. Creating such an Arctic temperature category involves not only the approval of WMO officials, but also amassing and verifying data from the eight different countries with territory within the Arctic Circle. Even so, he says, “Everybody at different levels seems amenable to doing it.”

    As for the temperature record itself, scientists must first collect the data from the Verkhoyansk station while also ensuring that it was collected according to WMO standardized procedures. Then, an international panel of scientists will examine it. These processes may be even further delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Cerveny says.

    Loss of ice is creating a positive warming feedback.

    Accelerated warming within the Arctic region, known as Arctic amplification, is due to “positive feedback” effects that act to enhance the warming already underway.

    The largest of these warming feedback effects is the loss of ice cover, both on land and in the ocean, Stendel says. Bright snow and ice reflect much of the incoming radiation from the sun. But the rocks or water beneath them are much darker and absorb more of the sun’s heat instead of reflecting it back into space.

    As melting leaves more and more rocks and water exposed, more solar radiation gets absorbed within the region, causing temperatures to rise. “It’s a kind of vicious circle,” Stendel says.

    The Siberian heat, and thawing permafrost, may be linked to a recent oil spill.

    May is usually a winter month above the Arctic Circle, Stendel says. But with warm temperatures in Siberia lasting through the winter and spring of 2020, snow cover disappeared much earlier than it would have otherwise. And with the snow gone, the land is free to absorb more heat from the sun.

    The frozen soil of the Arctic Circle is called permafrost. Normally, the top meter or so of the permafrost, called the “active layer,” actually thaws in summer. But with temperatures so warm, that mushy, thawing layer extends deeper, making the ground surface more unstable.

    That’s of concern for buildings and facilities drilled into the permafrost, Stendel says. The instability may be responsible for an oil spill May 29 near the Russian city of Norilsk, which leaked about 21,000 metric tons of oil into the Ambarnaya River, polluting an area spanning about 180,000 square meters.

    With melting snow vanishing earlier in the spring, the ground can also dry out earlier and more thoroughly than it otherwise would. The combination of extra heat and drier ground is “also an explanation for the many fires we have observed” in the Arctic, Stendel says.

    in Science News on July 01, 2020 12:00 PM.

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    The U.S. largely wasted time bought by COVID-19 lockdowns. Now what?

    From March to May, much of the United States pressed pause. In the face of a new, highly transmissible coronavirus, widespread lockdowns and social distancing were the only tools available to prevent an overwhelming surge in infections and deaths that threatened to overwhelm healthcare systems.

    The strategy largely worked to keep most hospitals functioning. The heavy toll after six months — over 125,000 dead from COVID-19 and more than 2 million Americans infected — almost certainly would have been worse without lockdowns.

    But these interrupted months were also supposed to buy time for public health authorities to ready other tools, namely widespread testing and contact tracing, to enable a gradual reopening as we wait for a vaccine (SN: 4/29/20).

    Now, many experts worry that the United States has largely squandered the time bought by millions of Americans who stayed home, often at significant personal and financial cost. Despite some progress, especially in testing, most of the country’s local health departments still don’t have the workforce or the infrastructure needed to safely relax social distancing.

    Yet most states are forging ahead with reopening anyway. Those that reopened quickly, like Florida and Texas, have already reversed course, reimposing some restrictions in an effort to slow a surge in cases now building across much of the South and West.  

    Where things stand

    Many have worried about a “second wave” of COVID-19, perhaps in the fall. But the truth is that we’re still in the middle of the first wave, even as infections have fallen in many other countries initially hit hard by the virus.

    Early hot spots like New York City have cooled off, but that decrease in new cases is offset by a surge in states like Texas, Arizona, California and Florida. The resulting plateau in nationwide cases since May has been ticking upward in recent weeks. On June 26, over 45,000 new cases were reported in the United States, surpassing the previous record set two months earlier.

    This increase can’t be blamed solely on more testing. Testing capacity has more than doubled in two months to an average 570,000 tests per day from June 23 to June 29. But the percentage of positive results has gone up in some states, indicating that the virus is in fact spreading. Before its stay-at-home orders were lifted May 15, Arizona’s positive test rate was below 5 percent. Since then, it’s climbed, and averaged above 20 percent since mid-June. On June 26, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data suggesting that the true number of infections is likely 10 times higher than testing shows. The total number of hospitalizations in Arizona and Texas has risen, too.

    “We’re starting to see the epidemiological impact of releasing social distancing measures without necessarily having other control measures in place around the country,” says Crystal Watson, a public health preparedness expert at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. 

    One such measure is contact tracing, which involves local public health officials identifying who a sick person has come in contact with and supporting those who might have been exposed as they self-quarantine to break the transmission chains of the virus (SN: 4/29/20).

    But to succeed at tracing, a community must have enough contact tracers to call each new case and investigate that person’s contacts, which takes time and resources. Otherwise, a growing tide of new cases can quickly overwhelm a contact tracing system, leading to an uncontrolled epidemic.

    In April, Watson and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, or ASTHO, estimated that 100,000 additional contact tracers would need to be trained and deployed nationwide to effectively control the spread of COVID-19 and allow for a safe reopening. “We aren’t close to that number yet,” Watson says.

    Currently 37,110 U.S. contact tracers are working on COVID-19, according to a June 18 survey by NPR, which Watson cites as the most up-to-date information. Only seven states and the District of Columbia have a workforce large enough to deal with their current case counts. “Many locations have increased their contact tracing capacity by orders of magnitude in a few months, which is fantastic,” Watson says, “but we still have a long way to go.”

    A decentralized, underfunded system

    This slow and uneven response stems in part from the decentralized structure of U.S. public health departments. There is no national public health system. Instead, each state, territory or tribal authority runs its own, with varying levels of coordination among counties. “The system has its pros and cons,” says Marcus Plescia, ASTHO’s chief medical officer.

    This distributed system allows communities to tailor services to the needs of those they serve, which makes sense since the public health needs of Atlanta, for instance, are very different than those of Lander, Wyo. But it can be difficult to coordinate quick action across the country in response to a threat like COVID-19.

    In a more centralized system “there could be opportunities to move faster, but we’re not going to be able to change the system in the middle of a pandemic. We have to work with what we’ve got,” Plescia says.

    Public health nurse standing at and pointing at a white boardSalt Lake County Health Department public health nurse Lee Cherie Booth points to a board showing a hypothetical COVID-19 case as part of training new contact tracers on Monday, May 11. Contact tracers work to quickly identify and call all possible contacts of a newly confirmed case to instruct them how to self-quarantine.AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

    Local health departments know how to do contact tracing; most have been doing it for diseases like tuberculosis and HIV for years. But that local infrastructure hasn’t been well funded or prioritized in many communities,” says Candice Chen, a health policy expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  Federal funding for public health preparedness has fallen 28 percent since 2005, according to the Johns Hopkins and ASTHO report, and 50,000 workers have been lost since 2008, leaving many small, under-resourced teams largely unable to deal with a crisis as large as the pandemic. 

    The CDC offers some guidance to local health departments on how to boost contact tracing. And as of late April, states can apply through the CDC for federal funding that’s available through the CARES Act, a federal COVID-19 relief package signed into law March 27. But in the absence of a robust and coordinated federal plan, departments have had to figure out on their own how to boost their contact tracing capacity. Some have managed better than others.

    Success story

    Anne Arundel County, on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, has fared well. In March, early in the pandemic, a team of seven nurses in the county’s epidemiology department was able to handle COVID-19 contact tracing for the county of over 500,000 people, alongside its normal workload, says Jennifer Schneider, the county’s deputy director of disease prevention and management. But when cases kept climbing, “the whole department changed direction,” she says. 

    Nurses from other programs were diverted to the contact tracing team. Then, when schools closed, the health department reassigned school nurses, who are employees of the county’s health department, to be contact tracers.

    “We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing now without our school nurses,” whose skills allowed them to quickly pick up the work, Schneider says. 

    Teams of about eight work in shifts to talk through self-isolation with new positive cases. Then the nurses track down and notify the person’s contacts who’ve potentially been exposed to the virus and instruct them how to quarantine. That can often mean more than just a phone call.

    “If someone needs food or rental assistance, we’ll work to connect them with the relevant resources,” Schneider says. The department even provides thermometers, following up with cases and contacts each day to ask about their temperature and symptoms.

    At peak demand, the county employed 101 contact tracers and was “able to manage the workload well,” Schneider says. So far, Anne Arundel County has seen over 5,000 confirmed COVID cases, but numbers have been falling in recent weeks. Staff diverted to tracing have started resuming their normal work. 

    With fall fast approaching, department officials are already planning how to expand the contact tracing workforce in the event of another surge, especially if nurses are back in schools. The officials have applied for federal funding to hire more contact tracers to supplement existing staff.

    “Anne Arundel County is a case study of strong local health department leadership who knows what they’ve got in their system and can train them for contact tracing,” says Chen. 

    Unfortunately, such success stories are the exception. Maryland is one of 37 states that don’t have enough contact tracers or reserve staff to meet current caseloads, per NPR’s estimate, much less a future spike. Officials in Bellingham, Wash., for example, are already reporting that a recent surge in cases has exceeded their capacity; cases are falling through the cracks.

    Where do we go from here?

    No one can know what the next six months will bring, but many epidemiologists are worried that the patchwork system in place won’t be able to contain the virus as communities reopen, especially once fall arrives. While it’s not too late to continue building up contact tracing systems, much damage has already been done.

    “We already have major outbreaks going on, and I think the main driver behind this rise is apathy towards the virus,” says Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University. “People are sick of social distancing, and understandably so.”

    Mina worries that the politicization of the pandemic, and of effective measures like mask-wearing, will further feed the virus’ spread (SN: 6/26/20). “My fear is that come the fall, we’re going to have uncontrolled epidemics that explode and overwhelm health systems.”

    Bar sign that says "Closed Again :("A sign outside the West Alabama Icehouse shows the bar is closed Monday, June 29, 2020, in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shut down bars again and scaled back restaurant dining as new COVID-19 cases climbed to record levels after the state embarked on one of America’s fastest reopenings.AP Photo/David J. Phillip

    Some states, like Oregon and Louisiana, have paused reopening in the face of climbing cases. If ICUs fill up and doctors have to triage healthcare, “places without adequate control systems may have to revert back to something more stringent,” such as shutting some businesses down or reinstating stay-at-home orders, says Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Texas, for instance, recently re-shuttered bars and limited restaurant seating capacity.“Nobody wants that, but we may not have a choice, and the lost time that could’ve been used to build up these systems will become really apparent,” she says.

    States could also tighten requirements for measures such as social distancing and mask use, which are now voluntary across much of the U.S. patchwork. It’s already mandatory to wear masks in public places in California, New York, Michigan and a growing list of other states.

    In light of the spottiness of contact tracing and an inadequate federal response, limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the United States in the months ahead may rest largely on the shoulders of individuals. “We’re waiting around for something to save us, but there’s no silver bullet,” Dean says. “We know things that work; we know how to limit transmission on the individual level.” Wearing masks and practicing social distancing will save lives, as long as people collectively keep up those practices.

    in Science News on July 01, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Coming up short: Journal retracts penis enlargement paper after realizing it was homeopathy

    Over the objection of all of the authors, a journal has retracted an article on a homeopathic approach to penis enlargement and virility after deciding that the putative remedy wasn’t potent enough for the task at hand.  The paper, “Effects of chronic treatment with the eNOS stimulator Impaza on penis length and sexual behaviors in … Continue reading Coming up short: Journal retracts penis enlargement paper after realizing it was homeopathy

    in Retraction watch on July 01, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    NWO announces implementation guidelines for Plan S

    Plan S – an initiative of European research funders to accelerate the transition to open access – will apply to all new NWO [Dutch Research Council] calls published as of 1 January 2021. To give researchers sufficient time to prepare, NWO is already announcing how it will implement the guidelines for Plan S in its grant rules.

    in Open Access Tracking Project: news on July 01, 2020 08:19 AM.

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    Traces of Fear in Aphantasia

    When reading a vivid story that describes a shark attack, do you imagine yourself in the ocean, seeing the dorsal fin approach you?
    “...sun glints off the waves / suddenly a dark flash / in the distant waves / maybe it was a shadow / you turn to the beach / more people are pointing / they look anxious / looking back out to sea / a large fin / slices the surface / moving closer...”

    Or is your “mind's eye” — your visual mental imagery of the evocative scene ⁠— essentially a blank?

    early warning: picture of snake below

    One's subjective internal life of thinking, perceiving, imagining, and remembering belongs to oneself and nobody else. [Brain scanning is still not a mind reader.] An increasing number of media reports (and scientific studies) have shined a light on this fact: the mental life of one person differs from that of another, sometimes in startling ways. It's always been that way, but now it's out in the open.

    The cat is out of the bag.

    When reading that sentence, did you have a fleeting mental picture in your mind's eye? Maybe it was clear, maybe it was hazy. Or maybe you saw no visual image at all... if that was the case, you might have a condition known as Aphantasia, the inability to voluntarily generate mental imagery. This is a normal variant of human experience, albeit an uncommon one.

    What are the “consequences” of having Aphantasia? You may be more likely to choose a scientific or mathematical occupation, although artists and photographers with Aphantasia certainly exist. Aphantasia is often associated with poor autobiographical memory (diminished ability to recall the past episodes of your life).

    Does Aphantasia affect your emotional reactions to ordinary experiences like looking at pictures or reading a story? If visual imagery is important for having an affective response to the shark story, would people with Aphantasia show physiological (bodily) signs of emotion while reading? Wicken and colleagues (2019) asked this question by comparing the skin conductance response (sweaty palms) evoked by reading vs. looking at pictures. This was a pilot study reported in a preprint (not yet peer reviewed).

    If visual imagery is necessary for an affective response to evocative stories, then A-Phantasics should have diminished (or absent) skin conductance responses (SCRs) compared to Typical-Phantasics. In contrast, SCRs to unpleasant pictures should not differ between the two groups, because the picture-viewing experience doesn't require imagery. However, it's still possible that imagery-based elaboration (or verbal elaboration, for that matter) could amplify the SCR, especially since each picture was presented for 5 seconds.

    For the reading condition, stories were presented as sequential short phrases (to match reading speed across subjects). The control conditions weren't well-matched, unfortunately. This was especially true for Stories, where reading the task instructions served as the neutral comparison condition (instead of reading a neutral story).


    The participants were 24 individuals with intact imagery (based on the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire and binocular rivalry priming1 scores within the typical range) and 22 self-identified Aphantasics (who were older, on average, than the control participants).2 For the Aphantasia group, seven (out of the original 29) were excluded because their VVIQ or priming scores exceeded the cut-off.


    For the Pictures (Perception) condition, the physiological response to Unpleasant vs. Neutral stimuli was not significantly different for the two groups. Incidentally speaking, the skin conductance level (SCL = SCR) was quite variable, as shown in the shaded portion of the graph below.

    Adapted from Fig. 1D (Wicken et al., 2019).  Left: Aggregated progressions of baseline-corrected SCL across the duration of the frightening photos sequence (sampled as average across 5 sec time bins). Right: Mean and standard error across time bins.

    The Stories were another story... For the Stories (Imagery) condition, the Aphantasic group did not show an elevated SCL for the scary stories, unlike the controls.

    Adapted from Fig. 1B (Wicken et al., 2019).

    Or as the authors suggested, “[Aphantasia] is associated with a flat-line physiological response to frightening written, but not perceptual scenarios, supporting imagery’s critical role in emotion.”

    I'd say “flat-line” is a little judgy, with the semantic implication that the Aphantasics were dead or something.

    I'd like to see subjective ratings of emotion (affect and arousal) for the Pictures and Stories, especially since the primary means of identifying people with Aphantasia is based on subjective report. Nonetheless, this is an intriguing finding, with additional evidence forthcoming (or so I imagine)...


    1 See: Is there an objective test for Aphantasia? Binocular rivalry priming can be a useful “objective” measure of aphantasia (Keogh & Pearson, 2018), but it's not necessarily diagnostic at an individual level.

    2 Mean age = 33.7 yrs for Aphantasia, mean = 23.0 for controls. I don't know why they didn't recruit age-matched controls from the community, other than the convenience of recruiting university students.


    Wicken M, Keogh R, Pearson J. (2019). The critical role of mental imagery in human emotion: insights from Aphantasia. bioRxiv. 2019 Jan 1:726844.

    in The Neurocritic on July 01, 2020 05:19 AM.

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    The Strange Case of the Homeopathic Sex Enhancer

    A retracted paper points to a strange story of homeopathy rebranded.

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on June 30, 2020 08:00 PM.

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    Five questions about PTSD

    Post-traumatic stress disorder is an often discussed, and often misunderstood, mental health condition, that affects up to 7% of adults during their lifetimeHere we answer five questions related to misconceptions that often prevent people from seeking care. 

    1. Is PTSD a veteran disease? 

    While a significant minority of veterans suffer from PTSD, this disorder can impact anyone who has experienced life-threatening trauma. Approximately 70% of people will experience a potentially traumatic event. Sexual assault, natural disasters, serious and traumatic illness, physical attack, etc. are all experiences that can become the stuck memories of PTSD. Trauma survivors with PTSD are haunted by these experiences, impacting everything from sleep to relationships.  

    2. Are people with PTSD violent? 

    Traumatic experiences sometimes include exposure to physical violence and many trauma survivors have histories that include violence even if their target trauma does not. Sadly, violence is much too common.  Most people with PTSD are not violent. Most people with PTSD do not have problems with aggression or violence. When PTSD happens with alcohol or substance misuse, the risk for violence increases.

    3. Can PTSD only be managed but not really treated?

    Effective treatments for PTSD exist and include psychotherapy as well as medication. While these options do not work for all people suffering with PTSD, most people will see reduction in symptoms, and many will even see remission of PTSD over time. 

    4.  If someone has mental health problems after a trauma, is it always PTSD? 

    PTSD is just one possible mental health problem that can occur following trauma. Since PTSD involves being haunted by a trauma memory, it is easily connected to a traumatic event. However, studies following people after exposure to trauma show that for some people trauma may result in other issues, such as depression, panic disorder, substance abuse, or even obsessive-compulsive disorder. Good assessment beyond just trauma exposure is necessary to provide the best insight into diagnosis and treatment of trauma survivors.

    5. Is it all in your head?

    PTSD can feel like it is all in your head with the intrusive memories, feeling that you cannot connect to others, and sense of feeling out of control. The impact of PTSD goes beyond just your brain and includes changes in how your body reacts to stress and other normal processes. These changes can even result in weight gain and cardiovascular problems

    Misunderstanding PTSD and its causes contributes to many people never seeking care or dropping out of care before they have had a chance to experience the benefits. In getting the word out about PTSD and the good news that there are effective treatment options, we hope that more people will seek care and experience taking their lives back from PTSD.

    Feature image: Silhouette by Isai Ramos via Unsplash.

    The post Five questions about PTSD appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on June 30, 2020 12:30 PM.

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    What does the pandemic mean for research in biodiversity conservation?

    As with many areas of research, conservation has been hit by COVID-19 restrictions – but it also offers unique opportunities

    in Elsevier Connect on June 30, 2020 12:08 PM.

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    An asteroid’s moon got a name so NASA can bump it off its course

    Newly christened “Dimorphos” is a tiny space rock with a big target on its back.

    The International Astronomical Union gave the rock an official name on June 23 for a unique reason: It has been marked for the first-ever asteroid deflection mission. A NASA spacecraft will ram into Dimorphos — on purpose — to alter its path through space. Although Dimorphos is not at risk of striking Earth, its nearness to the planet makes it a prime testing ground for a technique to ward off dangerous asteroids in the future (SN: 5/2/17). 

    Dimorphos is a moonlet asteroid that orbits a larger asteroid known as Didymos. Until now, the moonlet has gone by cute nicknames only, like “Didymoon,” or the ugly designation “S/2003 (65803) 1.” Its new moniker, Dimorphos, is Greek for “having two forms,” in honor of the two different trajectories it will have before and after the spacecraft knocks it askew. At just 160 meters across, about the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, Dimorphos is one of the smallest objects to earn an official name from the IAU. 

    NASA will launch the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, spacecraft in July 2021 to crash-land on Dimorphos in September 2022, about 11 million kilometers from Earth (SN: 8/23/19). The collision should nudge Dimorphos into a tighter orbit around Didymos — a change that’s much easier to measure than knocking a solo asteroid into a slightly different orbit around the sun, says Kleomenis Tsiganis, a planetary scientist at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, who is working on the DART mission and suggested the name Dimorphos.

    Dimorphos currently orbits Didymos once every 12 hours. By hitting it with DART, “you’re actually changing the orbital period enough — by, say, 10 minutes or 20 minutes — which could be observed even from the ground,” Tsiganis says. Telescopes on Earth will track the immediate aftermath of the crash, and the European Space Agency will send its Hera probe to Dimorphos in 2024 to ensure that the moonlet asteroid is following its new intended path. 

    in Science News on June 30, 2020 12:00 PM.

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    Here’s How Our Personality Changes As We Age

    By Emma Young

    The once popular idea that our personality becomes “set like plaster” by the age of 30 has been refuted by studies showing that we do change —  and can even purposefully change ourselves. Many studies have identified shifts in Big Five traits across the lifespan. However, the often inconsistent results have made for ongoing controversy about how personality typically changes with age.

    Now a new analysis of data from 16 longitudinal studies, with a total sample of more than 60,000 people from various countries, reveals some important insights. The work, published by Eileen Graham at Northwestern University, Chicago, and her colleagues in the European Journal of Personality Research, suggests that there are indeed some clear patterns of change through middle age and into older age for at least four of those five traits.

    For all the studies included in the analysis (from the US, the Netherlands, Sweden, Scotland  and Germany), participants had completed an assessment of at least a subset of the Big Five traits (extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and conscientiousness) on at least three separate occasions.

    The researchers then compared the results, to consider the balance of evidence for the extent and direction of personality change over time. The way they did this was important. The team used a “coordinated integrative data analysis”, which allowed them to look for patterns in findings, but as the data was not pooled, they could also identify variations between different studies, and explore possible reasons for differences in results. They also looked for any links between personality changes and the participant’s sex and age group (under or over 60 years old) at the time of their first assessment.

    The findings from the various studies were not all in agreement with each other. However, the team found fairly consistent evidence for some clear patterns of change for all of the traits, except agreeableness.

    Both extraversion and conscientiousness showed a fairly steady pattern of decline with time. For conscientiousness, this decline was clearest among participants who were over 60 when they took the first personality test. This finding is consistent with several theories about personality change with age, the authors note, including the idea that for younger and middle-aged people, it’s advantageous to exhibit pro-social traits like extraversion and conscientiousness, but as social demands begin to wane in older age, so might these traits. Indeed, the team also found that openness, another prosocial trait, was stable through middle adulthood, before decreasing in older age.

    Neuroticism showed a different, U-shaped pattern. Overall, the data suggests that neuroticism decreases through most of adulthood, then increases again in older age. This is consistent with the idea that in old age, we tend to become anxious about terminal illnesses and death.

    The team found that sex was not relevant, except for neuroticism: females had slightly steeper declines through middle adulthood than males.

    Nearly all of the samples also revealed some individual differences in changes for all five personality traits — so, though there were these overall trends in changes, not everyone in each sample, or across the samples, changed at the same rate, or even in the same direction.

    More work is now needed to understand why. As the researchers write, “people change differently on different traits, personality is not stable for everyone across the lifespan (but is for some people), and accounting for or explaining these changes is difficult.”

    More generally, though, the team would like to see more psychology studies using this approach. By not merging the individual data sets, this type of meta-analysis can not only help to clarify the picture of results in a given field, but also preserve the differences between studies, which could help with the increasingly popular exploration of differences — as well as similarities — between people.

    Trajectories of Big Five Personality Traits: A Coordinated Analysis of 16 Longitudinal Samples

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 30, 2020 11:50 AM.

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    LGBTQ2S+ People as a Disadvantaged Group in Healthcare

    Pride parade

    Pride Month is celebrated around the world in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. Pride is both a celebration and a protest and encourages acceptance, solidarity, and visibility of LGBTQ2S+ people and their rights, including their right to healthcare.

    Compared to the general population, it is well documented internationally that LGBTQ2S+ people experience poorer health outcomes, both psychologically and physically. These poorer health outcomes are a consequence of healthcare disparities. That is, LGBTQ2S+ individuals face unequal burdens in healthcare which increases the incidence, or prevalence, of poorer health outcomes.

    This is a vicious circle that continues due to the lack of attention on the poorer health outcomes and underserved healthcare needs that LGBTQ2S+ people experience.

    In healthcare settings, LGBTQ2S+ people are more likely to not receive appropriate healthcare and experience discrimination and harassment. Barriers to accessing healthcare bring harmful experiences for LGBTQ2S+ people. These experiences can have detrimental effects, including decreasing the likelihood of seeking healthcare in the future, consequently leading to poorer health outcomes. This is a vicious circle that continues due to the lack of attention on the poorer health outcomes and underserved healthcare needs that LGBTQ2S+ people experience.

    What are some of the common barriers in LGBTQ2S+ healthcare?


    There are multiple unsolved barriers for LGBTQ2S+ people to access healthcare and here we touch on some examples. It is especially important to acknowledge that these barriers can be further exacerbated by a number of factors, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, where, as an example, transgender people have been found to face unprecedented and enlarged healthcare disparities.

    Firstly, there are limited numbers of healthcare staff trained to deliver healthcare that recognizes the needs of the LGBTQ2S+ people. Considering the risks of facing discrimination, LGBTQ2S+ people could hesitate to disclose information such as sexual orientation and how they identity to healthcare staff. This makes it difficult for healthcare personnel to appreciate the specific needs of the patient and to provide the most appropriate and holistic care.

    Secondly, The LGBTQ2S+ community continues to face severe inequalities in their access and provision of care, which is closely linked to governmental policy. Most recently, the revised US Affordable Care Act has narrowed the definition of sex discrimination to the extent that it omits protections for transgender people in the US.

    Thirdly, LGBTQ2S+ people can also experience discrimination and harassment in the workplace. LGBTQ2S+ people are more likely to have a lower income, which can be a financial pressure and barrier to LGBTQ2S+ people accessing and using health services.

    How can we remove the barriers in the future?

    Removing Barriers

    Researchers have previously presented an LGBTQ2S+ Health Equity Promotion Model, guiding LGBTQ2S+ people to consider both positive and negative health-related circumstances to reach full psychological and physical health potentials. But more research and work is needed to involve LGBTQ2S+ people in guiding the research agenda to promote the recognition of specific healthcare needs, whilst respecting the differences amongst the community.

    Significant efforts need to be made to reduce health disparities and remove barriers to healthcare. Society should work together to promote healthcare equity, address and prevent LGBTQ2S+ poorer health outcomes, support LGBTQ2S+ people to access safe and inclusive healthcare, and work to eliminate healthcare disparities. It is essential to translate negative research findings in this context into reformative and progressive practices.

    The post LGBTQ2S+ People as a Disadvantaged Group in Healthcare appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 30, 2020 11:30 AM.

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    Here’s what we’ve learned in six months of COVID-19 — and what we still don’t know

    Just six months ago, the World Health Organization got a troubling report from Chinese health officials. A mystery pneumonia had sickened dozens of people in Wuhan. That virus, which had crossed from an unknown animal host to humans, has now upended lives worldwide with head-spinning speed.

    Although virologists had long warned of the pandemic potential of some coronaviruses circulating in bats in China, the virus launched a shock-and-awe attack that researchers and public health workers are still scrambling to understand and control (SN: 11/30/17). That attack has upset everything from day-to-day life to entire economies, and turned the routine — going to school, popping into a restaurant, hanging out with friends — risky. The world today is a far different place than when the first reports of an odd pneumonia in Wuhan, China, made the news.

    Now countries have begun to reopen, with fingers crossed that they have a handle on the virus, called SARS-CoV-2. Many are quickly learning that they can’t let down their guard. Officials in Beijing, for instance, reinstated a limited lockdown June 13 in the area around Xinfandi market in response to a cluster of COVID-19 cases. And after New Zealand eradicated the virus and lifted restrictions on June 8, officials confirmed two new cases on June 15 in infected travelers from the United Kingdom.

    Other countries never got their outbreaks under enough control in the first place. For instance, while the increase in COVID-19 cases in parts of the United States has ebbed, the number of infections in other places largely spared in the spring, including Texas, Florida and Arizona, is now spiking.

    With unprecedented efforts to study the virus and its impacts, scientists have learned an extraordinary amount in an extraordinarily short period of time and overturned some early assumptions. In the beginning, public health officials made recommendations on how the virus might behave and how best to protect oneself from it based on past experiences with two of the pathogen’s close relatives — severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or SARS-CoV, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV. But some of those initial assumptions turned out to be wrong, and there’s still much that researchers need to figure out. 

    What a difference six months makes

    Here is a look at how scientists’ understanding of the virus has evolved in the six months since its discovery. 


    In the first days of the pandemic, Chinese officials reported that the new coronavirus doesn’t easily transmit from person to person. 


    By January 20, it became clear that the virus can be passed from one human to another, even before symptoms appear, unlike SARS and MERS. People who never display symptoms can also pass the new virus to others. 


    Coronaviruses like SARS and MERS tend to infect deep in the lungs, so the new coronavirus is probably spread mainly by people with symptoms, such as a cough, or during such medical procedures as being intubated.


    In addition to lung cells, SARS-CoV-2 can also infect cells in the nose, which may explain how people can transmit it to others before feeling sick. Talking or breathing may be enough to spread the virus.


    The earliest signs of illness include fever, shortness of breath or cough, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed in January.


    A wider range of symptoms, including fatigue, diarrhea and body aches, can suggest a person has COVID-19. One of the clearest signs may be loss of smell and taste.


    Older people above age 65 are at highest risk for developing severe disease.


    Age is still a risk factor for severe symptoms, but underlying conditions like high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes also boost risk. Racial disparities have also come to light. In the United States, Black, Indigenous and Hispanic people are getting infected or dying at higher rates than white people.


    Children are largely spared from the disease.


    This is still true relative to other age groups, though researchers aren’t sure why. But low risk doesn’t mean no risk. Some children can develop a dangerous inflammatory condition linked to COVID-19.


    An infected person will transmit the virus to two or three other people, on average.


    With social distancing and contact tracing, many places, including China, South Korea and New Zealand, have brought the infection rate from two to three down to below one. But in certain regions, including India, Latin America and parts of the United States, people may still be passing the virus on to more than one other person. And without stringent public health measures in place, large gatherings have led to clusters of infections.


    Of people who test positive for the virus, around 4 percent die. 


    Death rates vary due to in part to differences in testing among countries. (For example, if only people with severe disease get tested that might inflate the case fatality rate.) Pinpointing a global rate won’t be clear until the end of the pandemic. But antibody testing has allowed scientists to estimate that the infection fatality rate — a measure that includes people who were not tested, perhaps because they had mild or no symptoms — may be around 0.6 percent in some places.


    Only sick people should wear masks, according to guidance from WHO and the CDC.


    With data showing asymptomatic people can spread the virus, both agencies now recommend that all people wear masks in public. The effectiveness of fabric masks was in question early on, but studies now suggest that these masks can help curb transmission of the virus — if most people wear them.


    There are no treatments for infected people and no vaccines to curb the virus’ spread. 


    After a rapid push to test existing drugs against the new coronavirus, some have shown promise, while others fell out of the running. Remdesivir may speed recovery in sick patients. Dexamethasone may reduce the risk of death. The malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have shown no benefit for infected people. More than 150 coronavirus vaccines are in development, with 20 in clinical trials in people. 

    So what don’t we know yet?

    Six months is an incredibly short time to have learned as much as researchers have about a new virus. But there’s still much to learn. Some questions simply take time to answer. 

    For example, it’s still unclear why the new virus is so much more contagious than its SARS and MERS relatives — each of which have infected fewer than 10,000 people. It’s also unknown how often asymptomatic people spread the virus (SN: 6/9/20).

    Some scientists continue to probe how the virus gets in and out of cells and what types of cells it can infect, from lung cells to those in the intestine. Others are on the hunt for what animal the virus jumped into people from, which can help scientists understand how the virus made the jump and guide policies to monitor those animals for related coronaviruses.

    In terms of the disease itself, researchers still don’t know how many virus particles a person must be exposed to in order to get sick, or why some people become severely ill and others don’t. Some patients — even those with milder symptoms — may still have long-term health problems after they recover (SN: 4/27/20). And although people who recover appear to make antibodies that protect against a reinfection with the virus, only time will tell how long that immune protection might last. Answers to these and other questions are crucial to those planning how to safely reopen businesses and schools.

    One thing scientists do know is that the coronavirus isn’t going away any time soon, if ever. It will take herd immunity, when at least two-thirds of a population has immunity against the virus either because they have been infected or there is a vaccine, to finally begin to curb the pandemic. Both of those goalposts are still far off for now, though some have said there could be a vaccine by the end of the year. As we head into the next six months, researchers will keep learning new things about the virus as quickly as possible. And so the sprint becomes a marathon.

    Tina Hesman Saey contributed to this story.

    in Science News on June 30, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    A two-year drama: The anatomy of a retraction request

    For more than a decade, I have been working with colleagues to request retractions from editors and publishers for plagiarizing articles, mostly in my discipline of philosophy and related fields. But almost two years ago I requested a retraction from a seismology journal. Since I have no training in the science of earthquakes, how did … Continue reading A two-year drama: The anatomy of a retraction request

    in Retraction watch on June 30, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Here’s how flying snakes stay aloft

    The movie Snakes on a Plane had it wrong. That’s not how snakes fly.

    Certain species of tree snakes can glide through the air, undulating their bodies as they soar from tree to tree. That wriggling isn’t an attempt to replicate how the reptiles slither across land or swim through water. The contortions are essential for stable gliding, mechanical engineer Isaac Yeaton and colleagues report June 29 in Nature Physics.

    “They have evolved this ability to glide, and it’s pretty spectacular,” says Yeaton, of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. Paradise tree snakes (Chrysopelea paradisi) fling themselves from branches, leaping distances of 10 meters or more (SN: 8/7/02). To record the snakes’ twists and turns, Yeaton, then at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and colleagues affixed reflective tape on the snakes’ backs and used high-speed cameras to capture the motion.

    Physicists had previously discovered that the tree snakes flatten their bodies as they leap, generating lift (SN: 1/29/14). The new experiment reveals that the snakes also exert a complex combination of movements as they soar. Gliding snakes undulate their bodies both side to side and up and down, the researchers found, and move their tails above and below the level of their heads.

    Scientists captured the undulating motion of paradise tree snakes as they glide through the sky. A computer simulation based on high-speed video shows that the undulation is necessary for stable flight.

    Once the researchers had mapped out the snakes’ acrobatics, they created a computer simulation of gliding snakes. In the simulation, snakes that undulated flew similarly to the real-life snakes. But those that didn’t wriggle failed spectacularly, rotating to the side or falling head over tail, rather than maintaining a graceful, stable glide.

    If confined to a single plane instead of wriggling in three dimensions, the snakes would tumble. So snakes on a plane won’t fly.

    in Science News on June 29, 2020 03:00 PM.

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    Major indexing service sounds alarm on self-citations by nearly 50 journals

    More than 70% of the citations in one journal were to other papers in that journal. Another published a single paper that cited nearly 200 other articles in the journal. Now, Clarivate, the company behind the Impact Factor, is taking steps to fight such behavior, suppressing 33 journals from their indexing service and subjecting 15 … Continue reading Major indexing service sounds alarm on self-citations by nearly 50 journals

    in Retraction watch on June 29, 2020 01:00 PM.

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    Psychologists Are Mining Social Media Posts For Mental Health Research — But Many Users Have Concerns

    By Emily Reynolds

    This article contains discussion of suicide and self-harm

    In 2014, the Samaritans launched what seemed like an innovative new project: Radar. Designed to provide what the charity described as an “online safety net”, users could sign up to Radar to receive updates on the content of other people’s tweets, with emails sent out based on a list of key phrases meant to detect whether someone was feeling distressed.

    In principle, this meant people could keep an eye on friends who were vulnerable: if they missed a tweet where somebody said they felt suicidal or wanted to self-harm, for example, Radar would send it on, in theory increasing the likelihood that someone might get help or support.

    In practice, however, things weren’t so simple. Some pointed out that the app could be used for stalking or harassment, allowing abuse to be targeted during someone’s lowest point. There were false positives, too — “I want to kill myself”, for example, is often used as hyperbole by people who aren’t actually distressed at all. And others felt it was an invasion of privacy: their tweets might be on a public platform, they argued, but they were personal expression. They hadn’t consented to being used as part of a programme like Radar, no matter how well meaning it was.

    Samaritans shut down Radar just a week after launch. But since then, the use of social media data in mental health research — including tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, and blogs — has only increased. Researchers hope that the volume of data social media offers will bring important insights into mental health. But many users worry about how their data is being used.

    Targeted tools

    Social media’s role in research continues to grow. In February of this year, a team from King’s College London made headlines with a paper in Scientific Reports that found days with particularly high volumes of depression and schizophrenia-related tweets also saw higher numbers of crisis episodes at mental health service providers in London.

    The benefits of using such data are clear, says Anna Kolliakou, lead author of the paper. The volume of data would have been otherwise impossible to obtain, for one, and there was potential to gain insight into the “opinions and experiences of communities that transcend location”.

    The KCL team hopes that monitoring tweets at a population level could predict mental health service activity and help manage strained services. But others have looked at whether social media data could also tell us something about individuals’ mental health. A 2017 study looked at the course and onset of PTSD using Twitter data, for instance, suggesting that the language of people’s tweets could provide early hints they would develop the condition.

    And in 2018 researchers found  that the use of “language predictive of depression” on Facebook – sadness, loneliness, hostility and more – could predict whether a user was depressed, in some cases a full three months before they received a formal diagnosis. The paper’s authors suggested that such predictive data could be used to screen (consenting) adults for depression.

    When it comes to studies looking to help at-risk individuals, Sarah Knowles, an NIHR Senior Research Fellow in Knowledge Mobilisation at the University of York, is “very sceptical of accuracy and validity, and what they’re intended to achieve”.

    “I haven’t ever seen a convincing example of how targeting an individual on social media helps them personally, and it’s perhaps more likely to make them feel isolated or even attacked,” she says. “Some people use social media as an outlet for difficult feelings, and worrying about being ‘tagged’ as at-risk might shut this down, so you’re potentially removing a coping strategy.”

    Knowles also points out that a high number of people who seek help find it difficult to access (figures vary, but the Mental Health Foundation suggests that 75% of people with mental health problems in England may not get access to the treatment they need). Framing mental health as a problem of “detection” is therefore missing the point, she argues. And programmes like Radar ultimately “comfort onlookers who are worried about someone, rather than help the person expressing a problem”.

    Even if algorithms could help identify those who are at risk, there are still questions about whether such tools are wanted. A survey published in late 2019 found that although people may see the value of using algorithms to detect mental illness from social media data, they don’t actually trust social media platforms with their personal information.

    These aren’t just academic arguments — Facebook is already using an algorithm in some countries to detect suicidal ideation in posts, with the aim of providing help to those who need it.

    The company says that machine learning is only one part of its efforts to help people who are struggling: in a blog post, its head of product development writes that “technology can’t replace people in the process, but it can be an aid to connect more people in need with compassionate help.” For those with concerns about the ethics of machine learning in this context, however, that reassurance is not likely to go far enough.

    Public or private?

    In the studies that used Facebook and Twitter data to predict PTSD and depression, participants had consented: they knew what their data was being used for. But one of the appeals of social media data for many researchers is the ability to scrape information from so-called “public” datasets.

    However, this might not be as straightforward as it seems, at least ethically speaking. A study in Social Media and Society found that many users don’t believe that researchers should use their tweets for research without permission. Another was more mixed, with some users feeling positively about their data being used for mental health monitoring, at least when anonymised. But others were still not convinced.

    Despite this tension, research using data scraped from Twitter without consent continues. One study used tweets from a hashtag, “#MyDepressionLooksLike”, to identify communities tweeting about  depression; another looked at the language used by people who had tweeted that they were affected by PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder.

    Many of those who share online are sceptical. “I know that an argument in favour of this would be that once people speak on public platforms, they inherently give permission for that content to be used,” says Sarah-Louise Kelly, a content writer who lives in Glasgow. “But I disagree.” Kelly wrote a blog for many years, starting from her teens; many of her posts included accounts of depression, OCD, anxiety and trauma. She’s recently limited her tweets and blogs about mental health, but says she still tries to be open about “the peaks and troughs” of her mental health.

    At 30, Kelly notes that she’s “from a generation that used the internet as a diary”: she’s “never grown out of the mindset” that sharing online can bring community, catharsis and solidarity.  She also feels uncomfortable about her data being used in research.

    “If tweets or blogs of mine have been used in research, I really resent that I’ve never been contacted,” she says. “Where’s the gain for me and my community? I have to pay for my own therapy, I have to work out my own coping mechanisms, I learn nothing. I understand the importance of these studies and don’t want to undermine them. But social media users deserve to be treated as more than case studies when they’re discussing such intimate problems.”

    Martin*, in his 40s, initially joined Twitter for news updates, but he soon found himself part of a community of people who shared his experiences with poor mental health. “It was really important to me because not everybody in my life knew I was unwell — I had a job at the time I was terrified of losing,” he says. Martin, in a new role and a new relationship, is now able to be more open, and he uses Twitter less to talk about his own experiences with mental illness. But, like Kelly, he’s unhappy with the idea that personal posts could be used as research data.

    “There were things I posted online that, at that time, I wasn’t saying to anybody else,” he says. “I was talking about bad experiences with mental health services, stigma, knowing that I was speaking to an ‘audience’, if you will, that would understand what I’d gone through. The idea of that being scraped from Twitter and used in research doesn’t really sit right with me.”

    It’s not that he doesn’t want to contribute to learnings about mental health — he points to several Covid-19 related surveys on mental health that he’s completed over the last few months alone. But consent is important. “I read a lot about mental health, I’m interested in the area in general, so this isn’t an anti-research stance. But any [research] I’ve been involved with — that I know of, anyway! — has been something I’ve willingly opted into. That should be the case with everything.”

    Martin’s experience with healthcare services has also been mixed: he’s been “invalidated” by psychiatrists and other healthcare workers, and mentions that many of those from his Twitter community have experienced the same thing.

    “Obviously researchers are not psychiatrists and they’re not responsible for my treatment or care,” Martin says. “But when you’ve been in a situation where you feel that you’ve not been treated with due respect or you’ve had your voice taken away from you, it’s even more important that anything that is related to mental health involves giving full consent. That’s something I know a lot of people feel strongly about.”

    Reading the fine print

    While some object to the potential use of their posts, others aren’t aware that it’s happening at all. The Social Media and Society study found that many users were unaware public tweets could be used by researchers, and as co-author Casey Fiesler noted, Twitter or Facebook privacy policies don’t seem to increase awareness, even when they are clear about how users’ data could be used. “As we know,” she wrote, “most people don’t read privacy policies.” Plus, she said, many people don’t have a good understanding of how far their social media posts really reach. Kelly also raises this point: “Lots of people treat social media like an extension of community; they think they’re speaking just to their followers.” When posts are used as part of research, however, that community inadvertently gets a lot bigger.

    Knowles feels strongly that social media data should not be automatically available to use at all. “It’s [people’s private] information, and they should be able to have reasonable expectations about being informed if someone else wants to reuse it.” Think about a coffee shop, where you can sit and have a conversation with a friend about your health. “That’s public,” she says. “But we all know you shouldn’t sit down, eavesdrop, and assume you have the right to take away and use what was said.”

    None of this is to say that researchers are throwing away all conception of ethical data collection when working with social media: Knowles says that many researchers are wary of using social media data at all, and that approvals from ethics committees for such work can be demanding too. She’s more worried about commercial organisations — like Facebook — using universities’ procedures as a benchmark for conducting social media research. If universities haven’t got a clear set of ethical standards yet, following in their footsteps may not be the best idea.

    Kolliakou agrees that ethical consideration is paramount: “researchers have an obligation to handle this data like they would any other research project — privacy and confidentiality should be the utmost priorities.”

    But she’s also hopeful that use of social media data could have a big impact on the prevention of illness or distress. “There have been great advances in developing systems that could automatically identify individuals experiencing a crisis,” she says. “The question is whether this is at all acceptable. This is a complex research issue still at its infancy, and until we have some concrete findings that it actually works, uninvited contact with users should not be made. Intervening with individuals unaware their information has been used is invasive and not appropriate.”

    *Some names have been changed

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 29, 2020 10:42 AM.

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    Motherisk crook Gideon Koren now at Ariel University

    The Israeli Ariel University recruited a doctor from hell to their newly established medical school: Gideon Koren, infamous for Motherisk and deferiprone scandals.

    in For Better Science on June 29, 2020 10:10 AM.

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    Fish eggs can hatch after being eaten and pooped out by ducks

    For fish eggs, getting gobbled by a duck kicks off a harrowing journey that includes a pummeling in the gizzard and an attack by stomach acids. But a few eggs can exit unscathed in a duck’s excrement, possibly helping to spread those fish, including invasive species, to different places, a new study finds.

    It’s been an “open question for centuries how these isolated water bodies can be populated by fish,” says fish biologist Patricia Burkhardt-Holm of the University of Basel in Switzerland, who was not involved with the work. This study shows one way that water birds may disperse fish, she says.

    Birds’ feathers, feet and feces can spread hardy plant seeds and invertebrates (SN: 1/14/16). But since many fish eggs are soft, researchers didn’t expect that they could survive a bird’s gut, says Orsolya Vincze, an evolutionary biologist at the Centre for Ecological Research in Debrecen, Hungary.

    In the lab, Vincze and her colleagues fed thousands of eggs from two invasive carp species to eight mallard ducks. About 0.2 percent of ingested eggs, 18 of 8,000, were intact after defecation, the team found. Some of those eggs contained wriggling embryos and a few eggs hatched, the team reports June 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s not clear yet whether eggs survive in this way in the wild.

    Most of the viable eggs were pooped out within an hour of being eaten, while one took at least four hours to pass. Migratory ducks could travel dozens or possibly hundreds of kilometers before excreting those eggs, the scientists suggest.

    Though the surviving egg count is low, their numbers may add up, making bird poop a possibly important vehicle for spreading fish. A single carp can release hundreds of thousands of eggs at a time, Vincze says. And there are huge numbers of mallards and other water birds throughout the world that may gorge themselves on those eggs.

    in Science News on June 29, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Journal calls 2012 paper “deeply offensive to particular minorities”

    An Elsevier journal plans to issue a retraction notice this week about a widely criticized 2012 paper claiming to find links between skin color, aggression, and sexuality. Earlier this month, we reported that the journal, Personality and Individual Differences (PAID), would retract the study “Do pigmentation and the melanocortin system modulate aggression and sexuality in … Continue reading Journal calls 2012 paper “deeply offensive to particular minorities”

    in Retraction watch on June 29, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Are There Purposeless Behaviors?

    Are habits goal-free behaviors, or does every habit actually serve a purpose?

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on June 27, 2020 11:00 PM.

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    Editors in chief past and present apologize for publishing article that “feed[s] into racist narratives”

    The previous and current editors in chief of a psychology journal have apologized for publishing an article about which one of them writes, “in retrospect I can certainly see that their article does feed into racist narratives.” Earlier this month, we reported that the authors of “Declines in Religiosity Predict Increases in Violent Crime—but Not … Continue reading Editors in chief past and present apologize for publishing article that “feed[s] into racist narratives”

    in Retraction watch on June 27, 2020 06:25 PM.

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    Weekend reads: A deluge of papers, reviewed in haste; a dog food study faces scrutiny; the trouble with research evaluations

    Before we present this week’s Weekend Reads, a question: Do you enjoy our weekly roundup? If so, we could really use your help. Would you consider a tax-deductible donation to support Weekend Reads, and our daily work? Thanks in advance. The week at Retraction Watch featured: The tale of why it’s so difficult to publish a … Continue reading Weekend reads: A deluge of papers, reviewed in haste; a dog food study faces scrutiny; the trouble with research evaluations

    in Retraction watch on June 27, 2020 01:31 PM.

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    Monkeys may share a key grammar-related skill with humans

    An aptitude for mentally stringing together related items, often cited as a hallmark of human language, may have deep roots in primate evolution, a new study suggests.

    In lab experiments, monkeys demonstrated an ability akin to embedding phrases within other phrases, scientists report June 26 in Science Advances. Many linguists regard this skill, known as recursion, as fundamental to grammar (SN: 12/4/05) and thus peculiar to people.

    But “this work shows that the capacity to represent recursive sequences is present in an animal that will never learn language,” says Stephen Ferrigno, a Harvard University psychologist.

    Recursion allows one to elaborate a sentence such as “This pandemic is awful” into “This pandemic, which has put so many people  out of work, is awful, not to mention a health risk.”

    Ferrigno and colleagues tested recursion in both monkeys and humans. Ten U.S. adults recognized recursive symbol sequences on a nonverbal task and quickly applied that knowledge to novel sequences of items. To a lesser but still substantial extent, so did 50 U.S. preschoolers and 37 adult Tsimane’ villagers from Bolivia, who had no schooling in math or reading.

    Those results imply that an ability to grasp recursion must emerge early in life and doesn’t require formal education.

    Three rhesus monkeys lacked humans’ ease on the task. But after receiving extra training, two of those monkeys displayed recursive learning, Ferrigno’s group says. One of the two animals ended up, on average, more likely to form novel recursive sequences than about three-quarters of the preschoolers and roughly half of the Bolivian villagers.

    monkey and people taking testIn a test of recursion, monkeys, U.S. children and adults and Bolivian villagers were trained to arrange symbols on a computer screen or on cards in a particular order and were then shown new sets of symbols. Humans and monkeys alike were successful, suggesting that a basic sequencing ability involved in grammar arose in primates long ago.S. Ferrigno/Harvard Univ.

    Monkeys’ greater difficulty learning recursive sequences, relative to people, fits a scenario in which “this ability is evolutionarily ancient and could have been a precursor to the development of human grammar,” Ferrigno says.

    Unlike earlier studies of monkeys and birds in which it was difficult to establish that sequence learning required recursive insights (SN: 4/26/06), Ferrigno says the new study probed for a type of recursive knowledge that enables one to understand a sentence such as “The cat the dog chased ran.” Each of the first two phrases, “the cat” and “the dog,” must be appropriately matched to the last two phrases, “chased” and “ran.” The middle two phrases go together, as do those on the ends.

    Study participants were trained to arrange two sets of symbols in recursive patterns. Each training set consisted of four brackets — say, { } [ ] — with each bracket shown at random spots on a computer screen or on cards placed on a table. The goal was to learn to touch the four brackets in a recursive sequence with pairs of related forms in the center and on the ends, such as { [] }. Chimes for humans and food rewards for monkeys indicated when an individual had touched a recursive sequence.

    The researchers then tested whether humans and monkeys, without further training, would arrange new bracket sets, such as ()[], in a recursive pattern, say, ( [] ).

    Scientists familiar with the study find it fascinating but remain unconvinced that participants needed to understand recursion to learn the bracket sequences.

    Unlike recursive phrases in languages, which are meaningfully related to each other, pairs of inner and outer brackets in the task are arbitrary symbols, say cognitive scientists Claudia Männel and Emiliano Zaccarella, both of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany. Participants might have correctly sequenced novel brackets without thinking about recursion, Männel and Zaccarella suggest. Perhaps subjects arranged items in a symmetric, visually pleasing way consistent with what they remembered from earlier trials.

    Or participants might have chosen new bracket sequences based on the remembered order of learned sequences, says cognitive scientist Stanislas Dehaene of Collège de France in Paris. Say a trained sequence was remembered as “first came {, then (, then ) and finally }.” Facing a novel sequence, say [ ] ( ), an individual would pick a bracket for the first position based on the closest item to that position recalled from training, in this case (. The learned order would dictate choosing the different pair, [], for the middle positions, leaving ) for the final position.

    Monkeys, which generally can’t mentally keep track of as many pieces of information as people can, would struggle more than people to recall bracket orders, consistent with the animals’ poorer performance on the task, Dehaene argues.

    Everyone agrees on one thing — deciphering what makes human language special still presents a major scientific challenge.

    in Science News on June 26, 2020 06:00 PM.

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    Drug delivery study with duplicated images is retracted

    A study that found a way to deliver certain kinds of drugs more effectively in mice is being retracted today. The study, “Molecular targeting of FATP4 transporter for oral delivery of therapeutic peptide” was overseen by Haifa Shen at the Houston Methodist Research Institute and published in Science Advances on April 1. Several readers, including … Continue reading Drug delivery study with duplicated images is retracted

    in Retraction watch on June 26, 2020 06:00 PM.

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    Law firm sues OSU cancer researcher for $900,000 in unpaid fees following failed libel suit

    Carlo Croce may be back in court again — but this time, as a defendant. Last month, Croce lost a defamation suit he filed against David Sanders, a Purdue researcher who was quoted in a 2017 New York Times story about allegations regarding Croce’s work. Croce had already lost an appeal of a related suit … Continue reading Law firm sues OSU cancer researcher for $900,000 in unpaid fees following failed libel suit

    in Retraction watch on June 26, 2020 04:06 PM.

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    Why scientists say wearing masks shouldn’t be controversial

    To mask or not to mask? To the dismay of many public health experts, that remains a question up for debate in the United States even as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that everyone wear masks when in public to curb the spread of COVID-19. But as lockdowns have lifted, many people haven’t followed that advice, and case numbers are rising in some states. In response, some states like California have made wearing face coverings mandatory in public. But in Nebraska, the governor has blocked city- and county-level efforts to require wearing masks in public. Other states, such as Texas, recommend, but don’t require face coverings in public, though some counties within the state are requiring masks.

    At the individual level, some people have protested that their personal freedoms are being infringed upon by being told to cover their mouths and noses. Others are masking up whenever they leave their homes.

    Meanwhile, scientists have been collecting data on whether cloth masks worn by members of the general public can cut down on the spread of the coronavirus. Science News rounded up the latest data and talked to experts about how well these masks really protect against the coronavirus.

    Why are masks now recommended by public health experts?

    At the beginning of the outbreak, public health officials thought that the virus was primarily transmitted by people touching contaminated objects or surfaces and then touching their face. Regular handwashing and refraining from touching your face were the main prescriptions (SN: 3/4/20). The CDC and the World Health Organization both at first said that healthy people didn’t need to wear masks.

    But it has become clear that contact with virus-laden objects isn’t the major way that the coronavirus passes from person to person, says immunologist Robert Quigley.  He is senior vice president and regional medical director of International SOS, a company based in Trevose, Penn., that helps devise strategies for mitigating medical and security risks. Instead, researchers now think COVID-19 is spread mainly by someone inhaling the virus expelled by another person.

    That explains the reasoning behind the CDC’s recommendation that everyone wear a mask in public: The covering may lessen the risk of mask wearers who don’t know they’re infected from passing the virus to someone else.

    “We believe now that we are learning more about this novel virus that there is transmission from asymptomatic individuals,” Quigley says. Studies have determined that people can transmit the virus for a couple of days before symptoms start, and that some people who never develop symptoms can be contagious (SN: 6/9/20).

    In Singapore, researchers used contact-tracing data to estimate that about 40 to 50 percent of COVID-19 cases from January 23 to February 26 were transmitted by people who weren’t yet having symptoms. The same team found that in Tianjin, China, the amount of such presymptomatic transmission was even higher. From January 21 to February 22, 60 to 80 percent of cases were attributed to spread before symptoms appeared, the researchers report June 22 in eLife.

    Since even seemingly healthy people can spread COVID-19 if they’re infected but don’t know it, health officials now recommend that everyone wear masks in public.

    mask signsIn many places in the United States, face coverings are now required when out in public. Studies indicate such measures can help stop the coronavirus from spreading.Sarah Morris/Getty Images

    Is there evidence that a cloth mask can block virus spread?

    Many studies have tested surgical masks and N95 masks and found that they reduce viral spread, but until now, there hasn’t been much evidence that cloth masks also work  (SN: 4/9/20).

    Matthew Staymates, a mechanical engineer and fluid dynamicist at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., usually works on devising ways to detect narcotics and other illicit substances in the air. But while he was on mandatory telework, Staymates found he missed doing experiments. So he convinced his supervisors to let him bring home some equipment so he could evaluate whether cloth masks cut down on the number of potentially virus-laden particles that spew from people’s mouths and noses when they talk, cough or breathe.

    He set up the apparatus in his woodshop and filmed himself coughing without and with a mask. He ultimately tested 26 types of cloth mask, including ones made from common sewing fabrics like lightweight flannel, cotton T-shirts, quilting cotton, cotton-polyester blends and polypropylene from reusable shopping bags.

    Staymates didn’t use any viruses in his experiments, so he can’t say whether one type of mask does a better job of catching viruses than another. But using high-speed visualizations, he could determine which masks blocked the trajectory of air coming from his lungs when he coughed or talked.

    Wearing any face covering, including bandanas or neck warmers, could at least partially block the cloud of droplets released in a cough, the experiment showed. Masks that are fitted to the nose, cheeks and chin did a better job of blocking droplet flow, and, theoretically, of stopping viruses, too, Staymates describes in a blog post on the NIST website.

    Provided that people wear the masks properly, that is. “At one point, I pulled my mask down below my nose in the video” and coughed, he says. The video showed a jet of air streaming from his nose as he coughed. “I was stunned when I saw that footage,” he says. “I was really surprised at how much air comes out of your nose when you cough.” Now when he sees people with their masks covering their mouths, but not their noses, “I [think] ‘No. Don’t do that. You’re defeating the purpose,’” he says.

    Mask wearing has become controversial in the United States, even as data are amassing that masks may help limit spread of the coronavirus. Not much has been known about the effectiveness of cloth masks, so a researcher set up a home lab to test whether these masks can reduce the amount of potentially virus-laden material people expel from their mouths and noses. See what he discovered.

    Does a cloth mask prevent me from catching the virus from someone else?

    Alone, cloth masks aren’t great at protecting the wearer, says Abba Gumel, a mathematical biologist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

    Cloth masks can vary widely in the amount of particles, including virus, they prevent from reaching the mask wearer. The best cloth masks, which are fitted to the face and made of optimal materials, such as tightly woven cotton, might block up to 80 percent of particles, while most — especially masks that aren’t fitted properly, or made of flimsy material — filter out only about 20 to 50 percent of particles, he says. But even the lowest efficiency mask, “is still better than nothing,” Gumel says.

    Cloth masks are for protecting other people from you, Quigley stresses. “Let’s make no bones about it; the cloth mask is not anywhere near as effective in preventing one from inhaling the coronavirus compared with a medical-grade N95 mask,” he says.

    Surgical masks may block 70 to 90 percent of infectious particles from reaching the wearer, and N95 masks filter out more than 95 percent, Gumel says. Medical-grade N95 masks have been in short supply and should be reserved for health care workers and others who are high risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, he and other experts agree.

    Masks are better at shielding others from the mask wearer than at protecting the wearer because when someone wearing a face covering breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes, most of the air carrying any potential viruses is filtered through the mask, increasing the chances of catching most of the infectious particles. Inhaling while wearing a mask that doesn’t form a seal on the face may draw in unfiltered air from the sides, top or bottom, as well as air filtered through the mask.

    Does everybody need to wear a mask?

    There is strength in numbers, Gumel and colleagues found. In simulations of epidemics with a low rate of transmission, widespread mask wearing is “very, very effective at reducing hospitalizations and mortality,” he says. If half the population wore masks that block half of particles, transmission rates could also be roughly halved, Gumel and colleagues report April 21 in Infectious Disease Modeling

    Even low-effectiveness cloth masks that block only 20 percent of viral particles could cut transmission rates by a third, provided 80 percent of people wore the coverings, the researchers estimate. In areas where transmission rates are high, if 80 percent of people wore masks that block half of infectious particles, 17 to 45 percent of projected deaths over two months might be prevented, the researchers calculate.

    Those calculations are in line with estimates made by other scientists. Epidemics could be brought under control if everyone wore a mask all the time when in public, even if face masks are only 50 percent effective, researchers report June 10 in the Proceedings of Royal Society A.

    And even though masks are less effective at protecting the wearer, personal protection went up as a greater percentage of people wore masks in the researchers’ calculations. That’s because “my mask protects you, your mask protects me,” the researchers write, so more mask wearing means greater protection for everybody.

    Some real-world data also suggest masks are effective at helping curb the spread of the coronavirus. George Wehby and Wei Lyu, health policy researchers at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, tracked daily coronavirus case counts in 15 states and Washington, D.C., that mandated face coverings for the general public in some settings like grocery stores, during the study period from April 8 to May 15. The pair also monitored case counts in states that required masks only for essential employees, such as restaurant workers, health care providers and police or firefighters.

    States that required everyone to wear masks saw small, but steady declines in daily case counts after instituting the mandate compared with counts in the one to five days before the mandates took effect, the researchers report June 16 in Health Affairs. By the time mask orders had been in place for 21 days, daily case counts had declined by 2 percentage points. An estimated 230,000 to 450,000 coronavirus cases may have been prevented between April 8 and May22 because people wore masks, the team calculates.

    The researchers accounted for shelter-in-place orders and other public health measures, but can’t say for sure that masks are the sole reason for the decline, Wehby says. Requiring employees, but not the general public, to wear masks didn’t lower case counts, the researchers found. But that might be because businesses are often already requiring employees to wear masks, so the state mandates are just enforcing measures that are already in place.

    “There’s a general consensus now that masks work, and research is supporting that,” Wehby says. “Going forward, masks are an alternative to some of the strict social distancing measures. They don’t replace [social distancing], but where social distancing cannot be enacted, mask use makes common sense.”

    Gumel agrees. “If everybody wore a face mask, we’d be doing a lot better.”

    in Science News on June 26, 2020 03:24 PM.

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    Optical Illusions And Problematic Peer-Review: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

    Keyboard for ideaOur weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

    Visual illusions occur because our brains construct stories about how things should look, based on our experiences and expectations, which don’t always match up with reality. And with a greater understanding of how we (mis)interpret the visual world, perhaps we can also come to understand the more complicated biases in our thoughts and behaviour that have led to the polarised political climate, writes Brian Resnick at Vox. Aside from being a great read, the story contains some really nice examples of visual illusions that I had never come across before.

    Over at The Conversation, Adrian Bardon has more on polarisation. People have a tendency to ignore evidence that threatens their worldview, a process called “motivated reasoning”, Bardon explains. This can help explain why simply providing information is not necessarily enough to tackle issues like climate denial.

    Has lockdown left you feeling exhausted? You’re not alone: with our routines and normal habits all shaken up, many of us are faced with making a bunch of decisions every day, writes William Park at BBC Future — and this can be very tiring.

    Spending time outside in green spaces benefits our mood and mental health — so lockdown has been particularly hard for many of those living in apartments in crowded cities. At The New York Times, Meg St-Esprit McKivigan talks to families struggling without access to green space (though many psychologists would likely dispute the article’s claim that “nature deficit disorder” is a real condition).

    In the early 1990s, the world became aware of the plight of thousands of children growing up in awful conditions in Romanian orphanages. Psychologists who went to work with the orphans learned a lot about child development and the effects of neglect. Now Melissa Fay Greene has written a heart-breaking feature for The Atlantic, which describes the challenges these children have faced, and looks at how they are coping today.

    Many scientists have challenged the notion that only papers published in peer-reviewed journals are of good quality — or that peer-review guarantees good quality. And now the coronavirus pandemic has really highlighted the limitations of the publishing process. Researchers are making coronavirus-related preprints available as quickly as possible, to ensure that information is shared more rapidly than the review process would allow, while several high profile, peer-reviewed journal papers have recently been retracted. At Wired, psychologist Simine Vazire discusses the issues with the traditional peer-review process, with some suggestions for how to improve things for the future.

    Finally, if you know any young people interested in science, a great resource is Frontiers for Young Minds: an open-access journal which publishes papers written for — and reviewed by — kids.   This week, neuroscientists Kathryn Mills and Jeya Anandakumar explain why the adolescent brain is “literally awesome”, in a nice article that includes one of the best figures I’ve ever seen in a paper.

    Compiled by Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren), Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 26, 2020 02:43 PM.

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    US business students visit Elsevier to learn about Pride and I&D in the workplace

    “I learned how a multinational company supports and encourages their employees to be themselves.” – @UofSC business major after visiting Elsevier in Amsterdam

    in Elsevier Connect on June 26, 2020 12:07 PM.

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    50 years ago, scientists first investigated antibiotic resistance in livestock

    Panel to study animal feedsScience News, June 27, 1970

    Most animal feeds contain antibiotics … to promote fast weight-gain in species raised for human food. However, these animals may harbor microorganisms that have developed a resistance to antibiotics, and some scientists fear that these resistant organisms may be passed on to human beings…. [The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has appointed a panel to review whether] antibiotic resistance in man is enhanced by long-term, low-level exposure from foods.


    The first hint that antibiotic-resistant bacteria in livestock can jump to humans came in 1976, when scientists found higher levels of such bacteria in the guts of farmers who fed antibiotics to chickens than in those farmers’ neighbors. In terms of the food supply, the FDA has detected varying levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat since monitoring began in 1996. Cooking should kill these bacteria, though some have been linked to illness in humans. Since 2013, the FDA has phased out the use of antibiotics for promoting growth in livestock.

    in Science News on June 26, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Strokes and mental state changes hint at how COVID-19 harms the brain

    COVID-19 cases described by U.K. doctors offer a sharper view of the illness’s possible effects on the brain. Strokes, confusion and psychosis were found among a group of 125 people hospitalized with infections of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus behind the pandemic.   

    The results, described June 25 in Lancet Psychiatry, come from a group of severely sick people, so they can’t answer how common these types of neurological symptoms may be in a more general population. Still, these details bring scientists closer to better understanding COVID-19.

    Brain-related symptoms of COVID-19 patients can slip through the cracks. “These relatively rare but incredibly severe complications get missed, like needles in a haystack,” says Benedict Michael, a neurologist at the University of Liverpool in England. So he and his colleagues designed a survey to uncover these symptoms. 

    In April, neurologists, stroke physicians, psychiatrists and other doctors across the United Kingdom entered COVID-19 patient details to a centralized database as part of the survey. Targeting these scientific specialties meant that the patients included were likely to have brain-related symptoms. Of the 125 patients described fully, 77 experienced an interruption of blood flow in the brain, most often caused by a blood clot in the brain. Blood clots are a well-known and pernicious COVID-19 complication (SN: 6/23/20), and strokes have been seen in younger people with COVID-19.

    About a third of the 125 patients had a shift in mental state, including confusion, personality change or depression. Eighteen of 37 patients with altered mental states were younger than 60. So far, it’s unclear exactly how SARS-CoV-2 causes these symptoms.

    The results address the range of neurological symptoms that doctors are seeing, but big questions remain about how the virus affects the brain (SN: 6/12/20). “Now that we know the rough idea of the scale of this, we desperately need research that gets to the disease mechanisms,” Michael says.

    in Science News on June 25, 2020 10:30 PM.

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    The second-worst Ebola outbreak ever is officially over

    The second-largest Ebola virus outbreak ever has finally come to an end. Beginning in Congo in August 2018, the outbreak sickened 3,470 people (SN: 5/18/18). Nearly two-thirds of those patients, or 2,287, died.    

    June 25 marks 42 days after the last patient linked to the outbreak went home from the hospital on May 14. That’s two full incubation periods for the virus. With no new cases, Congo health officials and the World Health Organization have officially declared the outbreak over.

    Lasting 22 months, this was Congo’s 10th fight against Ebola. Cases were concentrated in the North Kivu and Ituri Provinces, and health officials struggled against militant groups and misinformation to contain the virus.

    In contrast to past Ebola outbreaks, doctors had an effective vaccine in their arsenal that helped curb case numbers this time around (SN: 5/21/18). In 2019, that vaccine became the first, and still only, vaccine to win approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (SN: 12/20/19).

    Two new treatments also proved highly effective at keeping patients alive in clinical trials during the outbreak (SN: 8/12/19). (One of those treatments is made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., a major sponsor of the Society for Science & the Public, which publishes Science News.)

    To curb the spread of the deadly virus, local health workers traced 250,000 people who had come into contact with infected individuals, tested 220,000 samples and vaccinated 303,000 people, the WHO says.

    Congo “is now better, smarter and faster at responding to Ebola, and this is an enduring legacy which is supporting the response to COVID-19 and other outbreaks,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said June 25 in a statement.

    That legacy will be tested in the coming months as local health officials continue to combat COVID-19, a measles outbreak and another separate Ebola outbreak that began in a different region of the country on June 1.

    in Science News on June 25, 2020 09:09 PM.

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    Journal temporarily withdraws COVID-19 “labor cage” study

    A study whose title suggested an “effective” way to give birth during the coronavirus pandemic has been temporarily retracted because the publisher says the word “effective” was included in the title by accident. The method (pictured above) involved an enclosed, transparent chamber walling off the mother’s upper half from the rest of the world. It … Continue reading Journal temporarily withdraws COVID-19 “labor cage” study

    in Retraction watch on June 25, 2020 08:30 PM.

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    Millions of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. may have gone undiagnosed in March

    The United States may have had millions more COVID-19 cases in March than previously thought.

    More than 8.7 million people may have contracted the coronavirus from March 8 to March 28, but more than 80 percent of them were never diagnosed with COVID-19, researchers report June 22 in Science Translational Medicine. Officially, the country has recorded more than 2.3 million COVID-19 cases since January, and more than 9.4 million cases have been reported worldwide since December.

    The estimate was made using data gleaned from a network that monitors influenza-like illnesses in United States. That network, ILINet, was set up to give public health officials a way to track flu outbreaks. Doctors in some offices across the country report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when patients come in with flulike symptoms, including results of flu tests. Researchers can extrapolate from there what is happening in the rest of the state or country. But the data can also be used to track other respiratory viruses, says Justin Silverman, a physician and statistician at Penn State.

    In early February, Silverman’s colleague, Alex Washburne, a mathematical epidemiologist at Montana State University in Bozeman, realized that the number of coronavirus cases was doubling faster than expected. So he, Silverman and Nathaniel Hupert, an internal medicine doctor at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, began watching the data on flulike illnesses to see if that information could indicate that the epidemic was taking off in the United States (SN: 2/28/20).

    In March, a surge in influenza-like illnesses arose, exactly as the researchers expected. In some places, the surge was huge. In New York, for instance, twice as many influenza-like illnesses that weren’t due to flu were recorded in March than had ever been seen in the 10 years since the network’s inception. 

    Subtracting out influenza and the expected number of seasonal cases of other flulike illnesses left the researchers with a large number of unexplained illnesses in the country that could be due to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

    Assuming that only a third of people infected with the coronavirus go to the doctor (based on extrapolations from how many people with mild symptoms go to hospital emergency rooms and figuring in rates of people who are infected but don’t have symptoms), those excess cases would correspond to more than 8.7 million COVID-19 cases nationwide during the three-week study period, the team estimates. About 120,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the country as of March 28.

    “It’s a staggering result,” Silverman says. “I remember calling Alex and saying, ‘This can’t possibly be right. We must have made a mistake somewhere.’”

    But Washburne pointed out that their calculations of the fast growth of the epidemic were in line with that number. Also, states with extra influenza-like cases also had higher COVID-19 case counts. “That gave us additional evidence to suspect that this surge in visits could be COVID,” Washburne says.

    “That’s when we started believing that this wasn’t just a math error,” Silverman says.

    Antibody tests in mid-April indicated that almost 14 percent of people tested in New York state had antibodies against the virus, governor Andrew Cuomo announced in a news conference on April 23. That number suggests that coronavirus infections were already widespread in the state, and are in line with their estimates, the researchers say.

    Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said June 25 in a call with reporters that the agency estimates that for every case that’s been reported, there are actually 10 other infections in the country, based on antibody test results.

    “It seems possible or likely that ‘surges’ of [influenza-like illnesses] may be an indication of a surge in SARS-CoV-2 and could provide some useful signals,” says Roger Chou, an internal medicine doctor at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland not involved in the work.  

    But the study makes several assumptions that may not be correct, Chou says. For instance, many of the excess flulike illness, “are not necessarily SARS-CoV-2 — just people seeking care when they wouldn’t in a normal year,” he says. Changes in testing rates (SN: 3/6/20), doctors switching to televisits and other changes to health care this spring can make it very hard to interpret the surveillance data, Chou says.

    Another assumption is that the clinics reporting results to the network are just like clinics elsewhere in the state or country, which probably isn’t the case, says Arthur Reingold, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. “Can you extrapolate from Santa Clara County [in California] to Montana … or from a study done in the Boston area to Charleston, South Carolina? Probably not.”

    Surveillance can alert authorities of when an outbreak gets going and is starting to subside, but aren’t as good for determining how large the outbreak is, Reingold says. Direct testing for coronavirus infections is more likely to give a handle on the size of the epidemic going forward (SN: 4/17/20), especially since most ILINet clinics report cases only during flu season between September and early April.

    in Science News on June 25, 2020 07:26 PM.

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    Dolphins can learn from peers how to use shells as tools

    For some bottlenose dolphins, finding a meal may be about who you know.

    Dolphins often learn how to hunt from their mothers. But when it comes to at least one foraging trick, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia’s Shark Bay pick up the behavior from their peers, researchers argue in a report published online June 25 in Current Biology.

    While previous studies have suggested that dolphins learn from peers, this study is the first to quantify the importance of social networks over other factors, says Sonja Wild, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Konstanz in Germany.

    Cetaceans — dolphins, whales and porpoises — are known for using clever strategies to round up meals. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) off Alaska sometimes use their fins and circular bubble nets to catch fish (SN: 10/15/19). At Shark Bay, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) use sea sponges to protect their beaks while rooting for food on the seafloor, a strategy the animals learn from their mothers (SN: 6/8/05).

    These Shark Bay dolphins also use a more unusual tool-based foraging method called shelling.  A dolphin will trap underwater prey in a large sea snail shell, poke its beak into the shell’s opening, lift the shell above the water’s surface and shake the contents into its mouth.

    “It is pretty mind-blowing,” says Wild, who studied these dolphins as a graduate student at the University of Leeds in England. This brief behavior appears to be rare: From 2007 to 2018, Wild and colleagues documented 42 shelling events by 19 individual dolphins out of 5,278 dolphin group encounters in the western gulf of Shark Bay.

    Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay in Western Australia have a clever method for scrounging up a snack. A dolphin will trap underwater prey in a large sea snail shell, poke its beak into the shell’s opening, lift the shell above the water’s surface and shake the contents into its mouth. In a recent study, researchers find that dolphins can learn this foraging behavior from their peers.

    The researchers analyzed the behavior of 310 dolphins, including 15 shellers, that had been seen at least 11 times. The dolphins’ network of social interactions explained shelling’s spread better than other factors, including genetic relatedness and the amount of environmental overlap between dolphins. Wild likens the proliferation of this behavior to the spread of a virus. “Just by spending time with each other, [dolphins] are more likely to transmit those behaviors,” she says. The researchers estimate that 57 percent of the dolphins that shell learned the skill via social transmission, rather than on their own.

    But the researchers may be premature in dismissing environmental and maternal factors, says Janet Mann, a biologist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., who also studies dolphin behavior at Shark Bay. The environment affects where shelling can occur. “Those shells are found in particular habitats, and animals who overlap in those habitats would have access to those shells, but also bump into each other more often,” she says. A dolphin’s shelling behavior could also have been influenced during the tens of thousands of hours the animal spent as a youngster watching its mother.

    “Dolphins are smart: They watch each other and see what others do,” she says.

    in Science News on June 25, 2020 05:58 PM.

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    Two lightning megaflashes shattered distance and duration records

    Two extreme bolts of lightning have smashed previous records for lightning duration and distance.

    A bolt that lit up the sky over Argentina on March 4, 2019, lasted a mind-boggling 16.73 seconds, more than twice as long as the previous record holder, the World Meteorological Organization announced June 25. Meanwhile, a lightning bolt on October 31, 2018, set the new record for length. It stretched for 709 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean, across part of Brazil and into Argentina, a length more than twice that of the previous record.

    Previous assessments of flash duration and extent were collected by Lightning Mapping Arrays, ground-based networks of antennas and GPS receivers. Until now, the records were held by a 2007 flash in Oklahoma that stretched over 321 kilometers horizontally, and a 2012 flash in France that lasted almost eight seconds (SN: 10/17/16). 

    satellite image of lightning strikeA 709-kilometer-long megaflash on October 31, 2018, extended across a large swath of Brazil, linking clouds over the Atlantic Ocean to clouds over Argentina, smashing a previous distance record.WMO, C. Chang
    satellite image of lightning strikeA 709-kilometer-long megaflash on October 31, 2018, extended across a large swath of Brazil, linking clouds over the Atlantic Ocean to clouds over Argentina, smashing a previous distance record.WMO, C. Chang

    The recent “megaflashes,” by contrast, were verified using satellite images, such as from the GOES-16 and GOES-17 satellites. Using satellite data makes it possible to detect extremes that were previously unobserved or outside the limits of detection of ground-based arrays, according to WMO. The new records will be logged in the WMO archive of world weather and climate extremes, will also be published online in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

    in Science News on June 25, 2020 05:09 PM.

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    “I want to apologize for my misconduct,” says anesthesiologist whose work is under investigation

    A Japanese anesthesiologist who just notched his sixth retraction apologized for his misconduct and said his institution is now investigating his entire body of work.  Hironobu Ueshima, of Showa University in Tokyo, who has roughly 170 publications, told Retraction Watch by email:  I want to apologize for my misconduct. Showa University has already launched the … Continue reading “I want to apologize for my misconduct,” says anesthesiologist whose work is under investigation

    in Retraction watch on June 25, 2020 03:15 PM.

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    We’re Not Very Good At Identifying Illness From Sounds of Coughs and Sneezes

    By Emily Reynolds

    At the moment, most of us are on red alert when it comes to sounds of illness, with sniffling in the supermarket or coughing behind us in a queue the cause of significant alarm.

    And while we might like to think we’re able to tell the difference between someone clearing their throat and somebody who is genuinely unwell, new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests we’re less good at identifying threats than we think.

    To investigate how well people can detect pathogen threats from cough and sneeze sounds, Nicholas M. Michalak from the University of Michigan and colleagues first recruited 148 participants to listen to 20 audio clips of coughs and sneezes taken from online videos. Half of these sounds were from people who were genuinely ill with colds or the flu, whilst the other half merely had allergies or had consumed powdery spices and were therefore non-infectious.

    After each clip, participants indicated whether they thought the sound was from someone with an infectious or non-infectious condition, and were also asked how certain they were about their answer. Finally, they completed an index of disease concern, which measures worries about contracting certain illnesses.

    But participants were no better than chance at correctly identifying infectious and non-infectious coughs and sneezes, with 45% accuracy across the board and no difference when it came to each type of sound. Participants were reasonably certain about their judgments — but, in fact, for those who were more certain were actually less accurate.

    A second study looked at the impact of disgust on identification of infectious sounds. The team played the same sounds to 146 participants — only this time, in addition to identifying the sounds, participants were also asked how disgusting they found them. Again, participants were no better than chance (42%) at detecting infectious or non-infectious coughs and sneezes, and increased certainty was related to decreased accuracy. Disgust did have an impact, however: the more disgusting participants found a cough or sneeze, the more likely they were to judge it as having an infectious origin, regardless of whether it was actually infectious or not. A third study replicated these findings.

    So it seems as if we’re more likely to perceive something as a threat if we find it more disgusting — but that that assumption fails to serve us in terms of accuracy. This may be a protective measure: it’s probably safer, in the long run, to presume something innocent is actually infectious.

    The experiments here only contained audio, and the team notes that people may be much better at identifying infectious sounds when integrated with other sensory information — if somebody sneezes and also has a hoarse voice and bags under their eyes, we’re probably going to know they’re ill; if they’re holding a spoon full of cinnamon ready to do a viral challenge, they’re probably not.

    Telling the difference between an innocent and infectious cough feels like a useful thing to be able to do, particularly considering the current situation. But, as this research shows, we’re not actually very good at it. “Thus, the next time you hear someone cough or a sneeze”, the team concludes, “perhaps leave the diagnosis to the doctor.”

    Sounds of sickness: can people identify infectious disease using sounds of coughs and sneezes?

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 25, 2020 10:20 AM.

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    And then there were six: three more retractions for Japanese anesthesiologist

    Earlier this month, we reported on the retraction of two papers by a Japanese anesthesiologist for unreliable data. At the time, we noted that the case of Hironobu Ueshima bore watching, given his publication total runs to about 170. [See an update on this story.] The two retractions earlier this month came after an earlier … Continue reading And then there were six: three more retractions for Japanese anesthesiologist

    in Retraction watch on June 25, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Judy Mikovits’ Plandemic COVID-portunism

    Smut Clyde takes on Dr Judy Mikovits and guides you through her career, from fake Science to antivax and cancer quackery, and over to COVID-19 conspiracies, in 5 acts plus Coda.

    in For Better Science on June 24, 2020 12:45 PM.

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    Consumer research study is retracted for unexplained anomalies

    A study looking at how consumers relate to “social-benefit” brands has been retracted after several of its authors notified the journal that the data, provided and analyzed by a different author, had irregularities that couldn’t be explained. “Connections to Brands that Help Others versus Help the Self: The Impact of Incidental Awe and Pride on … Continue reading Consumer research study is retracted for unexplained anomalies

    in Retraction watch on June 24, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    School-Age Kids, But Not Preschoolers, Understand That Divulging A Friend’s Secret Could Damage The Friendship

    By Emma Young

    How many secrets have your friends shared with you? The answer could reveal a lot about your relationships. We not only share secrets with people we’re close to, but swap secrets to strengthen relationships. In my new novel, Here Lie the Secrets, I do use the sharing of deeply personal secrets to advance the relationship of my two main characters… However, as we also all know, discovering that a friend goes on to share your secret can seriously damage your relationship.

    Secrets, then, have an important role in our social lives. But, asks Zoe Liberman at the University of California Santa Barbara, when do we become aware of this? To what extent do children understand the significance of secrets — and the consequences of spilling them? Her results, published in Developmental Psychology, suggest be that it would be unwise to trust a four-year-old with any kind of secret — but with an 8-year-old, you’re much more likely to be safe.

    For the first of three studies, Liberman recruited 51 preschoolers (children start school later in the US than the UK, so these kids were aged between 3 and almost 6) and 67 school-age children, aged between 6 and almost 11. The children were introduced to three cartoon character children, whose gender was matched to the participant: a protagonist, their friend, and a classmate. The kids then either learned that the main character told their friend a secret, or that they told the classmate a secret. When the kids were asked whether they thought the confidante would keep the secret, Liberman established that the school-age group, but not the preschoolers, understand that friends are likely to keep each other’s secrets, while a classmate might not. They understand, then, that secret-keeping is important in friendship.

    For the second study, on 80 preschoolers and 175 school age children, Liberman used the same kind of experimental set-up to investigate the children’s thoughts about the consequences for a friendship if one friend either kept or revealed the other’s “personal secret” (described as something they had never told anyone before) to another child. She found that by six years of age, children expect the telling of a friend’s secret to weaken that friendship (an expectation that the 3–5 year olds did not share). Liberman also presented the participants with scenarios in which a “fact”, rather than a secret, was shared. The older children realised that sharing a fact wouldn’t impact a friendship. They understood then, that secrets are special.

    In these two studies, Liberman used the terms “secret” and “fact”. But perhaps the younger children didn’t really grasp the meaning of the term “secret”. So for the third study, she used previously validated examples of secrets, facts and surprises instead. Based on earlier work, she expected that the children would understand “He took something that wasn’t his”, for example, as a secret; “There is a playground at his school”, as a fact; and “He is having a surprise party for his dad” as a surprise. This study, on a fresh group of 123 preschoolers and 133 school-age children, largely replicated the earlier results. The older children, but not the younger ones, understood that sharing a friend’s secret with a third party would be damaging to a friendship. Again, they also recognised that sharing a surprise or fact would not have an impact.

    “We provide the first evidence that school-age children understand that how secrets are kept and told is related to relationship maintenance,” writes Liberman. And her work does show progressive improvements in this understanding with age. Though it was weak or non-existent in the 3- to 5-year-olds, it was apparent by age 6, and then became stronger through to age 11.

    More work is now needed to further explore children’s expectations about secrets. Do kids — as adults implicitly do — understand that secret-sharing is a way of strengthening nascent relationships, for example? And to what extent do children understand that spilling a secret can affect an individual’s reputation?

    As Liberman writes, “Secrets are a particularly powerful type of social knowledge and future research investigating children’s inferences about secret sharing will shed light on this critical and understudied aspect of children’s social-cognitive development.”

    Keep the cat in the bag: Children understand that telling a friend’s secret can harm the friendship

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 24, 2020 09:13 AM.

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    People’s Desire To Reciprocate Acts Of Kindness Is Surprisingly Robust

    By Emily Reynolds

    Prosocial behaviour can sometimes feel pretty paradoxical: you’re doing something to benefit somebody else, but it can come at a cost to yourself. That cost could be small — getting up to make a cup of tea, for example — or could be more significant in terms of time, money, or energy.

    Research has already established that there are four main forms of “reciprocity” that drive people to behave prosocially: wanting to do something nice for somebody who had been kind to you (direct reciprocity); doing good in the presence of people who might reward your generosity (reputational giving); paying it forward after experiencing kindness yourself (generalised reciprocity); or doing something for someone you’d seen be generous (rewarding reputation).

    But most of these motivations have been studied individually: what happens when — as in real life — they all occur at once? In a new study published in Science Advances, David Melamed and colleagues find that people intrinsically want to help each other — even when those drivers seem like they are competing with one another.

    To understand how these four motivations work together and overlap in a real life setting, the researchers asked participants to make a series of decisions about gifting tokens to other participants, who they did not realise weren’t real. For each decision, participants had a pool of 10 tokens: any they didn’t allocate to other users, they were told, they would keep for themselves. At the end of the study, these tokens would have a monetary value, so it was actually costly to gift to others but beneficial to receive tokens from others (received tokens were worth twice as much).

    To mimic the four drivers of reciprocity, participants saw information about what others had done with their tokens in each series of decisions. To imitate direct reciprocity, for instance, participants were told another participant had given them a number of tokens, while to imitate reputational giving they were told one participant would know how many tokens they had given to another. Importantly, a series of decisions contained between one and four of these different scenarios, allowing the researchers to look at how the factors interacted with one another as they would in the real world.

    Individually, motivators for prosocial behaviour were as expected: participants were more likely to give more if they knew they would be directly rewarded themselves (direct reciprocity), if they were given information about one or two others who had given to them (generalised reciprocity), if there had been others to witness their giving (reputational giving), and if they had seen another participant being generous (rewarding reputation).

    More interestingly, however, these factors barely ever seemed to “crowd” each other out. For instance, it didn’t matter if participants saw someone giving tokens to others and were given information about those who had given to them directly — they still shared their tokens with both of those individuals. These findings indicate that people are likely to be driven to act in a prosocial way no matter how different motivators are combined.

    This is particularly interesting when considered through the lens of self-bias: you might expect that someone would be less likely to reciprocate a favour done for someone else if they are also focused on repaying a favour that had been done specifically for them. But this wasn’t the case.

    So when you’re fed up with the world, it might be worth bearing these results in mind. Because even when it costs someone something, they’re still likely to help you out — and that potential for prosocial behaviour is most certainly a cause for cheer. “From an evolutionary perspective, it’s kind of perplexing that it even exists, because you’re decreasing your own fitness on behalf of others,” Melamed concludes. “And yet, we see it in bees and ants, and humans and throughout all of nature.”

    The robustness of reciprocity: Experimental evidence that each form of reciprocity is robust to the presence of other forms of reciprocity

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 23, 2020 03:03 PM.

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    A Wiley journal makes another article disappear

    In journalism, we have a running joke: Once something happens three times, it is a trend. Well, one publisher’s propensity for making articles disappear from journal websites seems to be a trend. Twice this month, we have reported on Wiley’s disappearing act. Angewandte Chemie, a top chemistry journal, made an editorial decrying diversity efforts disappear. … Continue reading A Wiley journal makes another article disappear

    in Retraction watch on June 23, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Tips for publishing in nursing journals

    Nurses: we hope you will share your expertise by publishing your research in nursing journals – here’s how

    in Elsevier Connect on June 23, 2020 09:50 AM.

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    #MeToo journalist Michael Balter sued for $18 Million by Danielle Kurin

    Veteran journalist Michael Balter is being sued for libel. He appeals to fellow reporters for help.

    in For Better Science on June 23, 2020 09:25 AM.

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    Changing research evaluation policies in China — insights and impacts

    In this free webinar, speakers discuss China’s new research policies and their potential impact on publishers, research institutions and researchers

    in Elsevier Connect on June 23, 2020 09:24 AM.

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    Heavy Coffee Drinkers Want Coffee A Lot More Than They Actually Like It

    By Emma Young

    If I had to choose between giving up alcohol or coffee, it would have to be alcohol. I just love coffee too much… But do I, really? Or do I just want it, which is different?

    Despite being the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, there’s ongoing debate about just how addictive caffeine is. It does share some of the criteria for dependence: regular users who skip their morning cup will often report withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, for example. “Caffeine use disorder” is even being discussed for potential inclusion in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But is it really addictive in the same fundamental way as a harder drug like cocaine?

    A new paper published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests that it is. Nicolas Koranyi at the University of Jena, Germany, and colleagues found that heavy coffee drinkers want coffee a lot more than they like it. The implication is that they drink it mostly or entirely to feed their addiction, rather than for pleasure.

    Typically, as someone develops an ever stronger dependence on an addictive drug, they come to want it more, as brain networks involved in motivation become more sensitised, but to like it less. The team figured that this was, then, a useful framework in which to explore attitudes to coffee.

    It’s not reasonable, though, just to ask people how much they want or like coffee, the team decided. They might easily confuse the two, and not know the answer. So the team designed a study to tap into the participants’ implicitly held associations between coffee and wanting or liking.

    Fifty-six German students took part. About half were “heavy” coffee drinkers, who consumed three or more cups per day. The rest either didn’t drink coffee or had no more than one cup a day. The participants first reported on their levels of coffee-related complaints, such as withdrawal symptoms. Then they embarked on the computer-based assessment.

    In the “liking” component of the study, participants saw a series of pictures of coffee and juice, interleaved with other trials in which they saw positive or negative pictures (e.g. puppies or human skulls). They had to use two keys on the keyboard to quickly indicate whether a given picture was either coffee or juice, or whether it was “pleasant” or “unpleasant”. For instance, during part of the experiment the right hand key was used to indicate that a picture was of coffee, but also to indicate that a picture was pleasant. This mapping changed during the experiment. Simply put, by comparing the speed of participants’ responses when “coffee” and “pleasant” pictures shared a key to when “coffee” and “unpleasant” pictures shared a key, the researchers could explore the extent to which they implicitly liked coffee.

    In the “wanting” component, participants again had to rapidly sort a series of coffee and juice images, this time indicating whether they were “wanted” or “not wanted”. Again, these were interspersed with other trials, this time displaying either a letter or a number. Participants had to respond with the “I want” key for numbers, and if their response was correct they would get a small amount of money. If they saw a letter, they had to respond “I do not want”. These trials gave an indication of how much participants implicitly wanted coffee .

    (It’s worth noting that this kind of task, known as the Implicit Association Test, has come under criticism in the past. However, in previous work, some of the authors of this new study have argued that the test holds enormous potential, if used properly. And in this study, it was not used in the same way as in controversial research to supposedly explore implicit racism, for example.)

    The results revealed that heavy drinkers had a strong wanting for coffee — much more than the light drinkers. But both heavy and light drinkers showed a similarly low liking for coffee. “To our knowledge, the findings… provide the first demonstration of a dissociation between wanting and liking for coffee for heavy coffee drinkers,” the researchers report. And this suggests that caffeine should indeed be placed in the same group as alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines, in affecting brain systems involved in motivational, wanting processes.

    Caffeine likely has a much weaker effect on this system than those other drugs. “However, with regard to the underlying motivational and neurophysiological processes involved in dependence development, the main difference between highly addictive drugs (eg alcohol or cocaine) and substances with lower addictive strength (eg caffeine) may be mainly a quantitative than a qualitative one,” the team concludes.

    As someone who typically drinks two cups of coffee each morning, I don’t meet the team’s “heavy user” definition. No matter how much I want it, I also know that I like it — especially a great cup. My favourite local cafe can’t re-open too soon…

    Dissociation between wanting and liking for coffee in heavy drinkers

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 22, 2020 11:16 AM.

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    Tortuous and torturous: Why publishing a critical letter to the editor is so difficult

    Often, when confronted with allegations of errors in papers they have published, journal editors encourage researchers to submit letters to the editor. Based on what we hear from such letter writers, however, the journals don’t make publication an easy process. Here’s one such story from a group at Indiana University: Luis M. Mestre, Stephanie L. … Continue reading Tortuous and torturous: Why publishing a critical letter to the editor is so difficult

    in Retraction watch on June 22, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Jan van Deursen left Mayo Clinic, accused of bullying

    Cancer and ageing researcher Jan van Deursen has silently left the Mayo Clinic, over allegations of bullying.

    in For Better Science on June 22, 2020 09:14 AM.

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    Fathers’ mental health: why is it important?

    Putting fathers’ mental health into perspective

    Becoming a father is an extremely important life event for a man. Fathers can experience new emotions, feelings, and changes initiated by the transition into parenthood. Some evidence shows that around 10% of new fathers experience depression, and yet this is still little understanding about this let alone appropriate support. Most new mothers perceive the father to be a crucial source of support. Poor paternal support can exacerbate maternal mental health problems. However, many fathers feel alienated and have little knowledge about how they can support their partner at this time.

    These days, around 98% of fathers are present at the birth of their child. If that birth becomes traumatic, the father witnessing these events can also become traumatized. While research exists about the impact of birth trauma on mothers, little is known about the impact on fathers. Some evidence shows that fathers encountered ‘a rollercoaster of emotions, characterized by isolation and abandonment’ when witnessing their partners’ birth trauma. Previous studies have shown that fathers get little information and support in the event of a traumatic birth.

    Fathers’ mental health matters for many reasons; we need to understand more about how we can help dads. My recent research has sought to explore that in more depth, while my campaigns urge better support for fathers. It’s not about support for fathers instead of mothers; it’s as well as. If we help fathers, we help mothers. If we help them both, we also help their children.

    My research with fathers’ mental health

    So far, my work has focused on three areas: what information and support fathers need to help their wife/partner should they experience poor mental health in the perinatal period; what support we need to give to fathers to deal with their own mental health in the perinatal period; and what information and support we need to give to fathers should their wife/partner experience what might perceived to be a traumatic birth.

    Our research shows that fathers feel that they are not properly considered when it comes to providing information and support regarding their own postnatal mental health.

    We are currently finalizing work on our research focusing on what support we need to give to fathers to manage their own mental health in the perinatal period, while the other two areas have been addressed in our recent papers in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth.

    What we found

    Fathers and birth trauma

    In our study of fathers who witnessed their partner’s traumatic birth, 61 fathers took part in a qualitative study that asked them to reflect on what information and support they were given. From those responses, three main themes were identified.

    1.  Fathers’ understanding after the experience

    Dads told us that ‘nothing could prepare them’ for the experience. One father said, “At no point was there any explanation to either my partner or myself to calm the situation.”

    Fathers also confirmed that they felt the experience was ‘not about them’, as one dad expressed his exclusion:  “No. I’m the male. My presence was often not acknowledged let alone my feelings.”

    2.  Life after birth trauma

    Many fathers expressed concerns about what happened after the event:  “The trauma of my son’s birth put me immediately into what felt like sole-responsibility for my entire family 24/7, ultimately excluded me from colleagues and friends and I struggled to cope.”

    The trauma clearly had an impact on many of the fathers’ mental health. One father told us he was “Upset, distressed and unable to cope very well. It was a feeling about the fragility of life during the birth and the overwhelming nature of the birth and the subsequent days.”

    For some fathers, the traumatic experience had an impact on the relationship with their partner and infant. For example:  “I wanted to be with my wife but I felt guilty that I didn’t want to be with the baby. When I was with the baby I didn’t feel the level of love that everyone says you do and I felt guilty about that.”

    3.  Support fathers received vs. what they wanted

    Fathers told us that they were not getting that support from healthcare professionals. One father said, “I should have been more included from the beginning. A mother and father should both complete questionnaires regarding depression and a father should be asked how he is feeling or if there is anything that he wants to ask or doesn’t understand. These questions are solely aimed at the expectant mother whilst a father has to butt in and speak during a conversation he is only there to witness.”

    Fathers supporting partner’s poor postnatal mental health

    Our second study sought to explore fathers’ experience of their partners’ postnatal mental health. Twenty-five fathers took part in a qualitative study that asked them to reflect on what information and support they were given when their partner became unwell. From their responses to an online questionnaire, we revealed several important themes.

    1.  Fathers not getting enough support

    Focusing on the amount of support received, one father told us “I didn’t know how to help her.

    Other fathers felt that any support given was of a poor quality. One commented that the support offered “…didn’t cover anything about the father and I felt lost.”

    2.  Fathers not getting enough information

    Fathers told us that they felt poorly informed. For example, one dad reflected on how he desired a “…basic understanding of depression and how to help when dealing with psychosis episodes.”

    3.  Having someone to talk to

    Many fathers would welcome having someone to talk to. One father explained how “… a specialist to sit with me and explain the situation and care plan” would have been useful.

    International Fathers Mental Health Day is a global event illustrating why fathers’ mental health matters.

    4.  Health professionals not taking fathers seriously

    Many fathers said that they experienced very little help from the health professionals caring for their partner. One said, “My wellbeing was of little interest to midwifes, health visitors… I had not given birth so had no cause for sympathy. A leaflet for my wife and a page for the fathers to read which wasn’t enough

    Global impact for fathers’ mental health

    Overall, the outcomes from our latest research show that fathers feel that they are not properly considered when it comes to providing information and support regarding their own postnatal mental health, including the impact of birth trauma, and for helping their partner should she need support.

    Today, June 22, is International Fathers Mental Health Day (IFMHD; the day after Fathers’ Day each year). In addition to research, my work involves campaigning for better perinatal mental health. I lead the UK side of IFMHD with global campaigner Mark Williams. IFMHD is led in the USA by Daniel Singley (The Center for Men’s Excellence) with support from Postpartum Support International. Bronwyn Leigh, Director of the Centre for Perinatal Psychology, leads from Australia.

    IFMHD is a global event that shares blogs, videos, research and news items illustrating why fathers’ mental health matters. In recent years, truly powerful stories have been posted across Twitter and Facebook and we have featured in some noteworthy global print and broadcast media. Publicity and evidence from IFMHD and other research-led campaigning has enabled us to influence change in mental health support services for fathers, at least in the UK. Research by groups such as ours helped persuade NHS England to begin screening fathers for their mental health for the very first time. We hope that our new evidence, highlighted here, will have similar impact, perhaps even beyond the UK.

    The post Fathers’ mental health: why is it important? appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 22, 2020 07:00 AM.

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    Weekend reads: When peer review fails; gender imbalances in citations; COVID-19 science under scrutiny

    Before we present this week’s Weekend Reads, a question: Do you enjoy our weekly roundup? If so, we could really use your help. Would you consider a tax-deductible donation to support Weekend Reads, and our daily work? Thanks in advance. The week at Retraction Watch featured: A paper that took a journal three days to accept … Continue reading Weekend reads: When peer review fails; gender imbalances in citations; COVID-19 science under scrutiny

    in Retraction watch on June 20, 2020 01:18 PM.

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    Academic precarity and the single PI lab model

    Brilliant young scientists are struggling to obtain a stable faculty position, all over the world. It seems that “publish or perish” was actually quite hopeful. Now clearly, at least in biology, it is more like “publish in Science, Nature or Cell every other year or perish”. Only a small proportion of PhD holders manage to obtain a stable academic position, and only at an advanced age after multiple postdocs. Of course, this competition for publishing in certain venues also has a great impact on science; encouraging dishonesty and discouraging both long-term creative work and solid incremental science. Everyone complains about the situation.

    What should we do about it? What I hear most frequently is that governments should increase the budget and create more faculty positions. That is certainly necessary but I think it is a reductionist view that largely misses the point. Of course, at the time when you start hiring more faculty, the proportion of young scientists who get a faculty position increases. However, if each of them then opens their lab and hire dozens of postdocs, then this proportion quickly reverts to what it was before.

    What is at stakes is the general organization of research, in particular the “X lab” model (e.g. the Brette lab), with one group leader (the “PI”) surrounded by a number of graduate students and postdocs (I will discuss only the research staff here), with a complete turnover every few years. It seems that in many countries, to get a faculty position means to start their “own” lab. This is not the case yet in France, but this lab model is spreading very, very fast. With the new law on research currently in discussion (“discussion” might not be the appropriate word, though), it is planned that about 25% of all new recruitments will follow this model (a tenure-track system).

    The math is easy. In a stable world, each faculty member will train on average one student to become a faculty member. For example, if a typical lab consists of 1 PI with 3 graduate students, rotating every 4 years, then over 40 years the PI will have trained 30 students, one of which would become a PI. The “success rate” would therefore be 1/30. Even with just one student at any given time, the chance for a student to end up getting a faculty position is 1/10.

    Of course, one does not necessarily pursue a PhD with the goal of obtaining a faculty position. It is completely respectable to do a PhD then go to the industry. In many countries, holding a PhD is an asset. It is generally not the case in France, though. One may also want to do a PhD not for career, but because it is interesting in itself. This seems perfectly valid. Note that in that case, implementing a subtask of the PI’s project and doing all the tedious bench work might not be ideal. In any case, it must be emphasized that in this lab model, training students for research is only a marginal aim of a PhD.

    How about postdocs? A postdoc is not a diploma. It typically doesn’t improve employability much. Of course, it could be done just for its own interest. But the experience I hear is mostly that of a highly stressful situation, because many if not most postdocs are hoping to secure a stable faculty position. Let us do the math again, with a simplified example. Suppose each lab has just 1 postdoc, rotating every 4 years. Compared to the above situation, it means that 1 out of 3 graduate students go on to do a postdoc. Then each of these postdocs has a 10% chance of getting a faculty position.

    Let us have a look at funding questions now. What seems very appreciated is that when you start a lab, you get a “start-up package”. There is a blog post on Naturejobs entitled “The faculty series: Top 10 tips on negotiating start-up packages” that describes it. We can read for example: “There’s no point having equipment if you don’t have any hands to use it. One of the largest costs you can expect to come out of your start-up fund are the salaries of PhD students and postdocs. They’re the most crucial components of the lab for almost all researchers.”. It is very nice to provide the PI with these “components of the lab”, but as argued above, a direct consequence is to organize academic precarity on a massive scale. This remains true even if the entire budget of the State is allocated to research.

    The same goes for the rest of the funding system. Project-based funding is conceived so that you hire people to implement your project, which you supervise. Part of these people are students and postdocs. For example, an ERC Starting Grant is 1.5 million euros for 5 years, or 300 k€ per year. In France, a PhD student costs about 30 k€ / year and a postdoc about the double. Of course, to that must be added the indirect costs (25%) and the grant also covers equipment and your own salary. But this is generally sufficient to hire a few students and postdocs, especially as in many countries graduate students are funded by other sources. Then the budget goes up to 2 million € for the consolidator grant and 2.5 million € for the advanced grant. The ERC has become a sort of model for good funding schemes in Europe, because it is so generous. But is it? Certainly it is for the PI who receives the grant, but a world where this mode of funding is generalized is a world where research is done by a vanishingly small proportion of permanent researchers. It is a world that is extremely cruel to young scientists, and with a very worrying demographic structure, most of the work being done by an army of young people with high turnover. You might increase the ERC budget several fold because it is such a great scheme, it will not improve this situation, at all.

    Ending academic precarity is a noble cause, but one has to realize that it is inconsistent with the one PI - one lab model, as well as with project-based funding. I want to add a couple of remarks. Precarity is obviously bad for the people who experience it, but it is also bad more generally for the academic system. The excessive competition it generates encourages bad practices, and discourages long-term creative work and solid incremental science. We must also look beyond research per se. The role of academia in society is not just to produce new science. It is also to teach and to provide public expertise. We need to have some people with a deep understanding of epidemiology that we can turn to for advice when necessary. You would not just hire a bunch of graduate students after a competitive call for projects to do this advising job when a new virus emerges. But with a pyramidal organization, a comparatively low proportion of the budget is spent on sustaining the most experienced persons, so for the same budget, you would have much lower expertise than in an organization with more normal demographics. This is incredibly wasteful.

    What is the alternative? Well, first of all, research has not always been organized in this way, with one PI surrounded by an army of students and postdocs. The landmark series of 4 papers by Hodgkin and Huxley in 1952 on the ionic basis of neural excitability did not come out of the "Hodgkin lab"; they came out from “the Physiological Laboratory, University of Cambridge”. The Hubel and Wiesel papers on the visual cortex were not done by graduate student Hubel under the supervision of professor Wiesel. Two scientists of the same generation decided to collaborate together, and as far as I know none of their landmark papers from the 1960s involved any student or postdoc. What strikes me is that these two experienced scientists apparently had the time to do the experiments themselves (all the experiments), well after they got a stable faculty position (in 1959). How many PIs can actually do that today, instead of supervising, hiring, writing grants and filling reports? It is quite revealing to read again the recent blog post cited above: “There’s no point having equipment if you don’t have any hands to use it.” - as if using it yourself was not even conceivable.

    In France, the 1 PI - 1 lab kind of organization has been taking on gradually over the last 20 years, with a decisive step presumably coming this year with the introduction of a large proportion of tenure tracks with “start-up packages”. This move has been accompanied by a progressive shift from base funding to project-based funding, and a steady increase in the age of faculty recruitment. This is not to say that the situation was great 20 years ago, but it is clearly worsening.

    A sustainable, non-pyramidal model is one in which a researcher would typically train no more than a few students over her entire career. It means that research work is done by collaboration between peers, rather than by hiring (and training) less experienced people to do the work. It means that research is not generically funded on projects led by a single individual acting as a manager. In fact, a model where most of the working force is already employed should have much less use of “projects”. A few people can just decide to join forces and work together, just as Hubel and Wiesel did. Of course, some research ideas might need expenses beyond the usual (e.g. equipment), and so there is a case for project-based funding schemes to cover for these expenses. But it is not the generic case.

    One of the fantasies of competitive project-based funding is that it would supposedly increase research quality by selecting the best projects. But how does it work? Basically, peers read the project and decide whether they think it is good. Free association is exactly that, except the peers in question 1) are real experts, 2) commit to actually do some work on the project and possibly to bring some of their own resources. Without the bureaucracy. Peer reviewing of projects is an unnecessary and poor substitute for what goes on in free collaboration - do I think this idea is exciting enough to devote some of my own time (and possibly budget) on it?

    In conclusion, the problem of academic precarity, of the unhealthy pressure put on postdocs in modern academia, is not primarily a budget problem. At least it is not just that. It is a direct consequence of an insane organization of research, based on general managerial principles that are totally orthogonal to what research is about (and beyond: teaching, public expertise). This is what needs to be challenged.

    in Romain Brette on June 20, 2020 11:27 AM.

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    Sad Tweets And Horror Games: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

    Keyboard for ideaOur weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

    Why do some people automatically see a colour for each day of the week, or associate shapes with particular tastes? At Nautilus, Sidney Perkowitz writes about recent research into the origins of synaesthesia — and how the phenomenon could help researchers understand how consciousness emerges in the brain.

    Birds and many other non-mammal vertebrates may be able to see colours that we humans can’t conceive of, writes Michael Le Page at New Scientist. That’s because they have a fourth cone in their retina that responds to ultraviolet light (humans only have three cones). Experiments have shown that when ultraviolet wavelengths combine with other wavelengths like those of red or blue light, the animals appear to see distinct colours.

    We’ve just experienced the saddest two weeks on Twitter, according to a long-term project that has been tracking the sentiment of users for over a decade. The “hedonometer” compares the language used in tweets with a dictionary of sad and happy words. In the two weeks beginning May 26th, these words were, on average, sadder than at any point previously, reports Giuliana Viglione at Nature. However, it’s debatable how much we can glean from this kind of data.

    We all respond differently to stress and trauma. But what exactly makes some people more resilient than others? At the New York Times, Eilene Zimmerman examines how we develop resilience, and what psychology can teach us about getting through the coronavirus crisis.

    In the office, it’s easy to get informal feedback on your work: you just have to drop by your boss’s desk or chat to your colleagues over lunch. But in lockdown, where you have to arrange Zoom meetings or type out an email, things are different, write Nathan Eva and colleagues at The Conversation. The researchers have found that informal feedback improves employees’ work, and they suggest “promoting an organisation-wide culture of constructive and supportive feedback” while working remotely.

    We’ve all seen images in the media vilifying people who are out in the park or queuing up outside shops. But the public has largely adhered to public health measures and not behaved selfishly, psychologist John Drury tells Nicola Davis at The Guardian. Drury warns against blaming the public for the UK’s high coronavirus toll, saying that to do so obscures the true reasons, such as political failures and systematic societal problems.

    I’m planning on spending much of the weekend playing the just-released survival horror game The Last of Us Part II.  According to Farah Mohammed at JSTOR Daily, such games can be cathartic, personifying the more intangible fears that we face in day-to-day life — and allowing us to defeat them. This could explain why horror games seem to have been so popular in recent months, Mohammed suggests. Meanwhile, over at The Psychologist, Jacob Pendrey discusses the appeal of a game that couldn’t be more different: Animal Crossing.

    Compiled by Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren), Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 19, 2020 03:06 PM.

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    I agree with your conclusions completely, and your paper is still terrible.

    Yesterday, dozens of scientists petitioned the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to “retract a paper on the effectiveness of masks, saying the study has ‘egregious errors’ and contains numerous ‘verifiably false’ statements,” as The New York Times reported. One of those scientists was James Heathers, whose name will likely be familiar to Retraction Watch … Continue reading I agree with your conclusions completely, and your paper is still terrible.

    in Retraction watch on June 19, 2020 12:38 PM.

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    Elsevier condemns racism and discrimination

    Committed to inclusion and equity, we stand in solidarity with Black communities – because Black Lives Matter

    in Elsevier Connect on June 19, 2020 11:44 AM.

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    Re-starting universities: we need to have a Plan A, B and C

    Research leaders at European universities share their post-pandemic strategies for re-starting – read our summary and watch the webinar

    in Elsevier Connect on June 19, 2020 10:20 AM.

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    “Honest errors happen in science:” JAMA journal retracts paper on antidepressants

    A review of scores of studies on antidepressants has been retracted because it used an incorrect analysis. The original paper, published in JAMA Psychiatry on February 19, 2020, looked at individual differences in patients taking antidepressants and concluded that there were significant differences beyond the placebo effect or the data’s statistical noise. The paper earned … Continue reading “Honest errors happen in science:” JAMA journal retracts paper on antidepressants

    in Retraction watch on June 19, 2020 10:00 AM.

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    Society journal Bioscience Reports, ravaged

    The society journal Bioscience Reports fell prey to many fraudulent papers. Cheshire counted around 50 with problematic figures, just for the last year.

    in For Better Science on June 19, 2020 08:04 AM.

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    Authors of article on IQ, religiosity and crime retract it to do “a level of vetting we should have done before submitting”

    The authors of a paper that some critics have labeled white supremacy in academic robes say they will be retracting the article because some of the data they’d used for their analysis were “highly questionable.”  The January 2020 article, from a group led by Cory Clark, of Heterodox Academy and New York University, was titled … Continue reading Authors of article on IQ, religiosity and crime retract it to do “a level of vetting we should have done before submitting”

    in Retraction watch on June 18, 2020 02:51 PM.

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    For Political Candidates, Making Jokes Online Might Backfire

    By Emily Reynolds

    Over the last few years, memes have played an increasingly important part in online political discussion: in 2016, the Washington Post dubbed the 2016 presidential election “the most-memed election in U.S. history”, and CNN has already christened the 2020 race “the meme election”.

    But politicians may want to pause for thought before they hit send on that jokey tweet. New research in Communication Research Reports, from Ohio State University’s Olivia Bullock and Austin Huber, suggests that humour doesn’t always go down well online — and that this can impact what voters think of particular candidates and potentially how they vote.

    The researchers showed 407 participants the Twitter profile of a fictional politician, Alex Smith, displayed as either male or female and either young or old. Smith was not given a political affiliation. The profile contained five tweets related to various hot-button issues including education, healthcare and voting and campaign issues.

    Half of participants saw formal, serious tweets on the topic (“we’re tired of getting bad healthcare! It’s time to fix our broken system”) while the other half saw informal tweets containing puns or plays on words (we’re sick of getting bad health care! It’s time to heal our broken system”).

    After viewing the profile, participants completed a questionnaire about their perceptions of Smith. First, they indicated how humorous they found the messages, before rating how appropriate they felt the tweets were for someone running for office and how surprised they were by them (that is, how much the tweets violated expectations about a candidate’s behaviour). They also answered questions on perceived credibility and how knowledgeable, trustworthy and likeable they found the candidate. Finally, participants were asked how likely they would be to vote, campaign or donate to the candidate were they running in their area.

    Participants did find the punny tweets more humorous compared to the more formal ones but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Those in the informal condition felt the tweets they saw violated their expectations about how a candidate should behave far more than those in the formal condition. This, in turn, led to feelings that the candidate was less credible, and to reduced levels of support. These findings held across sex and age, neither of which had a significant impact on how participants responded to the tweets.

    The study suggests that informal or jokey tweets could have a tangible impact on a politician’s success in the polls. But none of this is to say that well-executed jokes might not have a positive impact sometimes. Other work has suggested that Trump and his supporters were actively boosted during the 2016 election by their successful memeing, and it’s a strategy his camp continues to use in the run-up to the next one. And in some cases, humour clearly is working Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been widely lauded for her often humorous social media presence. This could relate to a lack of expectancy violation: politicians like Trump and Ocasio-Cortez have built their brands on more informal (though very different) communication styles, meaning voters are not surprised by jokes online.

    Puns, the “informal” form of communication used in this study, are not a particularly sophisticated form of humour, so future work might look at different types: irony, sarcasm or surrealism, for example. The relationship between jokes and political affiliation would also be interesting to look at: what impact humour has on floating voters, for example, or whether partisan voters have different interpretations of jokes that come from their own party or a rival party.

    It’s unlikely that political campaigns will become any less “online” if anything, the influence of the internet is only set to increase. But caution is probably needed for political candidates looking to get a laugh otherwise, they may find themselves the butt of the joke.

    Candidates’ use of informal communication on social media reduces credibility and support: Examining the consequences of expectancy violations

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 18, 2020 01:46 PM.

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    Using knowledge mining to fast-track innovative treatments for disease

    Academic-industry collaboration In Silico Biology creates computer models that tap into how researchers interpret their data

    in Elsevier Connect on June 18, 2020 11:54 AM.

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    Open science and the reward system: how can they be aligned?

    In webinar, experts on open science and career assessment will discuss the current reward system in academia and the potential for its reform

    in Elsevier Connect on June 17, 2020 01:26 PM.

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    This Hard-To-Read Font Was Designed To Boost Memory — But It Might Not Actually Work

    By Emily Reynolds

    Whether we’re learning a new language, prepping for a job interview or simply trying to remember what we went into the kitchen for, many of us are keen to cultivate a better memory. And often strategies that add an element of effort or difficulty can help: drawing things rather than writing them down, for example, or generating questions about study material rather than simply reading it.

    So in 2018, there was much fanfare when a team from Australia’s RMIT University developed a difficult-to-read font, Sans Forgetica, that they said could boost memory through such a “desirable difficulty”.

    But new research in Memory from Andrea Taylor and colleagues from the University of Warwick and the University of Waikato, New Zealand, has put the font to the test — and found little evidence that it actually improves our memory.

    Sans Forgetica was developed by a team of psychologists, marketers and graphic designers to create a feeling of “disfluency”. The font appears slanted and broken up, and, they claimed, this obstruction forces readers to process the information more deeply, promoting learning at the same time. Though previous research had suggested that disfluency can promote learning, there was mixed evidence on whether it was possible to create this effect with a font. The group of researchers behind Sans Forgetica believed that it was. Their results were never published, however, so the new team wanted to try and replicate those effects themselves.

    Sans ForgeticaExample of the Sans Forgetica font.
    Via Taylor et al (2020) / https://sansforgetica.rmit (CC BY-NC 3.0)

    An initial test established that Sans Forgetica is indeed more difficult to read than the standard font Arial; the team then conducted three experiments to establish whether the font had memory-boosting qualities too. First, 156 participants were shown a series of twenty word pairs, each of which was presented to them on a screen for 100 milliseconds. Each pair contained two associated words — chip and potato, for example — and half of the pairs were presented in Sans Forgetica and half in Arial.

    After a short break of either ten, twenty or thirty seconds, participants took part in a memory test in which the first word of a pair was presented — their job was to type the second word. This test was presented in Times New Roman.

    The results suggested that words written in Sans Forgetica were not more memorable: in fact, participants recalled fewer words that had been presented in the font than they did words presented in Arial. This was true regardless of how long the delay between tests was.

    A second study looked at Sans Forgetica’s impact on longer, prose pieces. Three hundred participants read five educational prose passages (around 300 words long) containing some information in Sans Forgetica and some in Arial. After five minutes playing a card matching game, participants were tested on their memory of the information via multiple choice questions on the passages.

    But despite claims that Sans Forgetica actively boosts memory, there was no difference in performance between the two fonts — participants answered 74% of questions about Sans Forgetica-printed information correctly vs 73% of Arial-printed information.

    A final study looked at whether Sans Forgetica might have an effect on memory when people had to process information more deeply. The team asked 275 participants to read 500-word passages on different topics presented in a mix of Sans Forgetica and Arial. They were then asked to answer 12 questions designed to test their understanding of concepts contained in the passages, typing their understanding of a particular idea (e.g. “how does the process of gas exchange work?”) in an open-text box.

    Again, participants’ memory for the conceptual information was no better when it had been shown in Sans Forgetica than when it had been shown in Arial: for information presented in Sans Forgetica, participants scored an average of 37.6%; in Arial, their score was 37.06%.

    The results suggest that disfluent fonts — that is, fonts supposedly promoting desirable difficulties — aren’t actually that useful when it comes to retaining information. The team does note that individual differences, which they did not examine, could impact on the efficacy of Sans Forgetica or similar fonts. And if disfluent fonts promote deep learning, as their proponents claim, then an effect may also be more obvious after a longer break period — this could be a good focus of future research.

    But if you’re looking for a magic bullet to boost your memory, Sans Forgetica probably isn’t it.

    Disfluent difficulties are not desirable difficulties: the (lack of) effect of Sans Forgetica on memory

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 17, 2020 01:01 PM.

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    Probabilistic Optimization Algorithms for Real-Coded Problems And Its Application in Latin Hypercube Problem

    This week on Journal Club session Mohammad Tayarani-Najaran will talk about paper "Probabilistic Optimization Algorithms for Real-Coded Problems And Its Application in Latin Hypercube Problem".

    This paper proposes a novel optimization algorithm for read-coded problems called the Probabilistic Optimization Algorithm (POA). In the proposed algorithm, rather than a binary or integer, a probabilistic representation is used for the individuals. Each individual in the proposed algorithm is a probability density function and is capable of representing the entire search space simultaneously. In the search process, each solution performs as a local search and climbs the local optima, and at the same time, the interaction among the probabilistic individuals in the population offers a global search. The parameters of the proposed algorithm are studied in this paper and their effect on the search process is presented. A structured population is proposed for the algorithm and the effect of different structures is analyzed. The algorithm is used to solve Latin Hyper-cube problem and experimental studies suggest promising results. Different benchmark functions are also used to test the algorithm and results are presented. The analyses suggest that the improvement is more significant for large scale problems.


    Date: 19/06/2020
    Time: 16:00
    Location: online

    in UH Biocomputation group on June 17, 2020 12:30 PM.

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    EULAR 2020: highlights from the European e-Congress of Rheumatology

    Welcome to EULAR 2020 e-Congress visual

    Rheumatology at the centre of the COVID-19 pandemic

    Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic was the elephant in the room throughout this e-Congress. Delegates sat behind their screens to view lectures and asked questions using a chatbox function. Only minor technical issues occurred, honestly to be expected in this new era of conference attendance. And while 17,500 attendees connected on Day 1 of the e-Congress, the typical media channels, e.g. Twitter, appeared significantly quieter than 2019’s edition. Indeed, Editorial Board Members at BMC Rheumatology remarked to me that clinical and household duties interfered with their ability to engage fully in this meeting. Good thing that all lectures and conference resources are online until 1 September 2020!

    Take home messages from EULAR’s provisional recommendations on the effects of COVID-19 on patients with RMDs. Reference: Prof Robert Landewé

    COVID-19 has become part of our medical reality, and the scientific programme demonstrated this. Prof Robert Landewé, University of Amsterdam, led an opening session on EULAR recommendations related to the management of RMDs in the context of COVID-19. He noted that rheumatologists are well-placed to manage coronaviruses, given that i) they understand the immune system, ii) their medical speciality is used to treating multiple organ systems at once, and iii) rheumatologists often use the immunotherapy drugs currently being trialled in SARS-CoV-2.

    Dr Machado provided reassurance that rheumatic patients receiving immunosuppressant medications were not disproportionately affected by SARS-CoV-2

    Notable talks included Dr Pedro Machado, University College London, who reported the first findings from the Global Rheumatology Alliance database on the outcome of COVID-19 and impact of rheumatic disease therapy on 600 patients across 40 countries. He provided reassurance that rheumatic patients receiving immunosuppressant medications were not disproportionately affected by SARS-CoV-2. Researchers analysed rheumatic patient data and studied potential hospitalization and course of COVID-19 infection, valuable data given its scarcity to date. The intake of glucocorticoid steroids, of anti-malarial drugs (e.g. hydroxychloroquinine), and of TNA-alpha inhibitors were associated with an increased, no change, and reduced probability of hospitalizations, respectively. Most patients with RMDs recovered from COVID-19 irrespective of their medication choice, and treatment regimens should proceed with vigilance. As this study was associative and not causative, well-designed clinical trials are needed to inform future medical practice.

    Prof John Isaacs, University of Newcastle, then talked about the increased risk of rheumatic patients suffering from venous thromboembolism, a blood clotting complication that can kill one third of those affected. Since these blood clots play a serious role in how COVID-19 kills, new research indicates that TNF-alpha inhibiting drugs reduce thrombotic risk by lowering inflammation. Increased awareness of such complications and maintenance of therapies is therefore recommended in people with arthritis.

    Even before COVID-19, Dr Kristen Hoeper explained that ~50% of patients with RMDs received inadequate medical care. One new study from Germany demonstrated that patient care in rheumatoid arthritis by ‘rheumatological assistants’ (i.e. specialized nurses) is just as effective as treatment by rheumatologists. Given the pressures SARS-CoV-2 is currently placing on healthcare systems, EULAR, therefore, advocates an integrated team approach comprising rheumatologists and other health care professionals in the management and psychological support of patients with inflammatory rheumatic diseases. As telemedicine grows in parallel, the face of patient care is changing rapidly.

    Other interesting talks

    Virtual experiences cannot truly serve as a substitute for face-to-face meetings, as the lack of physical networking opportunities is a major drawback.

    An increasing number of patients with osteoarthritis are taking pain-relieving opioids, such as tramadol and codeine. Recent European analyses found that consumption of opioids in patients has increased from 15% (2007) to 25% (2016), even when anti-inflammatory drug treatment begins. The risk of death during the first year of opioid treatments compared to non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) was significantly higher in another study. Calls for doctors to use these analgesics more safely is advised, given their abuse potential, and other pain control methods are encouraged.

    The early implementation of patient and public involvement (PPI) in research, machine learning/artificial intelligence, and high-intensity exercise into rheumatology care was evident by the symposia on offer at this e-Congress. The field of rheumatology is ahead of the curve in recent years, so it may not take long until automated scoring of radiographic images and prescriptive exercise are incorporated in other clinical disciplines.

    Re-connecting online with those I enjoyed meeting at EULAR 2019 and whom I was prevented seeing in person. Pictured with Ali Mobasheri, Section Editor at BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, and Abigail Jones, Journal Development Editor at Arthritis Research & Therapy.

    First thoughts on virtual conferences

    Virtual experiences cannot truly serve as a substitute for face-to-face meetings, as the lack of physical networking opportunities is a major drawback. However, the scientific content did not significantly suffer by the switch to virtual. EULAR steering committee should be commended for pivoting their content online and launching the Virtual Research Centre, a hub to accelerate research into RMDs.

    I personally adapted by re-connecting online with those I enjoyed meeting at EULAR 2019 and whom I was prevented from seeing this year. Others, such as EMEUNET (Emerging EUlar NETwork), hosted a networking event on the virtual world platform Second Life. Behavioural adaptions such as these may be necessary in 2021, if we cannot meet in Paris for the next EULAR Congress.

    The post EULAR 2020: highlights from the European e-Congress of Rheumatology appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 17, 2020 11:00 AM.

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    “So you didn’t feel so alone”: The value of online support for new mothers with perinatal anxiety, especially in isolation

    Perinatal anxiety, which refers to the experience of distressing anxiety symptoms during pregnancy and up to a year after childbirth, is fairly common. In fact, research suggests under ‘normal circumstances’ around 1 in 5 women may experience significant levels of anxiety in the perinatal period. However, it seems likely that this proportion may be even higher as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, and preliminary evidence we are collecting appears to support this idea.

    Despite the prevalence of perinatal anxiety, fewer than 50% of women experiencing symptoms will seek help or receive treatment (see the NCT’s #hiddenhalf campaign for more details). This is problematic, as research suggests that untreated perinatal anxiety may be associated with a number of long- and short-term consequences for both mother and baby, including premature birth, excessive infant crying, bonding issues, and developmental and mental health problems in children. So it is important that we better understand, recognize, and support women who may be suffering from perinatal anxiety symptoms.

    To shed some light on this, we recently held focus groups to explore women’s experience of anxiety in the perinatal period and gain insight into their opinions of online support. While our study, published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, was carried out before the pandemic began, some of the findings may be particularly relevant at a time when we are social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

    Anxiety Triggers

    The study identified a number of specific sources of anxiety for women in the perinatal period. These included:

    In lockdown, turning to the internet for information and online peer support may be particularly helpful.

    (1) A mismatch between mothers’ reality and their expectations of childbirth and motherhood. Both social media and traditional media contain romanticized depictions of what pregnancy and having a baby should be like, which can set unrealistic expectations about motherhood and can lead women to feel anxious and like they have failed when their experiences don’t quite match up.

    I just struggle with parenthood being completely honest. It’s like one of these things where there’s so much social media these days saying how you should be this and that. And for me that’s actually, like the biggest thing that really blocks me from thinking actually it’s OK, like this is normal.”

     (2) Uncertainty and maternal confidence. Related to point 1, many women described struggling with the adjustment to motherhood. In line with a plethora of research that shows a significant link between anxiety symptoms and feelings of uncertainty, women in this study found the unknowns of pregnancy and motherhood to be particularly anxiety-provoking. They felt generally underprepared which often translated into a lack of maternal confidence and feeling like they weren’t doing it ‘right.’ This uncertainty stemmed from a general lack of experience with and knowledge about key aspects of motherhood, from giving birth to changing nappies and feeding.

    “That’s actually why people then struggle. I suppose we all go through our lives being good at a lot of things. You’ve established a career, you’ve established yourself, you’ve got qualifications. And then suddenly… this baby arrives and you’re not good at anything.”

    (3) A lack of support. Most women a spoke about motherhood being isolating at times, which was a large source of distress. Those who were far away from friends and family felt this was a particular source of anxiety. This may be of particular concern under lockdown, especially as most women in our study highlighted that their peers were the single most important source of support in the perinatal period.

    (4) Mental health literacy. A lack of recognition and knowledge about perinatal anxiety itself also contributed to anxiety symptoms, as women often didn’t know what was wrong with them. While many were able to find information about postnatal depression, few identified information about the anxious symptoms they were experiencing, which led them to feel distressed, confused, and increasingly anxious. This lack of knowledge and uncertainly about their situation acted as both a barrier to seeking support and as a trigger for spiraling anxiety.

    Online Support

    One of the key aims of the study was to explore women’s opinions of existing and potential online strategies for supporting perinatal anxiety.

    Overwhelmingly, women in the study thought the Internet could be a valuable source of support for women experiencing perinatal anxiety. Specifically, they felt that being able to access unbiased evidence-based information about parenthood and anxiety itself could alleviate some of the uncertainty that underlay their anxiety symptoms. However, they were generally unable to find information on perinatal anxiety specifically. To address this, we have now developed an open-access website that provides evidence-based information explicitly about perinatal anxiety. Visit Open P.A.W.S. for access to more information, screening tools, self-help guides, and exercises.

    Furthermore, women were able to use the internet to access peer support, which also had the power to breakdown idealized notions of motherhood. While our research suggests using large forums (such as Mumsnet/Netmums) may be more anxiety-provoking than relieving, many mums found smaller targeted groups really helpful. These offered an opportunity to form virtual relationships with mothers in the same position as themselves, and hear more realistic stories of parenthood which could normalize their own experiences.

    “So we just post whatever’s going on. So if you’re having a really naff day you’ll say Jesus Christ, the kids have done this, this and this. And someone goes oh tell me about it. And it’s just somebody, like, who’s feeling the same thing as you, so it’s not completely like… all the social media where it’s this perfect mum… it’s well I’m here with cereal stuck in my hair and it’s two o’clock in the afternoon. So at least with that it was other normal mums that were just like yeah, I’m doing the same thing as you. So you didn’t feel so alone.”

    Isolation and lockdown

    In lockdown, when feelings of isolation are likely to further exacerbate anxiety symptoms, turning to the internet for information and online peer support may be particularly helpful. Finding reliable, realistic sources of information about perinatal anxiety (such as OpenPAWS) and targeted peer support (such as The Perinatal Mental Health International Online Peer Support Group) is likely to be particularly beneficial in alleviating symptoms of anxiety during this time.

    The post “So you didn’t feel so alone”: The value of online support for new mothers with perinatal anxiety, especially in isolation appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 17, 2020 08:00 AM.

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    Graphene Flagship deploys Stripy Stellacci to fight the Coronavirus

    How can EU Flagships help with coronavirus pandemic? Human Brain Project offers IT power and cigarettes, while Graphene Flagship established a COVID-19 Task Force. With Francesco "Stripy" Stellacci as virology expert!

    in For Better Science on June 17, 2020 06:00 AM.

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    Nerd Food: Notes on Computational Finance, Part I: Introduction

    Nerd Food: Computational Finance, Part I: Introduction

    Welcome to the first part of what we hope will be a long series of articles exploring QuantLib, Open Source Risk Engine (ORE), libbitcoinand other interesting finance-related FOSS (Free and Open Source) projects. However, I'm afraid this will be a bit of a dull first post, as we need to clarify our objectives before we can jump into the fray.


    Even though I've been a software engineer in the financial sector for over fifteen years, I've always felt I lacked a deep understandingof the foundational concepts that make up the domain. As a self-confessed reductionist, I find this state of affairs extremely uncomfortable, akin to hearing a continuous loop of David Hilbert's words: wir müssen wissen, wir werden wissen1. The situation had to be remedied, somehow, and the material you are now reading is the proposed fix for my ailments. As to the methodology: given I've had some success in applying the Feynman Technique2 to other complex domains, it seemed only natural to try to use it for this endeavour as well. Past experience also demonstrated writing is an adequate replacement for in vivocommunication, which is just as well in this brave new world of social distancing.

    So that's that for the why and the how. But, just what exactly are we researching?


    These posts shall largely amble where our fancy takes us, within the porous boundaries of finance. Alas, we can hardly keep calling our target domain "trading, accounting, crypto and a bit of quantitative finance, when viewed through the lens of FOSS" - descriptive though that might sound. We are Software Engineers after all, and if there is one thing we do is to name things, especially when we lack competence to do so3. In this vein, I decided to call this motley domain of ours "Computational Finance". Should the name have merit, I'm afraid I have little claim to it, as it was shamelessly stolen from this passage in Wolfram's writings:

    Doctors, lawyers, teachers, farmers, whatever. The future of all these professions will be full of computational thinking. Whether it’s sensor-based medicine, computational contracts, education analytics or computational agriculture - success is going to rely on being able to do computational thinking well.

    I’ve noticed an interesting trend. Pick any field X, from archeology to zoology. There either is now a “computational X” or there soon will be. And it’s widely viewed as the future of the field.

    These seemed like inspiring words for anyone embarking on a long and uncertain journey, so we made them our own and, in turn, it gave us a name to rally around. But what of its boundaries? One of the biggest challenges facing the reductionist is that, in the limit, everything is interconnected with everything else, for there is no natural halting function. Thus, if you are not careful, all paths will eventually lead you into the realm of quarks and particle physics, regardless of your starting point. Now, that would not be an entirely useful outcome. I have never found a completely satisfactory answer to this question in any on my previous meanderings, but in general I tend to follow an empiric approach and let taste be my guide4. Granted, its probably not the scientific solution you were expecting, but it seems that there are "intuitive" boundaries in subjects, and when we hit one of those we shall stop5. As an example, for our purposes we need not look in detail at legal frameworks when trying to understand financial concepts, though the two disciplines are deeply intertwined.


    An issue which is closely interrelated with the previous one is on how to strike a balance between computational exploration versus domain definitions. Too much exploration and you proceed full steam ahead without knowing the meaning of things; too many boring definitions and they become just words without bringing any light to the subject under scrutiny. The sweet spot lies somewhere in the middle.

    Our approach can be described as follows. We shall try to progress very slowly and methodically through the concepts in the domain, building them up as we climb the abstraction ladder but without making them too dense and technical. We'll make extensive use of Wikipedia definitions, where possible, but keeping these focused only on the point at hand rather than exploring the myriad of possibilities around a theme.

    Finally, we shall try to marry domain concepts with our chosen implementations - the computational experiments part - in order to illustrate their purpose and get a better understanding at what it is that they are trying to do. So, each post will be focused on one fairly narrow subject area, start with a bunch of definitions which are hopefully self-explanatory and then proceed to explore the available implementations on that topic, or code that we write ourselves.


    The target audience for this material is the fabled homo developus, that non-existent "standard developer" - in this particular case, one moderately competent on C++ but unfamiliar with computational finance. On the "finance" part, if you are already familiar with the domain, you will no doubt find the content very slow going. I'm afraid this is by design: the objective is to try to build the concepts on a solid foundation for those not in the know, so slowness is unavoidable6.

    With regards to the computational part: the astute reader will likely point out that there are a great deal of tutorials on QuantLib, ORE and many other libraries of a similar ilk, and many books have been written on quantitative finance. One could be forgiven for wondering if there is a need to pile on more literature onto a seemingly already crowded subject.

    In our defence, we are yet to find work that directly targets "plain" software developers and provides them with a sufficiently broad view of the domain. In addition, most of the existing material is aimed at either those with strong mathematical abilities but no domain knowledge, or its converse, leaving many gaps in the understanding. What we are instead aiming for is to target those with strong programming abilities but no particular knowledge of either computational finance or mathematics. And this leads us nicely to our next topic.


    Our assumption is that you, dear reader, are not able to attain deep levels of understanding by staring at page after page of complex mathematical formulae. I, for one, certainly cannot. Unfortunately, non-trivial mathematics is difficult to avoid when covering a subject matter of this nature so, as a counterweight, we shall strive to use it sparingly and only from a software engineering applicationperspective. Note that this approach is clearly not suitable for the mathematically savvy amongst us, as they will find it unnecessarily laboured; then again, our focus lies elsewhere.

    Our core belief is that an average reader (like me) should be able to attain a software engineer's intuition of how things work just by fooling around with software models of formulae. The reason why I am very confident on this regard is because that's how developers learn: by coding and seeing what happens. In fact, it is this very tight feedback loop between having an idea and experimenting with it that got many of us hooked into programming in the first place, so its a very powerful tool in the motivational arsenal. And, as it turns out, these ideas are related to Wolfram's concept of Experimental Mathematics. Ultimately, our aspiration is to copy the approach taken by Klein in Coding the Matrix, though perhaps that sets the bar a tad too high. Well, at least you get the spirit of the approach.


    Another rather peculiar idea we pursued is the use of cryptocurrencies throughout, to the exclusion of everything else. Whilst very popular in the media, where they are known as cryptos, in truth cryptocurrencies still have a limited presence in the "real" world of finance, and nowhere more so than in derivatives - i.e., the bulk of our analysis. So at first blush, this is a most puzzling choice. We have decided to do so for three reasons.

    Firstly, just because I wanted to learn more about cryptos. Secondly, because there is a need to bridge the knowledge gap between these two distinct worlds of finance; to blend the old with the new if you will. Personally, I think it will be interesting to see what the proliferation of derivatives will do to cryptos - but for that we need to disseminate financial knowledge. Finally, and most important of all, because in order to properly illustrate all of the concepts we shall cover, and to drive the open source libraries to their potential, one needs vast amounts of data of the right kind. Lets elaborate further on this point.

    One of the biggest problems with any material in quantitative finance is in obtaining data sets which are sufficiently rich to cover all of the concepts being explained. This, in my opinion, is one of the key shortcomings with most tutorials: they either assume users can source the data themselves, or provide a small data set to prove a very specific point but which is insufficient for wider exploration7. This document takes a slightly different approach. We will base ourselves on a simulated world - a parallel reality if you'd like, thinly anchored to our reality by freely available data taken from the crypto markets. We shall then generate all of the remaining data, to the level of precision, richness and consistency required both to drive the code samples, but also to allow for "immersive" exploration. In fact, the very processes for data generation will be used as a pathway for domain exploration.

    Of course, generated data is not perfect - i.e., realistic it is not, by definition - but our point is to understand the concepts, not to create new quant models that trade in the real world, so it is adequate for our needs. In addition, the data sets and code samples, as well as the means used to derive them shall be part of a git repository under an open source licence, so they can be extended and improved over time.

    If you are not familiar with cryptos, don't worry. For starters, we can assume the intricate mechanistic details to a large extent - the blockchain and so forth - and introduce key concepts as required. We need not concern ourselves with this because there is plenty of freely available material covering it in excruciating detail, and designed specifically for software engineers. Instead, we shall treat cryptos as if they were regular currencies, except where they are just too different - in which case we'll point out the differences. Its a bit of a strange approach, but hopefully it will produce the desired results.

    Non Goals

    If you are trying to learn techniques on how to trade, this is not the material for you. Even when we discuss trading strategies and other similar topics, our focus is always on trying to understand how the machinery works rather than on how to make money with it. Similarly, if you are a quant or are trying to become one, you are probably better off reading the traditional books such as Hull or Wilmott rather than these posts, as our treatment of mathematics will be far too basic for your requirements. However, if you are an expert in this subject area, or if you find any mistakes please do point them out.


    As with anything to do with finance, we need to set out the standard disclaimers. To make sure these are seen, we shall add them to each post.

    Legal Disclaimer

    All of the content, including source code, is either written by the author of the posts, or obtained from freely available sites in the internet, with suitable software licences. All content sources shall be clearly identified at the point of use. No proprietary information of any kind - including, but not limited to, source code, text, market data or mathematical models - shall be used within this material.

    All of the views expressed here represent exclusively myself and are not those of any corporation I may be engaged in commercial activities with.

    The information available in these blog posts is for your general information and use and is not intended to address your particular requirements. In particular, the information does not constitute any form of financial advice or recommendation and is not intended to be relied upon by users in making (or refraining from making) any investment decisions.8

    All software written by the author for these posts is licensed under the Gnu GPL v3. As per the licence, it is "distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but without any warranty; without even the implied warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. See the GNU General Public License for more details."


    With all of the preliminaries out of the way, we can move on to the meat of the subject. On Part II we shall discuss our first real topic, and it could not be much more fundamental: Money.



    "We must know, we will know". As per Wikipedia:

    The epitaph on his tombstone in Göttingen consists of the famous lines he spoke at the conclusion of his retirement address to the Society of German Scientists and Physicians on 8 September 1930. The words were given in response to the Latin maxim: "Ignoramus et ignorabimus" or "We do not know, we shall not know".


    The Feynman Technique is a well-established learning methodology. For more details, see Richard Feynman: The Difference Between Knowing the Name of Something and Knowing Something.


    There are no circumstances under which I have seen software developers lacking confidence. I feel that the motto of our profession should be the Latin translation of Make up with confidence that which you lack for in competence.


    An idea that was most likely inspired by Linus' views on good taste. For details see Applying the Linus Torvalds “Good Taste” Coding Requirement.


    Of course, your intuition is not my intuition. I'm afraid you will have to take my taste as a given, even where you disagree. Feel free to make your views heard though.


    As they say in my home country of Angola, malembe malembe. The expression can be loosely translated to English as "slowly but surely", or "slowly does it".


    As an example, the latter approach is taken by a library I respect very much, the Open Source Risk Engine (ORE).


    This paragraph was obtained from the Truly Independent Ltd and modified to suit our needs.

    in Marco Craveiro on June 16, 2020 09:29 PM.

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    Why Are We So Quick To Scrutinise How Low-Income Families Spend Their Money?

    By Matthew Warren

    As shops re-opened in the UK this week, social media users were quick to pour scorn on the hundreds of eager shoppers who queued up to get in. Yes, it’s unclear whether it was a good decision to re-open businesses — but there was a certain snobbishness to many of these posts. Most of the ire was directed at those lining up outside Primark, which sells clothes at prices more affordable to those on low incomes than most other high street stores. Meanwhile, queues also formed outside high-end shops like Selfridges and Harrods — but these shoppers somehow escaped the wrath of most social media commentators.

    This situation seems to reflect a broader inequality in how we judge other people’s purchase decisions: we’re much more willing to scrutinise — or even dictate — how people on lower incomes spend their money compared to those on higher incomes. There are countless examples of this — think of the low-income mother who is criticised for treating her children to a rare meal out, or the refugee who is shamed for owning a smartphone.

    Now a new study in PNAS provides some clues as to the origins of this bias. Across a series of 11 studies involving more than 4,000 participants, Serena Hagerty and Kate Barasz from Harvard Business School find that we tend to believe lower-income people need less than those on higher incomes, and that this in turn restricts our perceptions about what is acceptable for this group to buy.

    In the first couple of studies, participants read about Joe, who was described as having either a low- or high-paying job. They learned that Joe had won a $200 gift card which he spent on a flat screen TV. They then rated five statements which measured how “permissible” they thought his purchase was (e.g. “He made a responsible purchasing decision” and “He deserves to buy what he did”). Those who read that Joe had a low income rated his purchase as less permissible than those who read that he had a high income, or who were given no information about his income.

    In a subsequent study, participants read about a woman looking for a child’s car seat who ultimately chooses to buy the more expensive of two options. Again, those who read she had a low income thought her decision was less permissible than those who read she had a high income. In fact, the team observed the same pattern for a range of products: participants who rated the permissibility of 20 different goods and services, from household appliances to pet products, indicated that almost all of these were less acceptable for a lower-income person to buy.

    So people clearly think that purchasing the very same product is often less acceptable for a low-income than high-income individual — but why is that the case? The researchers thought it could come down to people’s perceptions of the needs of others. So, in the next few studies, they looked at which purchases participants deemed necessary.

    The team repeated the car seat scenario, for instance, finding that those who read that the mother was on a low income believed that the purchase was less necessary than those who read she was on a high income. Similarly, in another study, participants read about a low- or high-income family looking for a new house, and were asked to rate how necessary it was that the house had 20 different features, such as a garage or storage space. Of these 20 features, 17 were rated as more necessary for the high-income family. Disturbingly, these even included basic requirements like “close to hospitals” or “a neighbourhood that is safe/secure”.

    These findings suggest that people believe low-income individuals need particular items less than high-income individuals — and further studies showed that purchases that were considered less necessary were, in turn, considered less permissible.

    Finally, the researchers demonstrated that these perceptions actually influence people’s behaviour. In one study, participants could help a hypothetical family decide what to buy. Participants who read that the family was on a low income were much less likely to allocate money to “low permissibility” products like a television than those in the high-income condition. And when deciding whether to gift a low-income individual either a $100 grocery voucher or a $200 electronics voucher, only a quarter of participants went for the latter, even though it was worth twice as much. More than half said they would give a high-income individual the electronics voucher, however. “Paradoxically, the result was that participants effectively allocated more money to higher-income people than lower-income people,” the authors note.

    These last findings have worrying implications when it comes to thinking about charitable donations or how resources are distributed to the less fortunate, write the authors. If people hold such a narrow view of the needs of those on lower incomes, then it’s easy to see how resources could be allocated disproportionately to the most basic necessities — food and housing, say — while ignoring higher-level needs that are seen as less “permissible” — access to the internet or to recreation facilities, for instance.

    The research could also help explain why it is so common to hear politicians and opinion writers moralising about what poorer people should and should not spend their money on, or why state provisions for those on lower incomes often barely meet the most basic standard. “In essence,” the researchers conclude, “people seem to conceptualize necessity differently for lower-income versus higher-income others, such that the “wants” of the poor evolve into the “needs” of the wealthier.”

    Inequality in socially permissible consumption

    Matthew Warren (@MattBWarren) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 16, 2020 02:47 PM.

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    Highlights of the BMC Series: May 2020

    BMC CancerAre cancer patients better off if they participate in clinical trials? A mixed-methods study

    Trial participation has not been found to provide better outcomes for cancer patients than standard care. With nearly one in six deaths estimated to be due to cancer, interest in innovative cancer research and treatment breakthroughs is high. A previous study showed that the information given to cancer trial participants and their physicians can be misleading, with information heavily focused on positive outcomes, with little information on the possible adverse effects or disadvantages of taking part. This can blur the boundaries between treatment and research, resulting in the belief that the best treatment for cancer provided within the context of a clinical trial. Through interviews and a systematic review of the literature, Nielsen et al. explored how physicians and nurses perceived the benefits of clinical trial participation and whether clinical trial participation provided better outcomes for cancer patients. Interviews revealed that there is a widespread belief amongst nurses and physicians that treatment for cancer, in the context of a clinical trial, is better than standard care. Many believed that recruiting patients to trials is a way to give them access to cutting-edge treatment. A search of the literature found no support for the belief that treatment in clinical trials is superior to standard care, despite rapid developments in cancer treatment in recent years. Lack of trial reporting transparency was also said to contribute to the belief that participating in trials is associated with better outcomes. Patient information sheets for cancer clinical trials should be designed to be free of suggestions that trial participation is the best treatment option for cancer patients. The focus should be shifted to encourage trial participation to further knowledge, to the potential benefit of future patients.


    BMC EnergyComparing negative emissions and high renewable scenarios for the European power system

    High renewable power system scenarios coupled with low levels of negative emissions technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, could deliver a net-negative European power system by 2050. Decarbonizing electricity generation is key to achieving the Paris Climate Agreement for limiting average global temperature rise to ‘well below 2°C’ above pre-industrial levels. Gaffney et al. modeled emissions reduction, technical operation, and system costs for the year 2050. The analysis was designed to also include short time windows, to gain insights into the impact of high levels of variable renewable energy sources. It was demonstrated that high renewable power systems, coupled with negative emissions technologies, such as biomass carbon capture and storage, can deliver a net-negative European power system at lower costs, without breaching published sustainable biomass and geological storage potentials in Europe, with the opportunity to contribute to power system inertia. This study offers a first step in the comparison of future decarbonization scenarios and highlights concerns with system operation, economics, and emissions reduction, at a European scale.


    BMC Family Practice – Safety, efficiency and health-related quality of telephone triage conducted by general practitioners, nurses, or physicians in out-of-hours primary care: a quasi-experimental study using the Assessment of Quality in Telephone Triage (AQTT) to assess audio-recorded telephone calls

    Nurses, using computerized decision support systems, performed better on a large number of health-related items than GPs, in telephone triage. Out-of-hours primary care services are increasing in a number of regions around the globe. Telephone triage is instrumental in the management of patient flow and workload. However, ensuring triage services are safe and efficient remains a challenge. Some countries, such as Denmark, use GPs to primarily perform triage services. However, this is hotly debated since many countries report increasing shortages of GPs, and GPs have self-reported high stress and burn-out symptoms. Graverson et al. studied a random sample of audio-recorded telephone triage calls from Danish out-of-hours primary care services triaged by GPs, nurses using computerized decision support systems, or physicians with different medical specialties. Nurses using computerized decision support systems performed better than GPs in telephone triage on a large number of health-related items, had lower levels of undertriage but were perceived less efficient. Nurse-led triage offers a solution for high GP workload seems feasible, but further research is needed since fewer GPs may be required for telephone triage services, but more GPs may be needed to meet out-of-hours service demand.


    BMC Research NotesMultiplex PCR for identification of two butterfly sister species: Eurema mandarina and Eurema hecabe

    A multiplex PCR method has been found to accurately and reliably distinguish between closely related species of butterflies. In insects, closely related species are often difficult or impossible to distinguish solely by morphological traits alone. Existing techniques, such as using mitochondrial DNA markers, are not always available for species with complex genomic histories. Miyata et al. developed a multiplex PCR method to amplify and distinguish the sequences of  the triose phosphate isomerase (Tpi) gene of two species of Japanese grass yellow butterflies (Eurema mandarina and Eurema hecabe). The method designed was found to easily, reliably, and cost-effectively distinguish between two species of butterfly. The Tpi gene sequences were found to be sufficiently variable to differentiate different species but invariable enough to allow designing primers within species. The Tpi gene offers a potential target for marker development of multiplex PCR to distinguish other closely related butterfly species when other approaches are unavailable.


    BMC Veterinary ResearchPharmacokinetics and analgesic effects of intravenous, intramuscular or subcutaneous buprenorphine in dogs undergoing ovariohysterectomy: a randomized, prospective, masked, clinical trial

    Route of administration has been found to influence the analgesic efficiency of buprenorphine in dogs. Buprenorphine is used for postoperative pain management in cats and dogs, for example, in routine spays, known clinically as ovariohysterectomies. Previous studies have described the pharmacokinetics of the drug, however, the pharmacodynamics effect of this drug has not been consistently reported in these studies, which is important for understanding the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and elimination of the drug in companion animals. Steagall et al. randomized dogs in a masked clinical trial to either receive buprenorphine intravenously, intramuscularly or subcutaneously before ovariohysterectomy and pain was scored with the Glasgow composite pain scale for dogs. Pharmacokinetic analysis was carried out on the dog’s blood samples. Subcutaneous administration of buprenorphine failed to provide sufficient analgesia due to erratic drug absorption. Dogs in this group received the highest amount of rescue pain relief compared to dogs that received buprenorphine intravenously or intramuscularly. At the doses administered, intravenous and intramuscular routes of administration are preferred for postoperative buprenorphine analgesia.



    The post Highlights of the BMC Series: May 2020 appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 16, 2020 11:30 AM.

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    The “dark matter” of nutrition – just what are you eating?

    Imagine digging into a bowl of strawberries. They are in season and make for a delicious, healthy snack. The deep red color and the aroma of the sliced berries are striking. That’s pelargonidin 3-glucoside (1) and methoxyfuraneol (2) captivating the senses. There’s gamma-decalactone (3) in those berries too. In fact, there are hundreds of other biochemical compounds naturally present in this fruit. The situation is no different for other foods like turmeric, ginger, garlic, romaine lettuce, chocolate, coffee, and even wine.

    Source: www.ars.usda.gov/oc/images/photos/aug08/d1194-1

    Some compounds found in strawberries include pelargonidin 3-glucoside (1, PubChem ID 443648), methoxyfuraneol (2, 53929577) and gamma-decalactone (3, 12813).

    But what health effects can these compounds produce? The answers are many, of course, because the catalog of compounds in any one food is long and diverse, and testing every compound experimentally is prohibitive. However, some answers can arise from putting rigorous computational methods to the task of exploring nutrition’s “dark matter.”

    The dark matter in nutrition

    In metabolomics, this “dark matter” is the massive amount of spectral data that cannot be assigned easily to known molecules. As relating to nutrition, this notion of dark matter recently has been explored in two ways. First, there are efforts to expand the catalogs of compounds present in raw, fermented, processed, stored, and metabolized food. With this foundation, the second exploratory step is naturally to identify the biological functions of each compound. To make progress in step two, we elected to use the well-characterized universe of pharmaceutical compounds as an anchor to predictions about food compounds. Specifically, we asked the question: “Can we predict biological function of a compound by identifying structurally similar pharmacological agents?” And so, the design and coding of PhyteByte began.

    What PhyteByte does

    PhyteByte is software built to predict biological effects of food compounds.

    PhyteByte is software built to predict biological effects of food compounds. The implementation is simple: the end-user inputs a protein target, and PhyteByte identifies food compounds with a relatively high likelihood of interacting with the target, thus predicting biological effects. PhyteByte leverages a random forest classifier to perform much of the heavy lifting. This model is trained to identify pharmaceutical compounds from databases like ChEMBL. Compounds are encoded as “fingerprints” – simple bit vectors that store complex cheminformatics sub-structure information. Our model learns the sub-structures that it is looking for – for a given target – and generalizes this to identify novel food compounds in our test dataset.

    Importantly, PhyteByte is a prediction tool. Its output is a list of molecules and their source foods that are very likely to have specific biological effects, but it is not a tool to devise a meal plan or provide for dietary recommendations.

    The road ahead for computational nutrition

    PhyteByte is just one of numerous examples of new computational methods – like complex systems theory and machine learning – being layered atop genomics, metabolomics, and genetics data in nutrition research. In fact, one can make the point that computational nutrition is merely the natural offspring of the nutrition-omics marriage.

    Computational nutrition likely will develop in several ways. One, given a phenotype or protein of interest, foods are proposed that may affect that phenotype or protein, and done in a targeted, macronutrient-free manner. Two, more detailed epidemiological and food frequency questionnaire data can support tests for connections between certain foods and health outcomes. Here, the foods under study contain compounds that potentially offer narrowly defined health benefits based on similarity to known drugs. Three, such computationally derived pharmacological-food compound links can inform drug development. For example, drug efficacy studies could instruct volunteers to avoid specific foods that contain compounds potentially exhibiting physiological effects like the drug.

    Importantly, while some of the above scientific endeavors have been woven into nutrition research for some time, all of what is described here requires that efforts be put forth at a much grander scale. And, for such approaches to be most effective, there must occur a concerted, broad effort to identify and accurately quantify the roughly 2000 different compounds in each food, a theme central to the emerging foodomics field.


    The post The “dark matter” of nutrition – just what are you eating? appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 16, 2020 08:47 AM.

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    Biodiversity research and the impacts of a global pandemic response

    All aspects of my professional work as an associate professor of biology have been altered by the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic. I especially am investing my time in different ways and am working mostly at home. Working from home would have been severely prohibitive for me just a few weeks ago, due to lack of access to adequate internet connectivity in the rural area where I live. However, our local electric cooperative now provides fiber optic internet that my family and I are using to our full advantage, as we engage in professional & school work—and the business of family life—simultaneously.

    Research aspects of my work suddenly became secondary to teaching responsibilities. All of my teaching switched abruptly from quality in-person experiences honed over years, to hastily contrived online substitutes cobbled together in a panic.

    Research aspects of my work suddenly became secondary to teaching responsibilities. All of my teaching switched abruptly from quality in-person experiences honed over years, to hastily contrived online substitutes cobbled together in a panic. The biggest challenge was delivery of emergency substitutes for field and laboratory coursework. Thus, I have been creating, documenting and demonstrating activities from home. This has meant Drosophila breeding experiments on the dining room table, seedlings in a window sill, and turning a corner of the garage into a video production set to capture animal behavior. During my unpaid summer, I will be investing significant time and effort in professional development opportunities that I hope will help me do a better job of continued, emergency, remote instruction that will be necessary in the coming academic year. In some instances, redundant planning for in-person, remote and hybrid instructional modes must be done.

    Due to recent departures of employees and hiring freezes, I do not have the assistance of a laboratory technician or collections manager, who normally would support my teaching and research, which means I am doing that work myself, on top of usual and additional responsibilities.

    My access to campus facilities is limited to once per week, and this is a special privilege so that I may care for the physical laboratory resources. Almost all research work on my campus has been discontinued or put on hold. The vast majority of students are prohibited from entering campus buildings, and their research in my lab has stopped.

    My research activity normally involves field work and use of specimens from institutional collections. These collections are closed, and I cannot visit them. Specimens borrowed from collections are not being used, and they have been boxed up and fill the lab benches normally occupied by students (see figure).

    Due to certain travel restrictions, my field work has been delayed, and I was fortunate to obtain one-year extensions from grant agencies for time-sensitive aspects of these studies. However, an ongoing project at a local wildlife refuge will have at least a one-year gap.

    My research collaborators around the globe are facing similar, if not more extreme, restrictions and challenges, not the least of which is lack of internet access. The majority of my collaborations are on hold or progressing extremely slowly. Professional meetings have been canceled or indefinitely postponed.

    Graduate students have had to halt or delay projects. My undergraduate research students have had a variety of on-the-fly substitute projects to complete from home. In some cases, depth and breadth of study have been sacrificed so students could complete alternatives to fulfill degree requirements on time. Looking ahead, I am concerned about multiple cohorts of developing researchers worldwide who will have critical gaps in their experience and knowledge bases, due to the limitations we face.

    Sabbatical leaves for research, including my own, have been delayed or are in question. Faculty promotion clocks have been altered and complicated. Submission of my own dossier likely will be delayed by at least one year. Our campus anticipates increased faculty teaching loads to help off-set financial impacts. We are not alone, and in fact, we may be among the fortunate.

    We are not alone, and in fact, we may be among the fortunate.

    On a positive note, I’ve been able to make more rapid and substantial progress than expected on biodiversity data transcription, editing and management. Public access to important data from historical collections and literature will be available in greater quantity and sooner than expected. I may also be able to complete and submit some manuscripts that had been delayed due to now moot priorities. As an editor, I am beginning to see others have had the same opportunities. Clearly, Covid-19 will have a lasting impact on research progress and prospects for years to come, in ways we recognize and in ways we have yet to anticipate.

    The post Biodiversity research and the impacts of a global pandemic response appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 16, 2020 08:01 AM.

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    Begger’s test for Schrödingerean predator-prey system

    Why is it that nobody remembers the name of [the famous mathematician] Johann Gambolputty...

    in For Better Science on June 15, 2020 01:53 PM.

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    “Listening to my baby before birth”: training mothers in labor to detect fetal heart rate changes to help address the gap in midwifery care in low-resource settings

    “Listening to my baby heart sound was very helpful to me. I felt that my right was respected as I took in my baby monitoring. Thanks for this program. I am happy.”

    These are the words of a young Liberian mother who, as part of an innovation to improve neonatal and maternal health, was listening to the heart beat of her own fetus at the end of every contraction during her labor, using a simple handheld sonicaid ultrasound device.

    Why is this approach needed?

    In a low-resource country such as Liberia, where there are few midwives — according to the WHO and World Bank, only 1 midwife or nurse per 10,000 population, the second lowest number in the world after Somalia — midwives are often too overworked and overstretched to monitor the fetal heart rate regularly in every woman in labor, even though doing this essential task is necessary to detect fetal distress that could lead to negative outcomes. As a result, changes in the fetal heart rate that could indicate problems are often missed, leading to high rates of birth asphyxia in newborn infants in such settings.

    Training more midwives is a long-term but absolutely crucial strategy. As shown in the recently published State of the World’s Nursing Report 2020, investment in nurses and midwives is vital to delivering Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Meanwhile, an immediate option is to train mothers in labor to listen to their fetal heart rate at the end of every contraction and notify the attending midwife if they detect any changes. If confirmed, suggesting fetal distress, the midwife would then notify a senior clinician who would undertake an immediate clinical intervention to protect the fetus from harm.

    A feasibility study

    The first step of such a bold and unusual potential approach is to find out if mothers are willing to monitor their own fetus during labor, and if so, if they are able to detect any changes. Our new paper in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth emphatically shows that it is not only feasible for Liberian mothers, many of whom cannot read or write, to monitor their own fetus during labor and accurately detect changes, but that the majority found the experience positive and beneficial for their own wellbeing and that of their babies.

    Key findings

    The comments from participating mothers are poignant and moving and, if you have time, the authors encourage you to read the full set of comments in the additional files linked to our paper. The vast majority of participating mothers (387 out of the 400 mothers who provided comments) found the experience positive. Many commented on how much they enjoyed listening to their baby’s heart beat or hearing their baby “breathing” inside them, and that it gave them hope that their baby was alive. Several commented that hearing their baby’s heart beat gave them strength and courage to carry on while they were experiencing labor pain.

    Many women commented on the negative effects of the severe pain of labor and as a result, MCAI and the Ministry of Health have recently started an initiative to administer IV paracetamol, an analgesic which is appropriate to the Liberian setting, to mothers who are requesting pain relief during labor.

    Another encouraging finding was that of the 26 of 461 participating mothers for whom changes in the fetal heart rate were identified, the mothers detected these changes in 24 of these cases. Identification of these changes led to swift clinical intervention and ultimately resulted in all 26 babies, some of whom had needed further management in the neonatal unit, surviving and being discharged home healthy.

    Expanding the task-sharing program to include mothers in the monitoring of their own unborn babies seems to be a welcome extension, while also providing benefits to the mothers themselves.

    This finding also showed that maternal monitoring in itself is not enough as there also needed to be appropriate clinical interventions to manage any detected changes in the fetal heart rate. So in addition to maternal fetal monitoring, there also need to be in place robust clinical protocols, a skilled workforce, and appropriately equipped and supplied facilities to be able to appropriately manage any changes in fetal heart rate and deliver the Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care required to save lives and improve the quality of care.

    Maternal fetal monitoring has continued in the two public hospitals that were involved in the feasibility study and, as a result of these positive findings and experiences, the Liberian Ministry of Health has agreed to expand maternal fetal monitoring to three more hospitals.

    Expansion of task sharing

    Innovative solutions to help overcome human-resource scarcities in low-income settings are not new. For example, because of the severe lack of doctors, the established Liberian task-sharing program involves training midwives in advanced obstetric care and training nurses in advanced neonatal care in order to reduce maternal and neonatal deaths and improve the quality of care. Expanding the task-sharing program to include mothers in the monitoring of their own unborn babies seems to be a welcome extension, while also providing benefits to the mothers themselves. As a young mother recently commented during the continuation of the maternal fetal monitoring program:

    “I tell the midwife thanks for the care that was given to me. It empower me to listen to my own baby heart beat and I hope that other women will do the same.”

    The post “Listening to my baby before birth”: training mothers in labor to detect fetal heart rate changes to help address the gap in midwifery care in low-resource settings appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 15, 2020 08:00 AM.

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    The emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on teenagers

    A growing body of evidence supports my clinical experience that younger people, high schoolers especially, are having more psychological problems during the pandemic than adults. There are many reasons for this. Adolescents are in the developmental stage of forming a new social world away from their parents. Social needs tend to dominate their lives and yet currently this growth has come to a bit of a standstill. In addition, teenagers are not fully cognitively developed; their moods still dominate compared to the planning and attention that are controlled by the prefrontal cortex, which doesn’t fully develop until about age 25. We all need to create a new and different worldview, but adults have more history and neurological development to take the long view.

    We can help support our teens in many ways. Here are some recommendations for how to communicate and foster mental health during this difficult time; many of them will benefit the entire family.

    Listen.  Remember that no matter how much teens might protest, they are still dependent on their parents; the family is still the go-to support system. We need to show our teens that they can still count on us; that are we are emotionally there for them. I don’t mean a rose-colored glasses approach, but a realistic and strong view. Listen rather than trying to solve problems and try to check in often. It may be painful to hear teens’ worries because in the current situation, we are all struggling with a variety of anxieties. Communicate that although this is an extremely challenging situation, we can get through it together.

    Communicate what you know as well as uncertainty. We’re are all under enormous stress. Our children can see it in us. Rather than try to avoid the sadness, it is better to communicate what you can. For example, if you know that if you get sick a relative or family friend is ready to step in, that will reassure your teens. On the other hand, if your teen wants to know when they will be able to go out in groups, you can reply that you don’t know but are monitoring the guidelines. Clarify that all this hardship is about keeping us as safe as possible.

    Remember coping skills and resilience. Although teens are still developing psychologically, they may be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Under this enormous stress, however, they may overlook how they have coped during hard times in the past. You can remind them how, for example, when there was illness in the family, they read certain types of books, baked, or wrote in a journal. Many of us, in the hopes of protecting our children from pain, do not help them learn distress tolerance. Even though we are in the midst of a worldwide trauma, building on a teen’s existing strengths can help increase distress tolerance.

    Pay attention.  Most of us are struggling with some level of anxiety or sadness. This is a natural response to a surreal situation. Clinical anxiety or depression is something different. If you observe panic attacks, extreme worry, or avoidance, those are some symptoms of an anxiety disorder.  Similarly, some symptoms of a major depressive episode include feeling sad or empty, feeling hopeless, experiencing changes in appetite or sleep, expressing guilt, and having suicidal thoughts. Remember, too, that in adolescents, irritability may be a more prominent symptom than sadness. Even now, you can contact your pediatrician for a referral to a mental health professional. Getting in touch with a previous psychotherapist or psychiatrist can be in enormously helpful, even if just for a “check in.” Most psychotherapists are now comfortable using teleconferencing or telephone sessions.

    Don’t forget to take care of yourself. It is an axiom in mental health that if a parent is feeling psychologically healthy, so will a child.  This is an upsetting time and parenting is one of life’s most challenging (also rewarding) experiences. Try to include some time for yourself for restoration, fun or a conversation with a close friend. Reach out to family, friends, or close co-workers for specific assistance. Some of the tips suggested may not be easy or even possible for you given your economic or social situation. You may be a single parent. You may be a member of a minority group or frontline healthcare professional. If so family, religious groups, neighborhood networks, or community agencies can also provide the support that you need. Please don’t hesitate to get help; we can get through this if we all work together.

    Featured Image Credit: Image by rawpixel.com via Freepik

    The post The emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on teenagers appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on June 14, 2020 09:30 AM.

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    Mental Disorder in a Healthy Brain: The Goose, the Fox and Addiction

    Can there be mental disorder without brain disease?

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on June 12, 2020 11:00 PM.

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    Behind the scenes of your ScienceDirect COVID search

    Elsevier’s tech colleagues are using their machine learning and data science savvy to make sure you can find the most relevant coronavirus articles

    in Elsevier Connect on June 12, 2020 02:25 PM.

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    ‘We don’t want data sitting in our desk,’ says tropical cyclone researcher

    “It used to be that people thought, ‘Data is power, so we keep it.’ Researchers now think, ‘Data is power – so we share it." –Prof Ricardo Sánchez-Murillo, UNA Costa Rica

    in Elsevier Connect on June 12, 2020 12:05 PM.

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    Psychedelic Drugs And Social Distancing: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

    Keyboard for ideaOur weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

    There’s been a lot in the media this week about the potential for psychedelic drugs to treat mental health conditions. At The Guardian, researcher Robin Carhart-Harris discusses the potential for psilocybin to treat depression, while at BBC Science Focus, Jason Goodyer talks to David Nutt in more detail about the group’s findings. And of course, earlier this week we reported on a study looking at how psilocybin alters levels of glutamate in the brain.

    A new lab due to open at Birkbeck University this month is dedicated to understanding the development of toddlers’ brains, reports Roger Highfield at Wired. The Wohl Wolfson ToddlerLab will use imaging methods such as functional near-infrared spectroscopy, and will be equipped with VR tools so that researchers can study how toddlers behave in realistic environments.

    Like humans, corvids — birds such as crows and ravens — spend an extended part of their life among their family before venturing off into the world. Researchers think that this could explain why the birds developed such large brains and high intelligence, reports Amanda Heidt at Science. Corvids spent much longer in their nests while young than other birds, the researchers found, and seemed to learn a lot from observing their parents.

    Researchers already knew that mental health problems like depression and anxiety are linked to a greater risk of developing dementia. Now a new study suggests that negative thinking among older adults could also be related to increased risk. Participants who displayed more repetitive negative thinking patterns showed a greater decline in cognition and memory, writes researcher Natalie Marchant at The Conversation, as well as more deposits of tau and amyloid in the brain — both biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease. It remains to be seen whether negative thinking is a cause or effect of these changes.

    Why do so many of us end up getting back together with an ex — often against our better judgement? Chermaine Lee looks at what the research has to say at BBC Future.

    The coronavirus crisis is taking its toll on many people’s mental health. But what will the long-term effects be — and what are the best strategies for coping? At Scientific American, Lydia Denworth takes a look at what is, unfortunately, the “biggest psychological experiment in history”.

    Why is it so hard to stay two metres away from our loved ones — while the same distance from a stranger on the street might feel too close? In The Guardian’s ‘Science Weekly’ podcast, Nicola Davis talks to psychologist John Drury about the psychology of social distancing. Drury, Stephen Reicher and Nick Hopkins have more thoughts on social distancing over at The Psychologist, while at Scientific American, Gish Jen and Qi Wang examine cultural differences in social distancing.

    Compiled by Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren), Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 12, 2020 11:40 AM.

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    Learn more about Elsevier’s negotiations with MIT

    Elsevier shares MIT's goal of open science for public good, and we remain committed to finding a sustainable solution as we have done with other partners

    in Elsevier Connect on June 11, 2020 04:32 PM.

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    Struggling To Stick To A Workout Routine? Copying Your Friends Might Help

    By Emily Reynolds

    Keeping to goals or new habits is not easy — so much so that there’s a cottage industry of life coaches, motivational speakers and stationery companies offering you tricks, hints, motivational journals and other products apparently designed to keep you on the straight and narrow.

    But there might be an easier — and considerably cheaper — way of doing things. Rather than trying to motivate ourselves alone, Katie S. Mehr and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania argue in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, copying the strategies that our friends use may provide us with some much needed drive.

    The team asked 1,028 participants, all of whom said they wanted to exercise more, how many hours they’d spent exercising in the previous week, before randomly assigning them to one of three conditions.

    Participants in the “copy-paste” condition were asked to pay attention to how people they knew motivated themselves to work out, and were told they could ask them directly for strategies and tips. Those in the “quasi-yoked” control condition were told that the research team would “help [them] learn about an effective hack or strategy that motivates people to exercise” — no mention of friends. In another, simple control condition, there was no message.

    Two days later, participants completed a second survey, describing what strategies they planned to use in the next week to exercise more. More specifically, those in the copy-paste condition were asked to summarise the strategy they’d copied from a friend, while those in the quasi-yoked condition were provided with one of 358 exercise strategies another participant had copy-pasted in a pilot study.

    Finally, a week after the second survey, participants in all conditions were asked how many hours they had spent exercising in the last week and how motivated they had felt to exercise on a scale of one to five.

    Those in the copy-paste condition — that is, those who had copied their friends’ fitness strategies — spent significantly more time exercising than those in the simple control (55.8 more minutes on average) and quasi-yoked control condition (32.5 more minutes). They were also more motivated to exercise.

    What made copy-paste prompts so effective? To figure this out, the team also asked participants nine questions about the strategies they used, such as how useful, new or appealing the strategies were, and how committed they felt to them. The team found that, compared to the quasi-yoked condition, those in the copy-paste condition found the strategies more useful, were more committed to them, and had more social interactions with others who exercise — and these differences could explain why these participants in turn spent more time exercising.

    This makes sense: general advice about exercise or habit-forming may not particularly resonate with someone, while finding appealing strategies from one’s own social circle could be more personally relevant. Further research could look at the nature of the strategies participants “copied and pasted” from their friends: is the motivation of seeking and applying strategies from friends enough to keep somebody interested in their new habit, or do particular types of strategy work better or worse?

    Whether copy-paste strategies would work in the long-term is also not yet clear — it’s easy to start a new lifestyle with good intentions and high levels of motivation, but not so easy to keep it up. If you’re looking to change a habit, however, you could do a lot worse than looking to a friend for advice.

    Copy-Paste Prompts: A New Nudge to Promote Goal Achievement

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 11, 2020 02:42 PM.

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    5 Lessons I Learned From My Neuroscience Degree

    A call to celebrate with reflection in the absence of convocation.

    I just graduated with a degree in Neuroscience without a plan to go to med school or grad school.

    “Then what do you want to do with that?” People would always ask.

    “Learn about the brain.”

    That was my answer every time. To me, a degree was always a gem of knowledge before it was a stepping stone. I hope my fellow graduating class of 2020 feel that way about their degrees too — we need to, now more than ever.

    With jobs and internships blasted to smithereens, convocations cancelled, and glamorous grad trips put on hold, graduation must take on a new meaning. It must be a reflection on the gems of knowledge we gained from our degrees: the lessons learned that will forever change the way we look at, live in, and leave the world. Here are 5 lessons I learned from my Neuroscience degree.

    Lesson 1 — Let Your Parents Take Pictures: Episodic Memory is the First to Go

    I used to get annoyed when my mom wanted to take a selfie with us. I don’t any more.

    “Why now?” we’d all ask as she whipped out her phone.

    “To remember this!” she’d say.

    As I studied aging and memory, I began to realize how good of a reason that really was.

    Generally, most of us can achieve “healthy aging” by learning new skills, being creative, and thinking and working in different ways. We can sail into the sunset of life with relative sharpness of mind, and even memory. For example, we won’t forget how to drive a car or brush our teeth because our procedural, or “muscle”, memory remains in good shape. Semantic memory — memory for facts — doesn’t suffer much either, and can even get better as we age (think about your last game of trivia with mom and dad). One type of memory, however, is not immune to aging: episodic memory.

    Episodic memory, or memory for personal experiences, is shown to decline in accuracy as we get older. So, while my mom may be able to mince garlic, drive to Costco, and name the singer of Suspicious Minds with ease, she may not always remember what she ordered on the second time we went to that Ramen place in Palo Alto, and who was there. But a cue, like a picture, can be the magic wand for recalling the night a few siblings and I slurped away with her just down the street from Stanford.

    Lesson 1. Be patient with your parents when they can’t remember the little things, and support their requested selfies so they can.

    Lesson 2 — Play Cards With Everyone : Remembering What Makes Us, Us

    If you were observing the beginning of a card game, you wouldn’t judge the players by their starting hands.

    We’ve all been dealt a hand of cards. This hand isn’t chosen and doesn’t change. This hand is unique to us and has certain strengths and weaknesses. This hand is our genes.

    Understanding the relationship between genes and behavior has changed the way I interact with others. Looking back at the times I discriminated against people because of their behavior, I could very well have been doing so because of their genes. I have been guilty of judging card players by their starting hands.

    “Why is she overreacting?” I’d ask. “I wish he wasn’t so impulsive,” I’d think. I later learned in Behavioral Neuroscience that slow stress recovery and impulsivity are sometimes results of specific gene variants — a specific card in one’s hand. I learned that one fourth of the population holds the slow-acting variant of COMT, which is an enzyme that aids in stress recovery. It turned out all the “over-reactors” I was so quick to label were just working with a unique card in their hand. Then I learned that a certain variant of the DRD4 gene, held by around 20% of the population, is implicated in addiction, impulsivity, higher risk-taking and even schizophrenia. Come to think about it, all those people I thought were “impulsive adrenaline junkies” had been dealt a joker at the beginning of the game.

    Other behaviors can hardly be traced back to a single gene, but follow the “common variant” model. Autism follows this model, wherein a certain “recipe” of common gene variants may be the culprit. Individuals with autism might have a 5 of diamonds, an 8 of spades, and a jack of hearts — common cards all of us hold. But that specific combination may be just the one to produce the set of behaviors we’ve come to define as “autism.”

    While I never dared call an autistic person weird, I was no stranger to passing that judgment on “normal” people I found socially clumsy. Understanding the neurobiology of autism (or lack thereof) called for a shift in paradigm: “autism” is a set of traits, just like any other set of traits produced by any given hand of common cards. If every single person could have their genotype mapped and behavior closely observed, we would find more correlations between certain behavior sets and gene variant combinations. Then everyone would have a “disorder.” So if today I run into someone I’m tempted to call weird, annoying, or anything else, I can remember that these traits are the results of unique card combinations, a lot like the ones in my own hand.

    Now, you’d might as well rescind my degree if I were claiming we were all puppets of our DNA. If there is any certainty in neuroscience, it’s that our brains are plastic: we can change the way experiences and genes have programmed us to think and behave (more on that in Lesson #4). A DRD4 holder can learn to tame his impulsivity. Someone with the slower COMT variant can work to reframe her stressors. And those who behave a little differently in social situations can find confidence and connection in society. Nevertheless, everyone has to start — and end — with the genes they’ve been dealt, and only time, experience, and patience can help us fulfill the potential therein.

    Lesson 2. Never judge a player by their starting hand and play fairly with everyone — we’re all learning to play our cards right.

    Lesson 3 — The Best Way to Do Dishes : Letting Dish Soap Do Its Job.

    Photo by Odua Images

    Imagine you had to learn how to wash dishes all over again, but this time only through observation. You’d soon find there are different styles.

    You may enjoy the efficiency of the filler-uppers, who turn their sink into a soapy swimming hole for the evening. The brute-forcers might excite you as they pour soap straight onto the dish and scrub frantically under a running faucet. But understanding the chemistry may call you down a different path.

    Soap cleans dishes — I didn’t need a chemistry class to tell me that. What I did need it to tell me was how. Water — a polar molecule — and grease — a nonpolar molecule — don’t mix. This is where dish soap comes in. Soap is an amphipathic molecule: it’s both polar and nonpolar. It can grab the grease and hold on with its nonpolar tail as its polar head follows water down the drain. Understanding this, we can see how soap can’t possibly do its thing when violently swished around in a pool or under a waterfall. It needs to do its job in steps: 1) bind to the grease, 2) get washed down the drain.

    Lesson 3: The best way to wash dishes is a quick rinse to remove the leftover food scraps followed by a soapy scrub sans water, and then a thorough rinse under the faucet. “Wash, rinse, repeat,” simple. But for me, it’s now a simplicity that isn’t blind. For me, the magic of dish soap is, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, a “simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity.”

    Lesson 4 — Why “It’s Not Good For Man to Be Alone”: On Potentiation and Proximity.

    Photo by ZoomSpectrum

    “Marketing degrees are useless.”

    “He’s just following the crowd.”

    “She’s just doing that because…”

    “Musical Dance Theatre majors are wasting their time.”

    Left alone, I would think thoughts like these. Left alone for longer, I would start to believe them. This is the dark side of potentiation, or how thoughts become “ingrained” in our brains. Understanding potentiation helped me break unhealthy trains of thought, and build healthier ones. To understand potentiation, however, you’ll need a crash course in neuroanatomy.

    A rake is a great model for a neuron. The teeth of the rake represent the dendrites, the receiving end of a neuron. These dendrite “teeth” converge onto the head of the rake, which represents the cell body, a control center that processes input from the dendrites. From the head protrudes the long rake handle representing the axon, or “giving” end of the neuron. If the cell body “decides” to send a message to the next cell, it shoots an electrical impulse — an action potential — down the axon. The axon then communicates to the dendrite of the next cell. If you string a bunch of rakes together end-to-end, with the handle of one rake feeding into one of the teeth of the next, you have a neural pathway.

    The first time I thought, “marketing degrees are useless,” an entire neural pathway fired. Zooming into the connections, or synapses, between neurons in the pathway, we can begin to understand how our thoughts become potentiated.

    Take the first neuron in the pathway: when an action potential shot down its axon and reached the end, it released chemicals — neurotransmitters — that travelled across the synapse toward the dendrite of the second neuron. When the dendrite received the neurotransmitter, it sent input to its cell body, much like one of the skinny teeth of a rake feeds into the head. As I kept thinking, “marketing degrees are useless,” the cell body continued to receive input from this dendrite and charge began to build up. When the amount of charge reached a threshold, the cell body shot an action potential down its axon to communicate to the next cell, but this had repercussions. An action potential did not only shoot forward, down the axon rake handle, but also backwards, throughout the dendrite teeth in the form of a backpropagating action potential. So long as I kept thinking “marketing degrees are useless” without interruption, one of these teeth was still busy receiving input from the first neuron.

    When the action potential of the first neuron met the backpropagating action potential of the second at their synapse, potentiation ensued: the connection between the first and second neuron was strengthened. The first now released neurotransmitter with every thought, the second neuron was more sensitive to that neurotransmitter, and as a result, it became a lot easier for me to think that marketing degrees were useless.

    Until of course, I talked to a marketing student, and learned a new idea that would prove valuable at work.

    I thought my neighbor was just following the crowd until I talked to him on the way to church and learned his genuine motivations.

    I was sure why my friend was acting irritated until she told me otherwise.

    I was so convinced that Musical Dance Theatre majors were wasting their time until I interviewed one.

    It turns out, Musical Dance Theatre majors spend multiple days understanding the inner world of character they dance, sing, and act on behalf of. They do what I hadn’t done: get proximate to those who so desperately need their understanding.

    Students of the Bible agree that when the Creator stated, “It’s not good for man to be alone,” he was hinting at a partner. But there’s another reason it’s not good for man to be alone: Partners and everyone else were meant to be loved, and when we are left alone to think about them, our thinking is flawed. When we are left alone for longer, we begin to believe ourselves.

    Lesson 4: It’s not good for man to be alone because thoughts potentiate, so get proximate to others. Proximity will shatter your belief about someone and give you a chance to build something beautiful in its place.

    Lesson 5 — Mercy Softens, Trust Ennobles.

    A few weeks into my last semester, I made a realization. In response to it, I wrote the following email to my professor and meant it:

    Hi Dr. ______,
    I made a mistake: I did not check the exam availability days. I assumed it ran for 4 days and thought I could still take it today. May I still take the exam, not for credit, but just as a benchmark for myself? I know you don’t allow exams to be taken home, so I can take it during a TA office hour or one of yours? Let me know what you advise.
    thank you,
    Isaac Wu

    He said yes.

    The morning of the exam, I was upset. My roommates had done something I couldn’t let go of. As I walked with my professor of Advanced Neuroscience to the empty computer lab, my mind hardened with grudges. As we neared the entrance, he spoke up and told me the test I was about to take was actually going to be for credit and that there were no penalties.

    Every thought was silenced — something had changed inside.

    I felt the muscles in my face relax.

    I let go of the roommate thing.

    I was softened.

    He was letting me off the hook when he had every reason not to, and it stopped me cold. At that point, the points were immaterial: My accumulated GPA was high and essentially set in stone and I’d already had a job lined up. Nevertheless, his mercy had softened me.

    I was getting my things settled when he spoke up again, saying that he needed to go teach another class, and I should slide my test under his door when I was finished. He then said, “I know there are so many ways you can cheat, and I know you won’t use them. Do great.” He slipped out the door and I was alone in the large computer lab. I completed my midterm in silence, with a pencil and nothing else. I did my absolute best — his trust had ennobled me.

    I grabbed my phone and took the above picture. I wanted to remember this moment forever.

    I didn’t need the picture. I would continue to put forth incredible effort in that class to learn everything I possibly could, to perform as well as I could, and to do it all with the utmost honesty. A few months later, I only needed a fifteen out of one hundred on my quarantined, un-proctored final to pass the class. With the COVID-converted grading system, anything above a C would be a “Pass” that wouldn’t affect my GPA. Still, I studied as if every future neurosurgery patient or grad school application depended on it, though I knew I’d never have either of the two.

    He didn’t have to let me take the test for credit but he did.

    He could’ve gotten someone to proctor but he didn’t.

    Lesson 5: Mercy softens, trust ennobles.

    Congrats, Grad.

    These gems won’t lose their shine.

    Because there are more selfies to be taken

    …more card games to be played,

    …more house chores to be enriched by a scientific lens,

    …proximities to be enjoyed,

    …mercy and trust to be given.

    We are all graduating with something: a Neuroscience Degree at BYU, a marketing degree somewhere else (and a useful one at that!), more time at home with family. Whatever we emerge with during this world-wide pandemic is a graduation, a step toward a life more insightful and moral. Write down the lessons learned — these are the things worth celebrating. Congrats, Grad.

    Your Fellow Graduate

    5 Lessons I Learned From My Neuroscience Degree was originally published in The Spike on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

    in The Spike on June 11, 2020 11:27 AM.

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    What are women’s experiences of decision-making and choice about their pregnancy and birth care?

    ‘Choice’ has increasingly become a fundamental aspect of Western public health policy and practice since the late 20th century. For maternity care, it is a buzzword that has generated a growing body of research around how to best support decision-making and achieve informed choice among women. However, promoting more service user autonomy and care experiences that are aligned with personal values can lead to complex trade-offs, as choices are based on more sophisticated, expanding services with less reliance on a clinician’s intuitive judgment. While sometimes maternity care professionals believe they are offering choice, in reality, women still have a limited role in decision-making and do not feel their care is presented as a choice.

    Is choice really so complex?

    We often hear about the ‘burden’ of choice, and how difficult it can be to make one in complex situations or when there are many options before us. Long-standing understandings of decision-making and choice often assume that the decider uses a rational process to weigh up and decide between all available options. This idea of a ‘rational’ decision-making process is connected to classical decision theory, a concept developed during the 1950s. However, in reality, humans rarely make choices according to the standards of classical decision theory, even though the quality of their decision-making is judged based on the prescripts of this long-standing theory, despite its inadequacies.

    Women’s decision-making and choice about pregnancy and birth care is a dynamic process.

    Shared decision-making’ is a collaborative approach where clinicians support service users to reach a decision about their care. While shared-decision-making principles have been well-established, there are barriers to implementing them in practice.

    Understanding decision-making and choice through research

    Understanding decision-making and choice assumptions is important because there is growing evidence of the benefits of different options for maternity care in Western settings, as well as the notion of reproductive choice as a human right. As research studies increasingly collate evidence concerning the clinical outcomes of different care options, it should follow that we also bring together the findings about women’s experiences of choosing these options.

    Reviewing a breadth of research all together can be helpful for elucidating complex phenomena, especially those that carry assumptions about what is optimal and what is not. Reviews also help researchers evaluate the quality of studies conducted on a specific area and determine whether there are any gaps in the literature.  The aim of our review, published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, was to describe and interpret qualitative research on women’s experiences of decision-making and choice about their pregnancy and birth care. Given the prominence of choice in health policy, we wanted to shed light on how this has been addressed in research to date and what the findings indicate.

    Findings and conceptual model

    We reviewed 37 original studies and conducted a meta-synthesis of these studies’ findings. A meta-synthesis involves bringing all of the qualitative data from a review together and re-analyzing it, in order to discover essential features across the body of literature. Because decision-making and choice are complex phenomena, we developed a conceptual model based on our analysis to bring all of these features together into one, presented in Figure 1:

    Figure 1, from Yuill, et al. 2020

    The model takes into account the three essential themes that emerged from the meta-synthesis:

    • ‘Uncertainty’ encompasses several different experiences that are related to mothers’ concerns about the unknown and the course of pregnancy, childbirth and maternity care, all of which shape women’s decision-making and the options they ultimately pursue.
    • Women frequently discuss their maternity experiences in terms of control, whether it be losing it, maintaining it or reclaiming it. We chose to shift the perspective to ‘Bodily autonomy and integrity’ because ‘control’ is not always explicitly stated by participants, and experiences often refer back to the body.
    • ‘Performing good motherhood’ is related to responsibility and risk, which are often ascribed to mothers to manage, as well as the gendered cultural norm that ‘good’ motherhood and birth takes place in a hospital with a team of medical professionals.

    The model also recognizes that decision-making is an active process, so these themes are connected through three inter-linking actions:

    • ‘Information gathering’ illustrates the multiplicity of information-seeking and what women specifically gain from different sources.
    • ‘Balancing aspects of a choice’ is concerned with looking at how women consider the different options available to them and, essentially, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of those they encounter.
    • In terms of decision-making, an important part of the process is ‘Aligning with a birth philosophy’, or perspectives that inform the ways in which people understand the world and life in it, further shaping the information women access, the care opinions they ultimately choose and the ways they justify their choices.

    An important finding from our review is that decision-making and choice are temporal, or related to time. For pregnancy and birth, they are made within a defined period, and often invoke both the past, whether this is personal, familial, social or historical, and the future. Finally, our discussion highlighted the importance of embodiment in maternal health experiences and how this is connected to experiences of decision-making and choice.

    Conclusions and recommendations

    Our findings indicate that women’s decision-making and choice about pregnancy and birth care is a dynamic process that is not always straightforward. This means that the use of prescriptive and rigid theoretical frameworks, like classical decision theory, for decision-making and choice need to be rethought. Policymakers and practitioners alike should examine critically current choice frameworks to ascertain whether they truly allow for flexibility in decision-making. Health systems should embrace more fluid, personalized models of care, such as midwife-led continuity models of care, to augment service users’ decision-making agency.

    The post What are women’s experiences of decision-making and choice about their pregnancy and birth care? appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 11, 2020 08:00 AM.

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    Psilocybin Alters Brain Levels Of The Neurotransmitter Glutamate — And This Could Explain Why Users Experience “Ego Dissolution”

    By Emma Young

    Recent therapeutic trials of “classical” psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin (from magic mushrooms) or LSD, have reported benefits to wellbeing, depression and anxiety. These effects seem to be linked to a sense of “ego dissolution” — a dissolving of the subjective boundaries between the self and the wider world. However, the neurochemistry behind this effect has been unclear. Now a new paper, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, suggests that changes in brain levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate are key to understanding reports of ego dissolution — and perhaps the therapeutic effects of psychedelics.

    Natasha Mason at Maastricht University, the Netherlands, and colleagues recruited 60 participants for their study. All had taken a psychedelic drug before, but not in the three months prior to the study. Half received a placebo and the other half were given a low to moderate dose of psilocybin (0.17 mg/kg of body weight).

    The team then used a technique called proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to look at concentrations of glutamate (as well as other neurochemicals) in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and the hippocampus — two regions that have been implicated as key to the psychedelic drug experience. The team also looked at patterns of “functional connectivity” within networks of brain regions, a measure of how closely correlated brain activity is across those regions. Six hours after taking the drug or placebo, the participants reported on their subjective experiences using two surveys: The 5 Dimensions of Altered States of Consciousness and the Ego Dissolution Inventory.

    As the researchers expected (based on the findings of earlier research), those given the drug reported increased  feelings of ego dissolution, as well as altered states of consciousness. They also showed disruptions in the connectivity of particular networks, including the default mode network, which has also been implicated in past work on the effects of psychedelic drugs..

    But, for the first time in humans, the team also observed higher levels of glutamate in the mPFC and lower levels in the hippocampus after taking psilocybin — and they linked these changes to different aspects of ego dissolution. Increases in the mPFC were most strongly linked to unpleasant aspects, such as a loss of control over thoughts and decision-making, and also anxiety. Decreases in the hippocampus, meanwhile, were most strongly linked to more positive aspects, such as feelings of unity with the wider world, and of having undergone a spiritual-type experience.

    The hippocampus is our most important memory structure. Based on earlier work on the impacts of psychedelic drugs on patterns of brain connectivity, it’s been suggested that a temporary reduction or loss of access to memories about our own lives might contribute to a weakening of the “self”. The new work suggests that changes in glutamate levels in the hippocampus might be key to this process.

    But if glutamate rises in the mPFC are linked to unpleasant aspects of ego dissolution, and also to anxiety, how does this fit in with trial results finding that psychedelic drugs can treat anxiety disorders?

    It’s not entirely clear. Psychedelics are known to bind with one particular type of serotonin receptor, called 5-HT2A receptors. This then causes the immediate changes in the glutamate system, which could be responsible for producing short-term feelings of anxiety. But it might be that longer-term reduction in anxiety levels is related more to 5-HT2A receptor activation itself, rather than glutamate, the researchers suggest.

    It’s also been suggested that activation of glutamate networks (via the 5-HT2A receptor) increases levels of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which promotes the health and growth of new brain cells. Animal work provides evidence that psychedelic drugs indeed promote plasticity in the brain. And people with major depression and stress disorders have been found to have reduced plasticity. The new data provides indirect evidence that psychedelics might increase neuroplasticity in the human cortex by increasing glutamate, the researchers write. If correct, this could help with understanding how psychedelic drugs can treat depression.

    More work is clearly needed to fully understand all these processes. But there’s a lot of interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs right now, and the new study does help to clarify the underlying neurobiology of the psychedelic state. As the researchers write, the findings “provide a neurochemical basis for how these substances affect individuals’ sense of self, and may be giving rise to therapeutic effects witnessed in ongoing clinical trials.”

    Me, myself, bye: regional alterations in glutamate and the experience of ego dissolution with psilocybin

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 10, 2020 01:39 PM.

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    Black lives matter

    Today, June 10th 2020, black academic scientists are holding a strike in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests. I strike with them and for them. This is why:

    I began to understand the enormity of racism against blacks thirty five years ago when I was 12 years old. A single event, in which I witnessed a black man pleading for his life, opened my eyes. I don’t remember his face but I do remember looking at his dilapidated brown pants and noticing his hands shaking around the outside of his pockets while he plead for mercy:

    “Please baas, please baas, … ”

    The year was 1985, and I was visiting my friend Tamir Orbach at his house in Pretoria Tshwane, South Africa, located in Muckleneuk hill. We were playing in the courtyard next to Tamir’s garage, which was adjacent to a retaining wall and a wide gate. Google Satellite now enables virtual visits to anywhere in the world, and it took me seconds to find the house. The courtyard and retaining wall look the same. The gate we were playing in front of has changed color from white to black:

    Screen Shot 2020-06-09 at 1.36.08 AM

    The house was located at the bottom of a short cul de sac on the slope of a hill. It’s difficult to see from the aerial photo, but in the street view, looking down, the steep driveway is visible. The driveway stones are the same as they were the last time I was at the house in the 1980s:

    Screen Shot 2020-06-09 at 1.08.38 AM

    We heard some commotion at the top of the driveway. I don’t remember what we were doing at that moment, but I do remember seeing a man sprinting down the hill towards us. I remember being afraid of him. I was afraid of black men. A police officer was chasing him, gun in hand, shouting at the top of his lungs. The man ran into the neighboring property, scaled a wall to leap onto a roof, only to realize he may be trapped. He jumped back onto the driveway, dodged the cop, and and ran back up the hill. I remember thinking that I had never seen a man run so fast. The policeman, by now out of breath but still behind the man, chased close behind with his gun swinging around wildly.

    There was a second police officer, who was now visible standing at the top of the driveway, feet apart, and pointing a gun down at the man. We were in the line of fire, albeit quite far away behind the gate. The sprint ended abruptly when the man realized he had, in fact, been trapped. Tamir and I had been standing, frozen in place, watching the events unfold in front of us. Meanwhile the screaming had drawn one of our parents out of the house, concerned about the commotion and asking us what was going on. We walked, together, up the driveway to the street.

    The man was being arrested next to a yellow police pickup truck, a staple of South African police at the time and an emblem of police brutality. The police pickup trucks had what was essentially a small jail cell mounted on the flat bed, and they were literal pick up trucks; their purpose was to pick up blacks off the streets.


    Dogs were barking loudly in the back of the pickup truck and the man was sobbing.

    “Please baas, not the dogs. Not the dogs. Please baas. Please baas…”

    The police were yelling at the man.

    “Your passbook no good!! No pass!! Your passbook!! You’re going in with the dogs and coming with us!”

    “Please… please… ” the man begged. I remember him crying. He was terrified of the dogs. They had started barking so loudly and aggressively that the vehicle was shaking. The man kept repeating “Please… not with the dogs… please… they will kill me. Please… help me. Please… the dogs will kill me.”

    He was pleading for his life.


    The passbook the police were yelling about was a sort of domestic or internal passport all black people over the age of 16 were required to carry at all times in white areas. South Africa, in 1985, was a country that was racially divided. Some cities were for whites only. Some only for blacks. “Coloureds”, who were defined as individuals of mixed ancestry, were restricted to cities of their own. In his book “Born a Crime“, Trevor Noah describes how these anti-miscegenation laws resulted in it being impossible for him to legally live with his mother when he was a child. Note that Mississippi removed anti-miscegenation laws from its state constitution only in 1987 and Alabama in 2000.

    The South African passbook requirement stemmed from a law passed in 1952, with origins dating back to British policies from the 18th century. The law had the following stipulation:

    No black person could stay in a white urban area for more than 72 hours unless explicit permission was granted by an employer (required to be white).

    The passbook contained behavioral evaluations from employers. Permission to enter an area could be revoked by any government employee for any reason.

    All the live-in maids (as they were called) in Pretoria had passbooks permitting them to live (usually in an outhouse) on the property of their “employer”. I put “employer” in quotes because at best they would earn $250 a month (in todays $ adjusted for inflation) would sleep in a small shack outside of a large home, and receive a small budget for food which would barely cover millie pap. In many cases they lived in outhouses without running water, were abused, beaten and raped. Live-in-maids spent months at a time apart from their children and families- they couldn’t leave their jobs for fear of being fired and/or losing their pass permission. Their families couldn’t visit them as they did not have permission, by pass laws, to enter the white areas in which the live-in-maids worked.

    Most males had passbooks allowing them only day trips into the city from the black townships in which they lived. Many lived in Mamelodi, a township 15 miles east of Tswhane, and would travel hours to and from work because they were not allowed on white public transport. I lived in Pretoria for 13 years and I never saw Mamelodi.

    I may have heard about passbooks before the incident at Tamir’s house, but I didn’t know what they were or how they worked. Learning about pass laws was not part of our social studies or history curriculum. At my high school, Pretoria Boys High School, a Milner school which counts among its alumni individuals such as dilettante Elon Musk and murderer Oscar Pistorius, we learned about the history of South Africa’s white architects, people like Cecil Rhodes (may his name and his memory be erased). There was one black boy in the school when I was there (out of about 1,200 students). He was allowed to attend because he was the son of an ambassador, as if somehow that mitigated his blackness.

    South Africa started abandoning its pass laws in 1986, just a few months after the incident I described above. Helen Suzman described it at the time as possibly one of the most eminent government reforms ever enacted. Still, although this was a small step towards dismantling apartheid, Nelson Mandela was still in jail, in Pollsmoor Prison at that time, and he remained imprisoned for 3 more years until he was released from captivity after 27 years in 1990.



    We did not stand by idly while the man was being arrested. We asked the police to let him go, or at least to not throw him in with the dogs, but the cops ignored us and dragged the man towards the back of the van. The phrase “kicking and screaming” is bantered about a lot; there is even a sports comedy with that title. That day I saw a man literally kicking and screaming for his life. The back doors of the van were opened and the dogs, tugging against their leash, appeared to be ready to devour him whole. He was tossed inside like a piece of meat.

    The ferocity of the police dogs I saw that day was not a coincidence or accident, it was by design. South Africa, at one time, developed a breeding program at Roodeplaat Breeding Enterprises led by German geneticist Peter Geertshen to create a wolf-dog hybrid. Dogs were bred for their aggression and strength. The South African Boerboel is today one of the most powerful dog breeds in the world, and regularly kills in the United States, where it is imported from South Africa.


    After encounters with numerous Boerboels, Dobermans, Rottweilers and Pitbull dogs as a child in South Africa I am scared of dogs to this day. I know it’s not rational, and some of my best friends and family have dogs that I adore and love, but the fear lingers. Sometimes I come across a K-9 unit and the terror surfaces. Police dogs are potent police weapons here, today, just as they were in South Africa in the 1980s. There is a long history of this here. Dogs were used to terrorize blacks in the Civil Rights era, and the recent invocation of “vicious dogs” by the president of the United States conjures up centuries of racial terror:

    I learned at age 12 that LAW & ORDER isn’t all it’s hyped up to be.


    I immigrated to America in August 1988, and imagined that here I would find a land free of the suffocating racism of South Africa. In my South African high school racism was open, accepted and embraced. Nigg*r balls were sold in the campus cafeteria (black licorice balls), and students would tell idiotic “jokes”  in which dead blacks were frequently the punchline. Some of the teachers were radically racist. My German teacher, Frau Webber, once told me and Tamir that she would swallow her pride and agree to teach us despite the fact that we were Jews. But much more pernicious was the systemic, underlying, racism. When I grew up the idea that someday I would go to university and study alongside a black person just seemed preposterous. My friends and I would talk about girls. The idea that any of us would ever date, let alone marry an African girl, was just completely and totally out of the realm of possibility. While my school, teachers and friends were what one would consider “liberal” in South Africa, e.g. many supported the ANC, their support of blacks was largely restricted to the right to vote.

    Sadly, America was not the utopia I imagined. In 1989, a year after I immigrated here, Yusef Hawkins was murdered in a hate crime by white youths who thought he was dating a white woman. That was also the year of the “Central Park Five“, in which Trump played a central, disgraceful and racist role. I finished high school in Palo Alto, across a highway from East Palo Alto, and the difference between the cities seemed almost as stark as between the white and black neighborhoods in South Africa. I learned later that this was the result of redlining. My classmates and teachers in Palo Alto were obsessed, in 1989, with the injustices in South Africa. but never once discussed East Palo Alto with me or with each other. I was practicing for the SAT exams at the time and remember thinking Palo Alto : East Palo Alto = Pretoria : Mamelodi.

    Three years after that, when I was an undergraduate student studying at Caltech in Los Angeles, the Rodney King beating happened. I saw a black man severely beaten on television in what looked like a clip borrowed from South Africa. My classmates at the time thought it would be exciting to drive to South Central Los Angeles to see the “rioters” up close. They had never visited those areas before,  nor did they return afterwards. I was reminded at the time of the poverty tourism my friends in South Africa would partake in: a tour to Soweto accompanied by guides with guns to see for oneself how blacks lived. Then right back home for a braai (BBQ). My classmates came back from their Rodney King tour excitedly telling stories of violence and dystopia. Then they partied into the night.

    I thought about my only classmate, one out of 200, who was actually from South Los Angeles and about the dissonance that was his life and my classmates’ partying.

    Now I am a professor, and I am frequently present in discussions on issues such as undergraduate and graduate admissions, and hiring. Faculty talk a lot, sometimes seemingly endlessly, about diversity, representation, gender balance, and so forth and so on. But I’ve been in academia for 20+ years and it was only three years ago, after moving to Caltech, that I attended a faculty meeting with a black person for the first time. Sometimes I look around during faculty meetings and wonder if I am in America or South Africa? How can I tell?


    Today is an opportunity for academics to reflect on the murder of George Floyd, and to ask difficult questions of themselves. It’s not for me to say what all the questions are or ought to be. I will say this: at a time when everything is unprecedented (Trump’s tweets, the climate, the stock market, the pandemic, etc. etc.) the murder of George Floyd was completely precedented. His words. The mode of murder. The aftermath. It has happened many times before, including recently. And so it is in academia. The fundamental racism, the idea that black students, staff, and faculty, are not truly as capable as whites, it’s simply a day-to-day reality in academia, despite all the talk and rhetoric to the contrary. Did any academics, upon hearing of the murder of George Floyd, worry immediately that it was one of their colleagues, George Floyd, Ph.D., working at the University of Minnesota who was killed?

    I will take the time today to read. I will pick up Long Walk to Freedom, and I will also read #BlackintheIvory. I may read some Alan Paton. I will pause to think about how my university can work to improve the recruitment, mentoring, and experience of black students, staff and faculty. Just some ideas.

    All these years since leaving South Africa I’ve had a recurring dream. I fly around Pretoria. The sun has just set and the Union Buildings are lit up, glowing a beautiful orange in the distance. The city is empty. My friends are not there. The man I saw pleading for his life in 1985 is gone. I wonder what the police did to him when he arrived at the police station. I wonder whether he died there, like many blacks at the time did. I fly nervously, trying to remember whether I have my passbook on me. I remember I’m classified white and I don’t need a passbook. I hear dogs barking and wonder where they are, because the city is empty. I wonder what it will feel like when they eat me, and then I remember I’m white and I’m not their target. I hope that I don’t encounter them anyway, and I realize what a privilege it is to be able to fly where they can’t reach me. Then I notice that I’m slowly falling, and barely clearing the slopes of Muckleneuk hill. I realize I will land and am happy about that. I slowly halt my run as my feet gently touch the ground.




    in Bits of DNA on June 10, 2020 12:30 PM.

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    Extraordinary performance of semiconducting metal oxide gas sensors using dielectric excitation

    This week on Journal Club session Ritesh Kumar will talk about impedance spectroscopy and its use in the design of electronic tongue and nose systems. Specifically, he will refer to the paper by Radislav A. Potyrailo et al. along with some of his previous works.

    Impedance spectroscopy is a powerful technique which has been applied to the design of instruments for characterising liquids and solids. The ‘impedance fingerprints’ obtained at various frequencies can be used to classify, define sensitivity, selectivity, linearity of systems. It uses a sweep of sinusoidal frequencies as perturbation signal at low voltage so as to remain in the linear and causal domain. In this talk, I will be presenting about impedance spectroscopy and its use in the design of electronic tongue and nose systems in general and specifically the paper by Radislav A. Potyrailo et al. along with some of our previous works in the design of Electronic Tongue systems. The paper by Radislav A. Potyrailo et al. shows that the run-of-the mill metal oxide gas sensors can act as high performance sensors using the impedance measurements. They show exemplary performance in terms of linearity, limit of detection, cross-sensitivity etc. This can pave way for the design of low cost and efficient electronic nose systems.


    Date: 12/06/2020
    Time: 16:00
    Location: online

    in UH Biocomputation group on June 10, 2020 12:00 PM.

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    Developing the backend infrastructure to support an open access world

    So you want your society’s journal to go open access. What does that involve?

    in Elsevier Connect on June 10, 2020 08:37 AM.

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    AACR conjures undead Count Fakula Michael Karin

    What better distraction than the COVID-19 pandemic to revive one of the spookiest parasites in cancer research? AACR uses the COVID-19 cover to award Michael Karin, for his over 50-paper-strong record of data fakery.

    in For Better Science on June 10, 2020 05:00 AM.

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    Involvement In Workplace Democracy Can Alter Your View Of Authority

    By Emily Reynolds

    Authoritarianism, as a trait, tends to be thought of as an enduring part of a person’s personality. But can this deference to authority be changed? According to new work in Nature Communications, it can — at least in the short term.

    In studies conducted with textile workers in China and administrative staff at a university in the United States, researchers found that encouraging workers to attend weekly democratic meetings led to a significant change in the way they felt about authority, justice and participation.

    The first part of the study looked at the workers in the Chinese factory. These workers are organised by management into various groups in which they play separate but related roles — one might sew the sleeves of a hoodie, for example, while the other works on the hood. Before the start of the day, groups have a twenty minute meeting with their supervisor, who summarises work performance and decides on strategy, and gives workers individual goals.

    The researchers — UCLA’s Sherry Jueyu Wu and Princeton’s Elizabeth Levy Paluck — recruited 65 such work groups for the study, and asked half of them to attend a weekly “participatory” meeting. Unlike the standard meetings, workers in these groups were able to participate in the discussion themselves, and were encouraged to discuss their experience at work, strategies for improving their output, and how best to cooperate. At the end of the meetings, in which supervisors were not allowed to contribute, workers announced their own goals for the week.

    The remaining work groups were assigned to the status quo condition, in which they continued to attend meetings run by supervisors, with no participation for workers at all.

    Four weeks after the experiment had ended, surveys were sent to participants. These measured workers’ attitudes towards authority (e.g. “obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn”); the extent of their belief in a just world (e.g. “by and large, people deserve what they get” ); their perceptions of how much different social groups come into conflict (e.g. “in your mind, to what extent do the rich and the ordinary have conflict with each other?”); and their participation in various activities outside of work (e.g. “how often do you follow news about politics?”).

    Although overall workers tended to slightly agree with statements asserting obedience to authority, those who had been allowed to participate in discussions had a significantly less positive attitude towards authority than those in the status quo condition. Workers in the participatory condition were also less likely to believe in a just world, and reported more conflict between managers and workers in Chinese society as a whole. Finally, these participants also said they were more likely to participate in both politics and family life than those in the status quo condition.

    The second study repeated the experiment — only this time, workers were academic administration staff in the United States. In this case, workers on average slightly disagreed with statements asserting deference to authority — but as in the first study, workers in the participatory groups had even lower respect for authority than those in the control condition. They also had significantly lower belief in a just world. (Time constraints meant that the researchers did not ask the questions about participatory behaviours.)

    Results from both studies suggest that it may not be accurate to consider deference to authority a deep-seated, stable personality trait, and that even small scale experiences with participatory democracy can shift people’s attitudes. It’s particularly notable that workers who had participated in meetings still had lower respect for authority four weeks later, suggesting that changes in attitudes may be enduring. The fact that the meetings also increased participation in other political and family activities suggests that engaging in participatory democracy could have significant, real world implications at work, in the family or elsewhere.

    It’s important to acknowledge that many workplace or family issues are systemic — workers don’t choose to be exploited by their bosses, for example, and to argue that a change in attitude would erase that dynamic would be misleading and unfair. But for those striving to develop more participatory workplaces or even societies, knowing that authoritarianism may not be an immutable trait can only be a good thing.

    Participatory practices at work change attitudes and behavior toward societal authority and justice

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 09, 2020 02:14 PM.

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    Global estimate of the prevalence of bipolar disorders among homeless people

    Worldwide, as many as 150 million people or roughly 2% of the global population are classified as homeless, and as many as 1.6 billion people (20% of the world population) lack adequate housing.

    Homeless people are more likely than the general population to have mental disorders. Evidence suggests that the vast majority of homelesss people suffer from mental, neurological, and substance disorders including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder (BD), substance use, and personality disorders.

    Specifically to BD, numerous studies have reported that the prevalence estimates of BD might be substantially high among homeless people when compared to the general population. The reported prevalence estimates of BD among the homeless people range from 2.41% to 42.42% depending on the study. Several factors contribute to this wide range of prevalence rates, including: (1) the use of different instruments to assess BD; (2) the presence of comorbidities and other mental, substance use and physical health problems; and (3) the difference in sociodemographics and other characteristics of the participants.

    Epidemiological evidence suggests that the presence of BD among the homeless increases the likelihood that the person stays homeless for longer and increases the risks of mortality from suicide, drug use, and general medical conditions. It is also associated with an elevated risk of the vulnerability of the homeless person, such as criminality and violent victimizations.

    Why did we do this study?

    Although homeless people have been disproportionately affected by BD, the global prevalence estimate of BD among homeless people is unknown.  We therefore systematically reviewed and meta-analyzed the existing epidemiological data on the prevalence of BD worldwide. The findings of the study may assist the concerned bodies in the planning and implementation of better screening and management strategies to address the burden and impacts of BD among homeless people.

    We systematically searched Embase, PubMed, and Scopus to identify pertinent studies that reported the prevalence of BD among homeless people in March 2019.  A meta-analysis using a random effect model was conducted to pool the prevalence estimated from individual studies.

    What did we find?

    Of 3236 studies identified, 10 studies with 4300 homeless individuals were included in the final analysis. The estimated global prevalence of BD among homeless people was 11.4%. This result is remarkably higher (11.35-fold higher) than the reported prevalence of BD among the general population. The prevalence of BD among the homeless was 10.0% in Europe and it was 13.2% in other countries.

    The estimated global prevalence of BD among homeless people was 11.4% which is remarkably higher than the reported prevalence of BD among the general population.

    What do our findings imply?

    In this study, we found that the prevalence of BD among homeless people was considerably high as compared to the reported prevalence in the general population. This result implies that greater attention and action are required to identify and treat BD among homeless people. In addition, the findings suggest the need for further studies evaluating the possible contributing factors for this remarkably high prevalence estimate of the disorder as well as better prevention and treatment strategies for this population group.

    The post Global estimate of the prevalence of bipolar disorders among homeless people appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 09, 2020 07:19 AM.

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    Published Peer Review: 1 Year Across PLOS

    Last May, PLOS announced a new option for authors to publish their peer review history, and the support from our communities has been loud and clear. Since our update 6 months ago, we’ve jumped from 800 to over 3,500 articles with published peer review history!

    Why Publish Peer Review

    Opening access to the reviewer comments benefits readers who wish to dive deeper into a specific study. Comments from experts who reviewed the article that would traditionally remain unseen helps contextualize the research. Upcoming researchers can get a glimpse behind the curtains and see what sort of requests authors in their field were asked to address during revisions. If an author chooses to publish both a preprint and their peer review history, the process from first draft to final article can be learned from. 

    Those involved in the peer review process also benefit, as the potential for reviews to be made public further fosters an environment where authors, editors, and reviewers respectfully collaborate to deliver the best possible manuscript for their community.

    Our First Year Publishing Peer Review

    By leaving the decision to opt-in for published peer review history with authors, we’ve seen a steady 39% opt-in rate among eligible manuscripts across all of PLOS. Of those 3,500 publications that agreed to participate in the last year, 60% have at least one signed review! 

    With this increased number of publications with peer review history under our belt, we’ve continued to see the highest opt-in rates in our journals publishing work in health or life-sciences. 

    Within PLOS ONE, Oral Health (57%), Clinical Trials (51%), and Women’s Health (51% and 67 opt-ins) lead the pack in terms of opt-in percentage for subjects with over 20 opt-ins. We’re ecstatic to see so many articles dealing with public health providing access to expert reviewer opinions to further validate the studies.

    Choosing to Collaborate

    We believe authors and reviewers should be in control of how their work is portrayed. Reviewers are given the choice to sign their comments, and authors choose to opt-in when they’ve received and had an opportunity to respond to all reviewer feedback, and their paper has been accepted. 

    Through this system, both roles work in tandem to drive a transition to more diverse, transparent peer review options. A reviewer who signs their name and provides substantial comments backed by evidence may entice an author to opt-in and have the reviewer’s comments published. 

    Alternatively, an author may entice a reviewer to sign their name if their paper is already participating in other aspects of open science, such as publishing a preprint or sharing data and code in a repository. Regardless of your role on a specific paper, you have the choice with PLOS to enact transparency in peer review.

    The Transforming Landscape of Open Review

    Different forms of Open Review are taking hold and changing the evaluation process. Preprint commenting and other opportunities are being realized due to the shift in research attitudes. The greater research community is more accepting than ever to Open Review concepts such as portable peer review (reviews that can be transferred across journals) or Review Commons, a platform providing independent peer review prior to journal submission. 

    Recognizing the essential role of peer review, reviewers have more opportunities to claim credit for their difficult and constructive work. These changes are all opportunities for researchers to cultivate transparency in peer review and, across all sectors of science, improve context and trust.

    The post Published Peer Review: 1 Year Across PLOS appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on June 08, 2020 05:32 PM.

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    arXiv staff to participate in the #strike4blacklives

    The arXiv staff is deeply saddened and angered by the recent killings of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. We recognize that Black people live with the injustices of systemic racism every day — and have for centuries — in North America and around the world.

    We acknowledge that in research, as in life, people often perpetuate bias and systemic racism, both consciously and unconsciously. Members of arXiv’s own physics community asked us to pause business-as-usual this week and join scientists participating in the #strike4blacklives. Our US-based staff agreed.

    arXiv is an essential, daily tool for most physicists, and Black physicists are faced with the simultaneous tasks of writing and reading papers, while also fighting for their rights.

    “The strike is an idea that grew out of discussions among Black physicists and astronomers, and importantly one thing that it offers us is a day of rest,” says Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire and co-organizer of the #strike4blacklives. “I want a day where I don’t have to worry that I’ve missed an important paper on the arXiv because I am stressed out while my non-Black colleagues happily keep going. The strike is not just about gathering people together to begin to take action, but it is also about a day of rest for the people most affected by this heated moment.”

    arXiv will not mail a daily announcement on the evening of Tuesday, June 9, 2020. Submissions received at or after 14:00 ET Monday, June 8 and before 14:00 ET Wednesday, June, 10 will be announced at 20:00 ET Wednesday, June 10.
 We also encourage authors to pause their submissions on Wednesday, June 10 to participate in the #strike4blacklives.

    We encourage arXiv readers to use the time they would normally spend reading the daily announcement or submitting an article to instead read about and discuss racism and how they will work in their own local and professional communities to address it. If you choose to participate, please consider tagging @arXiv on Twitter to let us know what you are doing.

    arXiv was founded as an open and freely available service to disseminate scientific research, and, as such, is an equalizer and democratizer. The arXiv staff is proud of this heritage and at the same time we recognize there is still much work to be done. The staff is participating in the #strike4blacklives and #shutdownSTEM at the request of our community, and we encourage members of minority groups around the world who are underrepresented in science to reach out to arXiv to help us understand how to serve you better.

    in arXiv.org blog on June 08, 2020 03:31 PM.

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    The right healthcare environment can reduce your stress

    Patients and healthcare providers both benefit from gardens, natural light, and design elements that offer choice and a sense of control

    in Elsevier Connect on June 08, 2020 08:48 AM.

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    Young Children Believe Intervening In Antisocial Behaviour Is A Universal Duty. Adults Don’t

    By Emily Reynolds

    When witnessing harmful behaviour, most of us hope for intervention of some kind: if we see someone receiving abuse on public transport, for example, it’s likely we want to see some action taken.

    Who we want to intervene in such acts, however, is more divisive. Some believe social norms should be enforced by authorities, whilst others stress that responsibility should be shared amongst us all. An interesting example of this is the discussion around policing, with abolitionists arguing that much of the work done by the police would be better led by communities themselves.

    Our politics may inform our stance — and according to a new study in Cognition from Julia Marshall and colleagues at Yale University, so might our age. The team finds that older children and adults tend to see norm enforcement as the responsibility of authorities, while younger children see that duty as universal.

    In the first study, a group of 84 four-to-seven-year-olds and 36 adults were presented with a scenario in which an authority figure — a parent or teacher — and an ordinary person witnessed teasing. In one story, someone was teased in a park in front of two witnesses: the transgressor’s mother and someone walking in the park. In the other, set in a school, the teasing was seen by a teacher and by another student in the class. All characters were adults or teenagers.

    After seeing the scenarios, both groups were asked questions about how obligated each witness was to do something about the teasing. First, they were asked expectation questions: how likely they felt the authority and peer figures were to intervene. Next were obligation questions, measuring whether the participant felt each figure had a duty to take action.  Finally, forced obligation questions asked which of the two figures was more obligated to act.

    Results suggested that adults considered the authority figure more obligated to intervene (in fact, they tended to believe that the other bystander did not have a duty to intervene). Older children showed a similar response. And while younger participants also believed authority figures had the greatest obligation, they felt that peers had more of a duty to intervene than did older children or adults — that is, they seemed to believe obligation was more of a universal duty. Children of all ages also expected authorities to intervene, but as they got older became less sure that peers would do so too.

    A second study introduced the idea of punishment. A total of 148 children and 40 adults were shown two sets of stories, which depicted someone being teased in a park or at a school. In one version of the stories, the perpetrator’s parent or a teacher was the only witness; in the other, the witness was a peer. The participants answered the same expectation, obligation and forced obligation questions, this time focused on the duty of the witness to punish the perpetrator (e.g. “Do you think this person … has to get Jessica in trouble for saying something mean?”).

    As in the first study, adult participants believed the authority figure was more obligated to punish than the peer. This was also the case for older children — but while four-year-olds also felt authority figures were obligated to help, they again felt that peers also had a duty to step in.

    It seems, therefore, that young children have broader beliefs about who is obligated to intervene in unpleasant situations. But this isn’t because they don’t understand the difference in power between authority figures and average onlookers, the team argues. Instead, the authors suggest that expecting or valuing community or peer intervention is universal, but that certain cultures — like that of the United States where this study took place — end up replacing these “default” beliefs with deference to authority.

    Future work which looks at the same factors across cultures could clarify how universal these changes are during child development — and what cultural and interpersonal factors lead to such changes.

    Developing judgments about peers’ obligation to intervene

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 08, 2020 08:23 AM.

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    PLOS and Carnegie Mellon University announce APC-free open access publishing agreement

    The following joint press release was issued on June 8, 2020.

    SAN FRANCISCO — Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the Public Library of Science (PLOS) today announced a two-year open access agreement that allows researchers to publish in PLOS’ suite of journals without incurring article processing charges (APC). This partnership brings together two organizations that believe researchers should be able to access content freely and make their work available publicly, regardless of their access to funds.

    “The evidence is undeniable — open access research enables the convergence of disciplines that drives scientific innovations,” said Keith Webster, dean of Libraries and director of Emerging and Integrative Media Initiatives for Carnegie Mellon University. “This agreement with PLOS gives our researchers more avenues to provide their work to the public, and, in doing so, increases readership and opportunities for societal impact.”

    Under the agreement, which will be implemented in July, Carnegie Mellon will be charged an annual fixed flat rate over the two-year term, which will be based on prior years’ publication levels. CMU researchers will have unlimited opportunity to publish in PLOS journals over these two years and will not be charged any APC. This pilot will further PLOS’ mission of making open access publishing available to all while ensuring that its journals include research from authors representing a diverse array of disciplines, career stages and geographies.  

    “The agreement with Carnegie Mellon University is yet another step in our goal of empowering authors who want to participate in open access publishing, and it continues the momentum following our recent agreements with the University of California and Iowa State University,” said Sara Rouhi, director of Strategic Partnerships for PLOS. “Both agreements demonstrate our effort to build a truly ‘open to read, open to publish’ environment for authors as well as our commitment to experimentation with our library partners.”

    The post PLOS and Carnegie Mellon University announce APC-free open access publishing agreement appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on June 08, 2020 07:01 AM.

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    Cheese against COVID-19

    Dutch scientists, including two Vitamin K fraudsters, claim this blood clotting factor is the cure for COVID-19. The lead author and The Guardian advise everyone to eat cheese.

    in For Better Science on June 08, 2020 05:44 AM.

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    Colour Vision And Masked Smiles: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

    Keyboard for idea

    Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

    It turns out we perceive much less colour information in our peripheral vision than we might think, reports Neuroskeptic at Discover Magazine. Researchers showed participants a series of images, ending with a scene in which the periphery was desaturated or converted to strange hues. On some trials as many as three-quarters of participants didn’t notice that anything was odd.

    What’s it like living with chronic pain, with those around you unaware that you are suffering? Jude Cook recounts his experience “performing wellness for others” at Psyche.

    A new review of studies into electroconvulsive therapy for depression concludes that there is no evidence that the treatment is effective, and that given its risks it should be suspended. There have been only 11 placebo-controlled studies on the use of the therapy, all of which have important methodological flaws such as lack of blinding or follow-up data, writes one of the authors of the new paper, John Read, at The Conversation. Some psychiatrists still maintain that the treatment should continue for severe cases, reports Mark Easton at BBC News.

    This week saw the start of a new series of All in the Mind, the BBC’s excellent show about all things psychology. In the first episode, Claudia Hammond talks to two developmental psychologists about the way children think about maths and time.

    Many parents are understandably worried about the effect lockdowns and school closures might have on their children’s development and mental health. At BBC Future, David Robson examines what the consequences could be — and what can be done to ensure that children thrive after the crisis is over.

    It’s no harder to recognise a smile from someone wearing a mask than from someone with their face uncovered, according to a soon-to-be-published study. That’s because smiles also involve changes around the eyes, explains researcher Ursula Hess at Scientific American. However, her team also found that certain other emotions — fear and surprise — are harder to discern behind a mask, as they rely more on the mouth.

    Finally, back in March we looked at the work psychologists had just begun in the wake of the pandemic, including an ongoing study run by UCL’s Daisy Fancourt tracking UK residents’ experiences and mental health. That study has since been releasing weekly reports which you can read online. The latest suggests that while levels of depression and anxiety remain above average, there have been some recent improvements, reports Paul Gallagher at i.

    Compiled by Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren), Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on June 05, 2020 02:08 PM.

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    Would Lancet and NEJM retractions happen if not for COVID-19 and chloroquine?

    NEJM and The Lancet retract two fake papers, one was dealing with chloroquine. Did we just get a brief glimpse into the fraudulent abyss of medical literature and the corruption of medical elites, briefly opened by the current COVID-19 situation?

    in For Better Science on June 05, 2020 12:31 PM.

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    Michael HotTiger of Zurich, patron of biomedical ethics

    University of Zurich and its Unispital has so much trouble with their medical professors right now. I wish to help.

    in For Better Science on June 04, 2020 12:47 PM.

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    Research 2030 podcast: Adjusting to research and teaching under lockdown — the ants go marching on for Clint Penick

    An ecologist and professor shares how he has adjusted to life under lockdown, from transitioning courses online to adjusting his field courses and field work

    in Elsevier Connect on June 04, 2020 10:33 AM.

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    Protecting maternal and child health during an economic crisis: Lessons learned from the Great Recession

    I am a nurse scientist and health services researcher. I was born and raised in a series of small towns in rural Washington State in the U.S. In September 2009, I returned to the Pacific Northwest to pursue a PhD. It was the height of the Great Recession (2008-2009) and I quickly became concerned that the recession was making it harder for people to access care in the kinds of resource-poor areas similar to where I grew up. I decided to focus my dissertation work on this area and started by carrying out interviews with public health stakeholders around Washington State. Interviews yielded widespread concern about the effects of the recession — particularly among maternal and child health (MCH) populations. Disparities in MCH outcomes like timing of entry to prenatal care (PNC), birth weight (BW), and infant mortality are long-standing and have been documented by race/ethnicity, geography and other social characteristics groupings like education and insurance status.

    My research

    To explore the effects of the recession, I obtained de-identified birth certificate data from Washington State and Florida. Birth certificate data was a good fit because it allowed me to link to county level data including unemployment rate, local health department expenditures, and other community characteristics that were likely to change during the recession. Over the course of three related papers, published in Race and Social Problems and BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, my co-authors and I analyzed relationships between MCH outcomes and disparities before, during, and after the Great Recession.

    What did we find?

    Increases in disparities – worse outcomes

    In our first paper, we used Healthy People protocols to assess the degree of disparities and the extent to which changes occurred during and after the Great Recession for seven MCH outcomes. As expected, we found that disparities increased for some groups during the recession. However, we surprised to find that there were more total increases in disparities in Washington than in Florida and more disparity increases after the Great Recession than during.

    WIC appears to have been beneficial for decreasing disparity gaps in infant birth weight.

    The majority of increases only occurred during one recession period (i.e. during or after but not both), but disparities for some groups and some outcomes increased during both recession periods. For example, among non-Hispanic Black mothers who entered prenatal care late or not at all (late/no PNC) disparities increased (outcomes worsened) during both recession periods. Disparity increases also appeared to predominantly cluster by race/ethnicity and individual social characteristics rather than by geography. Based on these findings, we focused further research on factors contributing to increasingly disparate outcomes in timing of PNC initiation.

    Predictors of late/no prenatal care

    In our second paper, we used regression modeling to estimate relative contributions of individual, community, and local health department (LHD) variables on the probability of late/no PNC in Washington and Florida. Here, we found consistent contributions over time of individual-level maternal predictors for late/no PNC, the largest of which were young age and low education. However, we did identify changes in associations before compared to during the recession for some community and LHD-level predictors (e.g., % voting Republican, LHD expenditures) in non-beneficial directions.

    In contrast, women enrolled in the WIC Special Supplemental Nutrition Program had a lower probability of late/no PNC than those without WIC. These findings suggest that policy makers and providers should consider targeted outreach to pregnant women with high individual-level disadvantage characteristics—particularly those of young age or with low education.

    WIC and improved outcomes

    In the third paper, we studied interactions between enrollment in the WIC Program and individual characteristics in relation to birth weight. We focused on a high-need subset of the study population — those with Medicaid or no insurance. We found that WIC interactions were associated with higher birth weights for infants of mothers who were very young (age <14), received late/no PNC, and among non-Hispanic Black infants. These effects are illustrated in the figure below for birth weight in grams among Black compared to White infants and infants of very young mothers compared to mothers age 30-34, with and without WIC, both before and during the recession. While disparities persisted during both periods, with or without WIC, the gap narrowed for infants of mothers who received WIC during their pregnancy.

    Reductions in the gap in birth weight in grams for race/ethnicity and maternal age with WIC interactions before and during the Great Recession in Washington State and Florida. From Blakeney et. al. 2020

    What can we learn from this?

    The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and associated unfolding economic and social crises bear similarities to the Great Recession and there are many lessons to be learned from it and applied to the current situation. Three key takeaways from our studies are summarized here:

    • Inequality in the U.S. continues to be multi-generational, with disparities in access to care and outcomes apparent before and at birth.
    • During the Great Recession, disparities increased and widened in both Washington and Florida, despite differences in state-level economic circumstances and demographics, highlighting the need for dedicated public health funding and programs to support timely, ongoing data collection and analysis to identify and address disparities in care and outcomes at local, state, and federal levels.
    • WIC appears to have been beneficial for decreasing disparity gaps in infant birth weight among the very young, Black, and late/no prenatal care enrollees. However, these benefits did not appear to extend to all groups. Thus, targeted outreach and/or program modifications may be needed to expand benefits to additional groups.

    The post Protecting maternal and child health during an economic crisis: Lessons learned from the Great Recession appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on June 04, 2020 08:00 AM.

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    arXiv at the American Astronomical Society


    On June 2, 2020, arXiv’s executive director, Dr. Eleonora Presani, presented at the American Astronomical Society’s 236th meeting, held virtually. Below is a summary, first published on AAS Nova and Astrobites, of her talk.


    AAS Publishing Exclusive: A Discussion with the arXiv Executive Director

    by Alex Pizzuto

    Day 2 of the meeting started strong, featuring a discussion with arXiv Executive Director Eleonora Presani, who detailed the current status and future outlook of the open access archive service many of us know and love. Not only is Presani new to the role of executive director, but the role itself is only two months old, marking a step towards engaging with the scientific community more efficiently and productively. As someone equipped with both a PhD in astroparticle physics and more than 6 years of experience from a career in scientific publishing, Presani is extremely qualified to help execute the vision of arXiv.

    Presani began her presentation with her own mantra on the dissemination of scientific research: “knowledge only exists if it is accessible.” As an organization, Presani believes that arXiv functions as the “enablers” for the sharing of this knowledge, and seeks to make accessible environments like arXiv; those which are for researchers, by researchers. To get a sense of the sheer volume of knowledge that passes through the arXiv servers, Presani quizzed her audience, revealing some dumbfounding statistics about the quantity of preprints that have been submitted:

    Tweets from Astrobites

    The fact that about half of the funding for arXiv is from the community is a testament to the fact that arXiv exists to serve the community.

    Although many organizations have been slowed to a halt by the tragic global pandemic, Presani assures us that arXiv is still working hard. Over the last few months, arXiv has rolled out user-driven classification, which alerts authors when they assign their papers to a category that disagrees with arXiv’s classification algorithm. They have also been executing operational stability drills and developing a COVID-19 moderation plan, to make sure that no matter what is going on in the world, scientists can stay connected through their research.

    Looking more to the future, we were then told about arXiv’s 3-year strategic plan (picture below). This plan is broken down into three distinct user categories (readers, authors, moderators) and discusses how each of these users can benefit in three different areas (control, impact, and collaboration). In order to successfully execute this plan, however, arXiv requires our help and wants to hear from scientific communities like the AAS, in order to learn what researchers believe are the highest impact deliverables.

    There are also some specific tasks that the arXiv team is focusing on over the next 18 months. These include distributing some of their classification data to Kaggle, allowing users to contribute to classification algorithms. Additionally, arXiv will be rolling out an update to TeXLive2020 and is actively working on improving their user disambiguation techniques.

    Focusing arXiv’s resources to decide which of these goals is completed first is no simple task. Presani highlighted how challenging it is to balance all of the lofty goals of arXiv with their limited resources and discussed how no changes should be rolled out until they are up to arXiv’s high standards, noting that “arXiv was launched in 1991, and when it launched, it was an extremely cutting-edge product and it stayed the same for 30 years. It’s important to find the right balance between being quick and keeping the high quality of the work.”

    Tweet from Astrobites

    Interested in helping arXiv execute their vision? There are a variety of ways to contribute. Start by joining arXiv’s user testing or read their blog and news/announcements. They are also looking for volunteers to help with developing a better moderator workflow, and they are soliciting applications for volunteers (if interested, you can send your CV and a motivation letter to moderation@arxiv.org). Best of all, continue to use the arXiv and engage in discussion with the administrators about what your perfect arXiv would look like in the future.


    This article first appeared on AAS Nova and Astrobites. It is reposted here with permission from AAS.


    in arXiv.org blog on June 03, 2020 07:31 PM.

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    Corona, HIV and the impact on the LGBTQI community

    How is the LGBTQI+ community being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Medical experts discuss challenges and opportunities

    in Elsevier Connect on June 03, 2020 10:27 AM.

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    I am not a racist but…

    Some geneticists have very unorthodox ideas. These might sound like racism or eugenics to simple folks, but it is really high science. UK Biobank is apparently on board.

    in For Better Science on June 03, 2020 05:49 AM.

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    A Kirchhoff-Nernst-Planck framework for modeling large scale extracellular electrodiffusion surrounding morphologically detailed neurons

    This week on Journal Club session Reinoud Maex will talk about the paper "A Kirchhoff-Nernst-Planck framework for modeling large scale extracellular electrodiffusion surrounding morphologically detailed neurons".

    Many pathological conditions, such as seizures, stroke, and spreading depression, are associated with substantial changes in ion concentrations in the extracellular space (ECS) of the brain. An understanding of the mechanisms that govern ECS concentration dynamics may be a prerequisite for understanding such pathologies. To estimate the transport of ions due to electrodiffusive effects, one must keep track of both the ion concentrations and the electric potential simultaneously in the relevant regions of the brain. Although this is cur- rently unfeasible experimentally, it is in principle achievable with computational models based on biophysical principles and constraints. Previous computational models of extracel- lular ion-concentration dynamics have required extensive computing power, and therefore have been limited to either phenomena on very small spatiotemporal scales (micrometers and milliseconds), or simplified and idealized 1-dimensional (1-D) transport processes on a larger scale. Here, we present the 3-D Kirchhoff-Nernst-Planck (KNP) framework, tailored to explore electrodiffusive effects on large spatiotemporal scales. By assuming electroneu- trality, the KNP-framework circumvents charge-relaxation processes on the spatiotemporal scales of nanometers and nanoseconds, and makes it feasible to run simulations on the spatiotemporal scales of millimeters and seconds on a standard desktop computer. In the present work, we use the 3-D KNP framework to simulate the dynamics of ion concentra- tions and the electrical potential surrounding a morphologically detailed pyramidal cell. In addition to elucidating the single neuron contribution to electrodiffusive effects in the ECS, the simulation demonstrates the efficiency of the 3-D KNP framework. We envision that future applications of the framework to more complex and biologically realistic systems will be useful in exploring pathological conditions associated with large concentration variations in the ECS.


    Date: 05/06/2020
    Time: 16:00
    Location: online

    in UH Biocomputation group on June 02, 2020 09:09 AM.

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    The COVID Stress Scales

    Danger. Deprivation. Xenophobia. Contamination. These are some of the fears related to COVID-19. Scores of COVID questionnaires have popped up recently to assess fear, anxiety, stress, and depression related to the novel coronavirus and its massive disruption to daily life. Most are freely available for use as research tools, but few have been validated and peer reviewed.

    The COVID Stress Scales (CSS) developed by Taylor and colleagues (2020) were recently published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. The authors propose a new COVID Stress Syndrome, and present evidence that the CSS subscales are intercorrelated (which is suggestive of a “coherent” condition).

    To develop the CSS, representative samples of people in Canada (n=3,479) and the US (n=3,375) completed a 58-item survey on Qualtrics. Factor analysis identified five subscales...
    1. COVID danger and contamination fears
    2. COVID fears about economic consequences
    3. COVID xenophobia
    4. COVID compulsive checking and reassurance seeking
    5. COVID traumatic stress symptoms

    ...and limited the questionnaire to 36 items. I'll note that “fears about economic consequences” were restricted to a lack of supplies at grocery stores and pharmacies, rather than fears of crushing debt, eviction, hunger, and homelessness because of unemployment.

    One can view this new syndrome as a context-related extension of OCD contamination fears, compulsive checking, and health anxiety (preoccupation with the possibility of serious illness). Indeed, convergent validity was confirmed by showing correlations with established measures of those conditions. Unique aspects of COVID Stress Syndrome not seen in other diagnoses include fears that grocery stores would run out of toilet paper,1 and especially a fear of foreigners (xenophobia). Xenophobia is promulgated by politicians and amplified by bad actors on social media and IRL. I don't think xenophobia (specifically, anti-Asian sentiment) is on the list of symptoms for any DSM diagnosis.

    Basically, it seems that a coherent condition called COVID Stress Syndrome would require racist beliefs and a fear of people who are Chinese, Chinese-American, or Chinese-Canadian.2 The prevalence of COVID Stress Syndrome in their Canadian and American samples was not specified, nor was the cut-off point for such a diagnosis. Plenty of Americans are xenophobic, but they don't have bad dreams about coronavirus.

    In an editorial, Taylor and Asmundson (2020) said:
    It appears that people who develop COVID Stress Syndrome have pre-existing psychopathology, particularly pre-existing high levels of health anxiety and obsessive-compulsive checking and contamination symptoms. It remains to be seen whether the COVID Stress Syndrome is simply an adjustment disorder, abating once the pandemic is over, or whether it will become chronic for some individuals.

    So much about COVID-19 “remains to be seen”, and this level of uncertainly is a major source of anxiety on its own.


    1 The toilet paper question just missed the cut...included were worries about water, cleaning supplies, medications, etc. The original version also included “worry about looting & rioting.”

    2 One could really say East Asian people more broadly. Or actually, anyone considered “Other”.


    Taylor S, Asmundson GJG. (2020). Life in a post-pandemic world: What to expect of anxiety-related conditions and their treatment. J Anxiety Disord. 2020; 72:102231.

    Taylor S, Landry CA, Paluszek MM, Fergus TA, McKay D, Asmundson GJG. Development and initial validation of the COVID Stress Scales. J Anxiety Disord. 2020; 72:102232.

    Additional Scales (from a compendium of COVID questionnaires on Google docs)

    Epidemic-Pandemic Impacts Inventory Racial/Ethic Discrimination Addendum (15 items).

    COVID-19 Stressful events (13 items)

    COVID-19 Concerns (9 items)

    Coronavirus Stressor Survey (9 items)

    CRISIS (The CoRonavIruS Health Impact Survey V0.3) - more here

    Covid-19 Staff Needs and Concerns Survey (18 items)

    COVID-19 Family Stress Screener (10 items)

    ADDENDUM (June 1, 2020): MORE!

    UCLA Brief COVID-19 Screen for Child/Adolescent PTSD

    Fear of COVID-19 Scale (10 items)
    Ahorsu DK, Lin CY, Imani V, Saffari M, Griffiths MD, Pakpour AH. The Fear of COVID-19 Scale: Development and Initial Validation. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. 2020 Mar 27:1-9.
    Coronavirus Anxiety Scale (5 items)
    Lee SA. Coronavirus Anxiety Scale: A brief mental health screener for COVID-19 related anxiety. Death Studies. 2020 Apr 16:1-9.

    in The Neurocritic on June 01, 2020 06:46 PM.

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    The PLOS Blogs Network: Fascinating Perspectives from Independent Writers and Staff Contributors

    You may have noticed our PLOS Blogs Network has a fresh new look.  What’s changed? A cleaner design, better user experience and enhanced search. What hasn’t? The same great content from our independent bloggers and staff contributors.  Here’s a brief overview of what you’ll find on the ‘new and improved’ Network.

    Independent Blogs

    Absolutely Maybe: Meta-scientist Hilda Bastian writes about evidence and bias in medicine, and the culture of science. The blog is illustrated with her own cartoons.

    DNA Science: Geneticist Ricki Lewis blogs from the cutting edge of genomics, including genetic testing, stem cells, gene therapy and more

    All Models are Wrong: Dr. Tamsin Edwards tackles climate science in her blog, while at work at King’s College London and advising policymakers.

    SciComm: PLOS SciComm helps scientists, physicians, and journalists become better communicators with the general public and policy makers. Krista Hoffmann-Longtin, Jason Organ, and Bill Sullivan of the Indiana University School of Medicine are the writers and editors at PLOS SciComm. If you would like to contribute to PLOS SciComm, please email them at scicommplos@gmail.com. Follow them on Twitter @SciCommPLOS. 

    The ECR Community: Andreas Vilhelmsson, a public health researcher at Lund University, Sweden, oversees this blog, which attracts the next generation of scientists and science writers who are currently at the undergrad, graduate or post-doctoral levels (up to 5 yrs post PhD). Posts provide unique insights into the current state of science education, research developments in individual disciplines, science communication and Open Access issues with special attention paid to education and career choices facing early career scientists at these critical stages of their work lives. 

    Your Say: is the site on PLOS BLOGS Network for guest posts from scientists and science writers who wish to express individual points of view on issues in science, medicine and scholarly publishing.  We encourage voices and perspectives from any scientific discipline. If you would like to contribute to Your Say, please email your submission to us at:community@plos.org.

    Staff Blogs:

    The Official PLOS Blog: Announcements, perspectives, and policy updates from PLOS Staff. This is your go-to source to learn more about our collective mission and the ways in which we’re experimenting to help researchers transform scholarly communication and open science.

    Speaking of Medicine: This blog encourages researchers and health policy experts to share their experiences from the field, views on critical health issues, hopes for the future of medicine, opinions on the medical education system, as well as any other thoughts about topics relevant to global health issues.

    PLOS Biologue: This blog helps the community stay abreast of groundbreaking biological research and discussions in the field, on topics ranging from Open Access publishing developments and science policy, to science outreach and education, and the implications of new discoveries in biological research.

    EveryONE: This blog covers a range of topics, from staff perspectives on publishing and Open Access developments to posts highlighting the breadth and variety of scientific research published in PLOS ONE.

    PLOS Collections: Aggregates and curates related content from PLOS journals and the PLOS Blogs Network to provide structured access to papers of interest in the PLOS corpus and demonstrate innovative approaches to the assessment, organization and reuse of research, data and commentary.

    The post The PLOS Blogs Network: Fascinating Perspectives from Independent Writers and Staff Contributors appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on June 01, 2020 04:59 PM.

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    How Much Color Do We Really See?

    Most people don’t notice massive color distortion in their peripheral vision.

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on May 30, 2020 11:00 PM.

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    Moving beyond toxic masculinity: a Q&A with Ronald Levant

    In 2018, the American Psychological Association released its first ever Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men. At the time of the release, these guidelines were met with criticism by some who viewed them as pathologizing masculinity, but since the guidelines were released the discussion of “toxic masculinity” has spread to all areas of our society and culture. Ronald F. Levant has served as president of American Psychological Association as well as president of the association’s Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinities. Levant has been a leader in the research on the psychology of men. We spoke with him about how traditional masculinity ideology is conceptualized by psychologists, how it plays out in our society, and why it’s important from a psychological standpoint to move beyond the concept of toxic masculinity.

    Sarah Butcher: You observe that the feminist movement opened up more options for girls and women to express their identity but that there was no corresponding movement for men. Why do you think that is?

    Ronald Levant: In the 1960’s amid the civil rights and LGBTQ movements, women decided once again (think of the suffrage movement) to address their oppression.  The result is what is called second wave feminism. Over the 70s to the 90s many men felt defensive in the face of women’s newfound assertiveness, resulting in what was then called a masculinity crisis (think Bridges over Madison County). This led to several different types of movements. One that gained prominence was the mythopoetic movement (remember Robert Bly and Iron John?), which did help some men become more comfortable with their emotions but was also was suffused with misogyny. Others like the Promise Keepers and the Men’s Rights Organization were even more blatantly misogynistic. What we advocate is a movement that is inspired by the ideals of gender equality, one that would help men ditch the burdens of dominance, and teach men that they can be men without the trappings of masculinity.

    SB: You coined the term Traditional Masculinity Ideology—how do you define it, and how do you see it playing out in the lives of men?

    RL: The most current definition is the holistic set of beliefs about how boys and men should, and should not, think, feel and behave. As far as current research is concerned, we’re typically looking at seven sets of prescriptive and proscriptive norms–avoidance of femininity; negativity toward sexual minorities; self-reliance through mechanical skills, toughness, dominance, importance of sex, and restrictive emotionality.

    SB: Do you see any biological component to masculinity, or is it entirely socially constructed?

    RL: There may be a biological basis to masculinity, but I am not aware of any solid support for this proposition. More importantly, we are psychologists not biologists, and we study masculinity as a social and psychological phenomenon.

    SB: In recent decades, men have begun shouldering more of the burden of domestic labor and childrearing (although far from an equal share). Why does that pose a challenge to traditional masculinity ideology?

    RL: Good questions. It poses a challenge to traditional masculinity ideology because it violates the avoid all things feminine norm, because childcare (and nurturance in general) is considered feminine.

    SB: Research has shown that men have a harder time expressing (and even naming) their emotions. Why is that and what are the consequences for themselves and others?

    RL: Decades ago, I noticed this in my work in the Boston University Fatherhood Project, and curiosity drove me to study the emotion socialization research literature in developmental psychology. Boys start out life more emotionally expressive than girls as neonates and retain this advantage over the first year of life, but from ages two to six—due to the childhood socialization of emotions, in which boys are made to feel ashamed of themselves for expressing vulnerable and caring emotions—many lose this expressive ability. This study formed the base for my normative male alexithymia hypothesis. “Alexithymia” means no words for emotions. My hypothesis is that socialization guided by traditional masculinity ideology, and in particular the norm of restrictive emotionality, produces a mild form of alexithymia in men, who cannot give a good account of their inner lives. This has enormous implications for relationships, stress management, and mental health. I later developed a treatment for such men called Alexithymia Reduction Treatment.

    SB: As you argue, most violence is committed by men, yet most men aren’t violent. What is it that leads a minority of men to engage in violent behavior, and what role does traditional masculinity ideology play?

    RL: This is a good question. The short answer is that we don’t know why some men are violent and others are not. Various theories have been proposed, with social-situational factors having more weight than personality factors. What we do know is:

    • The vast majority of boys and men are not violent.
    • The vast majority of adult men do not endorse traditional masculinity ideology.
    • There are literally 40 + years of research showing correlations between all of the masculinity scales and harmful outcomes, and many of these are related to violence.
    • We think that the correlation is due to the boys and men who score at the very high end of these scales. Thus, high endorsement of or conformity to the norms of traditional masculinity is associated with rape myth acceptance, disdain for racial and sexual minorities, or aggression, for example.

    SB: What role does traditional masculinity ideology play in sexual violence, ranging from sexual harassment to rape?

    RL: Based on the avoid femininity norm, boys prefer playing with other boys rather than girls, and thus rarely get to know girls as persons. In puberty boys become very interested in girls, but as sex objects. Objectifying women is at the very foundation of sexual violence.

    SB: You also examine different versions of masculinity ideology such as African American masculinity and Latinx masculinity. How can the theory of intersectionality help us understand these different masculinities?

    RL: The theory of intersectionality says that our overall identity and sense of self is a composite of a number of specific identities that may relate to our race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age cohort, etc. So, for example, African American men have to fulfil the requirements of the male role (e.g., providing for one’s family) impeded by racism, which has reduced educational and employment opportunities for black men.

    SB: What is the role of traditional masculinity in mental and physical health?

    RL: Traditional masculinity ideology emphasizes toughness, self-reliance and never revealing vulnerability. In the areas of physical and mental health this translates into taking health risks, not seeking professional help when needed, and relying on alcohol for stress reduction.

    SB: Based on your clinical experience, what are some of the most effective techniques for men who want to escape the prison of traditional masculinity ideology?

    RL: The most effective techniques I have found is helping men who are unable to verbalize their emotions to learn how to do that, to open up their hearts to their families. This often involves first dealing with their fears that this will somehow emasculate them, strip them of their ‘man card,’ and along the way dealing with their sense of shame resulting from violating the male code.

    SB: What role do fathers play in the propagation of traditional masculinity ideology, and what are some tips for fathers wishing to model a more gender-neutral approach?

    RL: The “essential father hypothesis” posits that the father’s essential role is to model masculinity and heterosexuality for his sons. Although this idea has been largely discredited in academia it is still very prominent among the public. A better alternative is the involved father role, in which dads share parenting duties equally with their female partners.

    Featured image by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash.

    The post Moving beyond toxic masculinity: a Q&A with Ronald Levant appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on May 30, 2020 09:30 AM.

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    Did Freud ‘Borrow’ His Ideas on Sexuality?

    Freud’s ideas were not the unprecedented breakthrough he claimed.

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on May 29, 2020 11:00 PM.

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    Organic chemist challenges the system to find a cleaner way of running reactions

    “Following nature’s lead,” this UC professor is transforming organic chemistry from petroleum-based to a sustainable discipline based on water

    in Elsevier Connect on May 28, 2020 09:33 AM.

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    Quadrivalent HPV vaccine is protective against genital warts

    What is HPV?

    Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infectious agent and is increasingly common in young people. HPV is linked to several cancers – especially cervical cancer – and genital warts (GW).

    How high is the burden of HPV related diseases?

    Every year, a large number of women and men are affected by the anal, cervical, oropharyngeal, penile, and vaginal cancers linked to HPV. Cervical cancer is the 3rd most common malignancy among women worldwide, with more than 300,000 deaths in 2018 alone.

    Besides cervical cancers, GWs are also common manifestations of genital HPV infection. Although usually not regarded as a serious condition, GWs cause physical symptoms such as pruritus and pain, and have a negative impact on sexual life resulting in significant loss of quality of life for those with the sexually transmitted infection.

    How can I get protection against cancers and/or genital warts?

    The next generation of children and young adults may not face HPV related cancer and/or GWs thanks to the quadrivalent HPV vaccine. The vaccine helps protect against certain types of HPV that can lead to cancer or GWs. The quadrivalent HPV vaccine targets virus types 16 and 18 – the two types that cause 80% of cervical cancer cases – and also HPV types 6 and 11, associated with 85–95% of GW cases.

    Is the quadrivalent HPV vaccine effective?

    Our study published today in BMC Public Health summarizes the available data assessing the real-world impact of publicly funded quadrivalent HPV vaccination from the beginnings up to the 13th of January 2020. The purpose of this meta-analysis was to evaluate whether quadrivalent HPV vaccine has any effects in the prevention of GWs.

    Eight randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) were included where HPV vaccines (3 doses) or placebos were administered to females or males (in one study) and then the number of GW cases was compared between the vaccinated and placebo group. Eight time trend studies were also included to assess the population-level effect of the quadrivalent HPV vaccination by comparing the prevalence of GWs between the pre- and post-vaccination periods.

    The quadrivalent HPV vaccine significantly reduced the risk of GWs

    The quadrivalent HPV vaccine significantly reduced the risk of GWs. In the post-vaccination period, the number of GW events in women was considerably lower. Although young men were not vaccinated, the number of GW cases was also reduced among them, to be attributed most likely to the indirect protection provided by the vaccination of women. Subgroup analysis showed that GWs were reduced more substantially in those under 21 years of age than in older persons.

    The findings are consistent with previous reviews and meta-analyses, where it was also found that the prevalence of GWs decreased significantly in vaccinated girls and the quadrivalent prophylactic vaccination could prevent HPV infection both in men and women.

    Where has the quadrivalent HPV vaccine been introduced?

    Gardasil® has been the vaccine of choice worldwide. It has been chosen by health authorities in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Sweden for regional or national vaccination programs. In Australia, cases of GW have nearly disappeared since 2007 – this was the year when the national vaccination program against cervical cancer using the quadrivalent vaccine was introduced as a school based program for 12- and 13-year-old girls. By October 2019, 98 countries introduced HPV vaccines through national immunization programs.

    Our meta-analysis gives strong evidence for the effectiveness of the quadrivalent HPV vaccine. Such knowledge can help governments with making decisions about the implementation of the vaccination in their countries for young females and also males, preferably through school-based programs.

    The post Quadrivalent HPV vaccine is protective against genital warts appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 28, 2020 07:09 AM.

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    Didier Raoult: Fin de Partie?

    As chloroquine miracle cure for COVID-19 is discredited by day, what will become of its inventor, Didier Raoult?

    in For Better Science on May 27, 2020 09:45 PM.

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    BMC Series Highlights – April

    BMC Public Health – The NHS visitor and migrant cost recovery programme – a threat to health?

    In April 2014 the UK government launched the ‘NHS Visitor and Migrant Cost Recovery Programme Implementation Plan’ which set out a series of policy changes to recoup costs from ‘chargeable’ (largely non-UK born) patients. In England alone roughly 75% of all diagnoses of Tuberculosis (TB) will be made in people born abroad. Because of this, the authors of this manuscript set out to assess the impact of the Cost Recovery Programme (CRP) on the quality of healthcare received by those not eligible for free NHS healthcare. Utilizing a dataset of 2237 diagnosed TB cases the authors found that median time-to-treatment after the introduction of the CRP increased by 20 days from 69 to 89 days for non-UK patients. They also found a significant change in the number of years migrant patients had been living in the UK before diagnosis. Rising from 10 years pre-CRP to 14.8 years post CRP. With delays in the diagnosis of TB increasing morbidity and mortality it is imperative that diagnosis is made as early as possible. With direct significant relationships between the introduction of the CRP and an increase in time-to-treatment the authors argue that restricting healthcare access for non-UK populations undermines national efforts to eliminate TB and conclude that governments have a “moral and legal obligation” to uphold the right to the highest attainable standard of health for all people, no matter their immigration status.


    BMC Medical Research Methodology – Methodological challenges of analysing COVID-19 data during the pandemic

    On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that COVID-19 should be characterized as a pandemic. Since then we have witnessed the devastating and unpredictable spread of COVID-19 globally resulting in unprecedented lockdowns on a global scale. Aside from the increased burden on healthcare systems and the devastating humanitarian loss, researchers are now facing significant challenges in appropriately conducting statistical analyses of COVID-19 data to meet the WHO goal of evaluating “as fast as possible the effect of adjunctive and supportive therapies”. With appropriate statistical models playing a major role in “fighting panic with information” to reduce or eliminate the risk of bias across clinical and epidemiological studies the Guest Editors of this collection describe the most striking challenges experienced by statisticians and data analysts alike.


    BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth – Effectiveness of telemedicine for pregnant women with gestational diabetes mellitus: an updated meta-analysis of 32 randomized controlled trials with trial sequential analysis

    Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a continuing global health problem and can lead to serious maternal and neonatal/foetal complications. More recently the introduction of information and communication technology in healthcare has resulted in new technical support for the treatment of GDM. In this study the authors conduct a meta-analysis investigating the effectiveness of telemedicine (health services and medical activities provided by healthcare professionals through remote communication technologies) for the management of women with GDM. Identifying a total of 32 Randomized control trials and a total of 5108 patients the authors found that the use of telemedicine had significant improvements in GDM measures as compared to the standard care group. They also identified that the use of telemedicine lowered indices of cesarean section, neonatal hypoglycemia, preeclampsia, macrosomia, preterm birth and neonatal asphyxia, amongst others. The authors conclude that use of communication technology and telemedicine had significant positive effects on the control of GDM and also significantly reduce the risk of maternal and neonatal/fetal complications.


    BMC Developmental Biology – A practical staging atlas to study embryonic development of Octopus vulgaris under controlled laboratory conditions

    Octopus vulgaris is one of the most iconic species of neurobiology research. This is mainly attributed to its reputation as one of the most intelligent studied invertebrates, possessing both long and short term memory capability and a striking ability to perform complex cognitive tasks. However, given the high level of parental care required for successful spawning of offspring, laboratory research and experimental populations have been notoriously difficult to maintain. In this study the authors present a novel option for a parameter-controlled artificial seawater standalone egg incubation system that has the ability to replace the significant level of maternal care required, allowing the successful embryonic development of small-egged octopus species under laboratory conditions.


    BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation – Dose-response of resistance training for neck-and shoulder pain relief: a workplace intervention study

    With more than half of all adults reporting having experienced neck and shoulder pain it has become the second most common musculoskeletal disorder. Unsurprisingly it is most common amongst office workers who perform low intensity, but continuous movements as part of their role. Previous research has identified a relationship between resistance training and pain relief, but none have come to a consensus on the best resistance training frequency. Thus, the authors here set out to test which dose of resistance training achieved the greatest reduction in pain. Using a cohort of 27 individuals the authors imposed two interventional routines. One cohort completed one 10 minute session daily, 5 days per week and the other completed two 10 minutes sessions daily, 5 days per week. The authors found no difference between the two interventions, finding instead that any bout of high intensity resistance training significantly reduced levels of workplace related pain and improved the quality of life of office workers.

    The post BMC Series Highlights – April appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 27, 2020 01:58 PM.

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    On Robot Compliance: A Cerebellar Control Approach

    This week on Journal Club session Volker Steuber will talk about the paper "On Robot Compliance: A Cerebellar Control Approach".

    The work presented here is a novel biological approach for the compliant control of a robotic arm in real time (RT). We integrate a spiking cerebellar network at the core of a feedback control loop performing torque-driven control. The spiking cerebellar controller provides torque commands allowing for accurate and coordinated arm movements. To compute these output motor commands, the spiking cerebellar controller receives the robot's sensorial signals, the robot's goal behavior, and an instructive signal. These input signals are translated into a set of evolving spiking patterns representing univocally a specific system state at every point of time. Spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) is then supported, allowing for building adaptive control. The spiking cerebellar controller continuously adapts the torque commands provided to the robot from experience as STDP is deployed. Adaptive torque commands, in turn, help the spiking cerebellar controller to cope with built-in elastic elements within the robot's actuators mimicking human muscles (inherently elastic). We propose a natural integration of a bioinspired control scheme, based on the cerebellum, with a compliant robot. We prove that our compliant approach outperforms the accuracy of the default factory-installed position control in a set of tasks used for addressing cerebellar motor behavior: controlling six degrees of freedom (DoF) in smooth movements, fast ballistic movements, and unstructured scenario compliant movements.


    Date: 29/05/2020
    Time: 16:00
    Location: online

    in UH Biocomputation group on May 27, 2020 12:44 PM.

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    How AI and knowledge graphs can make your research easier

    Data scientists are developing a knowledge graph with researchers in mind in Elsevier's DiscoveryLab, collaborating with Vrije Universiteit and University of Amsterdam

    in Elsevier Connect on May 27, 2020 11:24 AM.

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    Problematic internet use in children and adolescents: Associations with psychiatric disorders and impairment

    Children today seem like they were born with an iPad in hand. Toddlers might not be potty trained yet, but they know how to switch from one app to the other, Facetime their grandparents and even change WiFi networks. Researchers are still unsure as to what effects this precocious use of technology, particularly increased use of the internet, will have on children.

    In an attempt to address this important question, we analyzed data from the openly shared Child Mind Institute Healthy Brain Network. Children ages 7-15—and their parents—answered questions about their internet use, how well they sleep, how much exercise they get, and problems they might be having in school, at home, or with other social relationships. Each child also underwent comprehensive psychiatric assessments, which allowed us to examine how internet use might be associated with a range of different clinical syndromes including depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Because many youth have more than one of these conditions, we also examined how comorbidity across these conditions may also be associated with problematic patterns of internet use.

    We found that children who show problematic levels of internet use also have higher rates of depression, ASD and ADHD. We could not discriminate whether those with one or more of these disorders go on to have higher rates of problematic internet use, or if increased internet use was related to the development of psychiatric disorders and functional impairment. Nonetheless, these findings add to a growing literature suggesting associations between mental health disorders and problematic internet usage. We must proceed with caution: how can we discover what constitutes healthy patterns of internet use and make sure our children are taking advantage of all the benefits the internet has to offer while also protecting them from potential consequences?

    Our study focuses on behaviors associated with internet use, rather than quantities of use. This is an important distinction, as it is more reminiscent of measures of addiction, which are primarily defined by behavioral patterns rather than subjective reports that someone “drinks too much”. Before we can discriminate between problematic and non problematic internet use that may be defined differently for different children in different contexts, it will be important to identify behavioral markers of harmful internet use. Examples of such behaviors include displays of aggression when internet time is limited or in response to inquiries about online activities, loss of sleep, negative effects on schoolwork and/or relationships, or a tendency to turn to the internet to avoid unpleasant or difficult activities. Perhaps this shift in focus is more important now than ever, given the COVID-19 pandemic and the dramatic increases in internet use that it has necessitated for connecting, socializing and learning. For many, particularly those in the most affected areas under lockdown, these increases will undoubtedly make conventional wisdom about what constitutes “too much” or “too little” internet seem out of touch at least in the near future.

    Perhaps the most worrisome learning point from our work is that problematic internet usage in children is associated with global functional impairment – beyond the presence of any formal psychiatric disorder. This suggests that a child with ADHD who exhibits problematic internet usage patterns may be more likely to have difficulty in daily life functioning than a child with ADHD and less problematic usage. An important caveat: our findings are based on a one-time snapshot. We can’t draw conclusions regarding internet use as a cause or consequence of childhood disorders. Also, the findings only apply to problematic internet use, not to regular use. In fact, internet use that is not excessive or problematic could actually have beneficial influences on child functioning. We plan to follow up these youth to gain more insight into the nature of the relationships between functional impairment, psychiatric disorders and problematic internet use.

    The post Problematic internet use in children and adolescents: Associations with psychiatric disorders and impairment appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 27, 2020 08:00 AM.

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    6 evidence-based methods to head off COVID-19-related depression and anxiety

    A psychiatrist outlines home-based strategies to head off stress and depression during the coronavirus pandemic

    in Elsevier Connect on May 27, 2020 07:48 AM.

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    Does where we live make us lonely?

    Loneliness is not a twenty first century creation. Nor is it the result of the physical distancing, self-isolation and distant and remote social relationships we are experiencing as a result of COVID-19. Like joy or sorrow, loneliness can be seen as part of being human. It has been described and experienced by people of different ages, across different cultures and in different historical periods.

    What is loneliness?

    Loneliness is the feeling or response we have when our social relationships fail to match our expectations or desires. This could be because the quality of the relations is superficial or lacking in the depth and meaning we would like. It can also be because the number of our relationships is lower than we would like. Loneliness may also result when how we experience our relationships, in person, on-line or by telephone, does not match our expectations. This is especially relevant during the distant and remote socializing we are experiencing during COVID-19. On-line or telephone conversations may combat loneliness by enabling us to keep in touch with our family and friends. Alternatively, these types of contact may make us feel lonelier by reminding us how much we miss personal contact. Loneliness is not the same as living alone, spending time alone or being socially isolated.

    Why does loneliness matter?

    Loneliness was once seen as a problem that was only experienced by older people. Indeed it was often seen as part of the normal ageing process. Now it is clear that loneliness effects people of all ages.  This is important because being lonely is now seen as so serious that is seen as a public health problem. We now have a Minister for Loneliness and national strategies to combat loneliness. Much of the drive to tackle loneliness is because research has associated it with a range of health problems. These include death, chronic physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, depression and mental health as well as health behaviors such as decreased physical activity.

    Loneliness is increasingly being defined as a medical or health care problem rather than one of wellbeing and quality of life

    Loneliness is increasingly being defined as a medical or health care problem rather than one of wellbeing and quality of life. We know that those people who experience loneliness reported lower levels of wellbeing, quality of life and life satisfaction. In the flurry of activity focused on the health problems associated with loneliness the links with wellbeing are overlooked. However these are very important and are why I would argue that loneliness really matters. All of us, regardless of age, evaluate our wellbeing and quality of life and this can be reduced by loneliness. For this reason alone, we need to understand loneliness and what factors can make people vulnerable to experiencing loneliness. This is especially important for older adults where national and international policies focus on living well in later life and of having a ‘good old age’. These policy goals mean that we need to understand the drivers of loneliness in later life if we are going to  develop robust ways of addressing loneliness and support a meaningful and good quality of life for our older citizens.

     What types of factors are related to loneliness?

    There are three different types of factors that may make older people vulnerable to loneliness. First there are individual characteristics such as widowhood or bereavement, low income or poor health. Secondly there are community and neighborhood factors such as the availability of parks or availability of facilities such as libraries. Thirdly there can be national or societal level factors such as policies and attitudes to older people. We know very little about how community or neighborhood factors are linked to loneliness. In our study we looked at two area characteristics – the index of multiple deprivation and area type (urban or rural). We studied their relationship with two measures of loneliness for 4,663 adults aged 50 and over who took part in the 2014 wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

    Identifying lonely places

    Overall, 18% of participants reported that they experienced loneliness and 25% that they often felt lonely in the area where they lived. It is important to remember that just over two thirds of participants, 68%, did not report either form of loneliness. We found no difference  for either measure of loneliness between participants living in urban and rural areas. There was no relationship between individual loneliness and the deprivation score for the community where participants resided.  There a significant statistical relationship between the level of deprivation of an area and levels of area based loneliness. Those living in the most deprived communities were 53% more likely to report experiencing loneliness in the area than those living in the least deprived areas.

    Those living in the most deprived communities were 53% more likely to report experiencing loneliness in the area than those living in the least deprived areas.

    Integrating area and place of residence in loneliness research

    Existing evidence investigating the factors that make older people, and other age groups, vulnerable to loneliness have focused upon individual characteristics such as marital status or household size. We also have evidence linking loneliness to transitions or changes in circumstances such as retirement, bereavement, becoming a carer or the onset of chronic illness. We have extended our understanding  of loneliness by demonstrating a link with deprivation and now need to identify the components of deprivation-housing stock, lack of community facilities, transport, availability of blue-green spaces or lack of community cohesion and trust that are creating lonely places.

    The post Does where we live make us lonely? appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 27, 2020 06:48 AM.

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    Embedding technology to boost inclusive health, education and research

    At the Elsevier Foundation, we recognize our partners’ success as we embed technology to support the UN SDGs

    in Elsevier Connect on May 25, 2020 01:13 PM.

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    Be a TA at Neuromatch Academy

    Neuromatch Academy is an online summer school in computational neuroscience at scale, and we need TAs like you! Here’s what we’re planning:

    • 1500 students spread over 50+ countries
    • 9 timezones
    • 15 days
    • 45 hours of content (sample day)
    • 60 colab tutorials (sample day)
    • Teaching by 200 TAs (one of which could be you!)

    It’s an experiment in democratizing computational neuroscience education, and we can’t do it without TAs. As a TA, you’ll teach a small group of people (aiming for 6:1 student:TA ratio) who are slightly earlier in their careers (typically early masters and early PhD students in neuroscience). You’ll:

    • help students from diverse background get quality education
    • learn more about computational neuroscience – there’s no better way to master a subject than to teach it
    • get access to NMA’s network of mentors
    • receive teacher training by seasoned educators specialized in project-based learning
    • see and help this huge project being built in realtime (like Asaph says in his vid, it really feels like an adventure). If you wanna learn about project management, education, building tech at scale, etc. this is the place.
    • (bonus) have something great to talk about in your teaching statement
    It really feels like an adventure

    You’ll get compensated for your time (1500$ for three weeks). Round 2 applications for Teaching Assistants are due Monday May 25th. If you’re interested in being a TA and haven’t received a Round 2 application or did not apply to Round 1, you can still apply.

    Fill out an application now.

    in xcorr.net on May 23, 2020 06:17 PM.

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    Why anti-vaxxers are rising again

    In the midst of a health crisis when our only hope is a new vaccine, many have begun to wonder how those with anti-vaccination sentiments might respond to the current COVID-19 crisis. Many have guessed that the only natural, rational response would be for anti-vaxxers to change their minds and wholeheartedly embrace the prospect of a new vaccine. After all, there is a prevailing theory that anti-vaccine sentiment arises at least in part from a collective amnesia about the true scourge of vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccines, so the argument goes, are a victim of their own success, resulting in a situation in which people do not remember why they are getting vaccinated because the diseases that the vaccines prevent against have been absent for so long. If this theory is true, then in a situation in which we are face-to-face with the ill effects of an infectious pathogen, we should all readily embrace a new vaccine.

    It turns out that the anti-vaxxer response to COVID-19 and the prospect of a new vaccine, much like science denialism more generally, is much more complex than that. The response also seems to suggest that the idea that amnesia about diseases that have been largely conquered by vaccines is probably not the primary reason for anti-vaccine sentiments. So how have people with anti-vaccine tendencies responded to COVID-19? While it’s still too soon to have a complete picture of this, especially since no new vaccine has been rolled out yet, several interesting patterns have emerged.

    Staunch anti-vaxxers still oppose vaccines, including potential new coronavirus vaccines, and are active at spreading misinformation. Those who have not made up their minds about whether vaccines are safe are now wavering more than they were previously. Whereas before they may have been slightly more inclined in the anti-vaccine direction, now they are questioning those viewpoints more. They do seem to remain amenable to being persuaded.

    Public figures, such as politicians and musicians, who are staunch anti-vaxxers are facing more opposition now. Crisis situations have the tendency to bring certain background issues into high relief. People who may have found anti-vaxxers to be somewhat irritating but not a direct threat are now viewing them differently and thus more social pressure is being placed on anti-vaxxers to abandon their views and change their behaviors.

    Still, anti-vaxxers are very active and very vocal, both about potentially refusing a new vaccine for coronavirus but also increasingly voicing conspiracy theories about coronavirus itself. These conspiracy theory claims run the gamut, from claiming the virus is not as bad as public officials note to warning people that public officials and government bodies like the CDC are not to be trusted.

    Another very disturbing development is the migration of objections to a putative coronavirus vaccine away from a scientific and health basis and toward a more general political basis. Anti-vaxxers are now linking stay-at-home orders and the hoped-for vaccines as assaults on liberty and freedom. Although anti-vaxxers have always made personal liberty a part of their message, by incorporating objections to a coronavirus vaccine into the broader context of freedom, they have taken this link to an extreme.

    Heidi Munoz Gelisner, a leader in anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protests, told a reporter at the New York Times, “we have always been about freedom.” This adds a new dimension to our efforts to ensure that there is swift uptake of a coronavirus vaccine as soon as it becomes available. Targeting the pro-vaccine message on issues of vaccine safety and efficacy may not address this broader issue. Of course, the notion that vaccines involve a personal liberty aspect is faulty: it is long recognized that no one has the right to jeopardize the health of others, especially children, and therefore that democracies can legitimately enforce vaccine requirements. Nevertheless, Americans are perhaps more insistent about a broad range of personal liberties than citizens of any other country and therefore we will have to consider ways to address this aspect of anti-vaccination sentiment as well.

    More than 90 vaccines against the virus that causes COVID-19 are now in various stages of development and the most optimistic predictions would give us a viable one in a year to 18 months. Research by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, indicates that we can no longer rely on debunking myths about vaccines after they have been promulgated throughout the media. Rather, her work calls for “proactive messaging,” in which groups of experts begin to thwart anti-vaccination messages before a crisis promoted by misinformation begins. Thus, we need to start immediately to use evidence-based communication methods to preempt the different varieties of misinformation about a vaccine for COVID-19. There is no time to waste.

    Featured Image Credit: Photo by pressphoto via Freepik

    The post Why anti-vaxxers are rising again appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on May 23, 2020 09:30 AM.

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    The Dream of ‘Disconnected Psychology’

    Does psychology need researchers who ‘don’t follow the discipline’s norms and conventions’?

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on May 22, 2020 11:00 PM.

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    COVID-19 and loneliness: Can we do anything about it?

    A clinical psychologist writes about the unique experience of loneliness during coronavirus and how to address it

    in Elsevier Connect on May 22, 2020 01:20 PM.

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    We Don’t Know How You Make a Decision

    A new study shows we cannot tell how you’re using the evidence before you

    in The Spike on May 21, 2020 02:46 PM.

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    Physician engagement: mindfulness as part of the pandemic solution

    With COVID stress taking its toll on physicians, a Yale psychiatrist gives advice on why – and how – to stay mindful and motivated

    in Elsevier Connect on May 21, 2020 04:38 AM.

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    Pier Paolo Pandolfi out of Harvard, spotted in Italy and Nevada

    Star cancer researcher Pier Paolo Pandolfi left Harvard. The allegations are very serious, but do his new employers in Nevada and Italy mind?

    in For Better Science on May 20, 2020 09:13 PM.

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    Remembering the Caregivers


    With a rapidly aging population of patients with end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) starting dialysis, the demands on caregivers have increased.  The need for help with activities of daily living (bathing, dressing), mobility, transportation, social support and food preparation are often not anticipated.  The burden of these additional roles and lack of support can have a major negative impact on the caregivers physical, social and emotional health.

    In a recent BMC Nephrology publication, Shah et al. compared the health related quality of life and the care related quality of life among caregivers of older individuals (>75 years of age) receiving dialysis or conservative care (medical management only).  Caregivers completed surveys that assessed their health related quality of life and experience as caregivers  These surveys addressed areas that healthcare teams often forget such as activities outside care-giving, social support, institutional support, control over caring and relationship with the care recipient. Utilizing this survey highlights the changes in the caregiver’s life that are often not considered in counseling about end stage kidney disease management with patients and the families. While there was no difference in the HRQoL, the caregivers of dialysis patients reported a worse carer experience, where the survey results of this group reflected the perception of providing an ‘intense’ level of care to recipients in bad health and for more than 20 hours/weeks. This is especially striking considering 70% of the caregivers surveyed had been providing this level of care for >2 years.  These findings highlight the need to expand the dialysis preparations and the support provided to caregivers.

    Currently, protocols focus on education about dialysis modality options, early referrals for dialysis access planning/creation and information for the patient about the dialysis procedure.  Most of the data that has helped shape the current approaches have been based on outcomes such as the number of hospitalizations, morbidity, mortality, nutritional status, or infection rates in patients starting dialysis with little or no preparation. While these are important issues to address, this approach does not consider the overall impact of dialysis on the life of the patient or the effects on the caregiver, including changes to their lifestyle, employment and family responsibilities.  As such, many caregivers struggle with how to accommodate the needs of their family member without the skills and resources.

    caregivers can experience stress, depression, feelings of being overwhelmed and social isolation.

    With the increasing number of older individuals needing dialysis support, there is a higher likelihood that they will have comorbidities and thus a potentially greater need for help with care. As a result, caregivers can experience stress, depression, feelings of being overwhelmed and social isolation. This impact on caregivers was noted in another study of 100 hemodialysis patients and their primary caregivers utilizing the Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36).  After more than 4 months of dialysis, caregivers were reported to have higher subjective burden scores.  Current practices do not encompass follow-up with the caregivers to see how they are adjusting to the initiation of dialysis and how they are dealing with the transition.  A systematic review of studies with interventions for informal caregivers demonstrated only three studies with interventions for caregivers and these involved education material to enhance caregiver knowledge.

    Our approach to dialysis preparation falls short if providers are not first acknowledging with patients and their caregivers the impact of end-stage kidney disease on their lives and providing the resources and support they need during this transition period.  Understanding what is important to them and what they do on a day-to-day basis in terms of work, family, and social obligations needs to be part of routine discussions.  Discussions about the impact on the family and caregivers also needs to be part of the routine dialysis preparations.

    The post Remembering the Caregivers appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on May 20, 2020 05:03 PM.

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    arXiv.org Moderator for Rapid Screening of COVID-19 Research

    Update May 26, 2020: Thanks for your interest. We’re pleased to report that this position has been filled.

    Make an impact on COVID-19 research as a Google-sponsored moderator for arXiv.org. This is a temporary contract position with flexibility, up to 12 hours per week, for up to six months.

    arXiv is currently receiving a flood of papers related to COVID-19 and is engaging additional paid support to help ensure quality and accuracy of this important work.

    The selected candidate will work with a globally distributed team of volunteers and staff performing quality control checks on article submissions. Moderators work independently following arXiv’s moderation standards.


    The successful candidate must be familiar with standards for research on human subjects, patient data, and clinical trials. This could be related fields of medicine, biology, biological modeling and may extend to statistics, computer, or information science.

    This is an ideal position for PhD or MD graduates, Post Docs, or early career researchers who want to support and learn about open access information sharing.

    More information on arXiv’s moderation standards can be found here: https://arxiv.org/help/moderation. Accepted papers can be found here: https://arxiv.org/covid19search

    arXiv is the world’s premiere open access platform for dissemination of scientific works, for researchers by researchers. It is a community-centered, non-commercial and impartial archive, and its cutting edge platform enables fast distribution and discovery of recent results, facilitating downstream innovation in scholarly communication. arXiv aims to empower its community to share and advance research together.

    Interested candidates, please send your resume or CV to moderatorsearch@arxiv.org.

    in arXiv.org blog on May 20, 2020 04:03 PM.

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    How a university’s focus on accessibility is benefiting communities worldwide

    Architecture students’ plans for rebuilding a town destroyed by wildfires are attracting global interest

    in Elsevier Connect on May 20, 2020 01:58 PM.

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    New User-Driven Classification Tool Released

    The correct categorization of scholarly works is vitally important. It helps readers find the information they seek — and assures authors that their research will be found by the right audience. Recently, arXiv released a new user-driven classification tool to help authors choose the correct category for their papers during the submission process.

    “I think this is a great addition, and I am already seeing positive effects,” said Frank Simon, Max-Planck-Institute for Physics, Munich, Germany and arXiv moderator. “Since the feature has been in operation, submitters tend to classify things for my category (physics.ins-det) correctly more often.”

    When submitting to arXiv, authors select a category for their paper, such as computational geometry or quantum physics. Now, in real time, the automated classifier double checks that selection by comparing the paper to those already hosted on arXiv.org. If the author’s selection doesn’t match the classifier’s recommendation, an alternate category is proposed. The author can review the suggestion, accept or decline it, and continue the submission process, as shown below.

    This is a screen shot of arXiv's classifier recommendation tool.

    In the past, only moderators had access to the automated classifier recommendations, after submission. Moderators reviewed the recommendations, and, if necessary, reclassified papers. This added time to the process and often led to delays.

    Integrating the classifier recommendations into the submission process empowers authors and increases transparency when reclassification is necessary. Additionally, this feature is expected to reduce the workload for moderators and lower the number of papers put on hold due to misclassification. Improved category selection during the submission process will provide more accurate classification at the outset and therefore reduce delays in announcing papers.

    “In my category, the most common issue is the case where instrumentation papers that should have physics.ins-det as primary category are instead submitted to hep-ex, nucl-ex, physics.optics or the like, and subsequently need to be reclassified,” Simon said. “Alerting the submitters that their instrumentation paper should be submitted to the instrumentation category rather than one of the others will reduce moderation workload and speed up the release of the articles, so it is a win-win situation for both submitters and moderators.”

    Other moderators have also expressed enthusiasm about the new feature, calling it important, worthwhile, a fantastic idea, and a big step forward, “even if there will be hiccups” in the beginning. In the first four days after release, 17.4% papers received category recommendations and 67.5% of authors accepted the suggested category.

    arXiv continues to welcome feedback on this feature, which was first tested by volunteer moderators. Authors who receive a category recommendation will have the opportunity to complete a survey about their experience. Moderators are sharing their observations and experiences with arXiv staff, and staff members are monitoring server log statistics.

    Moving forward, arXiv is developing a new version of this machine learning classifier tool that will be trained by feedback from users and moderators in order to provide better category recommendations in the future.

    We encourage the arXiv community to participate. Join the user testing group here and share your experiences on Twitter with the hashtag #arXivexperience.

    in arXiv.org blog on May 20, 2020 01:50 PM.

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    Spotlighting FAIR data and the researchers behind it

    The Mendeley Data repository recognizes researchers whose data exemplifies the FAIR principles – download their datasets here

    in Elsevier Connect on May 20, 2020 08:56 AM.

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    How technology is helping a society journal in China make a bigger impact

    Editors-in-Chief share their journal’s strategies for promoting research on trending topics

    in Elsevier Connect on May 20, 2020 08:47 AM.

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    Preprints and the Media: A change to how PLOS handles press for papers previously posted as preprints

    This post was written by Beth Baker, PLOS’ Senior Media Relations Manager.


    PLOS actively encourages the posting of preprints – please see https://plos.org/open-science/preprints/ for all the ways authors can engage. Posting of preprints and discussion of preprints will never affect editorial decisions to publish work in a PLOS journal.

    From today, articles accepted at PLOS journals that were previously posted as a preprint will be under a press embargo which lifts upon publication. This alters our prior practice of not applying an embargo to articles that were previously posted as a preprint and means that we will be applying a consistent press embargo to all articles published at PLOS. We have made this decision after conducting research revealing the positive impact of press embargoes for PLOS papers. The change will optimize authors’ opportunities to disseminate their work to the public via the press and will ensure that authors who have posted preprints are not disadvantaged by this choice, nor are authors disincentivized to post preprints.

    Open communication of research, and the value of embargoes

    PLOS’ press embargo policy is designed to positively impact researchers and to aid the communication of their work. We work to facilitate open communication of research wherever possible. PLOS encourages the discussion of research between scientists at all stages in the publication process. Researchers are free to present and discuss their work for scientific purposes prior to publication. This includes talking about research at conferences and on preprint servers.

    While we know that preprints play a crucial role in the efficiency of scientific communication, establishing priority sooner, increasing attention, and opening up the review process to all, we also believe that public attention at scale via the media should focus on the most reliable science: published, peer-reviewed research. Press embargoes continue to be the best tool to facilitate that. 

    Embargoes enable authors to achieve accurate, high-quality media coverage which disseminates their peer-reviewed research to non-expert readers. Since our articles are accessible to everyone, everywhere upon publication, our embargoes also ensure that peer-reviewed published articles are accessible to the public when first reported in the media.

    Embargoes provide fair and equal access for journalists to allow them time to research their stories and to speak with experts. They give press officers adequate time to coordinate coverage with scientists at their institutions, and give researchers the opportunity to provide comments.

    Discussion of research prior to publication, whether in the scientific community or in the media, will never affect editorial decisions to publish work in a PLOS journal. Prior coverage in the media may simply affect if and how PLOS promotes that research at the time of publication.

    Background to our research

    PLOS partnered with preprint server bioRxiv in May 2018 to help authors opt in to preprints. Soon after, we decided not to embargo for media purposes any published papers which had previously been posted as preprints, believing that embargoes might not be meaningful, necessary, or practical for these papers. Instead, we distributed press releases for such research without embargo at the time of publication, and encouraged institutions to do likewise.

    Following implementation of this embargo exception for preprinted papers, we heard concerns from journalists, press officers and the UK Science Media Centre about this policy. Some parties felt that releasing preprinted research without embargo could result in less media coverage, or in lower quality, less accurate coverage, as journalists would race to report on research immediately or decide not to cover it at all. Concerns were also raised that not embargoing preprinted research meant forfeiting a valuable tool to help journalists focus on covering peer-reviewed published research rather than non-peer-reviewed preprints.

    PLOS’ media team therefore investigated the claim that non-embargoed preprinted papers received less media coverage.

    What we researched and what we found

    We took all the preprinted papers we’d press released without embargo between October 1, 2018 (when we introduced the policy) and September 11, 2019 and paired each with a paper we’d press released under embargo that published at around the same time. Each paired paper was from the same journal as the preprinted paper, and for our multidisciplinary journal PLOS ONE, we also ensured the paired paper was in the same broad scientific area.

    We examined the amount of media coverage each paper had received by measuring the number of mentions of the paper in the media, using media intelligence software Meltwater. We used paired t tests to assess if differences found were statistically significant. 

    We found that the preprinted papers press released without embargo received significantly less media coverage than the paired papers press released under embargo. This was true both in terms of total media mentions (74.60 more media mentions (19.27 vs 93.87); 95% CI: 14.07 – 135.13) and in terms of media mentions in the highest profile outlets (1.47 fewer high profile mentions (0.07 vs 1.53); 95% CI: 0.55 – 2.39). We note that our sample size was small, comprising 30 preprinted papers press released without embargo and 30 paired papers, and we only examined two broad measures of media attention. However, these results support the anecdotes we had previously heard.

    How we are reacting

    Our research indicates that embargoed papers receive more media coverage, including in the most high-profile news outlets, than papers which are not embargoed. A practice of not embargoing papers previously posted as preprints therefore risked disadvantaging authors who posted preprints, and/or disincentivizing the posting of preprints, which PLOS actively encourages. We have decided to change our practice to treat all our authors equally, and to maximize authors’ opportunities to work with the press to disseminate their work to the public.

    From today, all PLOS publications promoted to the press will be embargoed until the time of publication. We believe that this change will enable all our authors to reap the benefits of the embargo system – whether or not they have previously posted preprints – and will facilitate continued high-quality science communication to the public.

    The post Preprints and the Media: A change to how PLOS handles press for papers previously posted as preprints appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on May 19, 2020 05:05 PM.

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